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[SF] Aziza - Moroccan Fusion


Carolyn Tillie
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I was fortunate to meet chef Mourad Lahlou at last year's World of Flavors conference. I was terribly impressed with everything he offered and vowed to head straight to his restaurant. Now I am kicking myself that it took me a year to get there...

With friends visiting from SoCal, the time seemed perfect as we made late reservations for a dinner for four. I managed to talk my friends into the $39 per person Chef's Five Course Tasting. I am terribly sorry that there are no pictures of the appetizer courses. The restaurant is suitably darkened with atmospheric hurricane candles scattered all around. The flash from the camera would have been terribly intrusive to the other diners. However, by the time our entrées were presented, we were the only ones in the front room and I felt more at ease to flash away. I'll state up front that every single dish was stunningly plated and presented. It will seem terribly redundant of me to exclaim just how beautiful every dish was -- you'll see in the entrée photos.

The meal started with a choice of soup. Three of us chose the soup of the day -- a creamy sunchoke soup with crème fraîche a few scattered pink peppercorns. Friend Heather chose a Ras el Hanout soup which threatened a spice on the nose but settled into a simple warm goodness on the mouth with ample flavor from the aromatics.

Then a selection of starters began to arrive; Mediterranean spreads -- aged balsamic eggplant mouse, roasted pepper and pomegranate, and a yogurt-dill all served with grilled flat breads. These spreads were amazing in their creamy texture and layered flavors. Next came skewers of Kefta intersperced with succulent grapes "Grilled Grasslands Kefta Skewers and grapes over cucumber and torpedo onion salad with black sesame vinaigrette." There was a clay pot of roasted goat cheese surrounded with an enriched tomato sauce. I have had a similar dish in several tapas restaurant and of all the dishes offered this evening, this was the most mundane. It was good and flavorful, but hardly innovative. Lastly was my favorite, Wild Mushroom in Phyllo Ravioli - Napa valley's wine forest shiitake, hen-of-the-woods, chanterelles, and Manouri cheese.

Next we had an additional course which we orderd, a Bastilla; baked phyllo pie with a filling of saffron-braised chicken and spiced almonds, draped in sugar and cinnamon. This was a pretty standard bastilla recipe, but it was perfectly prepared and served with the filling tender and perfectly spiced (some can be over-saffroned for a bitter taste).

The entrees arrived. Now you can see the beauty in the presentation. Also, I'd like to note here that the descriptions on the menus hardly did justice to what was on the plate. Friend Heather ordered Hungarian Paprika-smothered Cloverdale Rabbit with Parsnip Purée, Organic Tomatoes, and Alfonso Olives:

gallery_431_541_1104604304.jpg

Buddy Travis had the Saffron-infused Hoffman Ranch Cornish Hen capped with House-Preserved Meyer Lemons and Purple Potato Mash.

gallery_431_541_1104604863.jpg

I was thrilled with the Braised Paine Farm Squab with Wine Forest Black Trumpet and Hedgehog Mushrooms on a Thyme-Ras el Hanout Reduction:

gallery_431_541_1104604623.jpg

And Shawn's was the most mundane-sounding, but hands-down the most impressive in the layered complexity of flavors; Stewed Lamb crowned with Charred Eggplant in a Ginger Saffron Broth, Sun-Dried Point Reyes Tomatoes, and Sudaniya Oil:

gallery_431_541_1104605118.jpg

We paired all this with a 2002 Strub Riesling Kabinett, Niersteiner Brückchen, Rheinhessen. As I anticipated the food being spicier than it was, the wine worked fine, but I think occasionally was a tad too sweet. I'm really glad that I ordered that however, as I was tending towards a Merkelbach Riesling Spätlese which really would have been too sweet. Mark Ellenbogen who has also put together the famous Slanted Door wine list developed Aziza's and I wouldn't hesitate to go more towards a medium-bodied red or a Vouvray next time.

But on to the desserts... As full as we were, the desserts were part of the tasting menu and we couldn't resist trying some.

The not-well photographed Sorbet of Wild Huckleberries sweetened with a sauce of Laura Chenel's Chèvre (the flash washes out the sauce):

gallery_431_541_1104605831.jpg

Crème Brulée served with a Crispy Anise Cookie:

gallery_431_541_1104605667.jpg

Topped Chocolate Pot - Suave chocolate and Scharffen Berger cocoa nibs topped with a delicate cookie and a side of whipped cream:

gallery_431_541_1104605526.jpg

"The Most Popular Fruit" - Layers of phyllo spread with Granny Smith and Sierra Beauty apple cubes and whipped cream cheese, touched with cinnamon - baked to a perfect crisp and a scoop of turkish coffee ice cream:

gallery_431_541_1104605323.jpg

What else can I say? I can't wait to go back...

Edited by Carolyn Tillie (log)
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This is so exciting.

When Mourad was in San Rafael his food was pretty standard but very, very good.

Obviously, the move to San Francisco has been a terrific challenge and he rose to meet it. Carolyn, it sounds like he has achieved a culinary self-confidence and luminous sense of taste that takes Moroccan cooking to another level. I can't wait to go.

Maybe that could be a group outing as well?

“C’est dans les vieux pots, qu’on fait la bonne soupe!”, or ‘it is in old pots that good soup is made’.

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This is so exciting.

When Mourad was in San Rafael his food was pretty standard but very, very good.

Obviously, the move to San Francisco has been a terrific challenge and he rose to meet it. Carolyn, it sounds like he has achieved a culinary self-confidence and luminous sense of taste that takes Moroccan cooking to another level. I can't wait to go.

Maybe that could be a group outing as well?

Before or after the Czech excursion? I can't wait to go again so as others chime in for a preference, I think it would be a fabulous idea! What's everyone doing next weekend??? :laugh:

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This is so exciting.

When Mourad was in San Rafael his food was pretty standard but very, very good.

Obviously, the move to San Francisco has been a terrific challenge and he rose to meet it. Carolyn, it sounds like he has achieved a culinary self-confidence and luminous sense of taste that takes Moroccan cooking to another level. I can't wait to go.

Maybe that could be a group outing as well?

Before or after the Czech excursion? I can't wait to go again so as others chime in for a preference, I think it would be a fabulous idea! What's everyone doing next weekend??? :laugh:

“C’est dans les vieux pots, qu’on fait la bonne soupe!”, or ‘it is in old pots that good soup is made’.

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This is so exciting.

When Mourad was in San Rafael his food was pretty standard but very, very good.

Obviously, the move to San Francisco has been a terrific challenge and he rose to meet it. Carolyn, it sounds like he has achieved a culinary self-confidence and luminous sense of taste that takes Moroccan cooking to another level. I can't wait to go.

Maybe that could be a group outing as well?

Before or after the Czech excursion? I can't wait to go again so as others chime in for a preference, I think it would be a fabulous idea! What's everyone doing next weekend??? :laugh:

“C’est dans les vieux pots, qu’on fait la bonne soupe!”, or ‘it is in old pots that good soup is made’.

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I was fortunate to meet chef Mourad Lahlou at last year's World of Flavors conference. I  was terribly impressed with everything he offered and vowed to head straight to his restaurant. Now I am kicking myself that it took me a year to get there...

With friends visiting from SoCal, the time seemed perfect as we made late reservations for a dinner for four. I managed to talk my friends into the $39 per person Chef's Five Course Tasting.  I am terribly sorry that there are no pictures of the appetizer courses. The restaurant is suitably darkened with atmospheric hurricane candles scattered all around. The flash from the camera would have been terribly intrusive to the other diners. However, by the time our entrées were presented, we were the only ones in the front room and I felt more at ease to flash away. I'll state up front that every single dish was stunningly plated and presented. It will seem terribly redundant of me to exclaim just how beautiful every dish was -- you'll see in the entrée photos.

The meal started with a choice of soup. Three of us chose the soup of the day -- a creamy sunchoke soup with crème fraîche a few scattered pink peppercorns. Friend Heather chose a Ras el Hanout soup which threatened a spice on the nose but settled into a simple warm goodness on the mouth with ample flavor from the aromatics.

Then a selection of starters began to arrive; Mediterranean spreads -- aged balsamic eggplant mouse, roasted pepper and pomegranate, and a yogurt-dill all served with grilled flat breads. These spreads were amazing in their creamy texture and layered flavors. Next came skewers of Kefta intersperced with succulent grapes "Grilled Grasslands Kefta Skewers and grapes over cucumber and torpedo onion salad with black sesame vinaigrette." There was a clay pot of roasted goat cheese surrounded with an enriched tomato sauce. I have had a similar dish in several tapas restaurant and of all the dishes offered this evening, this was the most mundane. It was good and flavorful, but hardly innovative. Lastly was my favorite, Wild Mushroom in Phyllo Ravioli - Napa valley's wine forest shiitake, hen-of-the-woods, chanterelles, and Manouri cheese.

Next we had an additional course which we orderd, a Bastilla; baked phyllo pie with a filling of saffron-braised chicken and spiced almonds, draped in sugar and cinnamon. This was a pretty standard bastilla recipe, but it was perfectly prepared and served with the filling tender and perfectly spiced (some can be over-saffroned for a bitter taste).

The entrees arrived. Now you can see the beauty in the presentation. Also, I'd like to note here that the descriptions on the menus hardly did justice to what was on the plate. Friend Heather ordered Hungarian Paprika-smothered Cloverdale Rabbit with Parsnip Purée, Organic Tomatoes, and Alfonso Olives:

gallery_431_541_1104604304.jpg

Buddy Travis had the Saffron-infused Hoffman Ranch Cornish Hen capped with House-Preserved Meyer Lemons and Purple Potato Mash.

gallery_431_541_1104604863.jpg

I was thrilled with the Braised Paine Farm Squab with Wine Forest Black Trumpet and Hedgehog Mushrooms on a Thyme-Ras el Hanout Reduction:

gallery_431_541_1104604623.jpg

And Shawn's was the most mundane-sounding, but hands-down the most impressive in the layered complexity of flavors; Stewed Lamb crowned with Charred Eggplant in a Ginger Saffron Broth, Sun-Dried Point Reyes Tomatoes, and Sudaniya Oil:

gallery_431_541_1104605118.jpg

We paired all this with a 2002 Strub Riesling Kabinett, Niersteiner Brückchen, Rheinhessen. As I anticipated the food being spicier than it was, the wine worked fine, but I think occasionally was a tad too sweet. I'm really glad that I ordered that however, as I was tending towards a Merkelbach Riesling Spätlese which really would have been too sweet. Mark Ellenbogen who has also put together the famous Slanted Door wine list developed Aziza's and I wouldn't hesitate to go more towards a medium-bodied red or a Vouvray next time.

But on to the desserts... As full as we were, the desserts were part of the tasting menu and we couldn't resist trying some.

The not-well photographed Sorbet of Wild Huckleberries sweetened with a sauce of Laura Chenel's Chèvre (the flash washes out the sauce):

gallery_431_541_1104605831.jpg

Crème Brulée served with a Crispy Anise Cookie:

gallery_431_541_1104605667.jpg

Topped Chocolate Pot - Suave chocolate and Scharffen Berger cocoa nibs topped with a delicate cookie and a side of whipped cream:

gallery_431_541_1104605526.jpg

"The Most Popular Fruit" - Layers of phyllo spread with Granny Smith and Sierra Beauty apple cubes and whipped cream cheese, touched with cinnamon - baked to a perfect crisp and a scoop of turkish coffee ice cream:

gallery_431_541_1104605323.jpg

What else can I say? I can't wait to go back...

Sounds like a good DAT choice.

Wonderful post and pictures. Thank you so much.

I'm a little confused however by the Aziza website. The link to the Prix Fixe tasting menu states you must have eight people in your party and the cost is $40.

However, it seems you only had 4 people in your party and the cost was $39. At the bottom of the websites dinner menu, it lists the price as that and the only restriction seems to be everyone at the table must participate.

Given that, do you think that the tasting menu would be a better value than the DAT selection where you get your choice of one appetizer, entree and desert for $31.95?

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Krys;

I was looking at their website as well, thinking that the Prix Fixe is how we would probably have to go since we would undoubtedly end up being a party of 8+.

I have a feeling if we call Chef Mourad and told him we were coming, he would put something together for us that would be quite unforgettable without worrying about the resrictions of DAT which I believe is a bit limiting considering the chef's depth of skill.

The real trick is managing a crowd with potential dietary needs. Dining family style rarely allows for individual limitations. Inasmuch, I would recommend that anyone who is interested in going state up front what their dietary restrictions might be and see if we can get the chef to accomodate us. You know, "so-and-so can't eat any dairy" could put a damper on a large party...

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I absolutely want to go if a group outing is planned (especially as I now can't make the Czech outing because I'm going out of town that weekend). I have no dietary restrictions. :biggrin:

"Save Donald Duck and Fuck Wolfgang Puck."

-- State Senator John Burton, joking about

how the bill to ban production of foie gras in

California was summarized for signing by

Gov. Schwarzenegger.

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Okay, boys and girls... I have a tentative list of 9 folks for dinner this Saturday night:

Ms Ramsey + Hubby

Carolyn Tillie + Shawn

Squeat Mungry

Wolfert + Bill

WNissen + April

As they are not open on Tuesdays, I'd like to lock in the number by this afternoon and make the reservations this evening since we are a large party. Anyone else interested?

Last call....

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Okay, boys and girls... I have a tentative list of 9 folks for dinner this Saturday night:

Ms Ramsey + Hubby

Carolyn Tillie + Shawn

Squeat Mungry

Wolfert + Bill

WNissen + April

As they are not open on Tuesdays, I'd like to lock in the number by this afternoon and make the reservations this evening since we are a large party. Anyone else interested?

Last call....

Hest88 joined it. We are a confirmed party of 11 at 8:00 p.m. I have ordered the Chef's tasting, trusting that Mourad will not lead us astray. As there is an 18% surcharge on parties over 8, I would imagine budgeting around $60 a person would be advisable. Please bring cash. Parking is slightly difficult in the area, so plan to walk a block or two although there is valet parking for $8.00.

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Folks, if you're in San Francisco and don't make the effort to get to Aziza, you're crazy!! Carolyn, thanks VERY much for bringing this restaurant to our attention! I just came back from 3 days in SF (for work) and managed to have three terrific dinners, but Aziza was truly memorable--and a great way to kick off my '05 dining!

Three of us had the chef's tasting menu on Wednesday night, and that $39 is just an unbelieveable bargain! We were staying downtown, so it was a legit cab ride across town, but completely worth it. On the ride over, we were wondering aloud what we would drink, but that question was answered rather quickly; for $9 each, they have a selection of house cocktails that is well worth the read even if you don't plan on ordering one! My friends each had the champagne/pomegranate puree cocktails, and I ordered a spectacular cilantro-limeade martini that was made with a kaffir lime-infused vanilla vodka, ginger ale, and finely chopped (perhaps muddled?) mint and cilantro. UNREAL. If you like bright flavor, you really must try this drink. I'm only sorry that I didn't ask more questions about how it was made, as I'd love to replicate it. The other martini that stuck in my brain is a bloody mary made with harissa. If I liked bloody marys, I certainly would have tried it!

I won't repeat Carolyn's initial report, but here's what we had:

We started with the sunchoke soup, which was just stunning--don't miss it if you have the opportunity to try it! One of my friends also commented that it was served at the perfect temperature, and I'd have to agree.

We then had the trio of mediterranean spreads with pita points; all three were delicious, but the eggplant was the standout. The other app was a plate with three beef kefta skewers--with grapes! That was a pleasant surprise and very tasty; we also enjoyed the piled 'salad' of cucumbers and red onion that accompanied it. The third course was the bastilla, which was ENORMOUS. Bastilla is, according to Aziza, "a baked phyllo pie with a filling of saffron braised chicken and spiced almonds, draped in powdered sugar & cinnamon. Did I mention it was huge? HUGE. And very, VERY good. The runner cut it in 3 pieces for us and all we kept saying was "There's an entree for each of us after this?!?" The 'pie' is a combo of savory and sweet, and we all loved it. The cinammon smells wonderful as soon as the pie is cut, and it was packed with flavorful shredded chicken. THEN we had dinner. One friend had the moroccan spiced prawn tagine, and she didn't even offer a bite!!! :wink: #2 had the chilean sea bass with charmoula, and he said it was wonderful. For me, the Couscous Aziza. As if 5 courses weren't enough of a taste of Aziza's menu, I got the little-bit-of-everything entree! A huge pile of couscous with their stewed lamb and amazing vegetable ragout (it's California, folks--eat your veggies!), along with a nugget of grilled chicken, a grilled prawn, and the spicy lamb sausage, which I wholeheartedly endorse as a don't-miss item. It's on the menu as an appetizer too.

We only had two desserts, as one of my friends was too full to have hers; I ordered the persimmon pudding, and he had the aforementioned wild huckleberry sorbet. WOW. To both. The waitress asked what I thought of the persimmon pudding, as it's a recent addition to the menu. WOW!! Seriously...it's full of clove, cinnamon & ginger and served warm (which was a great surprise to me) over a blood orange and lemon compote. Another balance of sweet and savory, and a beautiful mix of the spices with the citrus.

The only disappointment of the night was my coffee, but at that point, I was far too full to even comment on it to the waitress. But for $6 a press pot, I should have said something--definitely my bad.

This decor is spectacular from the moment you open the door to when you visit the bathroom, the service was terrific, and the food is memorable. Those of you in SF are very lucky to have this gem!! Now if I could just get him to come east... :raz:

Carolyn, thanks again for your report and the pictures on your initial post--food porn, indeed, and they sealed the deal for me when I was planning my dining itinerary! :wub:

"I'm not eating it...my tongue is just looking at it!" --My then-3.5 year-old niece, who was NOT eating a piece of gum

"Wow--this is a fancy restaurant! They keep bringing us more water and we didn't even ask for it!" --My 5.75 year-old niece, about Bread Bar

"He's jumped the flounder, as you might say."

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Thank you for the report. I'm very excited to try the cilantro-limeade martini.

"Save Donald Duck and Fuck Wolfgang Puck."

-- State Senator John Burton, joking about

how the bill to ban production of foie gras in

California was summarized for signing by

Gov. Schwarzenegger.

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Well, folks we are now confirmed for the 15th. I've heard from everybody 'cept Walt so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that he and April are okay for that night!

So what's the story with this event? Is it still scheduled for the 15th?

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oh, my friends, my friends, this is what i get from not reading egullet more regularly! i'm flying in to s.f on sunday, and haven't yet forumated any plans at all, but I COULD have flown in a few days earlier and gone out to eat with you all!!!!!

anyone want to go with me somewhere delicious? I'll be around until...7th feb.

i can hardly wait to get on that plane. i am thinking about a nice pickle soup at old krakow on west portal when i arrive, i'll have to have someone ring ahead of time, its only on the menu some times.

bon appetite tomorrow, if that is when you're all going,

marlena

Marlena the spieler

www.marlenaspieler.com

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I'm going to let others add the commentary from our visit last Saturday evening. Suffice to say that we all had a lovely time and Mourad pulled out all the stops, serving us practically the entire menu...

Harrira Soup:

gallery_431_0_60613.jpg

Sunchoke Soup:

gallery_431_0_69139.jpg

Beet Salad:

gallery_431_0_82869.jpg

Carrot Salad:

gallery_431_0_3262.jpg

Feta Fingers:

gallery_431_0_4536.jpg

Sesame Crusted Goat Cheese with Tomato and Zatir Croutons:

gallery_431_0_64207.jpg

Lima Beans:

gallery_431_0_36172.jpg

Mushroom Triangles (with a hint of Truffle Oil):

gallery_431_0_27462.jpg

Dayboat Scallop on Spiced Vegetable Salad:

gallery_431_0_20827.jpg

Bastilla:

gallery_431_0_13413.jpg

A palate cleanser of Green Tea Granita with Lavender Gelato:

gallery_431_0_38122.jpg

Clay Pot Cod:

gallery_431_0_26679.jpg

Veal Tagine:

gallery_431_0_5738.jpg

Vegetable Tagine:

gallery_431_0_29261.jpg

Lamb Shank:

gallery_431_0_21364.jpg

Cornish Game Hen:

gallery_431_0_9268.jpg

Couscous Aziza (with Prawns and homemade Sausage):

gallery_431_0_39448.jpg

Squab:

gallery_431_0_6271.jpg

Quail Eggs:

gallery_431_0_29354.jpg

Huckleberry Sorbet on Chevre Sauce:

gallery_431_0_3903.jpg

Ice Cream Sandwiches (I loved these!)

gallery_431_0_46465.jpg

Chocolate Pot de Creme:

gallery_431_0_26608.jpg

Edited by Carolyn Tillie (log)
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Thanks a lot for torturing me here in snowy NJ, Carolyn! :wacko:

Seriously, those pics are stunning...thanks for sharing! I only wish someone had put a hand or utensil or something in with the photo of the bastilla; that thing is ginormous!!! :laugh: I'm betting you had a great time, and I'm sufficiently jealous. Looking forward to the details.

Curlz

"I'm not eating it...my tongue is just looking at it!" --My then-3.5 year-old niece, who was NOT eating a piece of gum

"Wow--this is a fancy restaurant! They keep bringing us more water and we didn't even ask for it!" --My 5.75 year-old niece, about Bread Bar

"He's jumped the flounder, as you might say."

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Thanks Carolyn! We all had a great time. The standout dishes for me were the beet salad (because I discovered that yellow beets are actually quite tasty) and the scrumptious quail. Everything else was really good. I believe the only real disppointment among the group was the bastilla with its indistinct flavors.

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  • 6 months later...

I had no intention of writing anything about Aziza. I heard so many good things about it that I just planned to stop by and enjoy a good dinner. The food was so exceptional that I'm almost stopping strangers on the street and whispering "For a good time, go to Aziza".

This has to be one of the best restuarants in the city equalling and even exceeding places like Zuni, Boulevard, Piperade, Slanted Door, etc, etc

Chef/ Owner Mourad Lahlou had done for Moroccan food what Slanted Door did for Vietnamese, Limon/Fresca did for Peruvian, and Piperade did for Basque. He modernized it using top quality California food vendors.

Reading the reviews on the Aziza website, it seems that the consensus is that Lahlou is constantly refining and improving the restuarant.

The pastry chef was the consulting pastry chef for Town Hall and other top SF restaurants. The professional staff is top notch.

The focus is Cal-Moroccan food at its finest and the entertainment has been dropped. IMO, it would only distract from the outstanding meal and was one of the reasons it took me so long to visit.

Must eats IMO are

The mousse / flatbread appetizers. The hot fresh baked flatbread with grillmarks is the best I've ever had. The amazining light spreads are complex and intriuging.

A NY Times review calls the Bateeya “ethereal”. I have to agree that this phylo pastry filled with safron braised chicken and spiced almonds when paired with Reisling is a one of the best dishes I have ever tried.

Don't miss the couscous which is hand rolled each day and takes six hours to prepare. I don't like couscous, but this was in a different class.

Fun drink list which gets a lot of recognition for it's stellar ingrediants and creativity. Check website for cocktails and reviews.

I am still thinking about the dessert with hot, heavenly Frog Hollow Peaches paired with a goat cheese cheescake rolled in chopped pistachios.

Aziza is also vegetarian and vegan friendly. Many of the dishes can acoomodate these tastes.

The perfect end to the evening is the hot fresh Moroccan mint tea with a splash of rose water.

They have rooms available for groups of 20 to a 130 and it would make a memorable and unique place for an event. I thouroughly enjoyed this beautiful, romantic restaurant and the outstanding meal.

Thanks to Carolyn who first planted the idea of Aziza in my mind with her fabulous pictures.

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