In the heart of the Richmond district, Geary Boulevard transforms itself into an ethnically diverse urban-suburbia of 45º parking and wall-to-wall storefront displays. Among Russian shops, Korean BBQ joints and dim sum eateries you’ll find a discreet corner restaurant that attracts foodies from all over town. Now more than ever.
Since it opened its doors 8 years ago, Aziza has become a popular restaurant among foodies and the local press. But the recently awarded (fans would say, long overdue) Michelin star is likely to propel the restaurant’s fame nationwide.
Aziza’s main dining room may not be the hippest in town but it’s all-around welcoming. Designed with a simple yet thematically honest Moroccan flair, the atmosphere is colorful and warm. Arabesques adorn the floor and tabletops; Moorish arches frame cozy booths that can fit a romantic couple as well as a cozy party of six.
The restaurant also features two other more traditional dining rooms with tables set closely together. Service is attentive and efficient. Dishes are not described upon arrival but the wait staff will answer any queries.
Neighborhood and atmosphere aside, Aziza’s claim to fame is all about its food. Prepared by the talented Mourad Lahlou, the restaurant’s fare is an inventive and contemporary take on Moroccan and Mediterranean cuisine. Inventive yet never gratuitous. Lahlou’s creativity lies in putting together outstanding flavor combinations, perfect preparations and beautiful presentations.
The menu features 17 appetizers ($5 to $18) and 11 entrées ($18 to $28). Each dish is described only by listing its ingredients. A five-course tasting menu is also available ($62).
At first sight, Mourad Lahlou may look like a fashion model or a nicer version of the villain in Dan Brown’s latest novel. With tattooed arms and a shaved head, the Moroccan-born chef sees his body as a living journal of his life, according to a recent profile in the Chronicle. Self-taught and deeply influenced by his family, Lahlou is one of the most talented chefs in town. His food is at the same time sophisticated and highly approachable.
Sardines, sea lettuce, fennel, brioche. Delicate filets of fresh sardines with a nice acidity and the aroma of fennel make this dish very successful.
Hen egg, charmoula, crispy beans. In contrast to the sardines, this dish is hearty and layered with delicious Moroccan flavors.
Couscous, chicken, prawn, lamb sausage, vegetables. Each ingredient in this dish is perfectly cooked, from the surf-and-turf of proteins to the fluffy couscous. Together they create a very well-balanced dish full of lusty flavors.
Spanish mackerel, vadouvan, marble potatoes, leaves, octopus. Another very successful dish. The tasty fish is complemented by a velvety vadouvan emulsion and nicely balanced accompaniments.
Aziza’s pastry chef, Melissa Chou, has the difficult challenge of following Mourad Lahlou’s outstanding cuisine. And she does it brilliantly. Her desserts are delicious and artfully presented–it is no coincidence Chou’s started her studies in art school.
Yogurt, mousse napoleon, walnut nougatine, fig, blackberry. A delicate and rich dessert layered beautifully in complementing textures and flavors.
Hazelnut, dacquoise, pear, burnt honey ice cream. Deliciously complex and satisfying, a great way to finish a remarkable meal.
Mourad Lahlou came to San Francisco over 20 years ago to get his masters in Economics. Opening a restaurant was a welcomed accident. An accident that gave us one of the city’s best-hidden restaurants and is giving Moroccan cuisine an inventive, modern flair. If you have never been, Aziza is definitely worth a drive across town–or around the world, depending on how you look at it.
Aziza is at 5800 Geary Blvd