After the discussion of Aziza last week, I talked a friend from New York into having their first meal in SF there on Thursday night.
It was outstanding as always. We started out with the harissa bloody mary and the rhubarb vanilla cocktails. They were incredibly different but both delicious. The bloody mary had a kick to it without being too strong or too burning of the taste buds. I usually find that I either think they are weak or fear that I am singeing my throat by drinking more than a sip at a time, but this was very balanced. Vanilla stoli with a vanilla bean muddled with rhubarb sounded as though it would be a bit too sweet for my tastes but also was well balanced and very tasty.
We decided on the tasting menu, which isnt a tasting menu at all. Rather you each have a soup, an appetizer chosen by the chef, bastilla, a full entrée portion of your choice, and a full dessert of your choice. The only reason not to choose this at the reasonable price of $39 a person is if you want to leave without feeling shockingly full. Sure, you could eat only some of each of the courses, but the food is so good that becomes impossible.
The soups were a cream of asparagus with a crab timbale and a spicy vegan lentil. The asparagus soup was amazing. The smooth richness of the soup combined with the sweet taste of the crab was delicious. My friend claimed to dislike lentils but took the soup down very quickly it was thinner than other lentil soups I have seen and had a very spicy flavor, tasted as though there was curry and turmeric in it, but that is just a guess.
Appetizers arrived the Middle Eastern spread plate and spinach and feta cigars. I am tolerant of spanikopita but rarely seek it out, so while I thought the cigars were fine, I gave most of mine to my friend who was thrilled to see them. It had nice crisp outside and well seasoned center, but still nothing that I loved. The spreads on the other hand were outstanding. I assumed they would be at least close to the typical hummus, babaganoush, yogurt cucumbers etc, but they exceeded anything I could have hoped for. The roasted pomegranate and pepper spread and the yogurt-dill were my two favorites, but that was only because my friend ate most of the aged balsamic babaganoush before I could get to it. My only complaint would be that they had large servings of the spreads but only a few sprinkled pita wedges with which to eat it, and it really didnt taste the same on bread. Not that this fact stopped us from trying repeatedly.
The bastilla was wonderful. It wasnt as sweet on top as some I have had (even at Aziza itself) and the filling was lovely and savory and somehow, despite our best intentions to eat only half to save room for the entrees, we wound up polishing it off.
We should have saved room. Both of us were in a lamb mood that night so we chose two very different preparations. The lamb shank in kumquat sauce and the lamb brochettes. The shank was very well done, falling off the bone in rich warm tasting bites, hightened by the sweetness of the sauce. I was jealous not to have this in front of me until I took my first bite of the lamb brochette. It doesnt look like much, 2 cubes of lamb and some vegetables on each skewer, but it was amazing. The lamb tasted as though it was the essence of lamb. I kept saying it tasted like the lamb had been marinated in lamb but that sounded wrong too. Lamb should taste exactly the way those cubes tasted. The waiter told me that they get their lamb from a farm nearby and bring it in whole and the chef butchers it himself and that the brochette portions are basically the filet mignon of the lamb. But even filet mignon doesnt have the intensity of flavor those little guys had.
The couscous served with the meals (cranberry with the shank and saffron couscous with vegetable stew with the brochettes) were both delicious, but had to be taken home in order to have enough room for the meat and for a few bites of dessert. I can vouch for their reheating very well though.
Dessert was fantatic as well. I fell as though I have already run out of superlatives. This was my 6th or so time eating at Aziza and the first time I had tried the tasting menu or had room for dessert so I was a Aziza dessert novice. I was shocked. The flavors were so well blended and so delicious that I actually mourned for a second all the desserts I had missed eating there. We had the toasted almond milk sundae served on top of a fudge brownie (tasting for all the world like a flourless chocolate cake) an fudge sauce. It was outstanding. I only wish I had room for more of it. Also ordered was the topped chocolate pot. This was close your eyes, hold onto the edge of the table good. It was incredibly rich, though, I could only have a few bites, but the bites I had were replaying in my head the next day.
If you havent been in Aziza, the interior is beautiful and well laid out. I, personally, love the banquets along the wall and prefer the front room to the back room. There are pictures of it on Citysearch so if atmosphere is your thing, I would recommend taking a look. This is one of the places I take friends who dont care much about food but care about ambiance so they are thrilled with it and I am thrilled by getting to eat at what is becoming my favorite restaurant in the city.