On a recent trip to the Bay Area I received the opportunity to try the newest restaurant from Chef Mourad Lahlou, Mourad. Several years have passed since I was impressed by not only the stellar cocktail program of Aziza (the restaurant named for the Chef’s Mother, widely considered the best Moroccan in the America), but the fantastic cuisine. I remember being particularly impressed by the rendition of Lamb bisteeya (or b’stilla). Although the version at Aziza was sans Quail, for me it was a transformative taste.
Mourad features an extremely talented team, with the wine programed helmed by Master Sommelier Alan Murray, and the pastry program run by James Beard Nominee Melissa Chou. While we tasted quite a few delicious beverages this evening, the wine that not only worked well with nearly everything but captured my imagination was a Mosel Riesling from Egon Müller IV. Egon is bald, which makes him much cooler by default, and is a member of the prestigious PFV, or Primum Familiae Vini – an illuminati like group of twelve winemaking families.
As I learned from the recent Von Bodem tasting, while the label says Mosel, the Scharzhofberg vineyard is more specifically located in the Saar District, which says a great deal specifically (the Saar sits on Blue Devon slate, also called Hunsrück Slate). At a 10.5% in alcohol, this bottle had arrow like acidity, presence on the palate, mild petrol on the nose, and great under ripe fruit flavors.
As my dining companion is old friends with the chef; he agreed that we should try the tasting menu which seemed to strike a perfect balance between just enough and too much food. I am told that Mourad goes so far as to even weigh all the ingredients of his tasting menus to achieve the perfect level of satiation.
The cocktail program was created by the duo of Christ Aivaliotis and Troy Bayless, known as Wizard Oil Co (probably the coolest name for a cocktail company out there).
I was apparent from just from the back bar selections that this is an ambitious program. Japanese mixing glasses and fine glassware abound, water offered without request, and a nexus of complexity and balance in the cocktail design.
Despite recent editorials suggesting the opposite, sommelier culture is alive and well. Ours was attentive and thoughtful, providing excellent selections and a detailed acumen.
An amuse bouche came to the table to begin the journey featuring a beautiful disk of black truffle surrounded by a spring pea puree. The use of organics in the plateware, reflecting an undertone of New Nordic influence would become a theme in this tasting. I liked this beginning, although I think it could’ve gone a bit further in the use of a different container for the bite, rather than the neutral flavored shell.
A second snack of shigoku oyster with preserved lemon was fantastic and flavorful. I was confused here by the choice of rocks to anchor the shell – with their smooth surfaces these looked like river stones rather than salt water from whence the oysters are harvested.
The first course was near flawless, a section of smoked brioche, a hint of sweetness from maple syrup, and topped with briney caviar. There was just slightly too much brioche here and the delicate flavor of the caviar was obscured, taking this dish out of balance. Still highly enjoyable. I was floored by the pairing of a Junmai Ginjo Sake, the Sawahime from Tochigi, Japan. I wish more sake was used in pairings.
The courses started flowing a bit more rapidly here, most hitting the mark square on in terms of creativity and balance.
My least favorite had to be the cabbage with crab, sunchoke, and watercress. I felt that plating was slightly unimaginative and the cabbage overtook the delicate flavors of the crab. My dining companion remarked that the Salmon was a bit to smokey. I agreed at the moment, but in retrospect I think it was spot on (I am biased in that I love smoky flavors).
The radish course was a festival of color, flavor, and texture. It reminded me immediately of a similar course done by Chef Gary Menes at Le Comptoir in L.A. The natural plate worked really well, though I didn’t like the high edges to the plate, which made it difficult to enjoy every sauce and creme. The execution on the Calçots (green onion originally from Catalonia) was perfect; the push and pull between the mild heat of harissa and the sweet herbs was delightful in the mouth.
The short rib course was well done, featuring a trademark sous vide uniform color and a nice jus to bring everything together. The brassicas were blanched perfectly, and the plateware here did fine justice to the simplicity of the dish drawing the eye inward.
Before we reached the couscous we discussed with Sommelier the difficulties with, and the sheer mastery that is required in simply executing perfect couscous, which was the overall highlight of this meal. Impossibly light and warm, served in the perfect wooden bowl.
The deserts that came out were all fantastic, particularly the mignardises. I was likely too inebriated at this point to adequately appreciate their technical execution, though the following morning as I munched on the take away ‘Melissa’s Granola’ that came (a la Eleven Madison Park) I was reminded of how delicious they were.
My favorite of all the deserts ( apparently we were sent all of them) was the Rose with beet and pomegranate. A carnival of anthocyanins, this dish was just so piquant and delicious. I loved the idea of using beets in a desert with rose, I really wanted more.
A recent look at the menu reveals that a Moroccan style family dining option has been added since my visit, which begs for a return. This was an extremely affordable tasting menu at only $150 – not a bad price tag for San Francisco cooking at this caliber.