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The picture of a belly dancing elderly woman says it all.

Casablanca Cafe: The picture of a belly dancing elderly woman says it all.

During my nearly 3 decades on this earth, I have eaten in hundreds, probably thousands, of restaurants across Europe and America. Only once did I refuse to pay for my dinner (a revolting Mexican place in Sacramento that served us what looked like leftover catfood in a corn husk). This was 8 years ago, and for the first time in 8 years, I came close to refusing to pay for my food today at Casablanca Cafe in Bloomington, Indiana. 

 

Casablanca Cafe was playing music that brought to mind weeping Moroccan clowns when we entered (later it became better, and then there was no music at all). The menu had a few vaguely Moroccan items, and a lot more American Italian items. It reminded me, disturbingly enough, of an airplane food menu. New to this place, I asked the waiter for a recommendation (other than their $22 LUNCH specials). He advised me to try the couscous, rather than the gyros sandwich which also sounded good to me. My husband ordered the lamb kabob with saffron rice and vegetables. The waiter brought out our drinks first, and I must admit that my “Michael’s Tea” was excellent, and seemed to contain homemade lemonade. My husband’s Moroccan green tea with mint on the other hand, at a very pricy $4.95, was so sickeningly sweet I couldn’t stand to drink it. (And I assure you I am not one of those people that thinks everything is too sweet) The bread, for which we had to pay extra (!!), came with excessively cheap olive oil, and something they called “balsamic vinegar”, which we suspect was actually just cheap malt vinegar, as the only thing it had in common with Balsamico, was that it was vinegar, and it was black. The bread itself, contrary to what some other reviewers seem to have experienced, was neither fresh nor homemade probably. 

 

A pile of flavorless watery swill

This is exactly what it looks like: A pile of flavorless watery swill

Then the food came out. As soon as I looked at it, I got a bad feeling. A pile of boiled broccoli, carrots and chick peas, on top of some plain boiled couscous. Sadly, it tasted even worse than I had feared. The couscous (something I normally love), was utterly devoid of even a hint of flavor. It tasted like cheap, watery couscous of the Walmart home brand variety. The vegetables, which were at least not TOO over cooked, were completely flavorless as well. The spices on top appeared to just consist of parsley, which is indeed a commonly used Moroccan, but which is also excessively bland. To my astonishment, even the currants had no flavor. (And having lived in England for two years, I know bland!) My husband’s lamb was even blander than his vegetables (which were identical to mine), and his “saffron rice” had no more flavor than your average pile of shredded plastic bits. It made me long for a packet of cheap Uncle Ben’s easy rice. (Hint to the cook: Just because it’s yellow, doesn’t mean you can call it saffron rice)

 

 

Casablanca Cafe Bloomington has the talent to make even lamb bland.

Casablanca Cafe Bloomington has the talent to make even lamb bland.

I liberally sprinkled salt over my dish after the first few bites. Then again, and again, and again. This food was so bland, it even seemed to make negate the effects of salt, like a black hole of blandness sucking up and annihilating flavor. I finally decided this wasn’t worth sticking in my mouth and eating, so I left the rest of my dish. I can honestly say I have eaten better food on airplanes. Sure, just the thought of airplane food makes me want to vomit, but so does the thought of this bland, watery swill. Actually, vomiting this up and having lunch elsewhere sounds appealing, but I’m afraid our wallets are empty after paying for this crap.

 

The final price for this slop? A whopping $40 (includes $5 tip) for two people, for lunch. No appetizers, no alcohol.

(Purchased: some pieces of bread, 1 tea, 1 tea-lemonade, 1 vegetable couscous, 1 lamb kabob. $40. !! )

Conclusion: My food left me wishing I’d ordered the Gyros sandwich after all. At The Trojan Horse bar.

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My mother, husband and I decided to take a trip down the Oregon coast to Bandon, as my mother had never been there, and my husband and I love going to the game park. As we drove down the 101 via Florence, the weather suddenly went from warm and sunny to dark, cold and foggy exactly as we passed by a ‘Misty Lane’. Nevertheless we got out for a few minutes to look at the beach, see a lighthouse, and examine some berries. I had no idea what they were, but they were a pretty colored and looked delicious, so I put some in my mouth. And they were great, similar to raspberries but with more seeds. Only moments later a ranger passed by, and slowed down for us. A brief moment of remorse (and a possible need for an ambulance) made me decide to check with him to find out what they were. He couldn’t tell me the name, but was positive that they were edible. We looked for a few more, after a short chat with the ranger. There weren’t many ripe ones though, so our harvest was minimal. (I did look up later what they were. Turns out they’re something called Thimbleberries. Related to blackberries, raspberries and such. I also discovered that black colored berries are usually fine to eat, but red berries only occasionally. So there goes my theory of “if they look delicious, they must be edible”.) There were also blackberries, but of course we’re a week or two too early for those. The rare black ones were too tart for my liking. Our most exciting find was a beautiful ripe salmonberry. I would’ve taken a photo of it, but I ate it.

We stopped briefly in Coos Bay, where my husband lived as a child, and checked out an antiques store. I was surprised to find two small original Chiparus book stands, but being both broken and glued back together, I found them overpriced at 1,000. I’d rather buy a cheaper replica over a seriously damaged original.

By the end of the afternoon we made it to the West Coast Game Park Safari in Bandon, where it was remarkably quiet. Just a few minutes of waiting took us into the ‘petting arena’ where we were allowed to hold, pet and play with two of the cutest little baby leopards. Truly adorable, and very friendly.

The zoo is a little depressing overall though, as the cages are small and bare with animals looking depressed and sad. The deer, which walk free throughout the park, have ratty fur perhaps from too much handling and stress. The large cats just have small cages with cement and wire fences, and pretty much nothing in them. They explained however that they do have breeding and training exchange programs with zoos across America, so apparently other zoos don’t mind sending their animals here.

 

One of the best featurs of the game park, after being able to pet the cubs of leopards, lynxes, etc., is their nursery area. Every hour or so they bring out babies from the nursery, and let people hold them and pet them. In our case there was a cross eyed opossum (which yawned right into my face, with its enormous mouth and endless teeth), a tiny baby opossum. Nobody wanted to pet/hold the possums, they were all like: no thanks. So I ended up holding them for a long time. Americans apparently see them as disgusting nasty pests for the most part, and I felt sorry for the sweet baby who looked so adorable sleeping in his little sack, as I held him.

My husband held a baby wallaby, we both petted a cute white baby skunk, and some of my favorites were of course their two darling silver mitt ferrets. They were sleepy and shaking constantly as it was cold outside, and they had been sleeping in front of a heater. Such sweethearts. One of them had a face that was very similar to my sweet baby IJsbrand, who passed away a few months ago, so holding him made me miss my IJs a lot. I wish I could get another ferret for our girl ferret, who doesn’t care much about us, but then we’ll just endlessly be buying new ferrets. And if we get an older one, we’ll be out a fortune in medical costs again, and we’ll just lose him in only a few years. So eventually, last to leave, I said goodbye to the ferrets, now both in my arms, and went to find my husband and mother who had long since wandered off.

My biggest gripe with the West Coast Game Park isn’t so much the condition they keep the animals in. It’s the lack of civilization amongst its average visitors. Wherever we went, we seemed to run into teenage parents, and one couple in particular. Both father and mother looked about 16 years old. Trashy make up, boy with his pants falling from his ass, and a poorly behaved two year old. Though I must say, the parents were even more poorly behaved and childish than their kid. The father walked around holding and eating from a bag of chips, which he would proceed to ceaselessly rattle in front of EVERY animal he came across, to taunt them, while they let their tiny kid stick its fingers into every cage, like with the foxes. I’m amazed their kid didn’t lose any fingers. (And more amazed that the enclosures are so minimal that a child can stick his entire hand through the fence in many places, and potentially touch or be chewed on by dangerous wild animals. I have never seen a zoo this dangerous.)

 

We finished our day with a truly surprising and delectable meal at an Italian restaurant called ‘Alloro’ in Bandon, OR. I normally find that extensive time spent in Italy has spoiled me too much for ‘American Italian’. Yet after seeing their menu online, I began to suspect that this might, at last, be an authentic Italian restaurant (Fairly Tuscan, to be more precise). Well beyond anything I might find at the so called “great, totally authentic Italian” restaurants people seem to blindly praise in Eugene. I even dared take my mother there, who I would normally be too ashamed to take into an American Italian restaurant.

The restaurant had only 5 tables for some reason, and two small booths in the back. The rest was just empty space, which guaranteed plenty of privacy and a calming atmosphere. On the other hand, the emptiness did not do much for the accoustics, which became a little problematic by the time the 8 middle aged golfers at the other table (presumably staying at the expensive Bandon Dunes Golf Resort), had become drunk and kept hitting on the 16 year old waitresses. (Real classy) I wondered whether the lack of tables was to disguise a meager clientele (by no means as a result of their food, but it was mid summer and freezing cold, with nothing to do in Bandon), or whether there were so few tables to give the impression that the restaurant is rather selective and elite. (Their web site did lead us to believe that reservations are always necessary).

I enjoyed a selection of Italian cheeses (My best guess: Two seemed to be pecorinos, a younger and older, one cheese I swear to god was a 3 month old Dutch Gouda, one was a slightly aged gorgonzola piccante, and the third one was a washed rind very soft yet robustly flavored goat’s cheese). The cheeses were served with a nice fresh ciabatta type bread as well as some multigrain, also very fresh. My husband had crispy calamari with a spicy tomato sauce, and my mother opted for the clams if I recall correctly (I don’t care for them, so I didn’t try them), though she was terribly disappointed that the stuffed zucchini flowers had shrimp in them, as she has sadly developed an allergy to her beloved crustaceans in recent years.

For my main course I enjoyed an unusual halibut ravioli in pesto. The choice of halibut was new to me, but unlike I had feared, the filling was not at all chunky or overly fishy, but rather soft, white (mixed with ricotta?) and lightly fishy so that it tasted just right. The pesto wasn’t my favorite choice with a fishy filling, and it was fairly unremarkably, though certainly no different from your average basil pesto in Italy. I wondered if a lemony artichoke pesto might not have been a better pairing.

My husband went for a lovely shrimp risotto with excellent texture (creamy but not mushy, with a decent bite to the rice still), and my mother chose the truly outstanding orechiette. We couldn’t remember what was in them, other than the obvious ingredients, so I decided to ask the waitress what spices added that truly magnificent, fragrant, lightly sweet touch. Turns out it was made with black truffles! Other than that, there was supposedly just the pasta, tomatoes, fennel and salt and pepper, if I recall correctly. I’d love to recreate it at home, but I wonder now whether they used real truffles, or just truffle oil…

The portions were normal, primo piatto sized, the way they should be. (Appetizers were a bit large, easily shared) If one shared an appetizer, and each picked one primo piatto, you would have plenty of space for a secondo piatto of meat or fish. We just went straight on to dessert and coffee though. For the dessert we shared a combination of chocolate cake with a chocolate sauce filling, chocolate sauce on top, two little scoops of vanilla ice cream, and outstanding hazelnut meringues with real little pieces of hazelnut. Truly a remarkable meal, and one that could easily hold its own in competition with a good quality Italian restaurant! And for three people (three appetizers, three pasta dishes, a side dish (perfect green beans wrapped in prosciutto), one large dessert, several glasses of wine, coffee with liquor and regular coffees) we paid $130 ($43 each or so), which I found well beyond reasonable. Astonishingly, the pasta dishes were only around $10 each.

So I hereby wholeheartedly endorse Alloro as serving the most authentic Italian food (or at least Tuscan, I can’t speak for all of Italy) in all of Oregon, and possibly the United States in my experience thus far.

"We HOPE you are enjoying Bandon" ...

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