Address: 137 East 55th St., btwn. 3rd & Lexington Aves.
Vibe: Exotic Arabian escape
Scene: Euro crowd
Hours: Dinner, Mon – Sat, 5:30pm- 12am. Lounge hours, Mon – Fri, 5:30pm – 4AM, Sat. 10pm – 4am.
Scoop: Multitask – shop while you imbibe in the downstairs store filled with Moroccan wares
Price: Appetizers, $5-11. Entrees, $22-34.
Reservations: Reservations accepted.
Ever wonder what happened to Fizz, that members-only supper club & lounge in midtown, which suddenly lifted its exclusionary policy to fill the swanky void within? Neither did I, but apparently it “fizzled” into the night, not shocking considering the allure of downtown Lotus, Marquee and Stereo. In its wake, Restaurateur Djamal Zoughbi and his partner Thierry Pomies have ambitiously revamped the space, unveiling French-Moroccan Azza. Gone are the moneyed namedroppers and impossible Fizz guest lists, replaced by a kindler, gentler Euro-centric crowd.
If you happen to be in midtown east, Azza merits a visit on aesthetics alone: What could’ve potentially looked like Epcot’s Moroccan Pavillion (yes I’ve been), manages to eclipse kitschy artifice. The palatial space is exotically festooned with gold & burgundy accents, vibrant lanterns and pillows, all amassed by Djamal himself on trips to Morocco. Upon entering Azza, mismatched antique rugs line a lengthy candlelit front hall, draped in shimmering blue tapestries. Wander left and you’ll happen upon the restaurant, but continue down the stairs and you’ll find yourself wandering through a subterranean series of moody lounges equipped with hookahs, wireless and a rotating cast of DJ’s.
Naturally, I veered left toward the wireless-free dining room, which was furbished with Gustav Klimt-like wall murals and gilded chairs. While cuisine tends to be an afterthought at lounges involving DJ booths & dancing, the French-Moroccan menu is so much better than it has to be. Even more unexpected than the simple, yet polished offerings, is that chef Stephen Ferdinand (Le Zoo & Aquavit) employs only organic ingredients in a flurry of mezze, couscous & tagines.
The best of the offerings are the mezze, liberally sprinkled with fresh mint, lemon, harissa and cinammon. The seared yellowfin tuna, perfectly rare and tender, packed a laden harissa heat offset by a drizzling of honey. Well-charred octopus was nicely posed on barely blanched chickpeas with mint, but I was uncharacteristically more taken by a gently sweet, baby carrot salad, crowned with diced mango & fresh dill. While I usually skip over all things fried when judging the merits of a menu – because almost anything tastes good drenched in hot oil – the fried cigars, rolled in a phyllo dough then stuffed with supremely fresh spinach & melting goat cheese, are not to be missed. Unfortunately, a heaping bowl of bland & tough falafel is.
If not for the theatrics alone, order a tagine which arrives tableside in traditional clay pots. A moist tagine chicken came stewing in a blissful puddle of orange flower-perfumed demi glace and dotted with marcona almond-stuffed dates. We bid adieu to Azza with warm sugar & spice donuts accompanied by a honeyed dipping sauce, a refined take on Dunkin Donut’s munchkins.
Limited by not only its midtown locale, but also its clubby vibe, DJ and French Tuesdays, Azza is destined to exist as a Euro-bent nightlife destination that just happens to have good food.
Until we eat again,
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