Dinners at Aziza and Manresa

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Dinners at Aziza and Manresa

Postby Frank Deis » Wed Jun 13, 2012 12:49 am

Sunday night my wife I met a friend from another board, Linda, who is a wine maker at Peachy Canyon. We've been online friends for several years. She's been interested in Moroccan cooking and so we agreed to meet for supper at Aziza in San Francisco. Both of us had read great things about the cocktails so we started off with a round. She had something almond based that was pretty amazing. Louise had brandy with ginger and peach, and I had a drink made with kumquat and rosemary. I really thought that showed a chef's imagination, because the terpenes in the citrus and the rosemary matched up in unsuspected ways. The water poured throughout the evening had a subtle flavor of cucumber which was really nice.

The price of the tasting menu had gone up to $95 (last I had seen online it was $75) so none of us were really interested in that, and of course the whole table would have had to go in together.

I had frankly come intending to get the lamb shank, which is served on a bed of farro mixed with marinated dates. I had read the recipe in the Mourad cookbook and wondered how close I could come to reproducing it. I think I can do it now.

At any rate, for appetizers, Linda ordered the flatbread with 3 dips and we got some extra bread so we could share. There was a red dip, basically Muhammara (sweet pureed roasted peppers with nuts and pomegranate syrup) but I think the berbere spice mixture had been added. A brown dip, chick peas, which I think had the chermoula spice mixture added. And a white dip, perhaps yoghurt with onion and mint?? Just a guess. All three were delicious and the flatbreads were a far cry from "pita" -- something dense, I think with semolina flour. I am hoping that flatbread is in the cookbook, we are still on vacation so I can't check. The other appetizer was tasty but very skimpy, amberjack "sashimi" with tiny pea pods and tiny mushrooms, and a smear of ash from burned green onions. Flavorwise, OK, but a bare mouthful when split 3 ways.

For the main course, both Linda and I ordered the lamb shanks, and Louise went for one of the specials, a quail that had been boned and made into a roulade. What it boiled down to was 3 cylinders of meat, basically the size of a wine cork each, with a scattering of baby vegetables. Without half of my lamb shank Louise would have starved...

On this trip we have encountered some remarkable wines which are "not for sale." Linda's wine, Sin Nombre, was one of those. It smelled a lot like a good Barolo, and it was splendid with the lamb. But if you want to taste it you need to go to the tasting room at Peachy Canyon.

Louise had a very fancy dessert with an "egg" of gelato, some cake, and some sweet hibiscus soup. I just had some Moroccan mint tea, and Linda had the kumquat cocktail.

It was a very nice evening, but I think it showed the strengths and weaknesses of Mourad's approach. You can't leave people hungry, you can't give them 3 spoonfuls of something and call it a course, unless there are many courses. In online reviews you can find people who spent $95 on the tasting menu and then had to go find a cheeseburger.

The safest way to order is to get things that you know have been on the menu for a long time. Don't order the special!

Still I have to say the flavors were exotic and intriguing and I plan to cook more from Mourad's cookbook when I get home.
Last edited by Frank Deis on Thu Jun 14, 2012 1:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Dinner at Aziza (Mourad's restaurant)

Postby Jeff Grossman/NYC » Wed Jun 13, 2012 1:56 am

Mouhamara is always spicy around here.

One quail is not sufficient for a main course no matter what you do with it.

Sounds like some of it was interesting, though. Rosemary and kumquat, eh?
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Re: Dinners at Aziza and Manresa

Postby Frank Deis » Thu Jun 14, 2012 1:51 pm

Well, last night's dinner at Manresa proved that you CAN serve 3 bites per course as part of a tasting menu, and make a really splendid and satisfying meal. I didn't take detailed notes, and we lost count of all the courses, maybe I will try to dredge up some specifics from my memory, but not right now. Suffice it to say that it may be the best meal I've had, and it was the most expensive. For a foodie who knows what they are eating it is well worth the price for a special splurge.

We ate with a friend and had some great wines that he brought, 2 red Burgundies and a Ridge Montebello from the time that Paul Draper was the wine-maker. It was a really lovely evening.

The whole time I was at Aziza I was thinking "hmm, I could make this, I could make that..." For what it's worth I =never= thought that last night, which is one reason I didn't bother to take detailed notes. You just had to relax and enjoy the wonderful variety of foods, flavors, textures.
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Re: Dinners at Aziza and Manresa

Postby Jenise » Thu Jun 14, 2012 3:36 pm

Frank Deis wrote:The whole time I was at Aziza I was thinking "hmm, I could make this, I could make that..." For what it's worth I =never= thought that last night, which is one reason I didn't bother to take detailed notes. You just had to relax and enjoy the wonderful variety of foods, flavors, textures.


I can't think of a higher compliment any of us could give any restaurant anywhere. Bravo! Btw, Manresa has been floating near the top of my Must Do list for some time--I'm SOOOOO envious!
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
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Re: Dinners at Aziza and Manresa

Postby Mark Lipton » Thu Jun 14, 2012 5:02 pm

Frank Deis wrote:Well, last night's dinner at Manresa proved that you CAN serve 3 bites per course as part of a tasting menu, and make a really splendid and satisfying meal. I didn't take detailed notes, and we lost count of all the courses, maybe I will try to dredge up some specifics from my memory, but not right now. Suffice it to say that it may be the best meal I've had, and it was the most expensive. For a foodie who knows what they are eating it is well worth the price for a special splurge.

We ate with a friend and had some great wines that he brought, 2 red Burgundies and a Ridge Montebello from the time that Paul Draper was the wine-maker. It was a really lovely evening.


Frank, I managed to eat at Manresa several years ago with, I suspect, the same friend. It truly was one of the most memorable meals of my life. I was particularly taken with certain delicious but playful preparations: the "infamous egg" from l'Arpege, a strawberry gazpacho and a "surf and turf" of skate wing with beef cheek. The conception and execution were both top-notch.

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Re: Dinners at Aziza and Manresa

Postby John Treder » Fri Jun 15, 2012 1:48 am

I sprang for a dinner at Manresa around 10 years ago, for a dozen people in the family. It was worth every penny! We still talk about it!

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Re: Dinners at Aziza and Manresa

Postby Jenise » Fri Jun 15, 2012 1:26 pm

John Treder wrote:I sprang for a dinner at Manresa around 10 years ago, for a dozen people in the family. It was worth every penny! We still talk about it!

John


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Re: Dinners at Aziza and Manresa

Postby Max Hauser » Sat Jun 16, 2012 4:50 pm

If I may add here, as a friend (both of parties upthread, and also of the restaurant, located not far from me), a few of my own observations from Manresa, specifically some recent changes, none radical. This was my first meal there after the remodeling and expansion completed last Fall. Along with slight increase in seating and other facilities, the dining area look and feel has been revised. I found the new look, lighting, etc. a little subtler than in earlier experiences, the acoustics more muted.

Also (Mark), remarkably few of those old regular courses remained, at least on this sampling. An exception was the "vegetable garden" with edible flowers and chicory "dirt" (something of a signature of that kitchen). But the kitchen put out courses combining more textures and flavors on each plate than in past years. Often a few distinct items, with evident harmony or chemistry. As Frank noted, often just a bite-sized sample of each item (which again contrasts to some of my past tasting-menu experiences there), yet we were certainly well fed and satisfied by the end.
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Re: Dinners at Aziza and Manresa

Postby Frank Deis » Sun Jun 17, 2012 11:02 am

The Late Spring Garden
Manresa Restaurant
June 13th, 2012


Petit fours “red pepper-black olive”
Local milk panna cotta with abalone
Garden beignets, vinegar powder, aged goat cheese
Foie gras royale and garden veloute


Veal and albacore tartar, pickled cabbage
Cultured cream, nasturtium vinaigrette, assorted courgettes, pistachio
Into the vegetable garden...
Saffron and shellfish broth with yarrow, sorrels...
....A spring tidal pool
Bream, almond and orange, fennel jam
Chicken and egg confit, celtuce with morels
Spring lamb and onions roasted in dandelion butter, ocean persillade

Garden tisane

Raspberry cremeux with white chocolate, anise hyssop and verjus sorbet
Pistachio parfait, cherries, cherry pit crumble, red wine meringue
Old fashioned vanilla
Petit fours “strawberry-chocolate”
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Re: Dinners at Aziza and Manresa

Postby wnissen » Mon Jun 18, 2012 8:04 pm

Dear Max,
As far as I could tell, the "greatest hits" were mostly consigned to the shorter of the two menus, while the longer menu (the only one we've ever ordered from, even when it was a la carte) didn't have the Garden on it. Sort of a surprise, but honestly I really enjoyed some of the newer dishes, especially the dry-aged duck. There's still abalone, etc.

But yes, I do get the feeling I'm in the presence of genius in that restaurant. Jenise, it is truly, truly "vaut le voyage."
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Re: Dinners at Aziza and Manresa

Postby Max Hauser » Thu Jun 21, 2012 6:26 pm

wnissen wrote:As far as I could tell, the "greatest hits" were mostly consigned to the shorter of the two menus, while the longer menu (the only one we've ever ordered from, even when it was a la carte) didn't have the Garden on it.

I ought to explain just in case it wasn't clear: What we got recently was a regular "tasting menu," the one advertised on the menu card. There is also an option of a more conventional multi-course dinner from a printed selection on the card, but I don't think I've experienced that at Manresa since maybe 2003. With the "tasting" menus over the years, the several small courses that arrive have always been unpredictable, not described in advance, though sometimes they'd repeat popular Manresa specialties. Up to a few years ago, the kitchen did routinely cycle certain very regular courses even in the tasting menus (like cromeskis, or the multi-layered "Arpège" egg which was always an homage to chef's French mentor Alain Passard). Distinctive in this recent tasting menu which Frank recorded was not just a lack of external references (like the two modern classics I just mentioned) but lack even of repeats of past favorite Manresa-created courses, except for that "garden" dish, and a trend toward "composing" multiple small related tastes into a single course, which I didn't see in tasting menus there as recently as a year ago.

Beyond the advertised "tasting menu," you can get a "grand tasting" menu if it's not a very busy night (avoid Fridays or Saturdays! In fact, avoid Fridays or Saturdays for all US restaurant dining if possible -- read ISBN 0385182201 if you haven't already) AND if you arrange it in advance with the kitchen. Although not advertised, the grand tasting is available to anyone. It's aimed at food fanatics and visiting gastronomes; the kitchen charges around 50% premium above a regular tasting menu, but it may have twice as many courses (incl. extremely limited ingredients or experimental courses) -- it is a bit of work for the kitchen, and I don't think the grand tasting menus pay for themselves. I've experienced several over the years, including once with Mark LIpton I believe; they often were the choice of people who organized Manresa group dinners from online food forums. But I have to say, I came away from this recent "mere" regular tasting menu impressed. One of my more memorable dinners there, both for very good company and for a sequence of courses not exactly lacking in variety, substance, or least of all, creativity.
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