April 2004

Colleen O’Brien

Aziza: Food like mom used to make back in Marrakech

Chef: Mourad Lahlou

Background: Lahlou was born in Casablanca, Morocco, and grew up in Marrakech. He came to the U.S. at age 18 to study economics. In college, Lahlou cooked Moroccan food for himself to remember home, but he never intended to open a restaurant. In 1996 he took a break from getting his Ph.D. in economics to help his brother open Kasbah in San Rafael. The restaurant was so popular, he stayed. When they lost the lease for Kasbah in 2001, Lahlou opened Aziza.

Crowd: I really liked Marin, and it was sad to leave there, but thankfully people came after we opened here, driving from Marin to the city. The response we’ve gotten from the city was amazing.

Food style: When I started out, my whole thing was, I just want to recreate what I ate in morocco. But that really presented a challenge, because this is not morocco. People don’t have the same taste. What I’m trying to do is really modernize Moroccan food.

Influences: Zuni (Café) is one of them. I love what Judy Rodgers is doing there. Moroccan food is?layered ? you start with one main ingredient, and you build the flavor. You keep building, and at the end you get this really complex flavor. (At Zuni), they serve me stuff that is so fresh and crisp, and they didn’t play with it too much. They knew exactly when to stop. It gave me the idea to unlayer Moroccan food.

Most popular thing on the menu: The bastilla is extremely popular ? there would be a revolt if I took it off the menu. It’s one of those things that really captures the sweet side and the savory side of Moroccan cooking. It’s braised chicken with saffron, spiced almonds, cinnamon, cloves, and I put it in phyllo, bake it, and when it comes out of the oven it’s dusted with powdered sugar.

To impress a client/companion: The tasting menu. You want to talk about stuff that you’re interested in, you don’t want to have to make decisions. You can get a three, four, or five course menu, depending on how much you want to eat, and we take care of everything. They choose their entrées, but we take care of the appetizers, and they don’t have to make too many choices.

One thing you’ll never see on the menu: Moroccan burger ? sometimes we get requests from people who want something familiar, but I’m not going to put that on the menu. If you want a great burger you can go to zuni. Sometimes people ask for ketchup ? there’s no way.

New on the menu: We’re doing a paine farm squab served with ras el hanout ? a reduction that’s really dense yet light (served with Wine Forest’s black trumpet and hedgehog mushrooms). For vegetarians, I’m doing a charmoula dish, which is braised vegetables in a tomato sauce with paprika and garlic, cilantro, and I put organic quail eggs in there. It’s seasonal, so right now we’re using asparagus like crazy, and bloomsdale spinach.

Dessert: The chocolate pot. It’s like a soufflé, it’s gooey inside and served with whipped cream and it’s like a pot pie, but it’s a dessert.

Wine list: (The wine director’s) attitude is, if it doesn’t go with the food, I’m not going to put it on the list. He feels like a chardonnay does not go with this food ? and people come in and say “what? We live in California.” But he spends so much time trying to find little wineries all over Europe that will compliment the food.”


Food style: modern moroccan cuisine

Sample entrées: couscous with crisp vegetables, grilled chicken and prawns, spicy lamb sausage and stewed lamb.

Wine list: forty wines, eighty by the glass, French, German, Austrian, Italian and Californian.

Ambiance: Exotic and cozy. Belly dancers after 7pm. Thursday thru Sunday.

Address: 5800 Geary Blvd. at 22ndAve. , San Francisco .

Phone: 415 752 2222

Web site: www.aziza-sf.com

Hours: 5:30 ? 10:30 Wednesday through Monday.

Average check cost: $35, plus wine.