(The original version, with more photos and less margin-squishing, is here …)
22 April 2006 – San Francisco, California
Aziza – This Richmond District Moroccan is always a lot of fun. We’d resolved to come back after our somewhat disastrous last experience…which wasn’t the fault of the restaurant, but rather of some sort of epic road rage incident on Geary Avenue that resulted in our dining companions’ new BMW being totaled while we noshed on lamb shanks.
Determined to do better, we arrive to a cheery staff who immediately appears to recognize us. Whether or not we’re unusually memorable, I can’t say, but it’s soon obvious that they all recall last year’s incident. The restaurant is packed and noisy (it is, after all, a Saturday night), but we’re put in as remote a corner as can be had, and this helps quiet the din somewhat. Food highlights include pistachio-encrusted goat cheese on a tomato/citrus jam with zaatar croutons, seafood phyllo triangles delicately laced with saffron, and a selection of wild mushroom with Manouri cheese (also on phyllo), but the star of the evening is presented as a special: a carrot soup with an utterly seductive mélange of spices and a flawlessly silky texture. After that exciting array of appetizers, the main courses are a bit less exciting, no thanks to a somewhat bland vegetarian couscous with tragically mild harissa. A terrific black cod claypot dish and a bit of the signature basteeya improve matters once more, to the point where we are simply incapable of eating another bite.
Inevitably, they bring us a selection of (comped) desserts: a piercing rhubarb tart, a strangely prosaic chocolate concoction that draws initial indifference but improves with each bite, and a fascinating reinvention of pistachios.
As for wine, I’m eager to sample from the always-enticing list, but our companions have brought their own, and who am I to look a gift bottle in the mouth?
Deiss 1998 Muscat d’Alsace Bergheim (Alsace) – Balanced and integrated floral aromatics (mostly orange blossoms) with great weight and concentration. Eventually one starts to tire of the aforementioned weight (it’s a bit fat on the finish), but this wine has aged nicely. It’s nice to know Deiss is still capable of making good wine.
Schaefer 1999 Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spätlese 17 00 (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) – Quite sweet and possessing the texture of liquid glass, with ripe, sweet crabapple and a long, vivid finish. Glows with power, but it’s still fundamentally primary. Let it rest.
I top this off with a glass of the always-reliable Macallan 18 Year Scotch Whisky (a near-perfect blend of primary and oak-derived aromatics), while our dining companions introduce me to yet another take on anise liqueur, Lebanon’s arak (producer unknown), which has more bite and verve – albeit more rusticity and burn – than most of these beverages do. Fun stuff.