The story: After establishing himself with Aziza out in the neighborhoods, Michelin-star Chef Mourad Lahlou opened his bold and brassy self-named Mourad restaurant in SOMA just south of San Francisco’s Financial District earlier this year. The large restaurant is housed in the historic Pacific Telephone building on New Montgomery.
Why I went: When my brother was visiting recently, I made reservations to check out the restaurant along with my niece. We went for a weeknight dinner and was seated at one of the comfortable round booths along the wall of the main downstairs dining room.
The vibe: With the high ceilings, the restaurant is all about drama in the modern space designed by Olle Lundberg. There’s a definite dressed up vibe but the service is welcoming and friendly so it doesn’t feel at all stuffy. Still, Mourad makes for a good celebration destination restaurant with its impressive space.
The booze: The drinks menu (just like the food menu) isn’t into giving items names, but instead classifies themselves by the key ingredient. My niece Margot ordered one of the specialty cocktails ($14 each) that was called “Saffron + Honey.” I was on my “had too much to drink lately got to dry out” phase so I tried one of the two “refreshers” ($7 each), which are non-alcoholic flavored drink. I tried the “Ginger + Sesame” made with lime, ginger solution, sesame oil, cucumber, and tonic. The flavors reminded me of drinking the pickling juice of the Japanese ginger that you get on the side at sushi restaurants. It sounds as odd as I felt drinking it, but the tonic makes it refreshing (although I think I should have gone with the shiso, another classic Japanese flavor that’s more minty).
The menu: You can order ala cart or the nine-course tasting menu for $120. In the ala cart menu, it starts with snacks and small plates and them progresses to what’s labeled “La’acha,” which are family-style platters of entrees ranging in price from $89 (for the snapper) to $145 (for the 72-hour briased short ribs). If you order one of the La’acha, you get all four sides from the menu.
While my sister who dined at the restaurant said we had to order the 72-hour short ribs, it seemed like a lot of food for just the three of us. Plus we wanted to try a variety of dishes, so we ordered a few small plates with a couple of heavier entrees. The eclectic menu doesn’t necessarily scream Morocco, but there are touches here and there that gives you that sense of place. For me, the fresh seasonal ingredients gave me more a California-Mediterranean feel with a nod to Morocco.
There are a few unique dishes like the basteeya, which is a phyllo-wrap that’s filled with duck meat. An eggplant starter comes with a flatbread called za’atar, which ironically isn’t very flat but is more like a holly bun. It was nice and warm and savory with its sprinkling of spices and olive oil. All of the dishes are beautifully plated and have a modern approach and style, and of course the price tag that comes with that.
Desserts are some of the more colorful and beautiful plates, like the “pomegranate” dish that was made of ice cream and white chocolate in the shape of a half pomegranate.
My favorite dish: While everything was perfectly cooked, I enjoyed the basteeya with duck and dotted with flavors of persimmons, marigold, almonds and creme fraiche. It isn’t something I get to eat often, and offered up the closest feeling I had to what I imagine Moroccan food to be (the za’atar was a nice second).
The last bite: I’ve eaten at Aziza and enjoyed the intimacy of Lahlou’s cooking in that neighborhood spot, but Mourad is definitely a more grand stage. While the chef’s flavors are still underlining every dish, the presentation (and cost) is bigger, bolder and more high end. It’s the kind of place to impress people (like visiting relatives) or to be impressed.
The rating: 3.5 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Mourad, 140 New Montgomery (between Market and Howard), San Francisco. PH: 415.660.2500. Open for dinner daily and lunch on weekdays. Reservations recommended. Major credit cards accepted. mouradsf.com
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