She says: Cards on the table, I love everything Bombay Grill, so I already expected to like this place. The owner of Bombay Grill (who also owns Casablanca Kabab House), catered my wedding back in 2007, and every time I’ve gone to the Bombay Grill, either location, he’s been fantastic about coming over and saying hello, giving ideas about the food, and on one occasion, while I was eating from the buffet, he sent over my favorite dish (which was not included in the typical buffet).
That being said, my friend and I both went in with an open mind, as well as a love for Indian food.
The owner, Kishan Sharma, was kind enough to answer a few of our questions.
Smile Politely: What are the pictures painted on the wall, and why did you choose them?
Sharma: One is the Gateway of India, from Mumbai. Another is a pyramid from Egypt; another is a mosque in Iraq. The last is from New Delhi. I chose them because they’re all different scenes, representing the different inspirations and flavors that I used in putting together the menu.
SP: Why did you start this restaurant, particularly just two blocks from your other restaurant? How is it different?
Sharma: I saw this storefront open up and thought it was an excellent business opportunity. The Indian food on the menu is similar to Bombay Grill, but the rest of the Middle Eastern dishes are inspired by different areas. The rolls that you see, the naan wraps, are all a unique idea to this place. I thought it would be a good fusion concept, trying out new dishes.
Appetizers (description from menu):
Casablanca Mix Chat (spicy): mashed aloo tikki and a samosa topped with yogurt and spicy chutneys ($4.99)
Casablanca Paneer Pakora: deep fried cheese stuffed with lentils and spices ($5.99)
He says: The Mix Chat was very impressive, with a good balance of sweet and spicy curry combining with the cool yogurt. The mix of hot and cool flavors would probably be an excellent intro course for people who dig spices but haven’t had much Indian food before. It’s an unintimidating beginning, while being a good breadth of flavors.
She says: Agreed. That was a very tasty dish, with the yummy flavor of the samosa and a lot of aloo and sauce. I’m not a huge fan of the Paneer Pakora. It was good in that “deep-fried cheese” way, more moist than one would have expected, but without the mild sauce (apparently a recipe of the owner’s grandmother) to dip it in, it would be almost entirely bland. I couldn’t really identify the lentils or spices part of the appetizer, just seemed like battered paneer. The sauce makes it, and it’s a pretty unassuming tomato-based sauce as well. Tasty but not very flavorful.
Chai tea was the only beverage tried by our table ($2.99). It was good, though there was an odd skin on the top upon arrival, which we hadn’t particularly seen before in other tea. It was somewhat akin to gravy skin, which we weren’t used to seeing on tea. Perhaps readers who drink more tea will recognize this as common, or at least, normal, but it was not very appetizing to us, as we had never experienced that with tea before.
Entrees: For three people (we had a spectator), we split two rolls. Even with that splitting, there was another half of a roll to eat the next day.
Chicken Jalfrezi Roll ($7.99)
He says: The Chicken Jalfrezi was flavorful, on the mild side. A satisfying amount of vegetables, and — surprisingly — it worked extremely well as a roll. I wasn’t really expecting this to work so well; I thought it would be weird, but it tasted very good and wasn’t outweighed by the naan.
Lamb Kabab Roll ($9.99)
She says: This Lamb Kabab Roll was pretty great. The lamb was tender and flavorful, and I was glad that the naan didn’t overpower everything. I’m a huge fan of Zyggy rolls, which have a very unassuming roti wrap. I expected the thicker naan wrap to overpower the flavor of the inside ingredients, which were mild. However, I know that I could have asked them to make it more spicy if I had wanted to, and the creamy sauce inside, combined with the meat, lettuce, onions, and other ingredients was really very good. I felt the sauce given on the side was too subtle for both the wrap as well as the fries, so perhaps that is unnecessary. But I really like spicy, savory dips, so perhaps for someone that doesn’t like spice, this would be more appreciated.
But wow, so much food! Prepare to take some home. The service was good, prompt but not irritating, with constantly filled water glasses, and while the restaurant had a decent amount of people in it, it was by no means crowded.
He says: For the cost, the roll was a very good deal. I’m eating the other half of this roll for a meal tomorrow. My first impression of this place was a decent, sit-down atmosphere which I don’t necessarily expect in places right off of Green Street. The washroom, on the other hand, is exactly what I would expect from Green Street.
She says: Actually, that’s funny, I was thinking the same thing! The girls’ bathroom was pretty sketchy, with no mirror and a weird lock. No fun. However, the ambience of the restaurant was a nice dark wood, very lit up, cool place. That being said, the seating by the door in the winter (and probably the summer too) leaves a lot to be desired, as well.
All three of us enjoyed our dinner, and altogether the bill was approximately $33.00 for three very full individuals, and one box of leftovers. Our meal had two appetizers, two entrees and one drink. The lunch items are a few dollars cheaper for approximately the same meal, though with less fries, from what we gather. Definitely a neat place to try around campus, with very well-priced meals for lunch as well as dinner. A departure from Bombay Grill, Zyggy’z, and Sairam Om, Casablanca Kabab House is a welcome addition to lunch places on campus, and even worth a trip in for dinner.
623 E. Green St.
Champaign, IL 61820
Photos by Scott Weber