What's up with Mourad? Third time, not so charming (but the food's excellent)

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 told her 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. You’ll get it in 15 minutes.”) 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, which are both delicious and actually more affordable than individually ordering.

I’m confused as to whether you got the family style menu or not. Serving both apps at the same time makes sense for family style, or also if your sever thought you weren’t sharing the apps. If you knew you had 30 minutes to wait for the chicken you could have tried to pace yourself a bit. Or were both apps too small to stretch beyond 5 minutes? It sounds like service was lacking in warmth and attention but I’m not convinced your issue with the app timing is valid. Next time remember to request things coursed out - what you want to come together and what you want first, second, third. But it does seem like with the small plates trend has come a loss of coursing. Everything comes out of the kitchen as its ready, which may be easier on the cooks, but not always optimal for the diner.

Hmmm . . .

The “family style” option only applies to the entrées; diners have a choice of ordering individual entrées, or ordering from the La’acha family-style offerings. (Last night, the individual entrées included a vegetarian couscous option , black cod, lamb, or rib-eye; the La’acha options included short rib, lamb shoulder, snapper, branzino, whole chicken, or duck. We had the whole chicken.)

I understand what you’re saying, but . . .

  • On previous occasions, we’ve been a party of four, and a party of eight; this was the first time we were a party of two. On each of the previous occasions, multiple appetizers were ordered, and they arrived either one or two at a time and were shared by all at the table. In order words, they were “coursed out” so that the pacing of the meal went smoothly.
  • On this occasion, we stated that we’d be sharing the appetizers.
  • The appetizers are no more than three bites each, maybe four if you nibble. There was no way to avoid a long delay between the apps and the main if and when both appetizers are served at the same time.

FURTHERMORE, none of what you’re saying addresses the serious service malfunctions in the bar area, which – in terms of perspective – was the far more egregious “error” than when the appetizers might be served.

Thanks for clarifying. The bar and hosting were definitely way off. No excuse for that.

So you always dine with a stopwatch? Or is there an app for that?

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When the wait becomes noticeable, and then annoying – trust me, one tends to look at their watch.

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I once ordered a dish at Mourad, it arrived not at all like what the waiter described, I sent it back mostly untouched and told the waiter it was not what he had told me, but they did not comp the dish. I guess they figured it was more important for them to keep the profits on that one dish than to keep me coming back as a regular customer. The waiter received close to zero tip (if they had comped the dish, my tip would have been probably 50% of the comped dish, plus 20% on the rest of the meal)

I had a wonderful time at Mourad. My wife and I ordered the tasting menu. The food and service were great.
One of the courses that was served to us did not appeal to our tastes, but that was on us. We did not each much of it. After the server cleared our plates, they kitchen promptly brought out another dish as a treat.

Haven’t done the tasting menu, simply because – unlike in many restaurants – it’s never looked as intriguing and exciting as their family-style La’acha offerings. We’ll have to try it sometime . . .

And, just in case there’s any confusion, let me say that on our two previous visits, the service has been as wonderful as the food! It was just this last visit where it fell short.