Best Fez Forward
The flavors of Morocco's culinary capitol in San Mateo
When Moroccan food is as scarce as it is in the Bay Area, we're willing to drive to Fassia in San Mateo for b'stilla and tagines.
And if you're owners Jean-Roger and Drissia Rafael, you're going to have to make all your ingredients in-house.
The pair, who moved to California in 2011 after several decades in Manhattan and Connecticut, cook dishes that Jean-Roger learned at the elbow of his mother-in-law, who is a restaurateur in Fez, Morocco's culinary capitol.
That's where he learned to prepare a brick-red purée of eggplants and tomatoes, and carrots simmered with cumin and paprika, both on a sampler of spreads and salads ($7.50). They're doubly good scooped onto freshly baked anise-scented rolls.
The couple only imports one ingredient: the paper-thin sheets of warqa pastry that enrobe their b'stilla ($20.50). Inside the crackling exterior are layered caramelized onions, almonds, scrambled eggs and duck. "Most [American] restaurants make b'stilla with chicken," Jean-Roger says. "Duck is closer to the original squab."
Drissia serves the food with Gallic ceremony, crossing the dim gold room to present a covered salmon tagine ($21). Only after the conical cooking vessel reaches the table does she lift off the lid to hit the diners with steam fragrant with spices, herbs and preserved lemons.
Which she made herself, of course.
Chef Jean-Roger Rafael stuffs merguez sausages ($9) with juicy, potently spiced lamb; they're some of the best we've eaten in America. The merguez are served with a salad dressed in a simple vinaigrette that only a Frenchman could produce so effortlessly.