What to Order at Mourad

Morocco meets California in Mourad Lahlou's refined new SoMa restaurant
March 2, 2015
by Virginia Miller

Long-awaited Mourad, from chef Mourad Lahlou and chef de cuisine Chris Kajioka (formerly of Honolulu's Vintage Cave), opened at the end of January in the PacBell Building next door to Trou Normand. As with his beloved Aziza across the city (opened in 2001), the cuisine of Lahlou's native Morocco and Northern California bounty play together beautifully. But this isn't merely Aziza No. 2. While you'll find similar ethos in the plates at Mourad, it's a bit more upscale, refined. And the ultimate way to go may just be the tasting menu. It's a pricey $150 (plus $75 with wine pairings) but the ever-evolving menu best reflects Lahlou's innovative style and the direction he and Kajioka are going with this new restaurant. Other highlights include Melissa Chou's desserts (the celebrated Aziza pastry chef) and master sommelier Alan Murray's wine list (Murray came from Australia and worked at the legendary Rubicon under the direction of master sommelier great Larry Stone).

Check some early highlights from the regular and the tasting menu, the cocktails, wine and dessert.

Hours: Monday to Sunday, 5:30-10 PM.

140 New Montgomery St.; 415-660-2500

The tasting menu starts of with a number of winners that might involve black truffles and the like. A memorable start comes in the form of Caspian caviar on a smoked brioche, brilliantly paired with sake. A touch of maple and Marcona almonds results in a buttery melding of smoky, sweet, nutty and briny flavors that is hard to top (but there are more delights ahead).

One of the menu highlights is duck liver ($20): gorgeous, delicate and mild, layered pastrylike with pistachio genoise and dark chocolate, dotted with edible flowers, turnips and satsuma oranges, could just as easily be a savory-sweet/earthy-delicate dessert. It's one of the best duck liver interpretations around.

Cocktails ($13) were created by Christ Aivaliotis and Troy Bayless of Wizard Oil Co. and the new Hawker Fare and Holy Mountain. Though straightforward, the drinks are well crafted and pleasing, whether On the Spot (rye whiskey, Nocino [walnut liqueur], Manzanilla sherry and Triple Sec orange liqueur) for the rich, nutty, bracing side of things, or a lovely Capa Gibson, a twist on a classic Gibson cocktail, mixing Sipsmith gin, French (dry/white) vermouth and Breckenridge bitters with the savory pop of a pickled onion garnish.

On the tasting menu, it's sheer decadence with applewood-smoked Ōra king salmon from New Zealand — it's the "Kobe" of salmon, silky and fresh. A Meyer lemon glaze stuns, and the fish plays nicely with accompanying pickled cucumber, dill, potato, cranberry and an umami-laden mussel cream.

On the regular menu, pickled mackerel ($18) also acts as art display — one that shows off fish with herb jam, rye panisse (little chickpea fritters), puntarelle (an Italian winter chicory) and sorrel.

Why have eggplant one way when you can experience it three ways? Here eggplant ($15) is draped as ribbons, rests in a purée and also in a pepper marmalade, accented by oregano and cucumber. The accompanying flatbread dusted with a house mix of ras el hanout spices is almost the highlight.

Lahlou's rightly popular basteeya is here ($22 on the regular menu). Also known as bastilla, b'stilla, bisteeya or bstilla, this traditional Moroccan dish is essentially a meat pie in flaky phyllo dough often doused with cinnamon and powdered sugar, resulting in dreamy savory-sweet comfort. Filled with duck confit and accented by endive, pear and verjus, it's as fantastic as it has been at Aziza all these years — and comes in a mini, bite-size version in the middle of the tasting menu, a worthy homage to his signature dish.

On the tasting menu and as an $8 side on the regular menu, hand-rolled couscous is an unexpected star, all gardenlike with edible flowers and herbs, bright with preserved lemon, lush with brown butter. Savor that with velvety-floral and spice notes of a fantastic 2012 Petalos Bierzo Descendientes red wine from Galicia, Spain.

As part of the tasting menu, tender, juicy short rib comes partnered with pear purée and broccoli, swimming in just the right amount of savory beef jus. A balanced glass of 2011 Red Car Estate Vineyard Syrah from Fort Ross, CA, makes it sing.

Melissa Chou's pastry talent shines in desserts ($12 each) that are both artful and intriguing to taste, like this combination of subtle goat cheese crème, hazelnut tuille and grapefruit sorbet, accented by olive oil and nasturtium petals. It's garden-fresh and intoxicating, while also cleaning the palate.

Pickled rose petals arrive bright and vibrant, a striking but delicate dessert of rose, beets and pomegranate that Murray pairs with a floral, sparkling-sweet 2013 Saracco Moscato D’Asti from Italy. If ordering the tasting menu, you'll follow two light, subtle desserts with playful mignardises (pictured top — essentially bite-size confections) and a tin of Chou's gratifying house granola to take home.

The lofty space was designed by Lundberg Design, with designer Olle Lundberg collaborating with Lahlou. Industrial lines and cement are warmed up with glowing lamps and a bright pop of yellow on the floor surrounded by black and white tiling. The space opens first into the bar area, then the dining room and a second-floor dining area, with a suspended steel and glass wine bridge through the wine cellar.

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