Aziza: A Review | Memosne

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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1 comment :

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