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Restaurants & Bars 3

Aziza report...wow!

Morton the Mousse | Jun 19, 2005 11:49 PM

We had dinner at Aziza on Saturday. Wow. We just found a new favorite.

To start, we ordered the special soup of the day, white corn with wild mushrooms. Mr. Mousse called it white corn with heaven. The first flavor was sweet corn. This was balanced with an undertone of savory spices. The spice accentuated the corn rather than overwhelming it. The flavors were deep and multi leveled yet complimentary. The texture was velvety. The weight in the mouth was so pleasing. The mushrooms were delicate, almost bubbly; they enlivened the soup's silkiness. It was a bowl of bliss.

The Western Grasslands Kefta Skewers came atop a salad of julienne cucumbers and torpedo onions tossed with a black sesame vinaigrette. The beef was cut to the same size and shape as the grapes that surrounded it. Each bite combined grilled grapes and juicy beef creating a harmonious blend between sweet fruit and savory meat that became the theme of the meal. The house made harissa added a pleasant note of heat. The salad, refreshing and subtly tangy, served as a palate cleanser.

Ahhh, the Basteeya. Basteeya consists of chicken that is braised in saffron and combined with egg, nuts, fruits, and a variety of spices, then wrapped in phyllo and topped with powdered sugar. Basteeya is a traditional, Moroccan mid-meal course. It epitomized the juxtaposition theme of the evening. Tender, juicy chicken in a crispy, crunchy, phyllo shell. Savory meat accentuated with raisins, cinnamon and almonds. It was a wonderful refresher, unlike anything either or us had ever eaten. The light, delicate sweetness prepared our palates for the main course.

For our entrees, we chose two lamb dishes. We love lamb, and our server assured us that each preparation was unique. The Kumquat Enriched Lamb Shank met every expectation for what a good shank should be. Fall off the bone meat met with fluffy house made cranberry couscous. The sauce was a syrupy gravy of fruit and meat drippings. The combination of hearty meat, light couscous, sweet and savory sauce and preserved apricot was divine.

The Stewed Lamb Crowned with Charred Eggplant was one of the best lamb dishes we have ever had. The moist cubes of lamb were incredibly tender and paired beautifully with the smokey eggplant. A satin saffron sauce accompanied the stew. As with the other dishes, the spices served to accentuate rather than dominate. Mrs Mousse said: "With each bite, I closed my eyes and let the tantalizing flavors dance in my mouth so I could fully appreciate the depth and complexity of flavor and texture."

Moroccan cuisine is not know for dessert, but we were impressed enough with the meal to opt for a nectarine sorbet with raspberry sauce. The dessert was good, but nothing special. Next time, we'll probably skip dessert and finish the meal with a pot of mint tea.

We're not much for wine drinkers, and we appreciate it when a fine restaurant has a fine bar. Mr. Mousse was delighted to find one of his favorite beers, Saison Dupont, a Belgian farmhouse ale. The strong herb and fruit notes of the Saison paired exquisitely with the themes of the meal. It is rare to find a restaurant with a beer menu so well suited to the cuisine. Mrs. Mousse ordered a Cucumber Fresca Martini, which consisted of organic cucumber muddled with cucumber infused gin and lemon juice. This was a unique cocktail, refreshing with just a hint of sweetness. It served well as an aperitif and a palate cleanser between courses.

Our server, Rebecca, was fantastic. She exuded the attentiveness, grace and knowledge we expect to find only in four star restaurants. Although we discussed dishes and menu options at length, she never made the impression that she was hurried or needed to move on to the next tables. She gave candid opinions on ordering strategy and her advice was spot on.

The atmosphere was beautifully decorated and made a wonderful meal even better. The restaurant is divided into several rooms, each with a unique feel. When you first enter the restaurant, you are transported to a romantic, dim setting adorned with gold, blue, and terra cotta. The front room is energetic and bigger than the others. A rounded bar and round booths frame a floor of round tables. The space is filled with blue lights that feel fun and slightly otherworldly. In the back, one room has lower seating that is covered by bright and embroidered cushions. We ate in the other back room. The warm terra cotta walls and crimson seats were punctuated by a the blue bar.

Aziza pays attention to the little details that make a restaurant special. The tables were spaced perfectly. They were far enough apart to enjoy a private conversation, yet they did not feel isolated. Music helped set the Moroccan mood, but was always in the background, never too loud. The food was artfully presented. The color contrast and composition on each plate was well thought out. The plates were aesthetically pleasing and added to the decor. They bathe your hands in rose water before dessert. Even the soap in the bathrooms was well thought out. We have taken to bringing our own soap to restaurants to avoid the lingering perfume that taints the food. Aziza's soap was lightly accented with lavender extracts that did not last longer than a few minutes.

We read in several places that the tasting menu was the "best deal." We did the math, and when you consider portion size, it's comparable in cost to ordering off the menu. Better to have choice over starters. We ate like pigs and took half of the Basteeya home (made a great breakfast.) Mr. Mousse ordered two Saisons, Mrs. Mousse ordered one cocktail and the total bill was $120, including tax and a 19% tip. All in all, a world class meal at a reasonable price. We'll be back soon.

Link: http://aziza-sf.com/

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