Kasbah Lounge

2115 J St.| Sacramento

Deciding upon a worthy and not-too-frequented dining spot around central Sacramento that featured ethnic eats was no easy task. There were a lot of worthy and affordable international restaurants, but many only open until 3 p.m. or 5 p.m., or only open on the weekends for dinner. But truly desiring delicious Moroccan delights, I was stoked to find the Kasbah Lounge was open (every night from 5:30 p.m. until 3 a.m.), moderately priced and located at 21st and J streets in the Midtown “Kasbah” or older/vital neighborhood (generally in cities of Northern Africa).

If you’ve never been to Morocco, it’s a vacation spot for Europeans that is diverse and disorienting to the senses. Like Mexico to the vacay-ers of the U.S., venturers to Morocco are skeptical of food illness and un-bottled water. After my last four days spent in Morocco dining on spice-stewed meats, fluffy couscous and sweet mint tea, I spent three days dealing with food poisoning; which thus led to my one-year boycott of Moroccan food that ended with a worry-free dinner at Kasbah Lounge.

Although Kasbah Lounge’s Web site boasts Middle Eastern food, the restaurant/lounge/bar/hookah hook-up offers more of a mix between Mediterranean and North African food. Choosing to sit on benches with comfy decorative pillows and a billowy canopy of cloth, I reviewed the rustic rough-cut leather menus with crude copper fixtures holding food and beverage lists in place. I decided I had to have the $5 authentic mint tea and $12 lamb tagine. Thé de la menthe de Maroc is often referred to as “Moroccan Mint” in the U.S. and is usually very strong and very sweet. Tagine is a Moroccan dish, but also the pot the dish is cooked in. A tagine is a clay pot with a wide bottom bowl/dish with raised sides (much like a deep sauté pan) and a cone-shaped lid with a hole at the top to release steam. A tagine can be used on a stovetop or in the oven. The dish tagine usually involves combining large-cut seasonal veggies (zucchini, carrots, squash and potatoes), garbanzo beans, big pieces of meat (lamb, goat or chicken) and a lot of rich spices like cinnamon, cumin and coriander.

How did my food stack up? Well, since I’ve had the real thing, I could tell you that it wasn’t the most authentic Moroccan food. But, lucky for you, that means you’ll feel more comfortable eating it; and there’s no question about where it came from or if it will make you sick. As far as quality control goes, Kasbah Lounge used fresh, high quality products that ultimately made the experience surprising and satisfying.

However, the total package wasn’t cohesive. While my lamb was perfectly cooked and not at all gamey (tends to happen with lamb), there weren’t enough veggies, the sauce was thick and gravy-like, there was too much cinnamon on the plate and the portion of couscous was very small. Regular small grain couscous should’ve accompanied this dish, but came with larger Israeli couscous that tasted like it was warmed in some type of stale animal fat. You can imagine my surprise when receiving a dish twice as heavy as expected. But the food was hot, good, very flavorful and delicious and was served with freshly grilled pita bread (although I think it wasn’t made fresh).

The mint tea was served beautifully in a metal pot with little, whimsically shaped glasses; but the flavor and preparation basically sucked. There was little straining of the leaves and no instruction was given on steeping time. At first the tea was too watery, then it was too medicinal tasting. Plus at $5 per person, the tea was expensive and should have been better; especially for a place that claims they’ve got the “best mint tea in Sacramento.”

I would definitely go to Kasbah Lounge again. The vibrant colors and attention to decoration detail create an invigorating ambiance. But, I would make sure it was at a time when I was looking for a lighter, whimsical dining experience. If you’re super hungry and/or looking for early bird specials or value meals, this isn’t the place for you. But there is a weeknight happy hour from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. I’ve marked my calendar to try out the happy hour deals like the $3 pints of sangria and the $2 or $3 appetizers. Think of this place as a great starter for a night out or a destination experience with good friends.

Words by Josselin Basaldu