Dinner – Wednesday, March 25, 2015
Mourad Lahlou‘s eponymous new restaurant in the heart of San Francisco is quite a spectacle – all marble and Moroccan tiles and dark wood, and is that a wine bridge? No doubt, the space is gorgeous, combining modern design with a charming vintage aesthetic. Lahlou’s in the kitchen too (at least on this night), aided by Chris Kajioka, the talented chef de cuisine most recently at Vintage Cave in Hawaii. The most intriguing things on the a la carte menu seem to be the la’acha – Moroccan family style dishes. Dining alone on this night, however, I chose the tasting menu.
Mornay, Perigord truffle, English peas
Osetra caviar, applewood-smoked brioche
Bourbon-aged maple, almond, crême fraiche
Asparagus, green strawberry, cucumber
Verdant asparagus was daubed with onion ash yogurt and drizzled with green garlic oil. The tart strawberry slices were particularly excellent with the yogurt – a great early palate cleanser after the caviar.
Savoy cabbage, Dungeness crab, sunchoke, watercress
Wow – the sweet crab was wrapped in charred cabbage and set in a pool of warm crab dashi. It was spicy, herbal, simply amazing. Purees of sunchoke and watercress added complementary flavours that highlighted the chunky crab flesh. My dish of the night.
Potato, honey-poached cranberries, mussel emulsion
Confit duck basteeya
Almonds, Asian pear, crême fraiche
Very similar, if not identical, to a version served at Aziza (although that may have changed – my knowledge is not especially current). Morocco in one bite, if you will – sweet, salty, chewy, crunchy, all melded together. I got my fix right here.
Blueberry, turnip, honey crême fraiche, celery
Calcots, harissa, sweet herb emulsion
Charred and sliced radishes, alternately earthy and bright, paired with tender calcots. This, to my mind, was a perfect “modern” interpretation of Moroccan cuisine – complex, heady aromas, spice-forward on the plate.
72-hour braised short rib
Pear, brassicas, veal jus
Couscous, blossoms, brown butter
The real deal – each grain defined, without excess moisture or oil, and packed with flavour. A really great way to end the savory portion of the menu.
Rose, beet, pomegranate
Pickled rose petals and pomegranate arils wreathed a beet sorbet. Set atop the creamy sorbet, a delicious rye tuile. A dish almost too pretty to eat. I found it very sweet, weighed down by the sugars in the pomegranate molasses and the beet itself.
“Honey & almond”
Beeswax, almond granita, creme anglais
For some reason (the textures?), this instantly reminded me of a dessert we enjoyed at Quay in 2012, although the flavours are only distantly related. Very masterful use of sugar, temperature and texture here (especially the fantastic meringue).
Mint tea, lemon verbena
Warm sugar puff
Uniformly excellent – a date tuille with milk chocolate and ginger cream, coconut-chocolate macaron with chicory ice cream, chocolate and bay leaf tart, and a white chocolate bonbon with a mustard core. Melissa Chou, the pastry chef here, is a talent.
When Michael Tusk opened Cotogna, it gave him the freedom to explore new avenues at Quince, pushing the boundaries of his style. And yet, whenever I read the menus at Quince (which are regularly updated, thank you), they are a clear representation of him. At this dinner, some dishes (e.g. the radishes, couscous and rose dessert) spoke out loud and clear, while others (e.g. the caviar, and the short ribs), though delicious, seemed to be searching for a home. Aziza is a known entity, so is Mourad a way for its owner to press ahead and experiment with different directions? I’m not sure yet, and I think my meal tonight, though executed at a high level, seeks direction still. When it settles down, I suspect the results will be spectacular.