The best reasons why a Middle Eastern institution should
be called nouveau American
by Margaret LeRoux
100 Wall Street, Worcester
Mon.-Thurs. 4-10 p.m.
Fri.-Sat.4 -11 p.m.
Sun. 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Major credit cards
A friend told me that there was a new chef at the El Morocco who is really
shaking things up. She described a "fabulous" appetizer of roast quail that
made my mouth water. It's been a while since I've seen quail on a menu in these
parts, so another dining pal and I followed up on her lead on a recent mid-week
A bit of history for those of you who haven't been to the El Morocco. Perched
above the city at the top of Wall Street, the El is a Worcester institution
known best for its Middle Eastern food and for its entertainment. From the
1940s through the early '60s, it was New England's link to the New York City
jazz scene. Every big name performed here; late-night jam sessions were
legendary. Today, the restaurant retains that big-city nightclub atmosphere
with live jazzy performances.
The El's decor is sophisticated with creamy beige walls and soft, golden
lighting. The spacious, two-tiered dining room accommodates a crowd without
making diners feel cramped; thick carpeting keeps the noise level to a pleasant
hum. There's also a spectacular view afforded by a wall of windows. At the
table next to ours, a couple sipped martinis; the El is that kind of grown-up
We couldn't wait to try the quail and were pleased to find it on a separate
sheet of specials placed on top of the regular menu. Other appetizers on the
specials list included escargots sautéed in lemon sherry buerre blanc
($6), and shrimp Berardi with Gulf shrimp wrapped in Italian ham and baked in
Dijon butter ($6). The El's regular menu offers an assortment of Lebanese
appetizers, including a mezeh platter with a bit of everything ($6.50 for
medium; $8.50 large).
Back to the quail. It arrived, roasted to a dark mahogany, the crispy skin
flavored with Madeira and orange. Inside the bird, a stuffing of Mission figs
and prosciutto was deliciously sweet and salty. The quail was served in a nest
of onion strings; stir fried pea pods and red peppers provided a colorful
accent. We tried to mind our table manners but soon abandoned our forks to gnaw
on the tiny bones, savoring every last bit of the delicious meat.
We stayed with the specials for our main courses, too; grilled veal chop
topped with mushroom demi-glace ($16) for me, while my companion selected
crusted rack of lamb ($17). With dinner we sipped a very nice Merlot available
by the glass ($5.25).
In between courses we were served a salad of iceberg lettuce and a few tomato
wedges topped with the house vinaigrette -- strong on the oregano and mint. For
an extra dollar each, we added feta cheese and Greek olives.
The service was friendly. When the interval between salads and dinner became
noticeable, our waitress stopped by to reassure us that our meals would be out
in just a few moments. They were both worth the wait.
The veal chop was thick, juicy, and tender and done exactly as I'd requested,
medium. An assortment of mushrooms, including several slices of portobello,
gave an earthy oomph to the simple chop -- as did the delicious pool of rich,
brown demi-glace. There was a generous serving of garlic mashed new potatoes,
and the two of us shared a family style serving of vegetables -- bright,
crispy, green beans seasoned with a hint of garlic, slices of sweet, glazed
carrots, and corn.
The rack of lamb was wonderful. Each of the eight small chops was
melt-in-your-mouth tender on the inside and crisply charred on the outside. The
lamb's natural juices were enhanced with a subtle seasoning of rosemary. This
was another dish where we picked the bones clean; our mothers would have been
Dessert after such a meal is an afterthought, and we should have left it at
that. The slice of overly sweet chocolate mousse pie ($4.25) that we shared was
not up to the standards of the rest of the meal. Our bill including tax but not
tip was $68.20.
Later in a phone conversation the El's new chef, Justin Kane, acknowledged
that the desserts -- currently purchased, not prepared on the premises -- will
be among several changes he'll be making in the menu.
Fans of the restaurant's Lebanese specialties like shish kebab, kefta, and
kibbe need not worry. They'll remain as "classics," but there will be lots of
innovation among the current, rather tired assortment of steaks, chicken, and
Kane is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and recently helped
introduce the new 6 Burner restaurant in Allston.
"I was looking for a change just as the owners of the El were looking for
someone to make changes in their menu," he says.
His enthusiasm is apparent as he described a new appetizer, smoked salmon
Napoleon. We're looking forward to sampling more of his culinary changes.