Mourad: New Moroccan Dinner at West Restaurant + Bar
A recap of Chef Mourad Lahlou’s New Moroccan dinner at West Restaurant + Bar.
Chef Jeremy Charles from Raymonds restaurant in St-John’s, Newfoundland, Chef Marc Lepine from Atelier in Ottawa, and Chef Mourad Lalouh from Aziza in San Francisco… who would you pick? Decisions, decisions! All three chefs are from award winning “best of” restaurants and each one was invited to West Restaurant’s Autumn Guest Chef Series in Vancouver, BC. All three were exciting choices, but I was looking forward to trying Chef Lepine’s menu just because I was so impressed by what he did at Gold Medal Plates 2012 – see my recap here. However I was out of town and ended up going with Chef Mourad Lalouh’s dinner. It was by no means a “default choice” as I’ve been following along Aziza’s journey for the last year.
Mourad Lalouh’s is the chef and owner of 1 Michelin Star Aziza, which is the only Moroccan restaurant in North America to receive a Michelin Star. His Pastry Chef Melissa Chou was nominated for Outstanding Pastry Chef of the Year in 2012 by the James Beard Award Foundation, so I had Aziza on my bucket list for my next trip to San Francisco - whenever that may be. Nonetheless I was looking forward to this dinner, so much that I ended Follow Me Foodie to Montreal (Round 2) a few days early just to make it back in time for Mourad’s: New Moroccan menu.
Together with the team at West Restaurant led by Executive Chef Quang Dang, Chef Lahlou prepared a 7 course New Moroccan menu with cocktail pairings created by West Restaurant’s bar manager David Wolowidnyk aka David W. While I prefer wine with dinner and cocktails before and after, I can appreciate a good cocktail pairing especially when it’s in the hands of David W. (one of Vancouver’s best). Upon request they did accommodate those who preferred wine pairings as well. Following the dinner everyone also received his new cook book ‘Mourad: New Moroccan’ from Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cooks.
I can’t even imagine what goes on behind the scenes. Keeping in mind that Chef Lahlou was cooking with local ingredients from Vancouver and not San Francisco, a new kitchen staff who may have no experience in Moroccan cuisine, and a new cooking environment altogether, it is quite admirable how everything came together.
I can’t say I know much about Moroccan food, so I’m writing this at a disadvantage of never really having tried the “real” thing. I did explore Moroccan food and restaurants in Marseilles, France, which has a significant Moroccan population, but that just scratched the surface. And being in Vancouver the closest thing to authentic Moroccan cuisine is African cuisine, which isn’t even specific to Morocco. Some may even associate Moroccan food with Middle Eastern cuisine just because there are similar ingredients. I really wish I had a benchmark for the traditional before moving towards the modern though because I couldn’t make the connections between the old and the new.
I know this photo doesn’t look anything like traditional Moroccan cuisine, and it actually wasn’t really. Although I knew Lahlou was all about “New Moroccan” cuisine I was still expecting lots of spices, stews and strong flavours, but what I found was quite the opposite. He uses spices with intention and control and believes in less is more. The spices and flavours were more mild and downplayed than one would assume for Moroccan cuisine, and I found them more aggressive in the cocktails, although still well matched.
The menu didn’t make me fall in love with Moroccan cuisine, but it did make me extremely curious about it. It was distinctly “New Moroccan” cuisine, so I wouldn’t even look at it from a traditional angle. I had to read his cook book to understand his cooking style or I really had no idea where I was going with this post.
Lahlou is known for his modern interpretations of Moroccan cuisine and part of the reason is because it’s really challenging to make any ethnic cuisine “authentic” when you’re using local ingredients in North America, or in his case specifically California. For this dinner the ingredients were sourced from BC so that changes everything once again. Taking into consideration all the challenges with a Guest Chef dinner like this, I would say this dinner gave me just a taste of what Lahlou does at Aziza.
The cook book is intense (almost 400 pages intense) and he’s really specific with his ingredients and techniques. Much of his cooking is derived from childhood memories in Morocco and what he cooks now is an evolution of what he remembers. He notes how most people think of cumin and coriander as dominant spices in Moroccan cuisine, but he considers them as “spices of the world” and focuses more on the application of them. And while the plates and recipes might look complex, it was actually quite straight forward in flavours. Again, I’m not sure if all the courses worked out the way he wanted, but the food I tried seemed to match his cooking philosophy.
This was a one off event, but I couldn’t resist from commenting on the food because it was rather new to me. However most, if not all of the cocktails are available upon request at West (or Dave can make a similar version). The event itself was well done. It was organized with table seatings and everything came out in a timely manner. I can’t speak for the other Guest Chef dinners since this was my first time attending one, but I’m a fan of the concept and I’m looking forward to more. Having the opportunity to try the work of chefs from other cities in my hometown is a unique experience and I would recommend it especially if it’s a chef you’ve been following.
The dinner was $190 (includes seven courses, canapes and eight cocktail pairings, tax, gratuity + signed copy of Mourad: New Moroccan). The cook book made for a pricer event and I think it would be nice to have it as an option since it may prevent some couples from going and receiving two copies of the same book. This was really the equivalent of a concert for a foodie, but instead of music to the ears it’s food for the soul.
Restaurant: West Restaurant + Bar
Cuisine: Pacific Northwest/Fine Dining
Last visited: November 11, 2012
Location: Vancouver, BC (Fairview)
Address: 2881 Granville Street
Transit: SB Granville St FS w 13 Av
Price Range: $50+ (Mains $30-50)
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
- I always comment on bread and butter. It can say a lot about a restaurant and West Restaurant always does an excellent job with theirs.
- The bread is house made and the butter and extra virgin olive oil is premium quality.
- For this event they followed the Moroccan theme by serving soft and chewy warm Moroccan spiced flat bread and Moroccan spiced buns.
- If this was an authentic Moroccan dinner there would have been piles of flatbread. Bread is a staple in most Moroccan meals.
- The breads are the utensils at Moroccan dinners and they are used to dip in sauces and pick up meats, similar to how one would eat Indian food.
- I loved this as a starter drink. It was light, refreshing and clean.
- It was almost like an exotic French 75 and although it had “lemonade-like cocktail” aspects, it was aromatic and unique in flavours.
- The sweetness was from apples and Falaernum which is a sweet syrup with flavours of almond and warm spices.
- The rosemary salt really enhanced all the flavours and I would actually consider ordering this drink.
- It was probably the lightest drink of the night, but I didn’t forget it.
- Avocado puree, pumpkin seed crumble
- There is a Moroccan beet salad, but it doesn’t look like this and it’s much simpler with cumin and a simple lemon vinaigrette.
- This one was certainly a Californian inspired beet salad so it was unexpected for a Moroccan dinner.
- Everyone does a beet salad and it’s always some variation of cheese, nuts, beets, and a vinaigrette, so this was a bit new.
- It was nice to see something other than typical goat cheese served with the beets and the avocado puree worked really well.
- The avocado was lightened and whipped with crème fraîche so had the texture of mousse and there was a nice acidity to it.
- If I didn’t look at the recipe I would have thought the beets were sous vide.
- The beets were perfectly done and infused with cardamom, peppercorns, coriander and star anise, which were very subtle.
- The beets were aromatic, but the spices not as obvious in what they were.
- The lightly candied pumpkin seed crumble with added breadcrumbs was a very fine crumb and it replaced the typical nuts and made for good texture.
- It was a simple and fresh way to start off the meal, but I wouldn’t have minded more spices in the beets or pumpkin seed crumble.
- This was really interesting.
- It was a cocktail acting as a Sauternes which is a sweet wine from the Sauternais region of France.
- When I saw this cocktail I crossed my fingers for foie gras. It’s a classic pairing.
- It was expectedly sweet and quite boozy and dominant in apricot flavour followed by noticeable almond.
- It was a cocktail I had to have with food and while I appreciate the intention of the cocktail, I do enjoy a standard Sauternes.
- It was a pretty good imitation of a Sauternes though and it was quite rich and creamy, but just not as smooth.
- Pickled green strawberries, aged balsamic vinegar, dark rye
- So it was a “step down” from foie gras, but it was good enough that I didn’t really miss the foie. Surprisingly.
- The chicken liver mousse was executed in a really unusual way.
- It’s a very labour intensive recipe and the livers are cured in milk-Berbere (Berbere is an Ethiopian spice mix).
- He says the reason is to draw out the blood while adding flavour and taking away some of that pungent liver flavour.
- The result was an extremely rich and flavour infused mousse that could be mistaken for foie gras mousse. It was pretty incredible.
- The livers were pureed with onions, crème fraîche, and vinegar for acidity and flavour, and then folded with whipped cream and chicken sauce.
- When it comes to umami, this chicken liver mousse had it. It had a lot of depth and layers of savouriness.
- It wasn’t strong with liver flavour, but very delicate, creamy, extremely fluffy and consistently smooth in texture and even in colour.
- It was only a quenelle of chicken liver mousse, but it was just enough to leave you satisfied. It tasted like foie gras mousse.
- The pickled green strawberries were very sour (a bit too sour for me), but it offset the richness of the buttery mousse and the only sweetness was coming from the cocktail.
- It was served with house made dark rye bread and some of it was also powdered sitting underneath the mousse.
- There wasn’t quite enough bread, so I just ended up using the bread at the table and actually preferred that.
- As a side note, Le Parisien does an excellent Smoked Chicken Liver and Foie Gras Parfait along with Boneta’s Duck Liver & Foie Gras Pâté.
- Bombay Sapphire infused with Saffron + Ginseng, Martini Bianco infused with Green Tea + Fresh Mint, Lem-Marrakech Bitters, Toasted Coriander Tincture
- This is the cocktail that named David W. as “Bombay Sapphire’s World’s Most Imaginative Bartender 2012“.
- It’s $13 on a regular night at West. A very pricey cocktail, but also in line with what they offer at the bar.
- This could be a meal in itself.
- It was such a complex drink with so many flavours and if I didn’t know what was in it I would have guessed wrong.
- In a blind tasting I would have thought it was gin, ginger and coriander syrup, a bit of orange juice, Habanero peppers, and a bit of chilli. Only 2 of those ingredients are actually in the drink.
- It was a very strong and boozy cocktail which is why it was a 5/6 for my personal tastes rather than a 6/6.
- Based on the description I would never really consider ordering it, but I enjoyed it much more than I expected.
- It’s not a fruity sweet drink and it’s very gin forward.
- I prefer most gin to vodka anyway, but you have to really like gin to appreciate this… obviously. It’s Bombay Sapphire.
- The word “ginseng” makes me cringe a bit and I think of “healthy soup” my mom would make, but this one didn’t even taste like ginseng at all.
- It wasn’t woody, herbal or bitter, but spicy and that’s why I thought it was ginger.
- Even though I was told it was ginseng, I still feel like it was ginger and I could really taste ginger in this cocktail.
- The spices not only lingered, but they were tingly although not hot.
- My whole mouth was tingling from spices, but it’s not overkill and it was a nice tingle.
- The spices were so well developed and it wasn’t just that hard dash of hot sauce, but there was a good depth and layered flavour of spices.
- The Moroccan flag made from lemon peel was the garnish and the oils from the lemon even played a role in the drink.
- The lemon oils seeped out and brightened up the spices and helped with aromatics.
- I could smell the lemon along with the coriander which is a very complementing flavour combination.
- Date balls, celery salad
- It’s the season for soups and this was an interpretation of a Moroccan staple called harira.
- Harira is the national soup of Morocco and every family has their own version of it.
- There isn’t really a “traditional” recipe because there are so many vegetarian and non-vegetarian versions of it.
- It’s enjoyed throughout the year, but especially during Ramadan to break the fast.
- It’s a tomato and lentil based soup and the one Mourad made was vegan.
- It was earthy and hearty in flavours, but actually quite light in texture since there was no cream.
- I was surprised he used water to make the soup and I would have preferred a vegetarian stock or a meat stock if it was a non-vegetarian harira.
- The tomato paste was distinct and it was reminiscent of an oxtail stew without the meat.
- It was robust in flavour, aromatic with cumin, coriander and other smokey Moroccan spices, but it wasn’t spicy.
- There was some lemon juice for acidity and it just made the soup brighter rather than mucky tasting.
- I was surprised there was only lemon juice because it tasted more acidic than that, but it was perhaps the amount that was added along with the tomato paste.
- The lentils are traditionally cooked together with the soup, but instead he cooked them separately so they would keep their texture.
- The lentils were plated before the soup was poured in.
- I was surprised that the flavours of the raw celery were so dominant because I thought it would be hidden under the flavours of the soup, but it wasn’t.
- The date balls were perhaps my favourite part to this.
- Dates are traditionally served with this soup to offset the acidity with some sweetness.
- They were tiny balls of rolled Medjool dates and he served them this way because diners used to leave them in the bowl if they were served whole.
- I wanted more of those date balls and I wouldn’t have minded a generous smear of date paste around the bowl before the soup was poured into it.
- I think the flavours could have married even more if it was served the next day like most soups, but given the circumstances it was very good.
- The gin was sous vide with juniper berries, green olives and rosemary to intensify the flavour of this cocktail.
- If you’re doing this at home I would use an average quality and more affordable gin.
- The gin is sous vide at a very low temperature so the alcohol content does not evaporate and remains sealed in the bag.
- It was a very light and delicate cocktail, but it had a lot of weight and even some body from the olives. It gave it mouth-feel.
- The combination of ingredients were certainly unique for this cocktail and it was fragrant and a bit spicy with ginger heat.
- They sprayed the empty glasses with chamomile essence before pouring the drink, so there was a nice floral scent in the nose as well.
- Pemberton potatoes, saffron broth
- It was a very light and mild soup in flavour, yet incredibly oily from the fish and olives so it had body and richness.
- I love black cod. It’s such a forgiving fish and near impossible to overcook.
- It’s so fatty and buttery that it doesn’t take as much skill to cook as some other fishes.
- His intention for this soup was to infuse all the flavours into the potatoes rather than the fish.
- The fish was simply steamed over top of a clay pot which was filled with potatoes and aromatic broth.
- It was a very delicate approach to cook the fish, but the infusion of flavours from the steaming method was too subtle to be detected.
- The saffron broth had a strong seafood flavour and I almost thought it was drizzled with lobster oil.
- It was drizzle with a generous amount of excellent quality extra virgin olive oil though which really helped with flavour and body.
- The broth was distinctly briney and I thought it was from crustaceans, but it was actually clam nectar. It was almost like a bouillabaisse.
- The broth had a good amount of lemon juice in it so it was bright and citrusy in flavour.
- The saffron was quite mild, but detectable and I thought it was more like a clam broth than a saffron broth.
- The green olive puree on the bowl was my favourite part of the dish.
- It was very natural with olive flavour and it wasn’t a salty olive, but a rich, meaty and buttery olive.
- The hot saffron broth was melting the puree every so slightly and the oils from it were giving the broth more texture, depth and mouth-feel.
- The precious potato ball (under the potato chip garnish) was infused with lemony thyme and garlic. It was tender, but not mushy.
- I’m not sure if I valued the potato as much as he wanted me to though.
- The soup was very mellow, mild and a bit downplayed with flavours. It seemed almost more Mediterranean to me than Moroccan.
- This was easily my favourite cocktail of the night. The others were good, but this was something else. This was dangerous.
- I would go back for this and highly recommend it.
- I almost liked it as much as David W.’s “Yeah Mon” banana cocktail which is freaking amazing.
- This could have been dessert. It wasn’t that it was so sweet, but it was a sweet drink although well balanced.
- The gin was sous vide with cardamom, star anise, fennel, cinnamon and pink peppercorn and the cocktail was made with organic eggs.
- The sous vide process allows for quicker infusion of flavours and the alcohol does not evaporate.
- Again it totally changed the profile of Bombay Sapphire, so I would use a less premium gin if making it at home.
- It was rich and frothy and almost like a Chai Egg Nog. It would be excellent as an ice cream too.
- I love almond milk, almond flavours and cardamom so this had my name all over it. It’s dairy free too so it works for lactose intolerant people.
- If you don’t like almond milk, you can taste it in here, but give it a shot and see if you change your mind.
- Slow cooked chicken, swiss card
- This is another very traditional Moroccan dish.
- Basteeya is native to Morocco and known as Moroccan Chicken Pot Pie.
- It is labour intensive and made for special occasions because it’s a 2 day process.
- I really wish I had tried an authentic Basteeya so that I would have an idea of the original to compare.
- The traditional version looks like a giant wheel of cheese wrapped in phyllo.
- It’s supposed to be an equally sweet and savoury dish. I love sweet and savoury so I expected to really love this.
- There is a lot of history behind this dish which Mourad explains in his recipe book, but this version of basteeya is quite different than the original.
- The one from his book doesn’t look like the one he served here though. This was almost like a modern deconstructed version.
- The chicken roulade was stuffed with a chicken and egg mixture and it was reminiscent of a dark meat chicken stuffing meets scrambled eggs. It had the texture of a chunky chicken cous cous.
- The chicken seemed sous vide and it was really tender and moist and while I did get a bit of spice and warm spices, I wasn’t thinking “Moroccan”.
- It was topped with phyllo sheets (which came off a bit random), and served with big chunks of cinnamon and nutmeg spiced almond crisps and chicken jus.
- The almond crisps would have been great as a crumble and I think presenting the chicken as a roulade made it a bit confusing to eat.
- Usually a roulade is a roulade and served as is, but this one had so many other components and garnishes that I wasn’t sure how to eat it or where it was going.
- I loved the textures and the flavour combinations, but I didn’t find the deconstruction of it benefiting to the overall idea of basteeya.
- I tried it all together, and tried to appreciate it as a de-constructed version, but it still seemed quite random and the ratio of each component slightly off.
- It tasted fine together, but I actually ended up enjoying each component separately.
- This was the most pretentious red wine decanter… and I wanted it… next time I’ll bring a bigger bag.
- This cocktail was acting as a red wine and he mimicked it pretty well, however I personally would just rather have wine.
- Again, as a cocktail pairing I could appreciate the concept and approach, but it’s not something I would order unless I hated red wine and wanted a cocktail version of it.
- It was an oak barrel aged gin and he really dressed it up with wine characteristics.
- He added some gommy syrup which is a natural thickening agent to give the cocktail some body like a medium bodied wine would have.
- The cocktail smelled like a sauna and I felt like I was outdoors.
- It was strong with cedar aroma and oaky flavour with a hint of black pepper for spice.
- I found it a bit too sweet for my liking, but it worked with the richness of the beef cheeks.
- Part of me just couldn’t get over the intensity and aggressiveness of the cedar and the unmistakable resemblance it had to the scent of a sauna.
- Brown butter cous cous, carrot jam, harrisa emulsion
- It’s very rare that I like a main more than the appetizers, but in this case the main was hands down my favourite course of the night.
- Everything was very good, but then this just knock it out of the ball park. This was comfort food at its best.
- This was almost like a Moroccan beef bourguignon and I warmed up to it nicely.
- If it was traditional it would have come family style swimming in sauce with piles of bread to accompany it. It would have been delicious like that as well.
- This was the “new Moroccan” dish I was waiting for.
- It had the flavours, intensity, and bold flavours that I was prepared for so it was a nice build up towards this dish.
- The cheeks are one of my favourite parts of a cow, pig, lamb and fish.
- It’s a very fatty cut of meat ideal for braising and if you cook it long enough on low then you won’t even need a knife to eat it.
- I did this with my fork and I probably could have done it with a spoon.
- It was melt in my mouth tender and falling apart in shreds of moist meat.
- The flavours were intact and it wasn’t heavily seasoned, at least not directly.
- Mourad does not like heavy seasoning on his proteins (notice the black cod course as well) and he seasons indirectly.
- In this case he put all the spices in a sachet and then followed by adding an herb bouquet of bay leaves and thyme to the braising liquid.
- The beef wasn’t bursting with spices and herby flavours, but it was gently infused with them and there wasn’t a dominating spice or herb.
- The carrot jam puree was almost as good as the beef and it was better than mashed potatoes.
- The carrot jam was creamy and smooth and made with over 23 ingredients.
- It was labour intensive and you could tell.
- The jam was incredibly aromatic with warm spices and I could taste all spice and cloves. It was still naturally sweet with carrot flavour and I loved it!
- The harissa emulsion didn’t have much body so it didn’t hold up very well.
- It was a bit spicy and aromatic with spices, but I couldn’t really taste it because it was already dissipating.
- The cous cous was another show stopper.
- He emphasizes the art of making cous cous in his book.
- I don’t even know if I’ve had hand made cous cous, but he is a believer in that tradition.
- The cous cous was steamed with perhaps chicken stock and saffron threads.
- It was incredibly moist, nutty, buttery and savoury.
- I think it was topped with brown butter sauce and it reminded me of buttered popcorn, but it was not greasy.
- I just wish he had topped the cous cous with vadouvan which is a mix of sun dried spices that give a similar effect to dehydrated crispy caramelized shallots.
- I wanted some crispy texture with this dish so even deep fried chickpeas would be great.
- As a dessert cocktail I usually prefer something sweet and this one was rather tart.
- It almost brought me back in a full circle and it sort of reminded me of the first cocktail with citrus flavours.
- It was floral and warm yet zesty and bright with acidity.
- The rose water wasn’t overpowering, and I liked all the ingredients in the cocktail, but I’m not sure if it was memorable.
- For me the Moroccan Spiced Almond Nog really stole the show and the cocktails after were at a disadvantage.
- I could have had another Moroccan Spiced Almond Nog as dessert and I’d be jolly… and super drunk.
- Morocco isn’t known for desserts and typically it’s fruit after a meal more so than desserts.
- I was actually very excited for this dessert because Mourad’s pastry chef at Aziza, Melissa Chou, was nominated for Outstanding Pastry Chef of the Year in 2012 by the James Beard Award Foundation.
- As soon as this dessert came out I knew his pastry chef didn’t come up with him because it had Rhonda Viani’s name all over it, who is the talented Pastry Chef at West Restaurant.
- The presentation and style was very Rhonda, but the components of the dessert were from Mourad’s cook book.
- The round shapes, stacking, and balancing gelato, mousse or sorbet was very Rhonda.
- The plum hibiscus sorbet was aggressively tart and aggressively sweet and the yogurt was floral and tangy.
- It was a semi-frozen orange blossom French parfait, but not overpowering with orange.
- It was light and airy, but still creamy and delicate with a beautiful orange scent.
- The parfait tasted like an orange creamsicle, but a good quality one. I really dislike the artificial kinds and this was good.
- The almond cake was moist and good and almost a bit chewy from ground almonds. I love almond cake so naturally I liked it.
- I would have loved some actual fruit and nuts as a component too.
- Overall the parfait and almond aspect got a bit overpowered by the acid from the sorbet and yogurt, but I did enjoy the dessert.