Aziza is a gem on the border of San Francisco. Its chef, Mourad Lahlou, has raised the profile of this Moroccan restaurant, earning it a Michelin star and securing Lahlou a cookbook deal and PBS cooking series focused on the discovery of what Lahlou calls a “new Morocco.”
Being far out in the city’s outer Richmond neighborhood, I was hoping to try Lahlou’s culinary vision when it moved closer to a planned restaurant set to open in the Financial District – a bit more convenient for me. But when plans for that restaurant fell through in the fall, I jumped online to take the plunge and made reservations for Aziza because it was basically now or never.
During the Thanksgiving weekend when my niece was visiting, we made our way to Geary Boulevard, which is mostly dotted with Chinese or Korean restaurants, and entered the beautiful dining room of Aziza.
Aziza is actually broken into three distinct dining spaces – the front room with a huge table in the center and booths along the blue walls, a second room in deep red facing the bar, and a third dining space in the back that was darker and more intimate. This is where I ended up with my niece.
I didn’t know what to expect since I’ve never eaten Moroccan food, and Lahlou’s menu is an interesting mix of ingredients and flavors. We ended up opting for the tasting menu ($75 per person) because you pick your starters, entrees and desserts from the menu and the chef fills in the rest with little surprises. I liked the idea of trying items from the menu but having more tastes with the smaller plates.
Lahlou’s tasting menu is definitely an orchestrated guide through Morocco with exotic flavors but presented in a mix of refined and experimental techniques (think lots of gelee and foam). I’m sure some of the items we tried were reinterpretations of everyday Moroccan dishes, like the hearty meatball skewers my niece tried or the basteeya made with duck confit that we both enjoyed.
The menu hits high marks when the flavors of the dishes come through, like the rich lentil soup or glazed roasted squab. But when Lahlou’s kitchen plays with molecular gastronomy, it seems to lack any connection to reality, making you feel like you’re eating play food. (A guava gelee ravioli is a prime example, along with a subtle shrimp boudin that felt undercooked.)
The entire dining experience was a luxurious trip into a place that probably only exists in the chef’s mind, and I was excited to venture into each twist and turn. Even though some turns were confusing, the dishes that were more assertive were the ones that made a lasting impression. Combined with excellent service and special touches like delightful candy and home-made granola as parting gifts, dining at Aziza becomes an elegant and elevated culinary exploration worthy of an Iron Chef contender.
Rating: 3 out of 4 camera snaps
Aziza, 5800 Geary Blvd., San Francisco. PH: 415.752.2222. Open for dinner daily expect Tuesday, from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. aziza-sf.com
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