January 06, 2008

Return to Morocco Restaurant (Worcester)

LL and I went to Morocco (at 172 Shrewsbury St., Worcester) for a second time last night in celebration of six months in Worcester. Details of our first time there a month and a half ago can be reviewed in this entry (November 19).

It's worth noting that word is clearly getting out about Morocco. We made a reservation last night and it's a good thing that we did because the place was packed. There wasn't an empty table available for almost the entire time we were there and customers without reservations had about a ten minute wait. That's not too bad considering it was a Saturday night, but calling ahead (508-459-9660) would be a very good idea if you're planning to have dinner on the weekend. Watching the wait staff try to keep up with demand was practically a floor show by itself. We watched our own waiter deliver an order and then literally sprint back to the kitchen to pick up another several times. The staff is working hard, so leave them a good tip!

We started off with a mezza (assorted appetizers) consisting of kibbi (cooked and rolled into balls), shanklish, ma'anik (lamb sausage) and stuffed cabbage leaves. The only one of these that was a bit of a let-down to us was the shanklish. Both of us tend to like the strong, sharply-flavored variety and Morocco uses a very mild version. It's prepared as part of what resembles a salad containing a lot of parsley, chopped tomatoes and green onions marinated in vinegar and a bit of olive oil, so the taste of the cheese gets lost. After two tries with that dish, I probably wouldn't order it again. The other three appetizers, however, were wonderful. The stuffed cabbage leaves were the best of the lot; I'm not sure what's in the stuffing that Morocco uses, but whatever it is practically made my eyes roll back into my head. The menu says that the small mezza ($25) serves two, but if that's the case then it's as a dinner. By the time we got through the appetizers, we were practically full. Morocco certainly isn't stingy with their servings — dieters beware!

For entrees, LL ordered lamb kabob ($20) and I had sheik el mishih ($15), a traditional dish of eggplant stuffed with ground meat and pine nuts, spiced to perfection and smothered in a practically addictive tomato-based sauce, served with rice. LL said that her kabobs were excellent though cooked slightly beyond medium as she'd requested — a minor detail considering that she didn't look like she exactly wanted to send her order back. My sheik el mishih was a little oily but otherwise fantastic. This is one of my favorite Middle Eastern dishes and I've had it at least once at every restaurant serving this cuisine at least once. Morocco's is the best I've had, easily beating out that served in the other local Lebanese restaurants and, in fact, any of those I ever went to in San Francisco as well. The only place that comes close in my experience was a place we went to near Buckingham Palace in London about ten years ago. When the menu at Morocco's says that sheik el mishih is a house special, they're not exaggerating. Special is a very good word to describe it.

We probably should have stopped eating, but we couldn't resist splitting a dessert. Based on our friend's reaction to it last time we were at Morocco, LL and I decided to try the knafe. It was quite good, though in this case we've had better. Again, in my experience, Morocco's knafe is still outstripped by that served at Aladdin's in Tallahassee. Nonetheless, if you're not planning on heading south and you still have enough room left in your stomach after everything else, give it a try. It's sweet and cheesy and topped with shredded coconut and well worth the price ($5).

Once again, the only downside at Morocco was the service, and considering how busy it was that was still pretty good. We were greeted at the door when we arrived by manager Sadi Sadi who remembered us from our last visit and, just as last time, Sadi spent a good deal of the time we were there being chummy with patrons. That personal touch sets Morocco apart not just as a Middle Eastern restaurant, I think, but generally. Judging by the crowd last night, not only does Morocco look to be turning into a local hit, but if they can keep up the quality and add the amenities they plan on adding, it may yet become a Worcester institution before long. It really is that good.

In my last entry about this restaurant, I had mentioned that they were planning to add a separate room in which to serve arguileh. They still don't have the facility; we were informed last night that state laws governing smoking in Massachusetts are causing some delays in getting it set up. The current plan is to make this available to patrons sometime in early summer. I hope Morocco can pull it off; it'd be a nice touch to have a hookah-room to which to retire after such an exceptional dinner.

All in all, our second visit to this restaurant was even better than our first. Morocco is improving, and since they started out as well as they did, I think there are great things ahead for this place. If you're within driving distance of Worcester and reading this because you've heard about Morocco and are wondering whether it's worth the trip — yes, it is. Middle Eastern cuisine is practically part of daily life for LL and I, and we're agreed that Morocco's is easily among the best you're likely to find anywhere in America.

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