After Hours: Grilled to thrill at Al Casbah
Stars and Stripes May 28, 2008
CAMBRIDGE — It’s Friday night, and exchange rate be damned, we’re goin’ out to eat!
Living with the mighty pound, getting a bang of a meal for those converted bucks is important, especially for those who seldom eat out.
But what are the options? Pub grub? Some mealy, warmed-over Asian takeaway from the place down the street? Indian food? Again?
Break the mold next time you’re dining out and hit the Al Casbah, a uniquely decorated and delicious Algerian eatery in the heart of Cambridge.
Opened 12 years ago by Foudil Rerizani, who came here to study from his native Algeria and never left, dining in the Al Casbah is an experience unto itself.
Passers-by may be drawn in by the glass case of various meats that lines the restaurant’s window overlooking Mill Road.
Next to that case stands chef Safir Hocine and his long charcoal grill. Order something involving grilled meat, and he cooks it right there.
The entire eatery has an Algerian theme, right down to the Bedouin-style tent fabric draped across the ceiling.
While spellings vary, "Casbah" refers to the old quarter of some North African cities.
Rerizani said it comes from an Arabic word meaning flute. And just like the instrument, an old quarter has many entry points.
Inside the restaurant’s cozy confines, diners are immediately greeted with a complimentary olive bowl, a great way to build up your appetite while perusing the menu.
And what a menu it is. The Casbah’s Web site confidently promises the best couscous in town.
That’s a bold statement, but dang, that is some good couscous. Try the Couscous Royale, a house specialty that features a variety of freshly grilled meats over a bed of fluffy couscous and vegetables.
If couscous isn’t your style, try one of the Brochettes Casbah. It’s a big plate of grilled meat, veggies and rice. It’s one of the pricier meals at 9 pounds, but one person will have a hard time finishing it all.
The desserts are excellent as well. Order the baklava, a sticky-sweet pastry, or the fantastic mango sorbet. Washed down with a glass of mint tea or Algerian coffee, it’s a great ender to a quality meal.
Eating at the Al Casbah is great because all the aspects of the experience compliment each other. The intimate seating, coupled with the extensive Algerian-themed decor and music, open grill and high-quality food make it a truly refreshing dining experience in the land of the chippy and pub.
A couple words of advice are in order. First, call ahead and get a reservation, as the joint is open late and fills up every night. Secondly, leave the kids at home. There’s not a ton of space and the other patrons will thank you for it.
When he’s not helping to take orders or serve drinks, Rerizani stresses the homeliness of the restaurant and the fact that it’s the only Algerian joint in town.
"We want to introduce the Algerian cuisine to the people," he said. "People seem to like it once they come, and then they become regulars."