This small restaurant in the Outer Richmond district epitomizes what San Francisco does best: it’s a unique little spots that transports its clientele to a different world. It is a Moroccan restaurant, and walking through its doors feels like slipping away to the Casbah, with Aziza’s dark, ruby-red walls, romantic dining alcoves and inverted amber glass lamps hanging from the ceiling. The site formerly housed El Sombrero until chef-owner Mourad Lahlou took it over a decade ago and named it after his mother. The tiny bar is cozy and intimate, and bartender Brian Galli’s attention to detail makes Aziza’s innovative cocktails memorable.
Aziza, 5800 Geary Blvd. (at 22nd Avenue), San Francisco, (415) 752-2222, www.aziza-sf.com
How did you come up with this cocktail? I follow what’s going on in the kitchen, and I came across tamarind and wanted to find something different. I wanted to use tequila and was looking for an earthy quality. I started with 100 percent añejo [tequila] to get the smokiness of mescal. And I was sort of in an orange mood.
What makes a good cocktail? Execution is everything. You can have a good idea but you have to know how to put it together to make it come out well. Some bars do a lot of maceration; it’s very popular right now.
Where else have you worked? I’ve been here eight years. Before that, I worked at the Bohemian Grove. That was crazy, that was fun, that was interesting. I was also a broker.
What bars do you like? I don’t really go out much, but I like the Burritt Room and the Internos Wine bar out on Geary.
What do you drink? I kind of go to beer a lot; I love porter, St. Peter’s. Negronis for cocktails.
What drinks are popular here? Every night it’s different. Here, it has a lot do with presentation. If people see something cool, they’ll say, “What’s that?” The Red Bell Pepper [made with rye whiskey] and the Wild Arugula [made with turmeric and tequila] are popular.
What do you like about bartending? I like producing stuff that people are kinda wowed by, impressed by. Creativity is what I’m into. It’s not an easy job when it’s busy, but it’s fun to produce these kinds of cocktails. It’s about using raw materials: it’s fruit, it’s herbs, it’s vegetables that are being macerated and spirits being added to that.
What makes a good bartender? Somebody that just mainly enjoys what they’re doing, who’s attentive to what they’re doing.
What famous people have come in? Sharon Stone, who was beautiful, of course. The Allstate Insurance [mayhem] guy. Robin Williams used to come in a lot. Francis Ford Coppola, Sammy Hagar, [former] Supervisor Mark Leno.
What are the strangest situations you’ve encountered as a bartender? We’ve had drunk scenes here. When I worked at the Bohemian Grove, a guy was having scotch and put his cigar in the drink. I tried to take it out but he wanted to drink it anyway.
What’s the biggest tip you got? $100. The guy was a regular and just decided that was appropriate.
What’s the crowd like here? Mixed. A lot from out of town; it’s become a destination. There’s a lot of referrals, word of mouth from hotels. It’s become well-known. A lot of foodies, restaurant trade people. A lot of people come in for the cocktails.
- 1 oz. tamarind chutney
- Juice of ½ lime
- ½ oz. simple syrup
- 1 oz. Santa Teresa orange liqueur
- 1½ oz. Del Maguey Vida mescal
- 1 oz. Ocho Añejo tequila
Muddle the tamarind. Shake ingredients together with ice. Strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with orange rind peel, sprinkle with cumin.