Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Aziza (San Francisco)

With all the new restaurant opening and young celebrity chefs, it is easy to overlook older restaurants, but Aziza in San Francisco should not be. Aziza has been open for ten years (since 2001) but chef/owner Mourad Lahlou has continued to churn out great food. In 2010 it became the first Moroccan restaurant to receive a Michelin star and it has maintained that star since.

The restaurant is rather nondescript on the outside. A neon sign marks the location in amongst Chinese and Japanese restaurants in the Richmond district. Inside, a festively decorated restaurant typical of Moroccan restaurant. The food, on the other hand, is nothing like other Moroccan foods you've had.

Mate Mojito
We decided to skip the tasting menu and ordered what we wanted.
The cocktail menu at Aziza looked interesting and promising, but I was refraining from drinking alcohol so I went for the next closest thing: a Mate Mojito made by Taylor's Tonics ($6). Not really a mojito but it wasn't too sweet and was refreshing.

We started out meal with the lentil soup, medjool dates, celery, parsley ($8)
Lentil soup
A great lentil soup that also became a mini treasure hunt as we look for that burst of sweet from the dates. This was only a small hint of what Aziza is about.
cauliflower, couscous, almond, castelvetrano, harissa ($19)
Couscous and harissa is a rather typical dish, but the presentation as you can see is anything but. Chef Lahlou maintains the flavor components but holds back the richness and heaviness one typically associates with Moroccan food.

scallop, green farro, himalayan truffle, carrot, cilantro ($22)
The scallops were chopped up and mixed with the farro. It wasn't what we expected, but a surprise is not necessarily a bad thing. The truffle isn't as aromatic as I would like but I liked the combination of textures - the chewy scallops, the creamy farro, and the crunchy diced carrots.

squab, huckleberry, sweet potato, horseradish ($29)
This was quite possibly the best squab I've ever had. The meat was lean and gamey, cooked to just the right tenderness. It was one of the most memorable dishes I've had in the entire trip.

We were going to stop with the squab but I overheard a regular at a neighboring table talking about the duck confit basteeya. He said it was the best thing he'd ever eaten. How could we not order one after hearing that?

duck confit, basteeya, raisin, almond ($22)
Duck Confit
It may be the best basteeya I've eaten, though not the best thing I've ever had. I think responses will differ depending on what was expected from this dish. The flavor and gaminess of the duck certainly elevates the basteeya, though personally I thought the sweetness of the raisin and the sugar-dusted pastry detracts from the duck confit. Still, warm, flaky pastry and flavorful fillings make for a great dish.

beet sorbet, melon soup, yogurt granita, pumpkin seed
Beet Sorbet
The first time I had a beet dessert was at The Bazaar and while it did not quite work for me then I decided to give it another go here. This time, it's a winner. The sorbet was sweet and while I could taste the beet, I didn't get the strange aftertaste I did last time.
Warm beignets to end
Aziza was a pleasant surprise for me. The food was not what I had pictured, but it is to be expected that a Michelin starred restaurant would not be serving a typical Moroccan meal. It may be an older restaurant in a strange part of town for its type, but Aziza is still a force to be reckoned with in the SF dining world.

5800 Geary Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94121
(415) 752-2222
Aziza on Urbanspoon


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