I ate at Casaville on the first really cold day of the fall, but when I opened the door I was almost instantly transported to warmer climates. The Moroccan restaurant in Murray Hill is dominated by a large wooden bar, decorated with palm fronds. The air was redolent with spices, and the regulars greeting the staff lent the space the air of bonhomie I would expect from an ex-pat bar halfway across the world. I half expected to be presented with a gin and tonic the moment I was seated. Instead I got the menu, and I ordered a few of their Moroccan-style tapas, both cold and warm.
From the cold side of the menu I chose the roasted eggplant ($7), served with warm and crispy pita wedges. The eggplant had been cooked until silky and soft, then chopped into small pieces and drenched in olive oil. It was rich and satisfying, and there was the slow burn of something spicy behind it all.
I couldn't resist ordering something called Moroccan pizza ($9) from the hot tapas portion of the menu. Although it was, overall, too sweet for me, there were a lot of interesting flavors to be enjoyed. The base was a focaccia-like flatbread, crisp and sweet at the edges. Then came a smear of goat cheese and a layer of sweet caramelized onions. On top of that was a layer if fresh tomatoes, topped with a mild white cheese, dollops of a spicy herb-olive oil mixture, and some chopped kalamata olives. There was nothing particularly Moroccan about it, but it was fun to eat nonetheless.
My favorite dish of the meal was the wild mushroom gratin ($9.50). Beneath the seemingly simple cheesy exterior was a creamy and delicious mix of mushrooms, spinach, and goat cheese. Although this item is on the menu year-round, it really works as a fall or winter dish; warming and nourishing, perfect for the coming cold weather. The fact that it was hidden beneath a chewy, crunchy cheese crust made it even better.
If you'll allow me a little digression, the two mushrooms I identified in the gratin were creminis and shiitakes—nothing wild there. Why do so many restaurants insist on calling any dish with mushrooms in it "wild mushroom?" I know it's a marketing thing, but it bugs me. There's nothing wrong with cultivated mushrooms, and I'd prefer the honesty.
As my dinner at Casaville unfolded I found myself relaxing, reveling in the atmosphere. Every time the door opened I was shocked by the cold air that came rushing in. It may not be the best restaurant in Manhattan, but the ambiance can't be beat.
About the author: Howard Walfish is a Virginia native who has been living in New York since 2003. He is, in fact, a vegetarian, and is the co-founder of Eat to Blog and the creator of BrooklynVegetarian.