Aziza: flashes of brilliance, some disappointments.
First of all, we'd gotten a gift certificate for CHRISTMAS last year and hadn't used it, so yay for us finally hauling our cookies out to the Richmond district (no car, and no one we know lives out there, so it DOES seem like a long way sometimes).
The service was impeccable: they seated us in the back room, which was loud and stuffy, and when we asked for a change, they cheerfully put us in one of the booths near the door. Perfect. Quiet, friendly service throughout the meal (but you already knew that) and they even accepted our gift certificate, which we realized moments before paying had expired in July. Embarassing.
We got the tasting menu and started with the butternut squash soup (du jour) and the lentil soup. The lentil soup was quite good, but the butternut squash? Good god, go to Aziza NOW just for that. Velvety, creamy, a subtle mixture of can't-quite-place-them spices--absolute perfection. To quote my SO, "It's so silky and soft you could sleep on it!" I'd be willing to spend 45 minutes on the Geary bus just for that again. If you can make it out there while it's still on the menu, do it.
For apps, we got grilled pitas with an assortment of dips and seasoned meatballs and grapes on a kebab. Both lovely--the pitas grilled to perfection, the tzatziki offering another revelatory oh-my-god moment like the soup did. The roasted red pepper and (it seemed like chipotle, is that possible?) other hummus were also lovely, but didn't compare to the yogurt.
The kebab was also perfectly seasoned and juicy, the grapes offering a delightfully surprising sweetness and the cucumber salad giving just the right balance.
Next came the basteeya, which disappointed me. Considering it's apparently a staple of their tasting menu, I expected something amazing, but it was a bit on the dry side, and not worth spending calories on when I knew my entree was coming up. I mentioned it probably would have been a nice lunch at a corner takeaway place, but was not as good as I'd expect from the recommendations we'd gotten at Aziza. We packed most of it up. (I'll admit I've never had a basteeya before, so maybe I just don't like them.)
On to the entrees:
I had squab, and my SO had the lamb shank. The squab was surprising--subtle, delicate, a nice game with a hint of something metallic--and the greens worked well with it. It'd have been the perfectly-sized entree for me had I not already been halfway to gorged. Not fantastic, but just fine.
The lamb shank disappointed us both. The texture was perfect, yes, but it was bland--no savory goodness, and it tasted like it need salt, of all things. When I eat lamb, I expect an oh-my-god moment, not, "Did they forget to put something in it?" Disappointing.
I got the caramel gelato with fleur-de-sel shortbread cookies, and he got the apple galette. We couldn't decide which was better; they were both utterly delicious. Although I kept thinking they should put the caramel gelato on the apple galette. Decadence squared!
In all, it was a good meal, but not as great as I'd expected, given the hype. The highlights were the desserts, the butternut squash soup, and the tzatziki; disappointments were the basteeya and the entrees. I probably wouldn't go back any time soon because of the distance and the disappointments in the entrees, but if I ever end up in the neighborhood, I'll probably stop in for appetizers and soup.
Nice detailed review. It's funny because I have had what I consider poor service at Aziza on two occasions but the food has always been terrific. Basteeya is typically a bit dry everywhere, and I've had the lamb shank and never found it bland.
One note, in California gift certificates never expire, despite what your gift certificate said, they must honor it.
I've had similar problems with the b'steeya -- the contents of which I have found too ground up when I prefer to find chucks of chicken and almonds, their's seems to be all mush. Love everything else, though! Especially that soup and their cocktails. I often order the tasting menu and tell them to skip the b'steeya, saving room for dessert.
Funny, when I went and had the tasting menu the basteeya was easily my favorite dish, save the lemon tart dessert. I'd go again just for that.
I agree that the lamb shank was unremarkable.
it's hard to say that any item on the aziza menu is "bland." i have to say that certain dishes are too sweet for some, but far from bland.
it seems that the shank is somewhat controversial, but most people that i've talked to that have gone their ask me "have you had the shank?" i think a lot of people are blown away by that dish - and some not so.
i always save half my basteeya and warm it up the next day. day old aziza basteeya is the best.
based on my experience, desserts can be hit or miss. janet rikala is well known and a highly experienced pastry chef, but certain things are just too ordinary. last night we had the (warm) corn brioche bread pudding with maple syrup and caramel corn. it was so good, we ordered another. it was worth the 8 minute cooking time wait.
We try to go once a month mainly to have lots of their farm featured salads (which change all the time) - a cocktail or 2 - and then desserts. we rarely have entrees.