Birthday Dinner at Aziza

I try to be a good human being most of the time, I really do.  I try to be generous with my time and energy, to think of others and put my friends and family first.

Most of the time.

But for about a week every January I am entirely, insufferably self centered.  And do you know why?  

JANUARY IS MY BIRTHDAY MONTH!  HOORAY FOR BEING BORN!

(I realize that it is now February, but honestly I’m still reeling from all the January love.)

Since my family and friends aren’t all in one city any longer, we tend to spread out this Very Important Holiday throughout my birthday week, which means I get to be the center of attention for a full week every year.  Birthday texts, hellos on facebook, voicemails of folks singing “Happy Birthday” -- for one week I welcome all of the attention!  (I am the baby of my family, if that wasn’t already apparent.)

This year I am having 3 separate birthday meals.  This is the tale of the first.

  Aziza basteeyah, photo by kiditamae. They carve this baby tableside.

Aziza basteeyah, photo by kiditamae. They carve this baby tableside.

My partner Daniel took me out for an extravagant meal at Aziza, a beautiful Moroccan restaurant in the Outer Richmond area of San Francisco.  Though this area does have a good number of wonderful ethnic restaurants, the Outer Richmond is known mostly for near-constant fog rolling in over rows and rows of houses.  I like it, but people don’t really think of Michelin starred food when they think of this highly residential neighborhood.  Aziza is a wonderful exception to that!  As soon as you walk in the door, you are enveloped by the warm and romantic atmosphere that has been cultivated by Mourad Lahlou, the owner/chef.  The main dining room is spacious and dimly lit, with Middle Eastern accents and a prominent bar.  And it should be very prominent as I enjoyed some of the best cocktails of my life that evening!  

I tried the brandy cocktail muddled with persimmon, chai and a touch of brown sugar.  It was pulpy and thick, with a chai design trailing over the top.  Not overly sweet or overly alcoholic, it was exquisitely balanced - the kind of mixology I know I would never have the patience to create myself.  I’m happy to let others take the wheel when it comes to exact measurements like this!  Another standout was the vodka cocktail with fennel, dill, saffron and black pepper.  I expected the savory to be overwhelming, but it was a refreshingly tart drink with herbal notes that made me feel more virtuous than fruit ever could.

The food was also superb.  Our main courses were lamb shank over barley and prunes with a saffron reduction, and chicken roulade with shitaake mushrooms and pickled vegetables.  While these dishes were incredible and I’ve rarely had such well prepared food, they didn’t feel as unique as the rest of the meal.  My lamb shank was as luscious as any lamb shank I’ve ever had at hole-in-the wall Moroccan restaurants -- this one just came with much fancier accessories.  The sublime food of the night came in the form of the duck confit basteeyah.  Basteeyah is usually ground chicken and almonds with cinammon in a filo shell - it is my mother’s favorite so I’ve had a few different renditions in my  life.  The Aziza dish blew them all away.  Savory and sweet balanced each other out and kept me coming back for more.  The scent of caramelized onions made my mouth water and the powdered sugared filo dough shattered on my plate before I inhaled it.  It was rich and perfect.

Next year, I plan to try the tasting menu at Aziza on my birthday - if another gorgeous restaurant doesn’t steal my attention first!

Have you been to Aziza?  How do you feel about Moroccan food?