With a Michelin star and many accolades including a perennial Top 100 San Francisco restaurant favorite, the Moroccan-themed Aziza has been on our list of places to try for quite some time. Chef-Owner Mourad Lalou opened Aziza in the Richmond District a decade ago, and many will swear that the upscale modern-Moroccan food continues to get better and better every year.
Our experience with Moroccan food is very limited, having only eaten at places like the Moroccan restaurant at Disney’s Epcot Center in Orlando and Menara in downtown San Jose. Those experiences have been very typical, where main dishes tend to be spicy (saffron, cumin, paprika, mint, cinnamon) with some sweet elements (raisins, citrus zest, honey), and the meal was always accompanied with entertainment in the form of belly dancing. Thankfully, there is no belly dancing at Aziza; but the decor, painted in deep red with moorish arches, definitely reminds you that you are in a Moroccan restaurant.
Although there was room at the bar, we uncharacteristically decided to sit at our reserved table, since we noticed that the white-clothed tables for two were quite spacious and generously separated. The cocktail list was very interesting, listing a fruit or herb as the drink name with un-named liquor listed in the ingredient list. We decided to start with a Grapefruit (absinthe, Peychaud’s, bourbon) and a Mango (coconut water, basil seeds, gin). Both of the cocktails were very refreshing and perfectly balanced in terms of sweetness. The slightly bitter but crunchy basil seeds in the Mango drink were carefully placed on a lime “island:”
Aziza offers a chef’s tasting menu or the option to order a la carte. Similar to the cocktail menu, all dishes are named with one or two word descriptions with ingredients listed as needed. We opted to order individual items from the menu and started with “Spreads,” a popular dish that we noticed was also ordered by many other tables. Swatches of fresh chickpea, yogurt-dill and piquillo-pine nut dips were served with beautifully grilled flatbread triangles:
They have one of the most “challenging” wine lists we have encountered: markups were fairly high and there were only a few bottles that we would normally order. There are plenty of Austrian and German whites, along with a large cross section of French, Italian, Spanish and domestics, but it’s rare for us to splurge blindly with whites. Reds are also well represented, mostly old world plus a few domestics. Somehow the Moroccan atmosphere did not inspire us to indulge as we normally would in a Michelin-starred restaurant. In the end we chose this Austrian 2004 Brundlmayer, made of the Burgundr grape which is a distant cousin to a Pinot Noir. Maybe we figured the age would help justify the markup. In any case, it was drinking well and paired nicely:
As big fans and eaters of chicken wings, we were curious to try the Aziza version. The boneless Chicken Wings were very tasty, with very moist meat and crispy skin. With a slight sweetness from currants, a nod to traditional wings was included in the form of celery strands garnish:
As one of our entrées we selected the Duck, which might just be one of the best preparations we have ever eaten. The duck breast was cooked to perfection in a sous-vide water bath. The skin was pan seared to a perfect crispness, and the other part of the tender breast was served roulade style. Deliciously cooked potatoes were finished on the grill, and a dollop of duck liver mousse accompanied the beautifully plated fowl:
We also ordered the Lamb Shank served with creamed barley pearls and a prune and saffron sauce. This dish was probably the most reminiscent of what we would think as a typical Moroccan dish with a sweet sauce:
The lamb dish was fairly large so we ended up taking some of it home. They have an interesting “food-check” system at Aziza where rather than placing the box at the table, they place a sign denoting where the food is kept while you finish the rest of the meal:
We were too full for dessert, but they did serve a small tray of grapefruit gelées and chocolate ganache squares to make sure that the meal ended on a sweet note:
Aziza remains unique since it is the only fine dining modern Moroccan establishment in the City. Although the experience was good; for us personally, it wasn’t extraordinary which is contrary to what the general consensus seems to be. The setting in outer Richmond district and difficult parking situation makes this less than an optimal choice for us personally to return to; however, if we did come back we would definitely try out their famous Bisteeya and stick with drinking the great cocktails.