Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue—the popular Victorian wedding poem fits Azur like the sea inside the Mediterranean shore. A sixpence in your shoe (the line often dropped from American iterations of the poem) won’t buy you a thing at Azur unless you’re a savvy numismatist, but the prices at the new eatery are fairly reasonable.
The restaurant is an offering from Ristra owner Eric Lamalle and Ristra executive chef Xavier Grenet. It’s a gambit to change the equation in the building that previously hosted Café San Esteban and ¡A La Mesa!—two very good restaurants that could not overcome the corner location’s mojo.
Sure the building is old, but the Mediterranean is even older. Grenet makes enthusiastic use of olives, lime, coriander, almonds, couscous and a host of other ingredients that harken back to Homer as key flavor points in the various tapas and entrées on offer. The sardine rillettes ($12) with black olive toast were as good a seafaring snack as one could hope for, with the toast taking the edge off the salty bite of the fish.
All of the entrées may be ordered in tapas portions, which is a reprieve for lighter appetites, smaller wallets and adventurous eaters who want to sample as many platters as possible. The menu is assembled as a kind of Mediterranean fusion in which Greece collides with France after sideswiping Morocco—to relatively delightful effect. A salad of haricot verts and mixed greens ($10) was dappled with spry gusts of hazelnut and orange. The daube de boeuf à la Niçoise served with polenta and dried porcini had less diversity; the flavors were spot on, but not independent enough and with no bright points.
Mostly, the décor. The name, Azur, is laser-cut into large sheets of steel and hung as dividing panels, but they’re in the same place as similar panels were at ¡A La Mesa! One gets the impression of a slight tune-up in the direction of a 1980s dance club, but the general vibe is similar. The other thing that’s borrowed is a bit too much of a reliance on Grenet’s excellent French technique and sensibility. To be a bold, fresh culinary experiment, especially one with a big Mediterranean bent, a bit more of the spice and zest of other cultures needs to find its way to the tongue.
The name, of course, means blue. And then there’s the blues: The range of food, the carefully chosen ingredients and the pure romance with which the menu is constructed is downright soulful. There’s a kind of sexy melancholy at work—something romantics see as a positive trait. But there’s the other blues, too. As mentioned, a fusion of cuisines should celebrate rather than downplay strong flavors. And promises have to be kept: I was looking forward to a special caramelized banana and honey ice-cream dessert, but the banana arrived flaccid. If you’re going to offer to caramelize my banana, at least make the extra effort to keep it stiff, if you know what I mean.*
However, the effort is brand-new, and the team that has handled Ristra so capably will likely navigate the Mediterranean without much trouble.
*Gratuitous innuendo in honor of Pride Week.
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