Memosne: November 2013

Aziza: A Review

While I was in San Francisco, many high end restaurants were waiting with baited breath, not for my arrival of course (haha, I'm awful.), but instead for the 2014 Michelin Star Rankings. A day after the Michelin Star Announcement, my Uncle noticed a familiar name on the list: Aziza. So with that we decided to try some Moroccan Food. Although my Uncle had been before, this was my first time, and the first time that I can remember trying Moroccan Food.

The decor was both very Moroccan and very modern. I have a minimal amount of knowledge about Morocco and Moroccan culture, but what I had in my head seemed to match with the decor. Rustic oranges, curved archways, deep blues, and bright crimsons decorated the restaurant.

The menu was small, but featured a range of enticing appetizers and entrees that featured seasonal ingredients. Obviously, the menu rotates and things are switched out, different flavor combinations are switched in, etc. By now, I should really know to take a photo of the menu or write down the exact thing I ate.

This was the best I got. HAHAHA. I know, awful. Dat side blur tho.

The staff was quiet, efficient, and not overly friendly. When I told our waiter about my gluten intolerance, he was incredibly knowledgeable about it and knew immediately what I could and could not eat. When I expressed interest in the lamb shank, he immediately offered to substitute the barley on the lamb for something else. My uncle and I were quite adventurous, and we ordered two appetizers, two entrees, and two desserts. 

Chicken Wings, honey, nigella seeds, cucumber
These are the chicken wings with honey, pickled cucumber, and nigella seeds. As you can see, it was very beautifully presented, boneless, and each wing chopped into three pieces. Which is wonderful, because the two of us could evenly divide the appetizers without having that awkward moment of "who gets the last piece?" 

The flavor was tasty, the chicken was sweet and tender, and I can easily see why it's a staple on the menu. Aziza altered the dish to be gluten free for me, but I was really unsatisfied with the texture. Unfortunately, Aziza does not have a dedicated gluten-free fryer (which makes sense, they're expensive!) so they cannot fry the wings without risk of cross contamination. Because of this the wings really suffered textually. Although the nigella seeds were crunchy, the wings on a whole felt monotonous in texture profile. I wanted a larger crunch, with the tender sweetness of the chicken meat in the middle. I was grateful for the cucumber on the plate. I think with the mild sweetness of the chicken, the cucumber was a good palate cleanser to move onto the next appetizer. 

Squid, cucumber, spinach, tomatillo, zhug

 The squid appetizer accompanied by a sliver of tomatillo, cucumber, spinach, and some smatterings of zhug. Unfortunately, there were only three pieces of squid distributed on the plate...and I gave the last piece to my uncle. Selflessness. I should be sainted.

The squid was cooked perfectly. It wasn't difficult to chew, but had enough bite in it to balance well with the crunch of the cucumber, and the tenderness of the spinach. Additionally, I really admired the knife work done on the outer layer of flesh. It served the dual purpose of looking really neat and adding texture to an ingredient that would otherwise be textually boring. The zhug or skhug, a middle eastern type of hot sauce, wasn't too spicy, but added a nice kick of flavor to the three mild ingredients. The dish was satisfying and skillfully executed, but I wasn't too "wowed" by it. Especially given the price and the portion size, I think I would opt to try something else if I was given a second chance to look over the menu.

Halibut, Seaweed, Barley, Root Vegetables
As for entrees, my uncle ordered their daily seafood special which was a halibut "clay pot" served with fried seaweed, barley, and assorted root vegetables. You can see the barley peeking out of the sauce there, so this dish isn't technically gluten free, but I'm sure the chef and waiters would be more than happy to change it for a gluten intolerant patron. I had a little bite of the halibut and it was very good. Tender, moist, and buttery...the halibut was an addictive fish to eat. I couldn't eat anything else, for fear of gluten, but I was told the flavors of the dish were very fresh and mild compared to the lamb shank I ordered. Which is great, because if you're not feeling like rich hearty food, you can always order something light and equally as delicious off the menu. 

Lamb Shank, Baby Arugula, Sunchoke, Saffron, Pomegranate Seeds
I ordered the lamb shank garnished with baby arugala and pomegranate seeds, with a side dish of sunchokes and celeriac. The lamb shank was rich, hearty, and heavenly. They gave me a steak knife to cut it, but I didn't need it. The lamb shank was fork tender and had a melt-in-your mouth consistency. I really loved the arugula and the pomegranate seeds, because when the rich lamb taste got too monotonous, you could always pick up a little arugula for some palate cleansing bitterness or munch on some pomegranate seeds for their tart acidity. The celeriac and the sunchokes soaked up all the delicious lamb fat and provided a much needed starchiness and carbohydrate-y goodness to the dish. This dish is a staple on the menu for a reason and very obviously a fan favorite. I recommend at least one person at the table get this dish, it's very yummy and everyone will get a chance to taste that fork-tender lamb shank. 

Chocolate mousse, coconut, rooibos  
For dessert, I decided on the chocolate mousse, as it was naturally gluten free, and served with all sorts of tantalizing things like a caramel wafer and coconut. Honestly, as a someone who prefers milk chocolate, this chocolate dessert was way too heavy for me. When I took a bite of that chocolate mousse, the cacao completely covered my tongue with its rich, powdery flavor. The dark chocolate wasn't very sweet at all. Everything else in the dish: the coconut, the rooibos ice cream, and the wafer, balanced the dark chocolate out, but I still couldn't get over the desserts' inherent richness. I can see someone else loving this dish though. 

Black Currant Curd, Vanilla, Fennel Meringue, Almond-Hazelnut Sable
I'm usually not a fruit dessert fan, I'm one of those people that think desserts have to be rich, chocolately and sinful to be categorized as a "real dessert", but this odd little wreath of black currant and vanilla droplets totally stole my heart away. The black currant droplets were tart and were perfectly balanced by their vanilla companions, and the fennel mergingue added a fluffy, light textural element to the whole dish. We asked for the almond-hazelnut sable on the side, since it was basically a crumbled up cookie, but I can see how that would add to the dessert's texture as well. Even without the crunchy goodness of the cookie, I enjoyed this dessert. I'm actually over the moon about it, I just wish there was more. After my rich meal, this fruity, tart, sweet dessert is the perfect meal closer. 

My whole Aziza experience was above average, but not mind blowing. My main gripe about Aziza is the portion sizes, especially in terms of their appetizers and desserts, given their prices. I'm not expecting a huge portion with each dish, but the sizing of the dishes left me with a strong feeling of disparity between the food and the price. My uncle had been to Aziza once before and he said that his first experience was really one to write home about and he was somewhat disappointed with this revisit. However, he's since been back a third time and one of the waiters said that the Aziza kitchen had gotten a whole slew of new line cooks, so the head chef wanted to break them in. He also said the third visit was much better than the time that we went.

All in all, I think I would revisit Aziza for special occasions, but probably not a casual meal. I love their twist on Moroccan cuisine, although I wouldn't be able to tell you if it's authentic or not. I can tell that they put a lot of care into each dish in terms of texture, presentation and flavor. Congratulations on the Michelin Star Aziza! 

Kid Friendly: Probably! They're very accommodating.
Price: $$$$$ of $$$$$
Repeatable: Yes, for special occasions. 

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California Academy of Arts and Sciences

I went to the California Academy of Arts and Sciences a couple of weeks ago and it's amazing. I highly recommend it to native San Franciscans and tourists alike. If you haven't visited yet, you're missing out on a wonderful part of San Francisco. There's an aquarium, planetarium, solarium, other -ariums. It's just generally the best. 

Admission for Adults is $29.95, Students $24.95, and Children $19.95. The museum is open from Monday to Saturday from 9:30 am - 5:00 pm and Sundays from 11:00 to 5:00pm.

I think the Academy of Sciences has the perfect mix of taxidermied animals, live animals, and general science exhibits to constantly be stimulated by new things. When my sister and I visited the New York Museum of Natural History, we were so excited and jazzed to run around all the exhibits, but it was so massive we couldn't even finish the whole museum within a day. The California Academy of Science, in contrast, is easily doable.

My favorite part is the bio-dome they have inside the museum where they let butterflies roam wild and completely immerse you in a "tropical rainforest." It's incredible.

I just wanted to use this post to share some photos I've snapped, so I hope you enjoy. =) The photos don't do the place justice though. ;) 

Just to reiterate, the photos don't do the place justice. Thanks for reading!

Ono Hawaiian Foods: Review

It’s been a long time since I’ve written any food reviews, but my parents just came back from a trip to Honolulu and they’ve reminded me of all my backlogged restaurant entries. I’ve been especially hesitant to post this one, because I think the photos are a bit blurry, but, in some small way, it helps alleviate the home sickness that I’m feeling when I’m away from my mom and my dad. I had to grow up sometime, right? In addition to missing them, they’ve decided to torture me a bit more by sending a huge amount of image heavy whatsapp messages to my sister and I. I mean, we don’t text very often, but when we do it’s always pictures of food. It's like a huge billboard "THIS IS WHAT YOU'RE MISSING OUT ON!!"

Ono Hawaiian Foods is exactly the kind of place that my dad loves to go to. It has all of his illustrious requirements: an out of the way location, “hole in the wall” decor, a “locals only” place (despite the fact it was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s popular tv show), and traditional food.

As you can tell, Ono Hawaiian Foods is definitely a local neighborhood joint. It’s located in a bit of a dilapidated area and has a very small amount of floor space. In fact, more often than not, you’ll see a line of patrons waiting to get inside through Ono’s rickety wooden door.

The interior and its decoration are a bit old, but you can tell that a lot of love goes into the restaurant. Yellowed pictures of neighbors, old restaurant patrons, and celebrities line the walls floor to ceiling, while Restaurant awards are scattered about along with Hawaiian pride bric-a-brac. The seating and tables are old cafeteria type “red models”, with standard plastic covering and brown hollow frame. When seated you’re given a laminated single page, double sided, menu with all of Ono’s offerings.

I defer to my parents for this, since I’m always the one third-wheeling on my parent’s second, third, and fourth honeymoons, so I always let them order what they want. I.E. I really like the salmon poke, but they don’t. That’s what you get when you’re a mooch.

The food at Ono is traditional Hawaiian, and from the two times I’ve been here, is also very heavy. I mean it. The last time my family and I visited Ono, we were there when the restaurant opened for the lunch service, ordered 4-5 dishes, and were still full by dinner (and past it). So we only ordered three dishes for the three of us: Kalua Pig, Pork Lau Lau, and "salt meat watercress."

We also passed on the poi, offered to us fresh and three days old, because we didn't enjoy the consistency. Fresh poi, as explained to us, is sweeter in taste while "aged" poi is tart in flavor. The poi itself looks pretty cool, it's naturally lavender in color, and it's consistency can vary from watery to play dough like. The poi offered at Ono sort of reminds me of the "non-newtonian" fluid that you can create with water and cornstarch. So we tried it once, didn't really like it, and didn't want to waste anymore poi. Now...

On with the food! 

This is the infamous pork lau lau. The pork is wrapped in taro leaves, then ti leaves and then steamed on a stove (in ancient times it was cooked in an underground oven). What comes out is very, very tender, juicy pork and yummy taro leaves. You have to discard the ti-leaves, they aren't edible. The pork and ti/taro leaf flavor is very subtle on its own and the staff of Ono was quick to tell us that we could season it with the condiments distributed on every table.

As you can see, they offer sugar, soy sauce, sea salt, and a sweet vinegar-y sauce. I can see how the Lau Lau's subtle meaty flavor would be monotonous after a couple of bites, so the inclusion of sauces on the table is certainly welcome.

The Kahlua pork I was less thrilled about. There are many rave reviews on Yelp and Urbanspoon, but I found the Kahlua pork to be salty and dry. I've been told Kahlua pork is usually the centerpiece of a luau and is usually the whole roasted pig you dig up from the imu (traditional underground oven). Obviously that smokey, whole pig roasted flavor can be difficult to replicate, but I really just didn't like this. I feel blasphemous for even saying it, but that's the way it is. I've had it twice now and I didn't like it both times. I'm sorry. I'M SORRY.

The meat was dry and the juice left pooling at the bottom of the dish was a bit too oily for my tastes.

Ending on a strong note, the Pork Watercress soup was something I genuinely enjoyed. It was very, very reminiscent of a soup that I've had often in my childhood, a cantonese pork, watercress, plum soup. Unfortunately, the name totally escapes me right now, but I've eaten/drunk that soup a lot. This tastes almost exactly like it, except the watercress isn't cooked all the way through. The pork-y soup base coupled with the crispy, fresh bite of the watercress is delicious and a dish I recommend to everybody. My only wish is that they would offer the soup in a deeper dish...I want more of it! 

It's a great place and one that has already received a lot of attention and hype from dedicated patrons, tv celebrities, and travel channels. The atmosphere is warm and really embodies "family", while the food is simple but home cooked.

I like Ono, but having been once, I'm sated. For me, there are so many other food options on the island that I'd like to explore or go to instead of Ono. It was a great one-time experience for me and I'm sure it'll be a great experience for you too. When my family was seated there, I saw a mix of return patrons and first time tourists. It was really interesting to just people watch! 

Kid Friendly: Yes 
Price: $ of $$$$$
Repeatable: For me, No 

Melange San Francisco 2013

Warning: Picture Heavy!

I was invited by my Uncle to attend Melange's 2013 Charity Fashion Show as a VIP guest. I mean, who can say no to that? The show was genuinely interesting and had a theme of "Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell." As a VIP Guest, we were treated to an additional fashion show, down in hell, which featured some of Jean Paul Gaultier's looks and some local designers. 

I have to say, I felt very, very lucky to be a VIP because we were actually allowed near the runway. I felt sorry for those people with general tickets, because I have no idea how they saw anything. Even being let into the "VIP Area" around the runway, there was only standing room available and not enough seats for everyone. My Uncle and I were actually standing in front of the owner of Asia SF, a large contributor to the fashion show primarily known for their work with transgender women, and his if they weren't getting seats...I felt somewhat better about standing.  

I loved how there was a focus on diversity and acceptance. The models were all shapes and sizes and you were able to see cis-women and men stomping the runway with trans-women and men and gender artists. They were all fierce and beautiful. 

However, there was definitely some confusion in differentiating each designers work. Each show had a consistent theme running through them, but with the constant stream of outfits, dancing and singing I wasn't sure which outfit design belonged to which designer. I did my best with the photos, but if they are misattributed my apologies!

As per usual. My photos are awful, but please enjoy.
Thank you to Melange for a fun night and a very, very big thank you to my Uncle for the invitation! =)