Ziryab [San Francisco]
Last night my friend and I ate at Ziryab, a newish Middle Eastern place on Divisadero in Western Addition. The interior was more upscale than most of the schwarma factories I've been to in SF, with archways and warm lighting.
On to the food: As an appetizer we split the meza platter, which included hummus, babaganous, dolmas, olives, tabbouleh, cucumber yogurt drizzled with olive oil, and little hunks of feta, served alongside a plate of warm pita. The platter was delicious; the flavors fresh and distinct, unlike the muddled-tasting mashes I've had at other restaurants. For dinner I had a bowl of lentil soup, which was simple and delicious. My friend had one of the specials, a vegetable tajine. The vegetables were underseasoned and a bit bland. She finished only half.
Along with dinner, we each had a glass of Tempranillo, which clocked in at $5.50. There was a pretty impressive wine list with about 5 wines by the glass, but surprisingly only one red was served by the glass that evening. Service was friendly, but slow.
The weaknesses seemed to me like things that could be smoothed out over time. I will be back to weed through more of the entrees.
Also of note: they have a little patio out front where you can eat and smoke hookah.
I've been several times, and each visit has been more pleasant than the last. The food gets better, although the service has always been the same: friendly, but a bit forgetful here and there. They also have good beers on tap.
The chicken kebab, while it might sound pedestrian, is exceptional. Give it a try next time you go.
Too long a wait last night at NOPA (which by the way should really be NEOPA, or just WA), on the way back to the car passed Ziryab, looked and smelled good, tried it.
Mezze platter for two ($13) had falafels, hot dolmas, baba ganoush, yogurt with cucumbers, feta with zatar, all first-rate, plus hummus and tabouleh that were good but not quite in the same league. Arales ($6, spiced ground lamb on focaccia) and spinach sauteed with garlic confit ($7) were also very tasty. I was really disappointed that they were out of kibbeh, don't see that around much.
Chicken shawerma wrap ($8) was delicious, better than Truly Mediterranean's. By comparison I wasn't as impressed by the chicken kebab plate ($12) but it was good too, nicely marinated and served on saffrony couscous.
Service was friendly but amateurish. Food all arrived promptly but we were thirsty on several occasions.
If I remember what the server said correctly, the owner's Palestinian and lived in Jordan, and the chef is Moroccan, which helps explain the range of the menu (tajine, zatar, kibbeh).
Reports on Ziryab had been glowing, but perhaps not for the renovated version. But our late night dinner in October 2014 fell far from the mark.
Crispy Monterey calamari with peppers, $13 - The lumpy and flat-tasting dip was not my idea of "preserved lemon caper aioli". The squid was fried nicely, stayed tender under the crisp crust, but had none of the fresh sweet flavor of our local squid. And there were maybe three padron peppers on the plate.
Pan-roasted cauliflower, $7 - Near-raw crunchy cauliflower and not much of it on the plate, maybe a half-cup's worth spread out.
Pastilla, $15 - The first time I've ever run across a b'stilla that I'd described as underseasoned and underspiced. The almond component was hard to find. Pretty strange execution.
Lamb shank with roasted barley, $21 - Now this was really tasty, but it was a struggle to cut the meat off the bone. Too bad it did not have more time on the fire. The barley was flavorful from absorbed juices and the roasted carrots and haricot vert made for a complete meal on a plate. This was the one hint that the kitchen could turn out something worth eating.
Dessert was a pudding-like concoction that is best forgotten. I did enjoy my cocktail and it was fun to sit in the front portico on a warm Indian summer night and watch the street scene. Service was fine and the owner introduced himself.
I've just read that Ziryab will be transforming into a cocktail bar under new owners. Eater says there's no timeline yet for closure.