El Morocco was the first Moroccan restaurant I ever went to, fourteen or fifteen years ago. Mike and I had just gotten married and we were exploring the different ethnic restaurants that the Bay Area had to offer. We loved El Morocco. The food (at that time) was unusual to us, and the whole atmosphere was very fun. In the years to come, we went back with family and friends a few times. Then we moved further away and, quite frankly, we forgot all about it.
A couple of weeks ago (May 2008) I was thinking as to where to go to celebrate my birthday with my whole family (Mike and I celebrated it the day before by going out to dinner at Cafe Majestic). Finding a kid-friendly restaurant is not easy, finding one the kids can enjoy even less so. I thought that my choices would have to be confined to the Ice Creamery or Angelina's when I remembered that Moroccan restaurants are the perfect birthday venue - and that with some exceptions like Aziza, they are very family friendly. After doing some research and asking for recommendations, I decided to go to El Morocco again. I'd seen children there before, I knew that the kids would love the belly dancing, and I think the large square room was likely to be more comfortable than the narrow ones of other restaurants. It proved to be a good choice.
El Morocco hasn't changed much in the last fifteen years. As I said, the dining room is a large square room with divans against the walls, low Moroccan tables and pillows. Tables are quite close together and the restaurant does get full on Saturday nights, so this is not the place for quiet romantic dinners. The room is decorated with cheap oriental carpets, on the floor and walls, and some images of Morocco. There is a tented cloth ceiling. In all, it does a great job of putting you into an "Oriental" mood.
El Morocco offers an a la carte menu on weekdays, but it's a set menu on weekends. For $30 you get lentil soup, salad, bastilla, choice of entree and a small piece of baklava for dessert. It's not a bad deal and you won't go hungry. Everyone seemed happy with the food, I was probably the most critical.
I liked the lentil soup but I thought it screamed for some lemon juice (none was offered). I seem to remember this was a problem years ago as well. I was less happy with the salads: a onion-tomato one which was refreshing but pedestrian and one that resembled an eggplant dip. They were OK, but nothing more. The bastilla, on the other hand, was delicious. The chicken was well seasoned and it went very well with the sweet flaky dough. Both my picky daughters loved it.
I had the lamb with honey and onions as my main dish, while my dad had the lamb with prunes and Mike had the lamb with honey (and apricots?). The three dishes had very similar, if not identical, sauces. It was quite nice, though I found it to be quite spicy; my father and Mike didn't think so. The lamb itself was very tender but it had a plethora of small bones that made eating the dish uncomfortable - it was also quite fatty. In all I'm not sure I'd order it again, but I might.
My sister Kathy had the lamb couscous while Mika had the chicken with couscous. These came with chickpeas and other vegetables. Mika enjoyed the couscous quite a bit, she and Camila ate a lot of the veggies and the chickpeas. They weren't really into the chicken, however, which I found a little dry. Kathy thought her couscous was quite good. The little piece of baklava with which the meal finished was nice (I'm not a big baklava fan), but I found the ostentatiously poured tea to be in a serious need of sugar.
Now for the entertainment. The first show is supposed to be at 7:30 but I don't think it started until 8:00 - by then we were done with most of our meal, but seeing the belly dancing was a big part of our reason for going. The first "act" was a lone female belly dancer and I thought she was quite good, the kids enjoyed watching her. She brought people from the public to dance with her, and she was quite good in approaching only those who were interested. She took the kids out as well, and my two little girls had the time of their life. She did a little bit of dancing to the tables at the end, so that you could put money in her clothing, but she only approached those tables that called her. The kids, once again, enjoyed this part.
Soon after her act there was another one with a male and female bellydancers - again they were pretty good, but we didn't stay for the whole act.
In all we had a very good time, and I'm sure I'll go back again.
2203 Morello Ave
Pleasant Hill, CA