5800 Geary Blvd, (@22nd) SF, CA | 415.752.2222 | website
Aziza has been on my list of restaurants to try for quite a while… an almost embarrassing number of years in fact. It is an unassuming restaurant out in the Richmond District, where chef-owner Mourad Lahlou presents an exquisitely modern spin on Moroccan food. It is the only Moroccan restaurant in North America to receive a Michelin Star, and we were excited to celebrate our 20th anniversary together by dazzling our tastebuds. While the exterior is rather unremarkable, the inside has a simple modern feel with traditional moorish elements like the arches that resemble an interior courtyard with stylized Moroccan chandeliers hanging overhead.
The bar area was abuzz with activity throughout the night, the rhythmic sounds of ice being shaken, drinks muddled and cocktails being poured. There were always a few patrons sitting at the cozy counter enjoying the artisinal cocktails of mixologist Farnoush Deylamian who uses fresh herbs, spices and farm-fresh ingredients.
Mr. K had a martini which was served in an elegant old school cocktail glass.
We sat in the cozy room behind the bar and I could see another room beyond the archway. The neighbors to one side elected to order off the regular menu so we compared notes during the course of the evening, ours was noticeably epic for a week night!
We chose the chef’s tasting menu, (which requires the participation of the table btw) as we had never been to the restaurant before and wanted to be led on the journey of chef Lahlou’s cuisine. His modern reinventions of traditional Moroccan dishes showcase the flavors of his native cuisine expressed with the local ingredients of the area. The meal began with a series of snacks, all served on unusual rustic slabs, this is carrot poached in orange juice with orange gelee and topped with fried sprouted lentils, which resembled ants on a log…. The lentils were well seasoned, delicate and crisp, which added an intriguing texture.
One of my most memorable bites was the Chicken skin with sieved hard cooked egg flavored with vadouvan dijon mustard topped with pickled onions.
The Puget sound oyster topped with cool fava bean foam and pickled mustard seeds was elegant and refreshing.
Tiny Corn fritters the diameter of a quarter were breaded and crunchy on the outside, and filed with sweet kernels of corn enrobed with a rich savory custard, sprinkled with fresh ground coffee.
The first course was a roasted beet topped with dehydrated beet green, and a small nugget of fried sweetbread. The beet had an earthy flavor and was coated in an intensely sweet and sour glaze that perked up my tastebuds.
The next dish was a refreshing soup made with tomato water, filled with tiny melon balls, cucumber, currant, tiny basil leaves over which ambrosia sauce made from melon was poured.
Loved the Sea bass, a tender and juicy morsel with the skin expertly seared to a delectable crisp, served over rings of nettle puree, sea beans, a small puddle of savory rich potato onion puree, and slices of watermelon radish.
Next was the dramatically presented egg, served in a covered glass container filled with applewood smoke that rose in an aromatic plume when the top was lifted. The egg was in a rich grana padano cream, with bits of lamb belly, king trumpets, over a brioche crust. That egg was a gorgeous golden orb with a soft spoonable texture that was infused with all of the other flavors and heady smokey aromas.
My number one favorite dish was the couscous, a savory fluffy mound topped with grilled squash, fiery harissa foam, a tender fried squash blossom, made flavorful and aromatic with fried shallots, lemon zest, and toasted almonds. I savored every bite of this dish.
The much talked about basteeya was filled with luscious duck confit, almonds, raisins, chickpeas, richly aromatic with spices, and rolled in crisp flaky phyllo. It was served on a large platter artfully arranged with pieces of tender heart of palm with dill frond, blanched green almonds and cherries. (shhh but this reminded me of the lovely Chicken Cecilia at Cafe Mediterranee in Berkeley…)
The final course of Squab was stellar, served crispy skin side up, over a puddle of rich brown butter, pistachio cream, with a tiny roasted fig that provided a lovely sweetness.
Pastry Chef Melissa Chou was nominated for Outstanding Pastry Chef in 2012 by the James Beard Award Foundation, so I was really looking forward to the dessert courses. They were like works of art, complex and full of contrasts that were beautifully presented, each bite was a wonder and delight. The first dish was a small scoop of intensely flavored blackberry sorbet, served over corn cream, covered with a paper thin delicate tuile covered with buckwheat crumbles, piped mounds of chamomile cream, and sprinkled with brilliantly colored edible flowers
The second course of had a disk of Olio Nuevo ganache, stacked with a variety of elements containing chicory, a pouf of malted milk, almond, ethereally thin shards of dehydrated chocolate, and something with an intense balsamic reduction. Although we were each served our own, by this point of the meal, we could have shared these plates…
The servings subsided once again into small plates, the Sugar puffs, were freshly fried balls of dough filled with air, the interior walls a delicious eggy custard and sparkling with a dusting of sugar.
We asked for the last few items to be packed up to go, as we did not want to go the way of the fat man in the Monty Python’s movie The Meaning of Life. The next morning I was surprised at the treasure trove contained in the box! The Mignardise course included housemade marshmallows, caramel filled dark chocolate, buttery crumbly toffee and little bags of granola, and one of the leftover sugar puffs that Mr. K couldn’t finish…
We absolutely loved the meal, the restaurant and the service and can’t wait to go back to explore the regular menu. I’m very glad that Gary Danko was booked that night and we ended up at Aziza.