San Antonio now boasts a bona fide Moroccan restaurant, recently opened on the near North Side at Military Highway and West Avenue in Castle Hills. Azro, a small, inviting place, is the fulfillment of Khalid Said's vision.
Although still a work in progress — the menus were in plastic slip-in folders and a license to serve alcohol is pending — the setting, with its desert rose walls and mounted ceramics as wall pieces, is immediately inviting. For the present, you can bring your own beer or wine and you can request a hookah to heighten the ambience. A small patio provides additional outdoor seating to the dozen or so indoor tables, and on Friday and Saturday evenings Azro offers belly dancing.
Trained as a mathematician and engineer, Khalid comes from a Casablanca family with a background in food and restaurants. He taught at both UTSA and Churchill High School while pursuing an active catering business in Mediterranean meals before taking the plunge with Azro.
The wait has proven to be worthwhile.
For lunch, my companion and I first shared a bowl of harira soup, as universal in Morocco as minestrone is in Italy... and as varied. To describe it simply as a tomato, lentil, and lamb soup misses the wonderful blend of herbs and spices in Khalid's version. We could savor the ginger, cilantro, and — I believe — a trace of cinnamon.
In Morocco, it seems that each chef has his own recipe; some add rice or bits of spaghetti to make it fuller bodied. We also had the Brewat rolls, small pieces of ground beef in seasonings, fried in bastilla leaves (very much like phyllo dough). Bastilla is as basic to Moroccan cuisine as phyllo is to Greek. The flavor of the rolls is satisfying, yet subtle, as one detects coriander, parsley, and maybe a bit of saffron in the beef mixture.
We followed with the Azro Appetizer plate, a beautifully arranged dish with falafel, hummus, baba ganoush, and tabouli — easily a lunch meal in itself, served with pita bread.
My dining partner had the sliced chicken kabob sandwich on a roll which came with yet more tabouli and hummus (we should have read the menu more attentively). She thought the kabob was tasty, but could have used a bit more chicken. I, though, fell completely in love with the seafood bastilla — a mixture of salmon, small shrimp, and mushrooms in a rich sauce neatly tucked into a perfect square of flaky dough. Both meals came with a small salad of arugula, cherry tomatoes, onions, and black and green olives.
The specialty we haven't tried yet is the Meshoui, roast lamb shanks braised in a rich eggplant, tomato, and zucchini. It's definitely first call on a return visit.
Time precluded our trying the desserts, baklava or cheesecake. In fact, to adequately enjoy lunch or dinner particularly, one needs ample time. This is not a fast-order place, and the entrees are individually prepared. Prices are a bit more than many local Mediterranean places.
Lunch for two ran $36 with tax and tip. There are billboard specials for $8.95 posted each midday.
Azro Moroccan & Mediterranean Bistro
2211 NW Military Hwy.
Best Bets Harira soup, seafood bastilla, Azro appetizer plate
Hours Mon-Thurs. 11 am-9pm, Fri-Sat. 11am-10pm, Sun. 11am-3pm