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by Leith Steel

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

Cuisine: A contemporary chic Californian take on Moroccan and Middle Easter cooking.

Pluses: wonderfully fresh, evocative cooking, and captivating cocktails

Minuses: prices (especially for the cocktails, which aren’t as engaging as I hoped) add up quickly, and service is a bit perplexing (various different people taking our order, exchanging plates, bringing food)

Don't Miss: Mediterranean spreads with grilled flat bread, basteeya, squab with ras el hanout, warm chocolate pot

Prices: Appetizers: $6-10; Entrees: $13-22 mostly $17-20; Desserts: $7; Cocktails: $9

A selection of wines available by the glass and plenty of interesting choices by the bottle ranging from $17- 65.

A Moroccan Mecca in San Francisco, Aziza recreates a glorious feast. Arabian nights could be the theme here, only with a Californian sensibility to ingredients and tastes, and without the tacky kitsch that bogs down other restaurants. No belly dancers will distract you from your meal. All the attention here goes to the food, and to the drinks.

Perhaps the greatest divergence from the chef’s homeland of Morocco is the cocktail list. These inspired and tempting drinks are definitely a Californian creation. The Fez Fizz blends prosecco with a touch of pomegranate puree, while the meyer lemon basil drop muddles lemon basil with Charbay meyer lemon vodka, Cointreau, and a splash of that same prosecco.

The menu is designed to take advantage of seasonal and local ingredients that really shine. Chef-owner Mourad Lalou goes out of his way to obtain organic ingredients from local farmers, and to maintain that freshness and integrity in the final product. Although inspired by North Africa and the Middle East, many dishes have a flamboyant flair that is purely original.

The room is dark and cave like. In our little arched enclave we can see, but I feel bad for the people seated in the center; can they see their food? Never the less people are happy. Talking and laughter bounces of the walls and reverberates through the room imbuing it with its own energy, even if it difficult to hear.

The food will enchant and lull you into a state of suspended belief. It is a sensuous meal. Exotic spices tickle the tongue. Basteeya, a classic Moroccan dish is done to perfection. Buttery, nearly caramelized phyllo shatters under the slightest pressure, giving way to moist shredded chicken perfumed with a fleeting hint of saffron, pulverized spiced almonds, and dusted with a combination of cinnamon and powdered sugar. Served piping hot from the oven it is a steaming gift-wrapped dish that captures your attention as you try and figure out what is going on in your mouth.

Not everything on the menu hails from Morocco. The grilled flat bread with three spreads is Middle Eastern in origin and a must-order. Warm chewy bread, with just a hint of lemony sumac comes with three different delectable spreads: a sweet and tangy eggplant mouse, a creamy and rich yogurt and dill spread, and an utterly complex combination of roasted red peppers, pomegranate and walnuts. Each one was addictive and it was impossible to decide on which note to end. We kept returning for more, scraping the plate clean and receiving a fresh batch of warm bread in the process.

I would come here just for the bread and the spread; but the squab, I would travel miles for the squab. The meat was cooked to perfection; rosy, tender, and juicy, and served with a light reduction of its natural juices with thyme and ras-el hanout. Slightly less successful was the paprika smothered rabbit. Dried out pieces of breast meat couldn’t quite be masked by the smoky sweet sauce. The legs, however, still moist and tender, proved how good this dish could be. Vegetarians can not go wrong with the vegetable couscous. Fluffy and tender grains of couscous are intoxicated with the flavors of saffron, onions, and the tender sweet vegetables that accompany it.

Although it is incredibly difficult, try and save room for dessert. They are fantastic. A fudgey brownie is topped with a light almond ice milk, and the topped chocolate pot, is a molten mess of chocolate enveloped in the thinnest layer of cake. To end in the traditional Moroccan fashion, order a pot of mint tea; it comes subtly sweetened and with a delicate ambrosial scent of rosewater. Purifying and relaxing, I could think of no better digestive nor a more suiting finale to my Moroccan feast and flight of fancy.

The entire experience is born of fantasy, not really here or there, but a happy suspension of reality where anything is possible, except leaving hungry.


Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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