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Restaurants & Bars 16

Aziza Again – The Slanted Door of Moroccan Food

rworange | Jul 31, 200505:31 AM

I had no intention about posting about Aziza today. It has been well covered on the board. Also I’m in a little bit of a life burn out so I went in as citizen Krys rather than chowhound Krys.

However, there are a few things that have not been reported on the board, at least not recently.

Also, Aziza appeals to the part of me that loves to hear all the details about the food and my wonderful server, Max, kept me informed and entertained all night. So I’m sharing some of those Moroccan restaurant tales with chowhounds.

Aziza is a FANTASTIC answer to the often asked Chowhound question “What restaurant has a private dining room”.

IMO, when someone asks for a romantic restaurant, Aziza is a good answer. Dimly lit, with flickering mosaic candles there are also some little nooks where it is very private.

As to the private room, the back of Aziza has a room that seats about 35. Each or all of the three rooms can be reserved for groups of 20 to 130. Semi private dining can be arranged for groups of 8 to 20 people. There are pictures of all rooms and more info on the Aziza website. Although closed on Tuesday and Wednesday, the restaurant can be booked for parties all seven days.

The check came with a card that said “It’s never too early to book your holiday event”. With a recent Chowhound question about where to eat for Thanksgiving, it may be time to think about those office holiday parities.

The dinner starts with a complementary dish of warm olives and nuts. A nice touch is that the iced water is lightly flavored with cucumber. It is very refreshing.

Even the bread had a story. There is a big bowl with pieces of white bread which I would have thought was a French type of bread. It turns out this is the type of bread that is eaten by all classes in Morocco.

Max said that many people are poor, so there is not a lot of meat with meals. Typically food is eaten from the outside of the plate to the center. So the bread is very porous to sop up the sauces. By the time the center of the plate is ready to be eaten, people are full and the small portion of meat is satisfying and enough.

According to Max, the man who makes the bread once did some cooking for the King of Morocco. There was something about going out to the dessert, but unfortunately I didn’t have my chowhound hat on. I took the remaining bread home. After all, you can’t have bread fit for a king just tossed.

The meal included a complementary palate cleanser, a light lavender honey sherbet on top of a bed of tea granite that reminded me of eating fresh snow it was so light in texture. It was garnished with fresh mint leaves.

Max said this was one of the original desserts on the menu. The regular customers sometimes ask for it and so it is available on request along with a few other favorite dishes. Reading through some of the reviews on the website, the sherbet might be made of lebne, a type of yogurt. I’m not sure if this is still true.

The delicate Bateeya which a NY Times review correctly calls “ethereal”. is a MUST ORDER dish. Paired with the suggested Riesling it is probably one of the best dishes in San Francisco.

Max said the Riesling was “almost like an ingredient of the Bateeya”. No kidding. The flavors were a major symphony of tastes, playing off, and enhancing each other.

Aziza uses one of the same wine buyers that Slanted Door users. Mark Ellenberger is responsible for the wine list which is selected to complement the food. The site says that “he conducts extensive training with all staff members, so as a result, servers are never tentative in recommending wines”

As all of the dishes it was beautifully presented with ‘Aziza’ spelled out in cinnamon on the plate of the Bateeya.

I actually liked the Riesling quite a lot by itself. I told Max that he made an excellent choice and I usually don’t like Riesling. He was very knowledgeable about this variety and talked about what made a good Riesling. Sorry, I didn’t have my chowhound hat on so I don’t have the details and don’t remember which Riesling it was.

Another great fact is that you can order half glasses for half price.

The other MUST ORDER dish is the steamed aromatic saffron scented couscous. The stewed lamb another poster suggested was as great as described in the link below, but that couscous was amazing. I don’t even like couscous. In the center there are seven seasonal vegetables, raisins, toasted almonds and chickpeas. There was a small dish of harissa, a Tunisian-style hot sauce made with hot chilies, garlic, cumin, coriander, caraway and olive oil.

The website says “Aziza is not the average plateful of hard, chewy granules that many restaurants serve; instead, Lahlou rolls the grain repeatedly and soaks it in vegetable stock to make it fluffy and appetizing”. That is an understatement. Max said that the restaurant starts making it in the morning.

One review said the couscous is made by “hand rolling it three times and steaming it again and again, a process that takes six hours. In the end, the tiny bits of semolina are as light as air”

This is also a great restaurant for both vegetarians and meat eaters. The Bateeya come in a vegetarian version.

They recently added a lovely new dessert to the menu which had a goat cheese cheesecake with chopped pistachios and Frog Hollow peaches. The whole dessert was great, but those peaches were outsanding. They were warm and exquisitely complemented the cheesecake. Those warm peaches were so good by themselves.

Janet Rikala Dalton recently became the pastry chef. Most recently she was the consulting pastry chef at Town Hall restaurant. Other Chowhound posts have raved about the carrot cake.

The nightly menus are printed from the website. That means if you go on line, you will see exactly what is being served. More restaurants should have current menus on their websites.

Although the link below suggests ordering a la carte, my own opinion is to go with the tasting menu. It includes a single Bateeya instead of a full order of two. This is nice if dining alone. Also, you can choose any entrée or dessert with the appetizer being the chef’s choice. I also had a choice of the soup on the menu or the special corn soup that night.

And speaking of appetizers, it was Mediterranean spreads with outstanding house made hot from the grill flat bread. I have never had better flat bread any where. The spreads were light mousses with intense flavor. They included roasted pepper and pomegranate mousse, balsamic eggplant mousse and yogurt dill mousse. These were in a class by themselves and had nothing to do with any Mid-Eastern type of spread. Again, sorry, didn’t have my chowhound hat on, but this is only the top level of ingredients. Max recited a list of intriguing spices and ingredients in each of the mousses.

Nice list of interesting drinks which someone mentioned in another post. The ginger and pear cocktail surprisingly went well with the corn soup. The list of cocktails is on the website. Aziza is noted nationally for its creative cocktail list.

One other HIGHLY RECOMMENDED item to order … that Moroccan fresh mint tea with the splash of orange blossom water.

They reserve two four seat tables in front for walk ins, So even on a busy Saturday night you can get a seat. They will also serve dinner at the bar if all else fails. A single person can order the tasting menu.

One surprise was that it was more casual than expected. Quite a few people were wearing jeans.

Parking is tight in the neighborhood, but there is a lot near by (hard to get into by time I left about at eight.) There is also valet parking available.

Aziza is at the top of my list when entertaining clients or out of town visitors. Like Slanted Door, it is upscale food using the best, largely organic, California produce and meats. Slanted Door modernized Vietnamese food and made it accessible to people unfamiliar with that cuisine. Aziza does the same for Moroccan food. Aziza is a much, much better restaurant than Slanted Door in my opinion.

It is amusing that I now consider Aziza a good example of a San Francisco restaurant like Zuni or Coco500. Cal-Moroccan, why not? As the website says of the chef/owner “Lahlou is at the forefront of a growing community of chefs who have taken the foods of their homelands into another realm through the inspired use of California's bounty.” The bio is an interesting read.

Named after his mother, Aziza Lahlou, when interviewed by 7x7 magazine, Lahlou is amused by what she might think of the updated dishes. Lahlou grinned “at the thought of her puzzled questions: "What’s a cornish hen? Why doesn’t the lamb smell like lamb? What on earth is balsamic drizzle?"

This is the first time I’ve eaten at a Moroccan restaurant and Max is reciting a special appetizer that had feta, a specific type of watermelon and bulls blood. OK. I’m thinking … hmmm … I’d better ask about that bull’s blood. It turned out to be a variety of beet green. Whew. I have to get back to the farmers markets more regularly.

It is wonderful that the chef shops at the Ferry Plaza market and the ingredients are identified. I like knowing Marshall honey and Frog Hollow peaches and Hoffman Ranch chicken are used. I am unhappy with the current trend that doesn’t name varieties and vendors.

Also noted in some reviews, Aziza, which opened in 2001, has improved with age. The recipes and décor have changed for the better. The vibe is Californian. The belly dancing is gone. It seems to be a smart focused restaurant. When asked by SF Magazine what his motto was, Lahlou replied “Don’t cut corners and good things will happen”

The quality is evident in every bite.

So to recap:
Private rooms available
Vegan and Vegetarian friendly … and delicious
Seating available for walk ins either at two tables or at the bar
Half glasses of wine can be ordered

Just think what I might have learned with my chowhound cap on.


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