After two years working with celebrated chef Mourad Lahlou to open a new restaurant in the former Aziza space, Louis Maldonado is departing for a new post: executive chef at Gibson. Their long-planned — and long-delayed — restaurant, called Amara, will proceed without him.
At Gibson, whose art deco-inspired dining room opened in 2017 inside the Hotel Bijou, chef Maldonado is now serving a French-inspired menu, availing himself of the restaurant’s wood-burning oven at the heart of its open kitchen. Items on Maldonado’s opening menu include smoked duck breast and leg with crispy almonds, honey, and slow-roasted stone fruit; and chicken schnitzel with Nardello peppers, tomato, romesco, basil, and filet beans.
Chef Robin Song, now of the Vault, opened Gibson with bar director Adam Chapman, whose cocktails — including several Gibsons, per the restaurant name — have been particularly well-received. The restaurant closed for two weeks while Maldonado took over the kitchen, and reopened for dinner last night.
But Gibson’s gain in Maldonado is Lahlou’s loss. Aziza, Lahlou’s esteemed Moroccan restaurant where Maldonado was chef de cuisine, closed in 2016, a year after chef Lahlou opened new flagship Mourad. It’s remained closed since then while the space undergoes major repairs.
Two years ago, Lahlou announced he would not reopen Aziza as it had been, but would instead partner with Maldonado on a new Moorish-Mexican restaurant, to be called Amara, and bring Aziza back to a new location in the city. The idea for Amara, sparked by conversations about Maldonado’s Mexican heritage and Lahlou’s Moroccan heritage, was to highlight Moorish/Moroccan influences on Spanish and then Mexican cuisine.
“I don’t want to start slopping things together from Mexican and Moroccan food,” said Lahlou at the time. “I want to dig really deep into understanding the techniques and seeing where there is synergy.”
Lahlou says he supports Maldonado’s decision to join Gibson, and wishes him the best. Meanwhile, Maldonado writes that he’s excited for his new role, and hopes the atmosphere at Gibson will be like “the best dinner party guests have ever attended.”
Stay tuned for updates on Amara going forward, which Lahlou says will be coming soon.