Middle Eastern cooks gain attention

jkom51May 1, 2014

A really excellent and informative article from the NYTimes on Middle Eastern cuisine. The only thing misleading was implying that Mourad Lahlou in SF is a newcomer to Middle Eastern spices.

Lahlou is a Moroccan who came to San Francisco to attend college, and ended up cooking for his friends instead. He opened his first restaurant in 1998 and both have always been Moroccan cuisine. These days Lahlou is actually more CA fusion than Moroccan, but he still retains his Moroccan roots in the spicing of his dishes, although there is a fair amount of Asian and French influence as well.

We think Lahlou's current restaurant Aziza, opened in 2001, is one of the finest restaurants in SF. If you ever visit, Aziza is food that no one else does in a city that holds almost 4,000 restaurants within a 7-mile radius. And his pastry chef, Melissa Chou, is absolutely brilliant. We highly recommend it!

So between the Times article covering NYC and Aziza on the West Coast, you've got choices no matter which coast you visit, LOL. But do read the article if you're interested -- it's got a wealth of info on the Middle East's varied regional cuisines and what's happening with its new young chefs who are running their own restaurants and interpreting their culinary roots in new ways.

Here is a link that might be useful: NYTimes:

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I took my sister to El Mansour Restaurant on Clement Street when she came to visit me in 1978. (It is not far from Aziza.) I had learned of it from an Algerian guy who was in my Spanish conversation class at City College, but I have not yet been to Aziza - it wasn't there when I lived in S.F. The guy in my class had also recommended an Algerian restaurant, but it was not open the day that my sister and I went out. I much prefer Algerian food to Moroccan, but it is also more difficult to find. Have you been to El Mansour? I'm wondering if it is as good as it was when I went there decades ago!

Have you found any new Algerian restaurants in S.F.? I like it because it has even more of a French influence. I met another Algerian in L.A. who is a teacher at the Cordon Bleu in Pasadena, and I've gotten some really good recipes from him.


P.S. If this message sounds weird or "off", it is because I am on pain killers for my back!

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 3:32PM
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Oh, Lars, I do hope you feel better soon. Back pain is horrid. I recently had two epidural steroid injections; they helped me tremendously. I could not even function before that. Thanks, jkom. Very interesting article.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 7:17PM
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There are two Aziza here in NY. I have been to one of them a couple years back. I don't remember exactly what I had, just it was very good.

Lars, waterbed is good for back problems.


    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 9:07PM
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I did see the article. NYTimes when i log on.
Never knew about Aziza. I should put that on the list.

I did run around Tunisia for a couple weeks. Tunis, Carthage, Isle de Jerba.
A sensory overload and had no idea what i was ordering or consuming.
I do remember a stop sign somewhere bleak for camel crossing. And a taxi driver with a pet armadillo in his trunk....a hotel with never-been-washed sheets.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2014 at 11:22AM
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The Aziza in SF is not associated with any other restaurants, so far as I know. Lahlou is opening a new restaurant in downtown SF and it is entirely possible he may close the original location.

No Algerian food in the San Francisco Bay Area, sorry to say. The latest ethnic is Senegalese.

El Mansour isn't at all like Aziza. It's the classic US-simplified restaurant version of Moroccan food. It's very good for the type, but Aziza is upscale fusion. Lahlou does make the best couscous in town, though: 10 hours to make! (the recipe is in his cookbook)

    Bookmark   May 2, 2014 at 9:46PM
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When I went to El Mansour (and it may have had a different name then), the food was not yet Americanized, and so I guess that it is not as good as it used to be. The belly dancers were Americanized, however, and we had to pay them to make them leave our table. Back then, there was an Algerian restaurant about two blocks away, and that was where we had wanted to go - too bad it is no longer there.

I would really like to try Tunisian food - it is supposed to be quite different from Moroccan. Speaking of armadillos - I saw armadillo meat for sale at a market in Mexico City, but I've heard that it may be dangerous to eat. They also had rattlesnake meat.


    Bookmark   May 3, 2014 at 6:48PM
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Hmm -- publickman, do you remember the name of this Algerian restaurant on Clement St.? We lived in the neighborhood for 17 yrs and I can't bring any to mind. The only similar one I recall is The Grape Leaf, which was Lebanese, on Balboa St.

We enjoyed El Mansour, but Aziza was a little more interesting. Lahlou brought in dishes none of the other Moroccan restaurants were offering. Morocco is a rarity; one of only 7 countries in the world that is totally self-sufficient in food supplies and is a net food exporter.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2014 at 2:18AM
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