At last we have word on local star chef Mourad Lahlou's plans for his Outer Richmond onetime flagship restaurant, Aziza which has now been closed for fifteen months. The Michelin-starred chef-owner of Mourad, where he's been cooking similar but revised versions of some of the Moroccan food he made at Aziza in a much flashier location for over two years, tells Eater that he's been inspired through talks with former Aziza chef de cuisine Louis Maldonado about the little known links between North African and Mexican cuisines, and thus the pair are collaborating on a new concept that will marry Mexican and Moroccan flavors, called Amara.
When it closed in May 2016, Aziza was supposed to reopen as an updated version of itself within two months something that Lahlou had been planning since the opening days of Mourad the year before. But it seems that Lahlou was apprehensive about reopening Aziza after such an absence, worried that he may not be able to please the restaurant's loyal fans and new diners alike.
Aziza first opened in 2001, ultimately leading to national attention and a cookbook for Lahlou, as well as a Michelin star in the very first Bay Area Michelin Guide a decade ago. We heard back in the fall that the renovation of Aziza had turned into a full reconfiguration of the space, and then we had Lahlou complaining in June that ADA compliance requirements could possibly force the restaurant to move.
Those issues appear to have been worked out, and now Lahlou and Maldonado are aiming for a mid-winter opening for Amara, with Maldonado as executive chef (or possibly co-chef?), maybe in time for New Year's Eve.
"I think it will be a cool addition to the city," Lahlou tells Eater. "Hopefully we’re gonna do it justice by giving it a lot of dignity. I don’t want to start slopping things together from Mexican and Moroccan food: I want to dig really deep into understanding the techniques and seeing where there is synergy."
Lahlou notes that things are coming "full circle" for the space he took over in 2001 with its tile and archways, which for 47 years prior had been a Mexican restaurant called El Sombrero.
Dishes are still taking shape in the chefs' minds and Lahlou promises a very dynamic, constantly changing menu at the outset but some ideas they're batting around include a dish of avocados and tomatillos with za’atar, cucumber, and yogurt; a marinated beef skewer with harissa, lime, root vegetable escabeche, and arugula; and an Aziza-style cumin lamb shank braised in chilis and prunes, with smoked lamb salsa, and wilted greens.
There will also be a cocktail list focusing on mezcal and tequila, and wine curated Tara Patrick, wine director at Mourad.
This also marks a homecoming of sorts for Maldonado, who once upon a time was crowned the city's "hottest chef" (looks-wise) by Eater when he was in the kitchen at Aziza ca. 2009, and who in recent years has served as executive chef at Healdsburg's Spoonbar, and lately as culinary director at Mugniani Imports in Healdsburg.
Stay tuned for some more details as this opening approaches.
Previously: Aziza Is Closing For Two Months For A Renovation