Mourad, San Francisco
March 29, 2016
Mourad Lahlou left Marrakesh in 1985 at age 17 to study macroeconomics at San Francisco State University. He said that he began cooking to ease his loneliness while studying far from home. Working from memories of watching his mother prepare traditional Moroccan dishes, Lahlou began to experiment for small groups of friends and professors. He opened a traditional Moroccan restaurant in San Rafael. But he wanted to create a modern restaurant where he could revolutionize Moroccan cuisine. So he opened Aziza in November 2001 in San Francisco. It has been a big success. A year ago he added Mourad in the newly renovated Pacific Telephone Building. Wendy and Sam joined Linda and me there for dinner on February 20, 2016.
We were seated at the front edge of the airy dining room with its Marrakesh-moderne décor. This was the view from my seat.
Linda and Sam each had a glass of Ayala “Brut Majeur” Champagne.
I had a glass of Dopff-Irion Blancs de Blancs Brut Crémant d’Alsace.
The à la carte menu has a variety of offerings in different categories. There is also a ten-course tasting menu with somewhat more refined cuisine. We made our selections, all to share for the table in the Moroccan style.
We ordered a bottle of
2005 Tablas Creek ‘Esprit de Beaucastel’ Paso Robles
This “Rhône blend” was excellent. Unfortunately, it was the last bottle, so when we needed another, we chose:
2012 Brewer Clifton ‘3-D’ Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills.
This was also very good, but not as good.
Our first course was
cucumber . oregano . pepper . flatbread . za’atar
The distinctive flavor of the fresh eggplant came through nicely. It was accompanied by the various middle eastern garnishes, enhanced by a za’atar spice mix, typically made of ground dried thyme, oregano, marjoram, sumac, toasted sesame seeds, and salt. Two mounds of charred eggplant purée were alongside. We ate this as a spread on the fresh breads cut lengthwise. Very good and a sendoff to the rest of the cuisine.
chickpea . artichoke . olive . merguez
The chunks of octopus were chewy with a good flavor that went well with the other ingredients.
duck . asian pear . hearts of palm . crème fraîche . almond
This updated version of a pastilla had become the signature dish at Aziza and moved on to Mourad. The original Moroccan version uses squab; this uses shredded duck meat. In Morocco they use brick for the wrapper; this uses phyllo. There it is shaped like a little pot pie; here like an egg roll. The Asian pears are translucent from being compressed. There are chunks of heart of palm, almonds and dabs of crème fraîche. Mourad has been successful in his modernization without losing the spirit of the dish. Excellent.
beets . cocoa . hazelnut . roasted garlic . carrots . urfa
The rectangle of sea bass had a nice crispy skin, but was somewhat dry, needing the garnishes. This was ok, but not the best course of the evening.
We moved on to he main event of the evening, which filled the whole center of our table.:
LA’ACHA (moroccan family style) CHICKEN
preserved lemon . green olive . marash
The whole chicken is spatchcocked and brined for 24 hours. It is continually basted during roasting creating a rich, glossy skin. Green olives and preserved lemons are the traditional accompaniments.
The chicken was served with four side dishes and three sauces.
On the left is a house-made chile-infused harrisa. This was authentic, but too much for us. On the right is a good tomato and spice mix. In back is a chermoula, colored green with parsley, flavored with cumin and other spices.
COUSCOUS brown butter
POTATO buttermilk . onion
KALE olive . citrus
HEIRLOOM BEANS tomato . feta . za’atar crumble
All four of these were interesting, appropriate and very good. They were quite different from each other, fulfilling their role of making the whole chicken dish an adventure in Moroccan flavors. It took quite a while for us to serve, share and enjoy this exceptional dish.
We had three desserts
lavender sponge . coconut
chocolate . caramel . cardamom
Chantilly, white chocolate, anise
The mignardises were little cakes. Good, but I cannot remember the flavor.
Our meal was superb. The chef has a talent for bringing out the best in the traditional cuisine of his country, modifying, improving and modernizing it, without changing its essence. Bravo. The next time we are in San Francisco we will return for the tasting menu.