Mediterranean Spreads with Grilled Flatbread: Aged Balsamic Eggplant, Dill Yogurt, and Roasted Pepper and Pomegranate; Seared Fennel Crusted Longline-Caught Yellowfin Tuna with Roasted Tahini and Tunisian Salad; Grilled Rosemary Lamb Brochettes with Steamed Saffron Couscous, Vegetable Stew, and Braised Chard
Occupation: Insurance Agent
Favorite Restaurant: Aziza
Reviewed Aziza: Saturday, December 10, 2005
When you first walk through the curtains at Aziza’s entrance you are transported to another world. Romantic lighting and hip music create the mood for an evening of intimate feasting.
Prather Ranch kefta skewers set the tone for the meal. Small balls of juicy beef are grilled with grapes atop a salad of julienned cucumbers and torpedo onions. Each bite combines savory meat, sweet fruit, and tangy, spicy harissa sauce. The result is so harmonious that you wonder why you have never had beef with grapes before. The salad offers a crisp palate refresher.
Mediterranean spreads served with warm flatbread make a familiar standard new and exciting. Roasted pepper and pomegranate is sweet and rich. Yogurt dill is tangy and creamy. Aged balsamic eggplant mousse is silky with a nice kick of vinegar. The contrasting flavors offer an excellent counterpoint to one another. The mouth feel is divine.
Basteeya is a traditional, Moroccan, mid-meal course. It consists of chicken that is braised in saffron and combined with egg, nuts, fruits, and a variety of spices, then wrapped in house made phyllo and topped with powdered sugar. It epitomizes the juxtaposition theme of the restaurant. Tender, juicy chicken in a crispy, crunchy, phyllo shell. Savory meat accentuated with raisins, cinnamon, and almonds. It is a wonderful refresher, unlike anything else.
Coriander beef stew is hearty and satisfying on a cold autumn evening. The delicious morsels of beef melted in my mouth. Whereas many restaurants try to hide vegetables in a stew, Aziza celebrates them; the tubers are pleasantly firm and very fresh tasting. The coriander accentuate the flavors without overpowering them. This is ultimate comfort food.
Dessert, the candy store, is a selection of irresistible treats: baklava, caramel, peppermint patty, sesame cookie, Earl Grey cookie, and, my favorite, rosewater meringue.
The bar at Aziza matches the food in excellence. There is something here for everyone: creative cocktails, fine wines, and an incredible selection of tea. The beer list is one of the best in the city; I always order a Saison Dupont which pairs with the food brilliantly.
There are three rooms at Aziza, each with its own mood. This was my first time eating in the far back room, and I will request a table there from now on. It is intimate and comfortable with soft, plush booths and pillows. The seats are firm enough to sit up and enjoy a meal yet comfortable enough to sit back and lounge
The servers at Aziza exude the attentiveness, grace and knowledge I expect to find only in four-star restaurants. They are knowledgeable without being pedantic, and attentive without being intrusive. Although some may complain about the slow pacing of the meal, I am happy to lounge for two-and-a-half hours and savor the experience.
Considering that most of the menu is sourced from artisanal, organic producers it is incredible that Aziza’s prices are so reasonable. Appetizers top out at $10, entrees top out at $20 and portions are generous.
Aziza is among San Francisco’s great restaurants. It is a destination for any Bay Area food lover.
Occupation: Inside Sales Representative
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Anh Hong
Reviewed Aziza: Wednesday, December 7, 2005
I had a reservation for 7:15 but then I called and said that I was adding two more to the party and would be late. I got there at 7:45, and we requested a booth and said that people would be joining us. We got seated at 8:40, and I was starvin’ marvin by that time. They initially told us it would be twenty minutes for to wait for the booth, and at 8:35 I was like “Um, excuse me, it’s been way more than twenty minutes…”
For appetizers we had the Mediterranean spreads ($9), the Bloomsdale spinach and feta phyllo rolls ($8), the Prather Ranch kefta skewers ($9), the grilled spicy lamb sausage ($9), and the Marin Roots Farm wild arugula salad ($8). For the main courses we had the Basteeya ($16), which is a baked phyllo pie with saffron braised chicken, and the Grilled Cattail Creek Farm rosemary lamb brochettes ($18) that came with a good steamed saffron couscous with vegetables and warm chicories. Although I found the food to be excellent, the portion sizes were very small. The Mediterranean spreads appetizer came with eight small pieces of grilled pita. I liked the pita grilled, but the spreads needed more pita, especially for four people that were hungry. The lamb brochettes had pieces of lamb the size of a grape. The Basteeya was the best value and was large enough for four of us to have a good piece. It was the only dish other than the lamb sausage appetizer ($9) that was of ample portion for four people sharing.
They carefully choose where they buy their meats and greens, which was impressive. However, we all found the warm chicories to be terribly salty and nearly inedible. The lamb was great, but the pieces were so small. There were only two phyllo rolls in the order, so we split them in half. They were the size of egg rolls. I liked the food, but the portions were so small with the exception of the Basteeya. With my dinner, I had an excellent glass of 2003 Barbera wine from Piedmont by the glass for $8.00. The portions were small and the dishes were really small compared to what I thought we would get. Aziza is not a value type of place, rather it’s a date restaurant. You won’t get full here or leave with that “oh my gosh I’m stuffed!” feeling.
I was very unhappy with the service. They tried to take plates away when we were actively eating, like they were on a timer to get rid of plates. One of the guests at the table had his fork taken during his entree and could not finish what was on his plate and nobody came back to give him a fork. I don’t know if the busboy had never done that type of job before, but you don’t clear plates when there is food on the plate and people are actively eating (like the fork is two inches from the plate). It reminds me of the November issue of Oprah. She put little postcards in her magazine to send to restaurants saying “this means I’m finished” when the fork and knife are off to the side together. I over-tipped them because they brought out lots of plates (we had to request new plates between dishes!!), and we had lots of dishes, so it wasn’t the normal level of service. However, I thought the staff had an attitude and thought more of themselves than of the diner’s experience. The food left very fast from the table and we didn’t even get a chance to finish some dishes as they whisked the plates away from under us! Also, the servers had some attitude when I requested the traditional yogurt with garlic and dill to accompany the lamb. I was told that I had to order the full Mediterranean spread appetizer for just to get it. I got it and it was very creamy and good, but I thought it was pushing the envelope to make me order it. In a true Moroccan restaurant — any Middle Eastern restaurant for that matter — it’s like ketchup.
I asked to meet the owner/chef who is Moroccan (though American born), but was told that he was not available. Also, there was not ONE person that was Moroccan and therefore I thought it was a bit of a sham. It was about as white bread as you can get. It was pretty yuppy. There weren’t any belly dancers and there never have been. I thought they had dancing nightly. For some reason I also thought there would be more dim lighting and more candles and velvet drapes and so forth. The bar was nice and well lit, but the chairs sucked. They were all uneven and so when you sit there, you rock back and forth because the chair does not have a level ground. Sort of makes you look like an idiot. I did like the booth they gave us though. It wasn’t that loud in the restaurant, but they had weird music. It was like Star Trek music. Whooooyyyoooooo. Weird.
I probably would not return because I thought it was sort of a fluffy pseudo-ethnic restaurant and the staff had lots of attitude and the service was awkward. I enjoyed the flavors of the plates and the quality of the food but the wait, the servers, the portion size all combined to make it an unfavorable experience. I probably will not recommend the restaurant to friends.
Occupation: Homemaker, volunteer, former marketing executive
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Pisces
Reviewed Aziza: Friday, November 4, 2005
The first time we ate at Aziza (November) was to celebrate our return from Morocco with friends we had made there. The second was with two couples who joined us to check out the place for Check, Please.
I dislike the kind of “computer voice” that answers the phone at Aziza but, once I got a real person, making reservations was smooth and pleasant, and the greeting when we arrived was warm. Parking on commercial Geary Blvd. isn’t easy, but Aziza has valet service and we didn’t wait long at the end to reclaim our car.
From the street, the restaurant seems closed until you pass through a red, semi-opaque drape into another world, one that does look like Morocco or someone’s idea of Morocco. The room is dark and seems smoky until your eyes adjust. I’m not sure I like the dark green walls, punctuated with booths in dark red niches, but I don’t dislike them either. There’s a long, well-stocked bar along one wall that glitters in the dark and was so crowded the Friday we were there, I could hardly hear our friends, but on Sunday it was tolerable.
Service is relaxed but friendly. We had to ask them to take our drink and food order, but, after that, everything was efficient, even when a waiter dropped one of our salads right behind our chair. One guest, by the way, made special mention of how comfortable the upholstered chairs are, more like dining room than restaurant chairs. And all the tables are round (no legs to avoid), making conversation easy when it’s not too noisy.
The cocktails are amazing, with ingredients like satsuma mandarin “muddled” with thyme, Meyer lemon vodka, coastal wild huckleberries, celery, vanilla, and lavender blossoms steeped in lavender honey syrup. They have interesting teas to end with, though we didn’t try them.
The first time we selected the Five Course Tasting with a choice of soup, three appetizers, Basteeya (their signature dish, a delightful phyllo pastry filled with saffron braised chicken and almonds and dusted with powdered sugar), a full entree from the menu, and dessert. The portions were more than generous and we were stuffed. It’s a sensational value though, at $39 each, not inexpensive.
This time we ordered lots of different dishes a la carte. Everything was beautifully presented, some on simple white plates, others on painted Moroccan pottery. All our choices were yummy, some more than others, and some were more “Moroccan” than others. The stewed lamb is tender and tasty. The couscous is classic, topped with four kinds of meat and perfectly cooked vegetables. The wild mushrooms in phyllo are intense with flavor, as is the codfish, but the star is Basteeya. Dishes like roasted beet salad or seared scallops, though not really Moroccan, were put together with interesting seasonings and garnishes. Many items have a surprisingly sweet element, characteristic of Moroccan food, and, with enough pomegranate seeds, preserved lemon, saffron, yogurt, olives and other typical ingredients, no one’s checking passports. Ethnic cuisines are almost always adapted to the country they’re served in, and this “take,” to our palette, outdid anything we had on our trip. I need to mention the slightly sweet anise-scented bread and refreshing cucumbered water, two nice touches that reinforced the aromatics of the food.
Desserts are sublime. Last time we had one of each, all great. This time we had room for two. The cranberry sorbet with a fun spiral of phyllo was refreshing, but “Breakfast at Aziza” is unbelievable: toasted discs of brioche with cubes of sautéed apple and fig, apple cider-caramel syrup, and honey-vanilla ice cream.
We were unanimous in our praise. I wholeheartedly recommend it but, just as next time I’ll probably travel to Italy, I won’t be back to Aziza for a while. That kind of mélange of tastes and richness of ingredients is something to savor now and then when you’re looking for an oasis from the norm, but not every day.