Casablanca Creative Cuisine and Wine Bar is a hidden gem in Northgate Shopping Center in Rochester. While the exterior may be less than enticing, once you step inside you will discover the small but welcoming dining room they have created. The hospitality of Youness and Amber Bojji is impeccable.
507: How did you get started cooking?
Youness Bojji: Though Moroccan-born I spent much of my early years in Paris. Here I worked in restaurants with additional restaurant or hospitality-related work in Barcelona, Spain and Portugal. In 1998 a friend invited me to come to Rochester. I took a kitchen position here simply slicing onions. Opportunities opened for me to work in the kitchen of several downtown restaurants, including Victoria’s Ristorante and Wine Bar where I spent six years working under owner Sid Victoria. He was a great teacher. Sid taught me the small nuances of going from basic garlic to the finished, complex dish. He also taught me a great deal about running a restaurant.
507: Tell me about Casablanca.
Bojji: Preparing food had become a creative endeavor for me as well; one which I find relaxing. It is like an artist who starts with a blank canvas then continues to add elements until satisfied with a great finished product. I had always dreamed of opening my own restaurant so when this space became available my wife Amber and I decided to make this a reality.
507: Tell me about your menu.
Bojji: Many of the dishes have a historical foundation. For example, tajine originally was a poor man’s dinner in Africa. Our Moulin Rouge Chicken reflects the dish, which was popularized by the famous café in Paris of that name. It has proven to be a favorite of our patrons since we opened. Our basic menu changes seasonally. Always offered is the “le-choix-du- chef” – French for “chef’s choice” – in which I will create a three-course meal just for you. We find about 50-60% of those dining with us order such.
507: How do you approach creating dishes and preparing food?
Bojji: All my ideas begin visually, seeing the ingredients, particularly produce, and then picturing how they would fit into a finished dish. From my mother I inherited the habit of shopping daily in order to prepare food with only the freshest ingredients. Then there is travel. I taste and discover dishes which I then recreate adding my own nuances.
507: Do you have a favorite dish?
Bojji: I have no one favorite food though when I say that my wife is quick to correct. She reminds me “tajine” as this reminds me of my mother. Well yes, I have to admit I am proud of that; proud of making it like she did and yes, proud of her and all she taught me.
507: How would you describe the dining experience at Casablanca?
Bojji: We strive to create an intimate dining experience. Music and white tableclothes are part of this. For a unique experience, on Friday and Saturday night we offer guests a glass of sparkling wine upon which the entire restaurant stops for 15 seconds to raise a toast and silently express gratitude for something in their life. We treat people as if they are guests in our home.