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But the kitchen more than compensated for the lack of visual glamour by turning out some very spectacular meals. Even more alluring were the prices $16.95 for lobster-tail thermidor? that made it easy to overlook the mass of artificial flowers and the erratic service. There was only one waitress working the dining room on the night I dined with Robert and Cindy, and to her credit, she never lost her cool. She had to juggle a lot of customers that night and a lot of dishes, too.
Cindy and Robert had nearly ruined their appetites on the starters, but I convinced them to indulge in one of Café Casbah's insanely decadent cream soups. Robert ordered chef Movahed's famous seafood bisque, a cup of thick cream and seafood purée loaded with scallops, prawns, lobster, crabmeat and cod. He was overwhelmed. Cindy, who loves hot soup on a frigid night, got all warm and fuzzy with Café Casbah's signature cream of almond soup, which was delectable. It sounds sweeter than it is, but it's still so rich that two sips are head-spinning.
The seemingly extensive Café Casbah menu includes seven beef selections, six veal or lamb choices, eight chicken dishes, and no fewer than 26 entrées under the "seafood" heading. On closer inspection, many of these dishes are variations on the same theme: the pale-amber lobster sauce blanketing the chicken Casbah is the same sauce used with the filet mignon Casbah, the rack of lamb Casbah and the shrimp Casbah. And so on. There's a beef Oscar, a veal Oscar, a salmon Oscar and a chicken Oscar.
But why quibble? The lobster sauce is luscious, and I lustily ate every bite of my chicken Casbah and everything else on the plate: carrots cooked in rosewater, a mound of rice and a few crispy slivers of fried zucchini.
Cindy swore that she had never seen "chateaubriand for one" on any menu until Café Casbah. The dish, named for the 19th-century French statesman, is typically a thick center cut of tenderloin for two, grilled and served with béarnaise sauce. She was eager to see Movahed's version. It was a gorgeously tender slab of beef that dripped with a delicious burgundy reduction rather than the traditional béarnaise. Cindy loved it. Robert was somewhat less enthusiastic about his paella, which was chock-full o' seafood and topped with bits of beef tenderloin that had been grilled until they had nearly turned to charcoal.
In keeping with its old-fashioned Continental style, Café Casbah offers two desserts rarely seen on local menus, bananas Foster and cherries Romanoff. The Casbah's interpretation of the former dish is not in the classic style of the New Orleans innovation that's usually flambéed tableside with sliced bananas caramelized in rum, brown sugar and banana liqueur. The version here arrives at the table as one messy and noncaramelized dish that has more in common with a Midwestern banana split.
I had some reservations about taking my stylish friend Marilyn to Café Casbah, because she's kind of a food snob. But she was all for the experience and got plenty of attention from the other diners in the room when she tossed off her fur coat and grandly sat at the table that she wanted instead of the less attractive table where the hostess had tried to lead us. "I mean, really, darling," Marilyn said, dismissing the hostess.