Tuesday, September 26, 2006

This Week's Restaurant Review: Zagora in SF


They say variety is the spice of life. And when it comes to eating out, I couldn’t agree more. There are so many restaurants out there that serve the same exact stuff that it gets really old. Certain entrees become popular, and all of a sudden every joint in town jumps on the bandwagon. If I see one more Chicken Caesar Salad, Panini Sandwich or Veggie Lasagna on a menu, I will scream. I go out to eat because I want to try new and exciting flavors, not for things I can make at home or get to go from my local Pasta Pomidoro or Applebee’s. That’s why the idea of Moroccan food made by real Moroccans intrigued me when I visited Zagora in the SF Mission last week. I’ve had Moroccan food in the past that was not authentic faire. They had belly dancers and hummus, but the fixed price meal they served was basically barbecued chicken and pork jerky. Zagora, I am pleased to say, is the genuine article. And they don’t have belly dancers either. I love a good belly dance as much as the next person, don’t get me wrong. But, there’s just something about an undulating belly that makes me lose my appetite. It’s the same thing as ordering a meal at a strip club. Food and half-naked bodies just don’t go together. When we arrived at Zagora, the place was empty, primarily because we got there around 6 pm. My fiancée Angelina has a strong aversion to loud restaurants, and in a way I agree with her. One way to avoid this dilemma is to eat out earlier. Some places have early bird specials and getting there earlier means the restaurant isn’t as crowded -- so you get served more quickly, in most cases – so it just makes sense if it fits in with your schedule to make it an early meal if you can. The minute we walked in, our waitress was right there. I like that. Nothing upsets me more than an establishment where you have to wait for 10-15 minutes before your server comes over to your table. We were served two different types of bread with a wonderful spread that tasted like turmeric and garlic. Our waitress was very knowledgeable about the food, even though we could tell she wasn’t Moroccan. At one point, the owner came by and introduced himself. He was very helpful and described the particular dishes we inquired about with an enthusiasm that one can only get from an owner. We kicked off the festivities with a Momona Salad ($6), which consists of honey-glazed roasted carrots, Atlas Mountain cured black olives, grapefruit and nice, light vinaigrette that wasn’t overpowering. Sometimes I regret ordering vinaigrette, because they can be so tangy and complex that your taste buds get badly confused. For appetizers, we also sampled the Merguez Sausage ($8), which featured the aromatic signature Moroccan sausage, accompanied by hummus, a celery root puree and horse radish yogurt. Now, this is what I came for! The Merguez sausage has the flavor of linguicia and chorizo, with a little Italian sausage thrown in. The texture is gritty, which I love. The hummus was some of the best I’ve ever tasted. For entrees, we had the Lamb Tajine ($16.50), which came in a clay tajine pot, and consisted of roasted lamb shank, apricots, dried prunes, goma seeds and steamed couscous. Oh my! The flavors hit the palate with a vengeance and were so interesting that each one overlapped the next. We also had the Saweera Prawns Tajine ($15.75) which came with orange blossoms and organic roma tomatoes. For the price, I didn’t think there were enough prawns and the flavors were too basic for my liking. The Kobe Beef Kefta ($15) was a winner, my only criticism being that the meatballs of Kobe beef were a bit dry. Other than that, the sauce of garlic and tomatoes was outstanding. Overall, I would recommend Zagora, if for nothing else than the fact that it offers flavors that can’t be found anywhere else but in Morocco. With a plethora of restaurants to choose in SF, I don’t know if I’ll go back any time soon, simply because they’re so many other exciting places to eat in this town. But if you crave Moroccan, it’s a solid spot with reasonable prices and a passionate owner, sans bare bellies and loud clapping. Zagora is at 1007 Guerrero Street and their phone number is: (415) 282-6444. Their web site is: http://www.zagorarestaurant.com/.

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