mourad in soma....it's highfalutin' eatin' time!
It's not always cheap eats and junk food for me. Seems like it, but every now and then, we hitch up the wagon and head out for some fancy food time. Usually these occasions fall on special events and this time around, it was my birthday. In the past, I usually bring up places, new and old, I'd like to try, though many times it is just in passing. This time, the SO made a mental note of one of them and we found ourselves at Mourad.
It's on the ground floor of the renovated art deco Pac-Bell building on New Montgomery (the one that kind of looks like the apartment building from the first "Ghostbusters"). I always liked the lines of the building and remember from my days downtown, when I walked by I used to think, if they just fix it up, it would be great place to live or work. Eventually that came true and they've refurbed the whole thing with offices and stuff on the top and two restaurants occupying the ground floor. One of them, Trou Normand, I lunched at in the past. Now I get to the other one.
It's one a few spots run by well-known chef Mourad Lahlou, in case you were wondering where the name came from. If you need a full bio on the guy, just click here. The guy really gets around. This particular restaurant reaches back to his Marrakesh roots with elevated and reimagined Moroccan fare.
Definitely an interesting menu to choose from and as you can see, not exactly a mid-range place. It's more special occasion (like this one) or a place you hit up when in town on business or taking a client to dinner. That way you can forget about the cost and just expense the hell out of it.
In addition to the main menu they also offer a tasting menu that changes. Tasting menus are one of those things where you get a lot of small plates for a set price (not including booze) and then top it off, either everyone at the table does it or no one does it. Thus my love hate relationship with these things. It's because the chef wants the diners to experience their food at the same times and wants all dishes to arrive at the same time, etc. I get that. But I've always felt, I'm the paying customer and if I say I'm okay with staggered plates and eating, then they should find a way to make it happen, particularly at these prices. But places like this are stubborn--it's all or nothing, feeling like they just wanna bump up the check cost. Thus my ambivalence toward it. On this night, the SO really wanted to do the tasting one at $140 per person. I gave in this time, but if it sucked for me, it was all on them.
To be fair, for food like this, I'm not always the best judge of what's good and what isn't. I understand flavors and combos and know what tastes good on my palate. Though, unlike the SO, I'm not always wowed just because it might look pretty on the plate. Because it might not taste so pretty on the tongue. Plus, if ever there was such a thing as small bites, this was it. Many of this were one to two bites at most, which isn't always the best if it doesn't punch you right away. Still, I tried to keep an open mind through the whole thing. Though, honestly, some of these things I only vaguely remember, that's how small a bite some were.
They started us off with a few amuse bouche things I don't remember too much about and the pictures aren't really helping right now either. That ball on top was kind of like Dutch crunch bread and had some kind or cream sauce (or maybe it was cheese?) inside. I do remember we kind of liked it and wanted another.
The shell things I'm pretty sure were clams. The foam was, well foam, kind of salty. And the rocks were, just rocks. Not sure, maybe we were supposed to get the impression of pulling a barnacle off a rock and eating it out of the salty water like a modern day forager? Or maybe they had extra shellfish from the previous day. Either way, I have trouble with raw things like this and needed a chug of wine to get it down.
That other thing I think was savory, maybe. Like a beet puree and some kind of cracker. Looks like it could have been raspberry puree, but I'm almost sure they didn't start us out with something sweet. Sadly, whatever it was didn't make an impression on my sensory taste perception.
Our first official plate from the menu was labeled as "From The Sea". A little misleading considering this was an avocado puree topped with shaved cucumber and taro on a pool of harissa oil. Not sure what sea they meant, maybe a sea of veggies? An avocado island on a sea of oil? What I remember about this was the harissa, woo boy, that was a kick in the mouth and pretty much all I tasted after it burned my tongue off. Was I supposed to kill my taste buds at the beginning of the meal? Color me lost in a sea of confusion and burning mouth.
Here's one of those pretty plate things, it's called "Carrot", of which I'm pretty sure there was at least one on the plate. It also included dates, pecans and urfa, another in the line spicy peppers. Maybe that is the theme, they are trying to make sure you mouth is really on fire if it didn't happen the first time! This was a spicy sweet dish and the urfa wasn't as hot as the harissa. Plus there's that swirl of creme fraiche counter acting the straight lines of the plate. See, it's food as art people! Colors and swirls and lines and angles! Okay, I kid, but did actually like this, at least what there was of it. Pecans, dates, sweet, salty and a spicy, those are pretty much my food triggers. A few more bites of this would have also been nice.
Next up was "Salmon". Ugh, I hate salmon, from the texture to the taste, blech. I knew this was coming and made alternate arrangements you can see below. The SO stuck with it. There's also kumquats, radish, lentils, a soubise sauce and something called z'hug. Yeah, I had to look it up too and surprise! It's a hot sauce! I guess that is the theme. I tasted the sauces and did like those. The rest I leave up to the SO. "Nice flavor combos. Perfectly cooked salmon. A little sweet, little crunch, little heat. Great dish, spot on." There you go, for the spicy salmon lover in you.
When I mentioned how much I disapproved of salmon, we wondered if there was any way to get something else or even a repeat of a previous dish. The server said they'd check, though I didn't have much hope seeing as how we got roped into the tasting menu to start with. Surprise though, the server came back and said, the chef could serve up "blah, blah instead." Okay, I'd had a glass of champagne and a glass of wine by now and I wasn't totally sure what he said. I just gave it half a beat and said, "yeah, sure, that's fine." I should really learn to Google food sometimes before saying yes. Here's what I got.
Raw fish, sashimi, call it what you want, it definitely wasn't what I wanted. Thin slices of fish in some kind of juice with a dollop of creme fraiche (again!) and whatever those bits of crunch sesame seed things were. Ugh, what do I hate worse than salmon? Raw fish! Sushi! BAIT! It's a texture thing, plus the idea I'M EATING RAW FISH! Yeah, just can't get past it. The SO is like, just try a little bit, you might like it. So I did and crap! I've got no wine left to get this down. This is where the hot pepper sauce from the salmon dish came in handy--to re-burn my tongue and kill off whatever taste of raw fish I could. I guess I could say I have no one to blame but myself for so cavalierly saying yes to what the server was offering, but I'm not. I'm blaming the SO, they got me into this, so it's all on them. I accept no responsibility for this. Please God, bring the next plate!
Here we have "Summer Squash". Though the summer squash on here was actually sauteed okra along with a bit of crawfish, a deep fried kale leaf and a charmoula sauce. More spicy, though not at previous levels. This was an interesting dish. It's like Middle Eastern meets Louisiana. I like okra in most any form and this version wasn't too slimy. The sauce was also nice like a thick marinade or something. I'm not the biggest fan of crawfish, but at least I didn't have to suck it out of a shell here and the sauce kind of balances the sort of earthy flavor you can sometimes get. Pretty sure the kale thing was there for texture otherwise this dish is a lot of softness going on. Though can't say it really added to it. Still, as a palate cleanser after the previous plate, I was all over it.
Hard to believe, I'm roughly half way through our tasting menu and we've been here close to 90 minutes! I guess I sort of understand the chefs thing about plates at the same time and stuff as there has been a sizable gap between a couple of the courses so far. I think that's how they get you to order more wine. Needless to say, this is also where I'm breaking up this review since there's like 7 more plates(!) to get through and I'm exhausted just remembering this. For now I'll leave you digest the dishes so far and have your own glass of wine till my next post. I'm probably gonna need one myself to get through it.