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Saffron and coriander add a light touch to a new love affair

May, 2010

Since we’ve become empty nesters and because we work hard, we’re often on the prowl for N.D.G. restaurants where we feel at home and eat healthy. It seems we’ve found a jewel, Casa Maura on unassuming Somerled.

Owned by a happy-looking couple, Reza from Iran and Nora from Mexico, the 40-seat restaurant has a colourful terrace and interior—in burnt orange and blue with navy and yellow tablecloths.

Casa Maura looks like a neighbourhood pizzeria with its wood-burning oven, but also has a dressy feel to it.

We were warmly greeted by Nora and her server, also Mexican, Adriana.

I immediately switched to my blossoming Spanish, not willing to miss an opportunity to practice.

Irwin bet me and our friends, Gigi and Pierre, that the owners were Iranian. Maybe he noticed the saffron sprinkled on the rice on the table next to us. Sure enough, Nora told us they were adding an Iranian chicken brochette to the already massive menu, with a flexible table d’hote.

Apart from the $23.95 table d’hôte featuring lamb shank with eggplant and tomato sauce and Osso Bucco and the $17.95 table d’hote pasta dishes, one can turn any à la carte dish into a full course meal including soup or salad, tea/coffee and dessert. From the table d’hote, Irwin chose the lamb shank and Pierre the fettucini alfredo. I ordered the vegetarian manicotti, not on the menu. Gigi had a special request: Spaghetti Vongoli without tomato sauce. Owner-chef Reza rose to the occasion. We all savoured this delicate dish with wine and garlic, suggesting he add it to the menu.

Adriana (from left), Ahmed, Nora, Reza. Photo: Barbara Moser

We spent forever choosing wine, deciding finally on Novela at $21.95 a litre, which we enjoyed perhaps too much.

We shared the calamari ($8.95) and eggplant parmigiana ($6.95) appetizers. Both were meal-sized and perfectly flavored. We wondered how we’d have room for entrées.

The soup was a generous bowl of sumptuous spinach, lentil and coriander, rich but lighter than lentil usually is. À la carte, it’s $3.95. Irwin chose the chef’s salad and we all sampled its excellent dressing. We also shared a small Caesar in a light creamy dressing.

Casa Maura was scoring pretty close to 100 per cent and when the entrées arrived, we couldn’t believe our eyes and palates. Everybody shared everything and declared each mouthful divine. My manicotti was swimming in a wonderful creamy pink sauce, probably rosé and cheese.

Gigi loved Irwin’s lamb. He described it as “falling off the bone as it should be … juicy, not fat, nicely flavoured.” It was accompanied by a large serving of basmati sprinkled with saffron, as he had expected. Adriana appeared with a basket of garlic bread (included). It tasted better than my homemade version.

“Next time I come here, I’m going to have everything,” Gigi declared between mouthfuls.

“Yeah, it’s great,” said Pierre, adding that his alfredo rated with the first alfredo he had in Rome in 1969 at the Piccolo Mondo! (You can see why we enjoy this charming couple.)

We told Reza the Rome story. He smiled and told us that Alfredo sauce, although it looks simple, requires just the right ingredients and timing. Lunch ranges from $8.95 to $12.95, including soup, garlic bread, coffee/tea and dessert — good deals for well-prepared food. Nora told us they grow their own herbs and use no artificial flavouring or colouring.

We returned for Sunday brunch, which starts at $5.99, including OJ, fresh fruit, potatoes, coffee and toast. My Mexican eggs ($8.99), scrambled with jalapenos, tomatoes and onions, were plentiful and zesty, served with polenta, fresh fruit and tortillas made by Nora. Our huge coffee mugs were replenished often. Casa Maura may become our new casa away from home.

Resto Casa Maura, 6290 Somerled. Reservations: 514-482-0777.



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