Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Restaurant Review: Cafe Casablanca, downtown Aarhus

For two days I am staying in the Cab Inn, a chain motel in Denmark. The rooms are tiny, but clean, and the service is curt, but it's Denmark, so everyone is overwhelmingly nice.

The lack of a kitchen and the recent reminder to eat well meant that I took myself out to dinner; the restaurant recommendation came from Lonely Planet. The Casablanca is a cafe and bar around the corner from my hotel, just on the other side of the cathedral. (An aside: I had gotten lost in Strasbourg, because the instructions were "cross the river, see the cathedral (you can't miss it), and go there." Well, right across the river is a nice big church, so I wandered around there before discovering that no, that's just a big church, the cathedral is much bigger and more ornate and something people actually care about. The big church in Strasbourg? Bigger than the cathedral here in Aarhus.)

I arrived just about 7 to find the place largely empty, save for the wait staff (a very dark-skinned woman who looked to be of Indian decent, and a cute and friendly blond Danish boy; both look in their mid twenties). I'm looking for two things, I said: do you have a table for one, and an English menu? Sit anywhere you like, said the blond, but the menus are all in Danish — I can translate.

I found a seat in the corner, ordered a glass of the house white, and failed to make heads or tails of the menu. I'm vegetarian plus fish, I told the waiter, what have you got? The suggestion came back that I should order the first item on the menu, a Danish open-faced sandwich topped with salmon, smoked cheese, and veggies. So I did.

An aside: I had had almost exactly the same idea-of-a-dish for lunch at the cafeteria — a slice of rye bread with salmon, veggies, and cheese sauce. But the cafeteria lunch I ate hastily (I was again eating alone), and was made with cafeteria food. And I had had it paired with other cafeteria fare: rice with vaguely-Asian vegetable stir-fry, cabbage salad with canned pineapple. The dinner was much more satisfying, not to mention about ten times more expensive.

The dish came very quickly, as nothing needed to be cooked. Three squares (about 3in to a side) of Danish rye were spread first with cheese, about the consistency and richness of a soft chevre but with a strong smoky flavor. On top of this were layers of lightly smoked salmon, drizzled with mustard sauce. Then the sandwich was piled high with a young mixed green salad: rocket, baby escarole, amaranth leaves, and most interestingly fresh thyme, used as a veggie. Red onions, lightly pickled in an anise-flavored brine, and minced chives topped it off. The dinner was seasoned well and I enjoyed it with gusto.

I had brought my reading, and let myself enjoy music at the cafe, and the look of the bar. After a bit, I asked about dessert. Ah, said the blond, do you like chocolate? Yes, well, then you must get the last dish on the menu. He tried to translate the name but failed: "somewhere between cake and ice cream". I could read only the other two words: "med frugt". Sounds great, I said.

What came was a beautifully arranged dish. On the bottom was a slab of chocolate — more of less a cold and very dark chocolate fudge — about 1in high by 2in by 3in. On top of this was a large scoop of vanilla ice cream, protected from the fudge, as I found out while eating, but a thin layer of slivered almonds. Spread around the dessert were sour blackberries and sweet blueberries, and on top of everything was a bunch of pinkish-red currants.

I finished the dinner with another hour of working (I think I made real progress on my project, once I finally relaxed over a meal and that large glass of Sauvignon blanc) and a pot of white tea, which came with sugar, milk, and two chocolate-covered espresso beans. I'm tempted to return to the same cafe tomorrow and ask for their other veggie option, the Caesar salad with salmon in place of chicken. But if I do, I think I will have to get more cash: dinner tonight cost more, after all the exchange rates, than I spent on the last dinner in Strasbourg. Of course, it doesn't help that the Dollar has lost 3% against the Krone in the last week.


Anonymous said...

It sounds like you're having some nice culinary experiences. I'm impressed that you recognized all the greens, I think I'd know "iceberg" and "romaine". Is it a challenge to find vegetarian cusine?


Theo said...

Well, as I've said, the Danes are very friendly. But menus don't tend to have vegetarian options. For example, I went back to the same place last night (after finding another restaurant full), and had the "House Salad", which was delicious and filling, but I had to ask for it without ham.