“I feel that making food is like making a picture or a work of art. You start with nothing, and then you create something beautiful that you can share with everyone.”
If you like that sentiment, you’ll like everything about Casablanca, a new Rochester restaurant by chef/owner Youness Bojji.
The Moroccan-born, French-raised and Paris-restaurant-trained chef’s new place is a bit of a surprise to his former employers, which is a list that reads like a best-Rochester-restaurants roll call. Although he trained as a chef in Paris, he worked only as a server or bartender for 12 years in Rochester.
“Many of them are coming in here to check it out and saying, ‘Youness, I didn’t know you could cook!'” said Bojji (which is a sentiment that’s hard to believe once you’ve tasted one of his dishes).
All the time he was working in service, Bojji was learning and taking notes about what works for the restaurant-going public here.
The result, after years of learning and then saving, is a small restaurant with a big soul.
When I look through a menu, I try to find clues to the chef’s influences or approach. On Casablanca’s menu, you’ll find hummus and pita (Mediterranean), bruschetta (Italian), Thai Chicken flatbread, an entire menu category devoted to tacos and beet salad. Do you see a theme? I didn’t, either.
“Travel, travel, travel,” explained Bojji. “Our influences come from all over the world. Everywhere I go, I eat everything and choose one thing I want to make — but then add my own twist to it.”
His tacos are more Thai than Mexican; he adds goat cheese to his guacamole and peanut butter to his taco sauce. The hummus is made with Sriracha. Every dish has something unexpected and uniquely Bojji.
And just when the taste profiles transport you, the hospitality of Bojji and Casablanca staff makes you feel right at home.
“I’m out on the restaurant floor all night,” he says. “People love hearing about the history of their dishes or where the ingredients came from. I want to be sure everyone is delighted with the food I’ve prepared.”
The set menu includes a variety of tapas/appetizers, as well as several salads, Panini sandwiches, flatbreads and tacos. But there’s also a chef feature every night that highlights some of the freshest and rare ingredients Bojji can get (even more so on Saturdays), as well as a “Chef’s Choice” meal, which consists of three courses created by Bojji just for you.
For a unique value-add experience, be sure to stop by on a Friday or Saturday night, when everyone gets a glass of champagne, and the entire restaurant stops for 15 seconds to raise a toast and silently express gratitude for something in their life.
In what might be the most unexpected aspect of this gem is its location in Northgate Plaza, fairly close to a wig shop and the health center. However, their goal is to make you forget about the outside world when you walk in the door, and for the most part, you do.
Casablanca is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Friday, and for dinner on Saturday, and they’re closed on Sunday. NOTE: Due to the Fourth of July holiday this weekend, Casablanca will be closed this Saturday, July 4. They’re located at 1208 Seventh St. NW in Rochester.
When you stop in, tell Bojji that Kim sent you, and ask him about the white wine with the bite of lime that you can’t stop drinking. (When you leave, you’ll have a Bojji story of your own.)