Sometime it just doesn't seem fair. Why is it that "gyoza" under Japanese cuisine can command such a higher price than a dumpling at a Chinese restaurant? Certain cuisines, like French, Japanese, and Korean, have traditionally been able to command higher prices than cuisines like Chinese, African, and Indian. Because of this, some of the best hidden values for high end dining actually come from these types of "ethnic" restaurants.
Bryan and I enjoyed a delightful meal at Aziza, a 1 Michelin starred Moroccan restaurant in San Francisco. Bryan had been in San Francisco all week for a work conference, and I flew into San Francisco for just one night before we both headed up towards Napa/Sonoma County for our quick weekend getaway in wine country.
I was extremely impressed with the food, and pleasant surprised at the reasonable prices. Appetizers mostly ranged between $11 - $16 (with one signature appetizer costing $22), and entrees were all under $30. The food was inventive, flavorful, and well executed. Four of us went and were able to enjoy a wide variety of dishes.
The Chicken Wings ($16) are unusual in that the bones have been removed from them. They are lightly breaded, deep fried, and served with sunchoke, currant, garlic, celery. They were crunchy, flavorful, and delicious.
The Spreads ($11) are fun and a great dish to share. The plate came with three different flavors: chickpea, yogurt-dill, and piquillo-almond.
The plate also came with homemade grilled flatbread, which was soft, warm, and addictive. It was so good, in fact, we quickly ordered another plateful of the bread after the first one quickly became empty. It was fun trying the various dips with the bread, and I enjoyed them all.
One of their signature and most well known appetizers is the Duck Confit Basteeya ($22). Duck confit, caramelized onions, spiced almonds, and raisins are wrapped inside a crispy phyllo dough shell. Even though I don't really like raisins, I was extremely impressed with how well the flavors came together in this dish. It was fantastic, and totally worthy of its fame.
I ordered the Mackerel (from the appetizers part of the menu - $16) as my entree. It was solid, though not my favorite of the evening. Small slices of raw mackerel came with palm hearts, seaweed, goji berries, and paper thin crispy crackers.
Bryan ordered the Lamb Loin and Belly ($33) which he thought was delicious, with perfectly, barely cooked loin and a crispy belly served with roasted beets, wilted chard, and apple purée.
Although I did not have a chance to taste all of the other guests' dishes, most people seemed to really enjoy their dishes. Pictured above, a roasted poultry dish (possibly Cornish hen).
Braised Beef Short Ribs with deep fried sweetbreads, wheatberries, mushrooms
Desserts were all-around excellent and creative, sometimes making use of molecular gastronomy.
The one I remember most distinctly was the Black Sesame Cake, a playful textural combination of spongy cake, airy dollops of cream, and razor-thin sugar "glass". It was refreshingly not too sweet.
All in all, we really enjoyed our dinner at Aziza. The ambiance was warm and inviting, and food was excellent. I especially loved the addictive warm flatbreads and flavorful spreads. I found the Duck Confit Basteeya to be particularly memorable. It's no surprise that it's one of their signature dishes. I personally have a lot of fun exploring cuisines with which I am less familiar, and this restaurant definitely fell in that category. If you're ever in San Francisco and you feel like having a really nice dinner that's not your typical European upscale food, consider trying North African cuisine at Aziza. You won't regret it.