In the News
FOOD ★★★★ AMBIENCE ★★★★1/2 SERVICE ★★★★1/2 VALUE ★★★★
256 Park Ave, Worcester • 508-795-0222 • elbasharestaurant.com
A ballroom dance routine transpiring in the rear of the restaurant may have accounted for the glamorous allure of El Basha on a recent Wednesday night, but I’m certain the marvelous cuisine also had something to do with it. High-back upholstered chairs, towering floral displays, deep red hues, chandeliers and spotless linens channeled an old-world sentimentality that had drawn a collection of the city’s political, educational and legal juggernauts out to dine on the eve of a New England blizzard. A bar separated our corner table from dancers in the back, stretching out like an elongated spine of the restaurant, patrons sitting on either side in a mirror image.
Our server recommended two specialty wines from Lebanon, based on the preferences we indicated as well as what we thought we might order. She poured us tastes of each to ensure we had found what we were looking for. My Cuvee do Printemps ($8) was bright and red, with notes of raspberry and a surprisingly spicy finish. My date enjoyed the Reserve du Couvent ($8), a complex red wine with deep woody tones of vanilla.
We began our meal with a Homus and Baba Ghanouj plate ($8) served alongside warm wedges of pita bread. The aroma of tahini and garlic wafted through the restaurant. Both spreads, chickpea and smoked eggplant, had been prepared in-house and offered a welcome jolt of lemon juice that highlighted their freshness. We ordered a Fatouch Salad with feta ($10) as our second meze, which arrived shortly thereafter. The salad consisted of fresh chopped herbs, tomatoes, red onion and cucumbers tossed with bits of toasted pita and a dressing made from olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, cracked pepper and a healthy pinch of sea salt. The tart finish that rendered this dish noteworthy was elevated by a barrage of texture.
No element had left the kitchen too finely chopped or over-saturated. El Basha’s excellence lived in the details.
My date had been looking forward to the Chicken Saiid ($18), complete with browned mushrooms doused in a perfectly balanced garlic-lemon sauce. The dish was just as breathtaking as promised: a rich sauté served over rice pilaf. An even glaze complemented the supple mushrooms and tender bits of chicken with savory vibrance. It was everything he had been craving. I opted for a traditional platter of Roasted Kibbee and Stuffed Grape Leaves ($17). The kibbee was cut into diamond-shaped pieces, made fluffy with fine bulgar wheat, and slightly sweet with notes of clove and nutmeg. The grape leaves were wrapped tightly, binding morsels of ground meat and rice into delicate cylinders. I wished the items had been served with a yogurt sauce for dipping, but settled instead for the remainder of the homus.
At El Basha, a pop of citrus combined with warming spices seemingly characterizes every dish. Dining at the Park Ave location feels like stepping into a scene from a musical – a matrimony of classic elegance and modern sophistication. The staff is eager to suggest pairings and introduce novice customers to Middle Eastern cuisine in the most genial manner imaginable. It is no wonder you can find Worcester’s elite flocking to El Basha for a quiet meal and a spin around the dance floor on any given night of the week. Go for the people watching and stay for the exceptional provisions.
Our total bill came to $73.83.
XCERPTED FROM MARGARET LEROUX, THE PHOENIX
WORD [HAS] SPREAD THROUGHOUT WORCESTER THAT [EL BASHA IS] THE PLACE FOR KIBBEE, SHAWARMA, FALAFEL, AND A HOST OF OTHER MIDDLE EASTERN DISHES.
ON A RECENT WEEKNIGHT, THE ROOM WAS ALMOST FULL. THE WAITERS WERE SMILING. SERVICE WAS PROMPT AND FRIENDLY. OUR PARTY OF FOUR QUICKLY DECIDED ON TWO OF OUR FAVORITE APPETIZERS, STUFFED GRAPE LEAVES AND TABBOULEH. WE ALSO SELECTED ONE WE HAD NOT TRIED BEFORE, LABNEH, DESCRIBED AS HOMEMADE YOGURT CHEESE SPREAD. SERVED WITH A BASKET OF SLICED PITA BREAD, IT WAS A GOOD ACCOMPANIMENT TO THE OTHER TWO APPETIZERS. EL BASHA’S TABBOULEH IS MY FAVORITE AMONG THE VERSIONS I’VE HAD IN WORCESTER RESTAURANTS.
THE GRAPE LEAVES – SIX FAT, CIGAR-SHAPED LEAVES ROLLED TIGHTLY AROUND A MIXTURE OF RICE, CHICK PEAS, AND ONIONS – WERE VERY LEMONY.
EACH ONE IN OUR GROUP HAS A FAVORITE DISH. ON NIGHTS WHEN WE’VE ORDERED TAKE-OUT FROM THE RESTAURANT, WE SAMPLED FREELY FROM THE CONTAINERS; TONIGHT EACH OF US FOCUSED ON OUR OWN CHOICE I HAD TO PRACTICALLY BEG FOR SAMPLES AND I AM HAPPY TO REPORT THE EXOTIC FLAVORS ARE STILL THERE IN FULL FORCE.
ONE OF MY COMPANIONS SELECTED LAHEM MISHWEE, CHUNKS OF LAMB, MARINATED AND CHAR-BROILED, SERVED ON A BED OF RICE WITH CHARRED ONIONS, PEPPERS, AND A TOMATO HALF. THE LAMB WAS AS ORDERED (MEDIUM RARE) AND TENDER ENOUGH TO CUT WITH A FORK; A GOOD VALUE FOR THE PRICE.
ANOTHER COMPANION DISCOVERED CHICKEN PORT SAIID A FEW VISITS AGO, AND EVER SINCE HAS REFUSED TO ORDER ANYTHING ELSE. A GENEROUS SERVING OF CHICKEN-BREAST PIECES ARE SAUTEED WITH SLICED, FRESH MUSHROOMS, LEMON JUICE, AND, ACCORDING TO OUR WAITER, “11 DIFFERENT SPICES.” THE SPICES GAVE THIS DISH AN UNEXPECTED COMPLEXITY; AND STOOD UP QUITE WELL TO THE DOMINANT LEMON FLAVOR.
MY THIRD COMPANION OPTED FOR KAFTA KABOB – A MIXTURE OF MEAT, PARSLEY, ONIONS, AND SPICES GRILLED WITH PEPPERS, TOMATOES, AND ONIONS – AND SERVED ON RICE PILAF. IT, TOO, WAS TENDER, AND THE MEAT FLAVOR DOMINATED THE HERBS AND SPICES.
MY FAVORITE IS SHAWARMA, BONELESS CHICKEN BREAST SAUTEED WITH GARLIC AND TART, CHERRY-COLORED SUMAC, AND COATED WITH A RICH TAHINI DRESSING. SUMAC IS THE UNUSUAL FLAVOR HERE; MADE FROM GROUND SUMAC BERRIES, IT’S SOUR AND FRUITY WITHOUT THE ACIDIC TASTE OF LEMON. CHICKEN SHAWARMA IS SERVED OVER A MIXTURE OF LETTUCE, TOMATOES, AND ONIONS – ALMOST A SALAD, AND AN EXOTIC ONE AT THAT.
IN THE PAST WE’VE ENJOYED BOTH BAKED KIBBEE – GROUND BEEF MIXED WITH BULGUR – AND FALAFEL, A GROUND MIXTURE OF FIVE BEANS, SPICED WITH PARSLEY, ONIONS, AND MINT, SHAPED INTO PATTIES AND BROWNED IN OLIVE OIL.
FOR DESSERT, WE SHARED A PIECE OF BAKLAVA, THIN AND CRISPY LAYERS OF PHYLLO DOUGH STUFFED WITH A THICK FILLING OF CHOPPED NUTS AND DRIZZLED WITH HONEY. AND WE ALSO TRIED THE RICE PUDDING, THICK, CREAMY, AND PERFUMED WITH ORANGE-FLOWER WATER.
IT WAS AN EXOTIC CULINARY EXPERIENCE FOR A VERY PRACTICAL PRICE.