By Christina Coplon
Perhaps the best way to explore any city is by dining your way through its culinary delights. I’ve savored homemade pastas and limoncello with Italians in the Tuscan countryside. And fresh baguettes and champagne with the French in Aix-en-Provence. I’ve gotten lost, amid pyramids of bright fruits and vegetables, in the bustling outdoor markets of Tel Aviv. And sipped sacred muña tea with the women of Chinchero in Cusco.
Sharing food gives you the opportunity to experience life as a local – and that is certainly the case at Mourad. Located within the historic PacBell Building at 140 New Montgomery, Mourad brings Moroccan-influenced California cuisine to the Yerba Buena neighborhood, no passport required.
Enter through the doors and you are immediately greeted by a grand sculpture made from century-old tree roots. The 14-foot-tall piece is not only stunning, but also representative of chef-owner Mourad Lahlou’s Moroccan roots. On this particular evening, a hostess dressed in black escorted our party of four through the bar, under a glass-enclosed wine bridge, to a table in the main dining room.
Overwhelmed by the extensive wine list, we decided to stick to our own roots with a bottle of red from the Sonoma Coast. A delightful waiter navigated us through the tasting menu and a la carte options with ease, concluding with a bold statement: “The real soul of the menu is the la’acha.”
We started with a few plates to share – duck basteeya, eggplant, watermelon kanpachi – each more beautifully presented and delicious than the next; then prepared ourselves for the la’acha, a whole chicken served family-style and accompanied by four side dishes. The chicken was exceptional and well worth the wait. Brined in the Moroccan trifecta of lemon, saffron and olive puree, the dish arrives with three distinctive sauces. One with a smoky tomato flavor, a zesty green chermoula and a house-made fiery harissa. Finally, an order of sugar puffs to share, because no great meal is complete without something sweet.
After experiencing the flavors of Mourad, Morocco is certainly on my list for future travels. But Yerba Buena Gardens will always be home, and I’m thrilled that Chef Lahlou is sharing Moroccan flavors in our little corner of the world.