The Casbah puts Mediterranean food on the map in Madison. Nestled between a row of beautiful, old buildings at 119 East Main St. in the chic Capitol Square area of downtown Madison, The Casbah brings age-old Mediterranean recipes to life with an exquisite upscale twist.
What started in July 1999 as a retirement project for owner Sabi Atteyih has grown to one of the more popular restaurants in downtown. Whether dropping by for a fine dining experience or simply a few drinks and a toke on a hookah, The Casbah has something to offer to both the older theater crowd and the younger student population.
The restaurant consists of three unique levels. The upper area has an elegant and relaxed ambiance perfectly suited for a romantic dinner. The middle level, also known as the Casbah Café, looks like it was imported straight from Beirut, complete with a beautiful, Islamic tiled bar and a collection of exotic hookahs. Downstairs is King Tut’s, a late night lounge where one can slip off his shoes and enjoy a few appetizers or a glass of sangria with friends.
A native of Morocco, Chef Abdul, has a talent for taking simple foods like hummus and lamb shish kebab you would find at any street stall from Tangier to Tehran, and preparing them in a mouth-watering style no patron could resist. The menu is an eclectic blend of Mediterranean, Lebanese, North African and Persian dishes. From baba ghanouj to avocado shrimp, the exotic tastes and smells you’ll find at the Casbah can’t be missed. The restaurant also includes an impressive array of delicious vegetarian dishes like dolmadakia yalatzi (stuffed grape leaves) and tabuli, a Lebanese salad made with fresh vegetables and bulgur wheat.
I started my culinary journey around the Mediterranean with a wonderfully light gazpacho, a perfect treat on a hot summer day. The chilled vegetable soup that came as a broth was a perfect blend of tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions and delicious olive oil. I soaked up every drop with the fresh baked pita bread that accompanies every meal. Another patron’s spicy Indian lentil and spinach soup filled the air with the exotic aromas of cumin and coriander. After teasing my taste buds with these delectable treats, I skipped the appetizers and went straight for the gold.
Dining on such an oppressively hot afternoon required that I order something light, so I went with the Ultimate Vegetarian Combination, which it turns out is big enough to be shared by two people. When the platter arrived, I gazed over a scrumptious display of dips: hummus, baba ghanouj and m’hamrah. Paired with an array of pita bread, all three were delicious, but the m’hamra caught the spotlight. This exotic dip from Lebanon consists of fire-roasted red peppers, pureed and mixed with toasted, crushed walnuts, pomegranate syrup, garlic and olive oil.
The baba ghanouj, another Lebanese dip, is a wonderful pureed mixture of broiled eggplant, lemon juice, garlic, yogurt and tahini paste made from roasted sesame seeds. The Casbah’s baba ghanouj is simply some of the best around.
Of course, one cannot forget the humus. This Middle Eastern dip has grown in popularity the past few years and has become quite common in the ethnic sections of supermarkets across America, and with good reason. A mixture of pureed chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice, tahini and olive oil, most people smear it on pita bread but it goes best with grilled or roasted lamb. The humus at The Casbah is to die for.
Moving on to the other foods adorning my plate, I came to that old State Street favorite — the samosa. These Indian puff pastries are stuffed with a spicy mixture of peas and potatoes cooked in garam masala and black cumin seeds. The samosas are accompanied by tangy, sweet coriander chutney.
Next on the plate was the falafel. You can find falafels in restaurants all over Madison, but the falafels at The Casbah are truly worth the trip. Made fresh everyday from ground chickpeas, fava beans and spices and fried to a golden brown, The Casbah’s are served with a tart tadziki yogurt sauce that can’t be matched.
Without the stomach room to compliment my meal with a scoop of pistachio ice cream, I was left with something to look forward to on my next trip to The Casbah. From San Francisco to New York City, I’ve eaten plenty of Mediterranean food. Great, authentic Mediterranean food can be found in big cities all over America, but some of the best is right here in Madison and it starts with The Casbah.
The Casbah Restaurant and Lounge
119 East Main Street