Restaurant: Aziza (Dessert menu)
Cuisine: Moroccan/New American/Mediterranean
Last visited: May 6, 2013
Location: San Francisco, CA (Outer Richmond)
Address: 5800 Geary Blvd
Phone: (415) 752-2222
Transit: Geary Blvd & 22nd Ave
Price Range: $30-50+ ($25-35 mains)
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
Food: 4.5 (based on what I tried)
- Chef/Owner Mourad Lahlou
- Innovative New Moroccan cuisine
- 1 Michelin Star
- Critically acclaimed
- Local and global ingredients
- Seasonal menus
- Chef Tasting Menus
- Cocktail/wine program
- Reservations recommended
- Wed-Mon 5:30–10:30 pm
- Closed Tuesday
- Twitter: @AzizaSF
**Recommendations: The 13 course Chef’s Tasting Menu ($95/person) was more impressive than the a la carte, although the a la carte was still very good. The cocktails and dessert menu should not be missed. If you’re ordering a la carte try the Lentil Soup, Sardines, and Duck Confit Basteeya. The desserts change often and according to season, but on the current menu I recommend the Almond-Honey Semifreddo.
It’s a 1 Michelin Star upscale restaurant featuring new Moroccan cuisine, and it was unexpected to find it on this street corner. The sign didn’t really shout “upscale” and from the outside it looked a bit shady, but I knew what I was getting myself in to. I knew well in advance too, as to why I even made reservations a week early. It is not a restaurant you just happen to walk by, it is restaurant you make plans to visit.
The Richmond District is populated with Chinese and Russian immigrants and mom and pop type ethnic eateries (mostly Asian) which dominate the area. Aziza is located in Outer Richmond which is the up and coming part of the Richmond District, as opposed to the inner part which is already full of restaurants.
It opened in 2001 and the love for it has only grown stronger. It won reviews from local media early on and has been on the James Beard Award radar most recently. It received James Beard Award nominations for Aziza, Mourad, and his Pastry Chef Melissa Chou, and the restaurant and team is still on the rise.
It is not easy to stay in the spotlight after opening for over 10 years (especially for modern restaurants like this), but Aziza must be doing something right or the hype would have died a long time ago. It still remains a neighbourhood gem and attracts locals and traveling food enthusiasts alike.
Follow Me Foodie to San Francisco started at Aziza and I was off to a good start. The restaurant was more pleasant once inside and it was a lot bigger than expected. There are 3 separate rooms, each uniquely themed, but still Moroccan inspired. It had the white tablecloths and the service was formal, but the room was trendy and not as committed to traditional fine dining quality. It was stylish and sophisticated, but not ritzy or rich.
Before I dwell into the food, I have to state my biases. I actually met Mourad last year at West Restaurant when he was invited as a guest chef. He prepared a New Moroccan Menu and I wrote about the experience here. It can be tricky writing about food when you become friends with the chef, but there is a mutual understanding and respect. Regardless it is not the first time I’ve done it, and if you’re familiar with this blog then you already trust it or you don’t.
I can’t say I’ve had much experience with Moroccan cuisine let alone “New Moroccan” cuisine. I refuse to put it under the umbrella categories of Middle Eastern or African food just because it isn’t specific enough. I find it deserving of its own category. Nonetheless I don’t have many point of references for how Mourad’s dishes came to be, but based on reading his book and trying his food, I could see his intentions.
More often than not I would order a Tasting Menu (not a price fixe menu), but I was anticipating a Tasting Menu at benu the next day and I didn’t want to suffer from palate fatigue. (Omg, did I really just say that?! First world problems.) I know it sounds silly, but it’s true. Sometimes overindulgence can ruin an experience. So I ended up ordering from the a la carte menu, but Chef was kind enough to send out some items from his Chef’s Tasting Menu.
Although I preferred the Chef’s Tasting Menu (even only after trying 1/3 of it), I am glad I got to try the a la carte items too. It gave me a better idea of how to maneuver the menu. Mourad’s creativity is best expressed in his Tasting Menu and I wasn’t expecting it to get as intense as it did. He is a real chef who is passionate about cooking and the menu was progressive, artistic, and innovative.
The Tasting Menu was riskier and more exciting than the a la carte menu, and without trying the Tasting Menu I would have missed out. It wouldn’t have been bad, but I wouldn’t have been surprised and my dining experience would not have reached full potential. The Tasting Menu was more suited for my tastes and dining style.
While both menus featured New Moroccan cuisine, the flavours of Morocco were not always obvious. This is his style though and how he approaches Moroccan cuisine.
The dishes are inspired by traditional dishes, but the spices and flavours are lighter and toned down with spices. It isn’t watered down because his reason for using less spices isn’t to cater to the majority, but it is to showcase the flavour profile of each spice by not using them excessively or mixing around too many. The theory may be unfamiliar to purists of traditional Moroccan cuisine, but Mourad is not one to play by rules as to why he also emphasizes Aziza as a “New Moroccan” restaurant.
Although Aziza is known as the first Moroccan restaurant to receive a Michelin Star, I wouldn’t celebrate it as that. Some of the Tasting Menu courses seemed New American and I was more intrigued with Mourad’s creativity and techniques than I was with his “New Moroccan” flavours.
The food was delicate, light with sauces, and clean in presentation. Both menus used Moroccan and Californian ingredients, but the Tasting Menu in particular was executed with very carefully selected ingredients which were well highlighted.
Mourad’s personality came out in the Tasting Menu and it showed who he was as a chef. It offered a sense of discovery and experience. Aziza is an unique and welcomed addition to the neighbourhood, but it is no ordinary neighbourhood restaurant. The room feels more Moroccan than the food, but the carefully put together menu speaks of a strong team.
If it hasn’t gotten comfortable over 10 years and it is still getting deserved recognition, then it hasn’t even peaked. Not to mention North America still hasn’t embraced Moroccan cuisine, so at this point Aziza is ahead of the game and almost before its time. I didn’t find an excellent Moroccan restaurant in San Francisco by coming here, but I found a talented and confident Chef, an experienced team, and restaurant original to San Francisco.
On the table:
See my post for Aziza’s Chef’s Tasting Menu
See my post for Aziza’s a la carte menu.
See my full post for Aziza (all menus).
- The innovative cocktail menu is worth exploring alone.
- All cocktails are made with muddled herbs, vegetables, fruits and spices and they take a bit longer to prepare.
- This one was sweet, sour and then subtly spicy – in that order too.
- There was gentle heat from the turmeric root which has a gingery flavour.
- I thought it would be more savoury, but it wasn’t.
- It was refreshing, and zesty with flavours of lime and lemon.
- It was a smooth tequila and even non-tequila fans could warm up to this.
- Vanilla, Fennel Meringue, Almond-Hazelnut Sable $10
- The presentation was different, but it worked.
- It was almost like a verrine, but plated in a circular manner and I think it was meant to be eaten in teaspoon sized bites.
- I felt like I was eating a bunch of sauces and garnishes, but each one was well made and worthy of attention.
- It was best enjoyed with every component in one bite, so the meticulous dollops of alternating black currant curd and vanilla cream worked.
- The black currant curd tasted like ribena and it was tart and sweet.
- The vanilla cream could have used some vanilla bean, but it was an aromatic component which tied all the flavours together.
- The crispy and airy light fennel meringue pieces were great for texture, but it was very mild in fennel flavour until I ate it with the custards.
- The fruity curd and floral cream really brought out the fennel flavour and I could have even used a touch of salt.
- The almond-hazelnut sable crumbs added another layer of nutty texture, but I wanted a bit more of a coarser crumb with crunchy nuts.
- Since the dessert had no main I wanted the crumb to be more like a crumble to give it more substance.
- It was a very fine and delicate dessert, which was slightly sweet for me, but it was still very good.
- A cake or fruit to eat with the curds and sauces would be nice, but for what it was, it was balanced.
- Rhubarb, Hibiscus $10
- I love ice cream like desserts, so naturally I knew I would like this, however it was also just a stunning semifreddo.
- The colours and disco ball presentation were very retro.
- I loved how it showcased Pastry Chef Melissa’s diverse styles of presentation, yet it was still her.
- It had texture, flavour, and complexity without being too much and it felt like a complete dessert.
- The almond-honey semifreddo (semi-frozen mousse/ice cream) bomb was not too sweet and very fragrant.
- The floral almond cream base tasted like it was infused with rose water and saffron.
- I couldn’t taste premium quality honey bee farm honey flavour, so I missed that, but it was still good.
- It reminded me of akbar mashti (Persian saffron ice cream) and it played into the Moroccan theme.
- The centre was an icy rhubarb sorbet and the tartness contrasted the sweeter and creamier semifreddo.
- The base of the semifreddo had an almond cake layer which I loved with the frozen cream and it absorbed the hibiscus consommé.
- The hibiscus consommé was very tart and syrupy sweet so I could have used a bit less, but it was good.
- The white chocolate feuillantine pieces crusted around the semifreddo were my favourite component.
- They were crispy and sweet and almost like a wafer and it added excellent texture to the semifreddo.
- It was a semifreddo meets a modern day ice cream cake/sundae and it was well thought out and creative.
- English Pea Mousse, Cherry, Gingersnap $10
- This dessert sounded most adventurous, creative, and out of the ordinary.
- It was a savory sweet dessert but still sweet enough to be a dessert.
- Again Pastry Chef Melissa showcased versatility in plating while remaining true to her own style. I really appreciated that.
- It reminded me of Christmas and gingerbread and it seemed like an eclectic twist to a Black Forest cake (chocolate and cherries).
- The green tea sponge cake pieces could have been aerated and steamed, but it wasn’t as obvious in the texture if it was.
- It was still a light and fluffy cake, but it was slightly on the dry side.
- The matcha powder was really dominant and strong, but it was more Japanese.
- I kind of wish it was mint and matcha or Moroccan tea flavoured cake to suit the Moroccan theme better.
- The English pea mousse was naturally sweet, but a bit starchy in texture in the mouthfeel.
- It was an interesting flavour combination with the matcha cake, but it worked.
- The gingersnap crumbs were really obvious with real ginger, molasses and warm spices of cinnamon and cloves.
- It tasted like gingerbread and there was a mild heat from the ginger, but it was not spicy.
- Gingerbread and matcha have earthy and aromatic flavour profiles and they complemented each other.
- The sour cherries were limited, but I liked their tart and juicy contrast to everything else. It brightened up the dessert.
- I would have loved more crispy and crunchy textures and perhaps some freeze dried peas or even pistachios.
- It was a dessert I wanted to share and it was fun to try, but I wouldn’t necessarily crave it although I found it inspiring.
Petit Fours included Milk Chocolate Peanut Brittle and Baharat & Pomegranate Pâtes de Fruits. Complimentary Aziza Granola is also given to each customer which was an appreciated gesture. It was Moroccan spiced with flavours of orange and cardamom and it would go excellent with thick yogurt.