Because chances are wherever they hail from, they do not have a restaurant in their vicinity that serves modern Moroccan cuisine. At least not anything as elevated and imaginative yet still stirringly soulful as this.
So, when I recently gathered to catch up with family in San Francisco last weekend and discovered they had never eaten here, I knew it was high-time they were introduced to Chef-Owner Mourad Lahlou’s singular cooking.
We perused the menu, ordered, and paid our tab — but had no idea that Lahlou would end up sending out nearly three-fourths of the menu to our table on the house. To say that we each needed a wheelbarrow to cart us out afterward would be putting it mildly. It proved a feast in every sense and for every sense.
A sublime chicken with sides — family-style — at Mourad.
Chef Mourad Lahlou has had quite the journey.
From his early days as an economics student at San Francisco State, where he started dabbling in the kitchen because he missed his mother’s cooking from his native Marrakech.
To this self-taught cook’s opening of his ground-breaking Aziza restaurant in the city’s Outer Richmond neighborhood, which was named for his mother.
To that restaurant’s evolution from belly dancers and very traditional fare to thrilling modern takes on Moroccan cuisine.
Now comes Mourad, his new eponymous restaurant in the historic Pacific Telephone building, which opened in January.
Years in the making, it’s a grand, glam setting fit for a chef who has grown into one of the most respected and gifted around.
A dramatic art piece of ancient tree roots.
Walk through the doors and you are immediately greeted with a striking art piece — a cross-section of a massive tree’s roots. It is beautifully organic in nature to be sure. But it’s also a symbol of how Lahlou’s cooking may grow and change, but is always firmly rooted in his heritage.
Marty Cattaneo admits he’d never really cooked Greek food before taking over the head chef position at the high-end Dio Deka in Los Gatos nearly two years ago.
But that didn’t stop this talented chef who has cooked with David Kinch at Manresa in Los Gatos, Jeremy Fox at Ubuntu in Napa and helped in the development of the cookbook, “Mourad: New Moroccan” (Artisan) by Mourad Lahlou of Aziza in San Francisco. In fact, if you catch a rerun of “Iron Chef America” on the Food Network, you’ll spot Cattaneo in the background as one of Lahlou’s sous chefs in his battle.
Because of the similarities between Moroccan and Greek cuisines, Cattaneo felt comfortable enough stepping into this challenging role. Plus, it helped that he studied every Greek cookbook he could get his hands on.
He doesn’t consider what he does at Dio Deka traditional Greek food by any means. But after getting a chance to experience his food as a recent guest of the restaurant, I can attest that it’s downright delicious and inspired, nevertheless.
After weathering a few chef changes over the past five years, Dio Deka remains as popular as ever. Even on a Wednesday night, the dining room was packed. There were even two private parties going on at the same time. Located in the Hotel Los Gatos, it’s a loud, lively restaurant, but with quiet, subtle touches like the fresh rosemary sprig tucked into your napkin at the table.
If you spied the huge white tent pitched in the heart of San Francisco’s Union Square this past weekend, you knew it could only mean one thing:
The arrival of SF Chefs, the annual food-wine-cocktail extravaganza that celebrates the Bay Area’s home-grown culinary culture.
Top chefs, vintners, sommeliers and mixologists descended upon downtown to put on a series of special dinners, wine seminars, panel discussions, and culinary battles before setting up inside the tent to dole out gourmet eats and drinks to throngs of attendees.
Chef Joey Altman’s all-chef band, the Soul Peppers, entertained the hungry crowd.
Earlier that afternoon, the first round of the Eater Chef Challenge took place at the Westin St. Francis Hotel, pitting the team of Mark Sullivan of Spruce in San Francisco and Omri Aflalo of Bourbon Steak in San Francisco against the team of Mark Dommen of One Market Restaurant and David Bazirgan of the Fifth Floor in San Francisco. With an hour on the clock, the two teams had to incorporate lamb and Guittard chocolate into two dishes, which were presented to a panel of judges.
As the clock ticked down, the Dommen-Bazirgan team plated their lamb dish with mole flavors, along with chocolate ice cream created with liquid nitrogen. On the opposing side, Sullivan and Aflalo put up their lamb dish with a Moroccan influence, along with chocolate mousse with caramel.