The SOMM Journal

April / May 2015

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Page 99 of 112

{ }  99 E l e g a n t E t h n i c Chef Mourad Lahlou established a foothold for contemporary Moroccan cuisine when he opened Aziza in San Francisco's outer Richmond district in 2001. For his name- sake restaurant Mourad, he's collaborating with Master Sommelier Alan Murray, best known for his tenure as Wine Director at Masa's, to direct the beverage program. "When I dined at Aziza, I saw that the food was wine-friendly with more emphasis on California influences," says Murray. "Mourad is essentially a refined reinterpretation of Lahlou's native cuisine, so we're not dealing with a lot of spice." While Lahlou's cuisine gives Murray more latitude, he points out that some flavors—particularly wines with lots of new oak—don't work as well with Moroccan spices. When assembling the wine list for Mourad, Murray looked to some old favorites but he's made a point present some fresh faces and a newer direction for California wines including Mathiason, Raj Parr's Sandhi and Red Car. "Knowing that Chardonnay wasn't going to be my first choice, I went for cool-climate wines with little oak and some requisite classics." he says. "It's tough for a guest to get a foot- hold if the list is too esoteric." While 70 percent of his 120-bottle list is currently devoted to Old World wines, Murray is looking for spring releases from California and will be adding more domes- tic wines with a focus on aromatic whites and lower alcohol. "The list will continue to evolve to reflect the interests of our clientele," he says. The service style at Mourad includes an 11-course tasting menu ($150) and optional $75 wine pairing with dishes like lamb shoulder that are designed to be shared by the whole table. "This rep- resents how people dine in Morocco and it makes dining a shared experience," says Murray. Pristine grilled octopus from Japan and a duck basteeya are among the most popular dishes served à la carte. C o n t e m p or i z e d B i s t r o D i n i n g Sans tablecloths and unwieldy wine lists, the contemporary French bistro has made a return to San Francisco. The most wine-centric of the new crop is Les Clos, a satellite of Saison that opened in September. Managed by Operations Director and Sommelier Cara Patricia Higgins, who is also a partner, Les Clos serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, so it defies being pigeon-holed as a wine bar—but the list says otherwise. A Chicago native, Higgins got her start as a wine buyer at Michelin-starred Longman and Eagle and moved to the Bay Area a few years ago for the acceler- ated wine and beverage program at CIA, where she studied with Christie Default and Bob Bath MS. After a stint as Lead Sommelier at Hakkasan, she joined Mark Bright as Cellarmaster at Saison and helped him amass a vast collection of rare Burgundies from different cellars around the city for what became the Bright Wine Fund. Central to Les Clos's concept is demonstrating that access to Burgundy can be found at a wine bar. "Not many operations invest in these styles of wines," says Higgins. "We've taken a risk to make sure that we're offering the best value of the best." The list, which is interesting and accessible, is focused on by-the-glass offerings that blur the middle ground in terms of pricing. "Value is very important. I've found more entry-level regional wines from really great producers that I can list for under $60 a bottle," she says. Higgins offers half- bottle carafes and flights and pours three-ounce and six-ounce glasses that give customers a chance to taste wines like a Dagueneau Blanc de Pouilly for $15. Noting the uptick in prices for grower Champagnes, Higgins is thrilled with the wines she's sourcing from Eugenio Jardim's Espirit de Champagne portfolio, "I strive to have ten or more bottles under $100 and a solid selection in the $80 range and that helps us bridge customers from inexpensive to mid-priced wines." PHOTO: TUBAY YABUT Cara Patricia Higgins offers "the best value of the best" at Les Clos.

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