Mourad -- third time, not so charming . . . but still great food!

What’s up with Mourad? The two previous visits have been wonderful, special, even memorable – this past visit, not so much . . .

We dined again at Mourad last night, and went – in part – because we’d read about an adventurous “revamp” of their cocktail menu that sounded very intriguing. Of course, we loved the food on the first two occasions, so we thought this is a no-brainer, and made reservations.

Given the vagaries of a) Fleet Week in San Francisco, and b) Bay area traffic in general, we gave ourselves plenty of time to get the the restaurant. Indeed, we actually planned on arriving about 30 minutes prior to our reservations solely for the purpose of hanging out in their beautiful, spacious bar and enjoying one of their new cocktails before sitting down to dinner. And that’s exactly what happened: we walked into the restaurant 30 minutes early, gave our name to the hostess – “you’re early; your reservation isn’t for half an hour” – and that we would happily be in the bar until our table was ready . . .

We took our seats at the bar at three minutes after the hour (:03) There were two bartenders – one at each end of the large, L-shaped bar, and a bus boy in the middle who gave us water, menus, and told us the bartender would be wish us shortly. At :10, we told the bus boy we were ready to order; he apologized and said he’d get a bartender. (Keep in mind, the bar was not crowded; there were empty barstools and empty tables.) At :12, the bartender came by, and my wife asked about two different cocktails, the “Curry & Milk” and the “Umami & Mint.” The reply? “Let me make this simple for you – we’re out of the Curry & Milk, but the Umami & Mint is out most popular drink.” OK, she ordered the Umami & Mint, and I asked for a particular Rye I’d heard of but never tasted. My drink arrived in a couple of minutes, and at that point, the woman next to my wife complained that she’d been waiting half an hour to order food while seated at the bar. Bartender apologized, and took her order. (At that point, I told my wife, "Watch. He’s forgotten about your drink.) Sure enough, at :28 after the hour, my wife’s cocktail arrived. She loved it, but still . . .

At approximately :35, and with several open tables in the dining room, I went up to the hostess and reminded her that we were in the bar. “Who are you? When is your reservation?” About 5-10 minutes later, we were seated.

For those who have not been to Mourad, the dinner menu consists of small appetizers, shared appetizers, individual entrées, sides, AND larger “La’acha Moroccan Family Style Dining Served with Sides and Sauces. Please Allow For Up To 30 Minutes.” We had done the La’acha before, and although we were only two people this time, opted to do it again.

To start, we ordered two appetizers. First was the Basteeya – a flavorful blend of duck confit, rhubarb, young almond, and verjus, wrapped in a layers and layers of crisp, flaky phyllo. Delicious! We also ordered Octopus, served with chickpea, artichoke, olive, and a merguez broth. Also delicious. But the problem is that our entrée was going to take 30 minutes . . . so why bring out the Octopus immediately after setting the Basteeya on our table? Literally, upon cutting the burrito-shaped basteeya in half, and placing it on our plates, out came the octopus, with the server clearing
away the just emptied plate and replacing it with the octopus. Both appetizers down, and now 25 minutes to wait for our entrée . . . didn’t make much sense to me, as we sat, sipping our wine and watching the room for 20 minutes.

The whole roasted chicken with preserved lemon, olives, cipollini onions, and a reduced jus glaze – served with harissa, and both red and green chermoula – along with the four side dishes (couscous with brown butter; kale with olive and kumquat; roasted potato with buttermilk and onion; and heirloom beans with tomato, feta, and a za’atar crumble) – was superbly flavorful and cooked to perfection. Truly excellent.

So what’s the issue? Clearly the bar service needs work. I’m not sure whether it was the server’s fault for not telling the kitchen to space out our appetizers, or whether it was the kitchen that erred – or, for that matter, whether it matters at all! The point is that here I am talking about it.

Did it ruin our dinner? No, of course not. The food was wonderful, and I have no doubt whatsoever that we’ll return to Mourad in the future. But I’ve come away from this, our third visit to this restaurant, with three distinct observations:

  1. Someone needs to pay more attention to Service, with a capital “S”, before the issues get any worse.
  2. The food at Mourad remains exceptionally delicious.
  3. This is not a restaurant that couples should go to! The menu is best for parties of at least four, and six-to-eight is better, in order to take advantage of the La’acha options on the menu.

The kitchen also does Michelin-style tasting menus of a dozen-plus dishes, so their default mode may be one small plate after another boom-boom-boom.

Some of the more Michelin-ish stuff did not impress me as much as the family-style meal I had.

True. I should have mentioned that. Thanks for doing so. We’ve never done the tasting menu but, like you, I don’t find the tasting menu all that compelling – the family-style entrées always sound so much better! :wink:

And just to make sure there’s no confusion: on each of our two previous visits, the service has been as outstanding as the food! It was only on this most recent visit where the service fell (far) short.