Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Mezze (Los Angeles, CA)

Mezze Restaurant
401 N La Cienega Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90048
Tue 03/29/2011, 07:00p-09:55p

Mezze Exterior

In May of last year, we witnessed the demise of David Myers' long-standing flagship restaurant, Sona. Whether or not Sona will return appears to be up in the air at this point, but the building at 401 La Cienega has been reclaimed and rechristened as Mezze.

Mezze represents the debut eatery from the newly-formed Real Restaurant Group LLC, which comprises Chef Micah Wexler, General Manager Mike Kassar (previously a captain at Spago), and Voyeur nightclub owners Matt Bendik and Dave Koral. As the name implies, Mezze will feature a selection of small, shareable plates inspired by the cuisines of the Middle East and Mediterranean.

About the Chef: A San Fernando Valley native, Wexler began his culinary career at Brentwood's celebrated Vincenti, cooking under none other than Gino Angelini. He then attended Cornell University, earning a degree in Hotel Administration. Following, Wexler returned home to Los Angeles to work stints at some of the City's more notable establishments, including the likes of Melisse and Patina. He then moved to Europe, taking on positions at the Michelin-starred Restaurant Righi La Taverna in San Marino (Italy) and the three-star Martin Berasategui in Spain. In 2005, Wexler secured a position on the opening team for L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon in New York. He then moved back to LA, taking on the Sous Chef role at Tom Colicchio's Craft, under Matt Accarrino. Wexler left in 2009 to join forces with his fellow Cornell alums Bendik and Kassar (as well as Koral), opening up Voyeur in West Hollywood before starting work on Mezze.

Mezze Dining Room
Mezze Open Kitchen
Sona's once staid interior has been transformed by Waldo Fernandez to convey the spirit and essence of the Middle East, replete with Venetian plaster walls, reclaimed wood from Lebanon, and hand-painted tiles from Morocco. The skylight has been enlarged, the kitchen opened up and retrofitted with a wood-burning oven, the wall behind the bar removed, the wall facing La Cienega turned into glass-fronted patio doors, and the large boulder in the middle of the room removed (after considerable effort). There's a kitchen bar with seating for eight, as well as outdoor patio seating, while the 12-seater private dining room remains intact.

Mezze Menu Mezze Drink Menu
Not surprisingly, Wexler's menu is dominated by small mezze plates meant for sharing, though there are a handful of larger dishes as well. As for the booze, expect a West Coast-centric wine list, a small selection of microbrews, and a Middle East-inspired cocktail list by barman Michael Monrreal (from Las Vegas' Light Group and Michael Mina's RN74; his cocktails have also been featured at Red Medicine). Click for larger versions.

Manolo Sour Rickey Ricardo
Manolo Sour [$12.00] | Encanto de Campo, Dimmi, Lemon, Egg White, Angostura Bitters
Rickey Ricardo [$12.00] | Martin Miller Westbourne, Basil, Cardamom Honey, Lime, Soda Water, Basil Sprig
Speaking of those cocktails, we started with a twosome. The Manolo Sour was a twist on a pisco sour, with the addition of Dimmi Liquore di Milano adding a wonderful touch of aromatic and herbal complexity to the classic interaction between the pisco, citrus, and frothy egg white. The Rickey Ricardo, meanwhile, was based on a traditional gin rickey, with the addition of basil and cardamom augmenting the cocktail with notes of sweet, tangy spice.

King Fish Crudo
King Fish Crudo | Cherry Gremolata, Tahini
Our meal began with a complementary welcome dish of kingfish crudo. The fish itself was mild in savor, and played well with the tangy gremolata. At the same time, I loved the almost cloyingly sugary relish of the cherries and how they complemented the fish, while the pine nuts added a touch of crunchy, nutty flair to the mix.

Wild Salmon
Wild Salmon [$13.00] | Purple Onion, Rye Bread
Salmon comes pickled, resulting in a piquantly briny flavor that I found quite satisfying. The fish's tanginess was further heightened by the application of onion, while the use of ikura added a salty kick to things. The rye, meanwhile, was essential, as it helped to ground and moderate the dish.

Foie Gras Terrine Pita
Foie Gras Terrine | Saffron Lebni, Strawberry, Pistachio
A hefty disc of foie gras was an off-menu special sent out to us from the Chef. It showed off the characteristically hefty relish of the liver, as well as a textbook terrine texture. I quite enjoyed the sweetness imparted by the strawberries here, as the fruit formed a classic, but effective temper to the foie. The pistachio brittle, however, was more of a surprise (a pleasant one), with its savory yet sugary smack and crunchy consistency. The most interesting thing here, though, was that intriguing saffron lebneh.

Angeleno [$12.00] | Krome, Aperol, Tangerines, Lemon, Bitter Lemon Soda, Tangerine Zest
Our server recommended the Angeleno, with good reason it turns out. The power of the vodka was restrained, while the sweetness of the tangerine here really played well with the aromatic bitterness of the Aperol, making for a refreshing, compelling drink.

Shawarma Shawarma
Shawarma [$10.00] | Amba, House-Cured Pickles
A straightforward shawarma of grilled lamb, pickles, and bread. I found the meat suitably tender, with nice succulence and a touch of bitter char. As expected, the gravity of the lamb was effectively countered by the zestiness of the pickles and amba (a tart mango condiment), but I really wanted to taste more meat in the equation.

Hashweh Risotto
Hashweh Risotto [$13.00] | Lamb, Burnt Onion, Fried Lemon
I'm a sucker for risotto, so naturally this was a must-order. Hashweh refers to a rice stuffing-like dish of minced lamb, and here, the meat made for a hearty, delectable "risotto," with a countervailing sourness from the lemon and a lovely bit of nuttiness from the almond slivers. Quite nice.

Wood-Oven Baby Chicken
Wood-Oven Baby Chicken | Zatar, Natural Jus
We were also sent out this wood-fired chicken, which turned out to be my favorite dish of the night. The bird was simply cooked with zatar (an herb-based condiment), but the result was stupendous. I found the flesh tender, moist, and teeming with juices, with an unabashed essence of chicken augmented perfectly by its accompanying herb accoutrement. One of the best preparations of chicken that I've had in a while.

Merguez Sausage Flatbread
Merguez Sausage Flatbread [$14.00] | Fontina, Tomato Jam, Aleppo Pepper
Mezze features a rotating selection of flatbreads, so we had to at least order one. Being the sausage fiend that I am, the merguez was a no-brainer. I really appreciated the bread's crisp, yet doughy texture, while its flavor was tart, tangy, even a touch sweet, and nicely complemented by the delectable savor of the sausage.

Poached Egg Shakshouka
Poached Egg Shakshouka [$13.00] | Yogurt Emulsion, Sweetbread, Pita
A shakshouka is a stew-like dish, typically featuring eggs in various preparations, cooked with bell peppers, tomatoes, and a mixture of spices, while the version here added sweetbreads, pita, and a yogurt emulsion to the mix. The sweetbreads showed off their prototypically heady flavor, while the yogurt worked to lighten the dish. However, the tomatoes were far too sweet for me here, dominating the rest of the ingredients.

Baharat Milk
Baharat Milk [$12.00] | Barbancourt 8 yr, Remy VS, Baharat Milk, Grated Pistachios
Baharat refers to a Middle Eastern spice blend of varying ingredients, with the most prominent flavors here being cinnamon and nutmeg. The combination of this sweet spice and the lusciousness of the milk worked wonders with the rum and Remy, while the pistachios added just a touch of savoriness to the fray. My favorite cocktail of the night, and a fitting match for the desserts to follow.

Roasted Quail
Roasted Quail [$16.00] | Cinnamon Consommé, Kibbeh
Quail was delectable, though not quite as heavenly as the chicken above. Nevertheless, I adored the bird's crisp skin and supple, succulent interior, all showing off that signature quail savor--bold, hearty, robust. The kibbeh did a great job moderating the dish, and I appreciated the additional pepperiness contributed by the cilantro.

Mezze Dessert Menu Mezze After-Dinner Drink Menu
Desserts at Mezze are the charge of Pastry Chef Morgan Bordenave, who also comes to us from Craft. Click for larger versions.

Date & Ameretti Parfait
Date & Ameretti Parfait [$9.00] | mascarpone, turkish coffee
In our first dessert, the saccharine sweetness of date was deftly tempered by the relative lightness of the mascarpone, while the ameretti biscuits contributed a nutty crunch to the dish. Nice, but I really wanted to taste more from the coffee.

Lebne Cheesecake
Lebne Cheesecake [$9.00] | blood orange, lime, meyer lemon, tangerine, grapefruit
Lebne refers to a type of yogurt cheese popular in the Middle East region, and here it was used to great effect in cheesecake. The cake itself was light in body, with a subtle tang and characteristic creaminess. As such, it went swimmingly with the tartness of the paired citrus fruit, and I thoroughly enjoyed its crumbly crust as well.

Mezze Coffee Cake
Some miniature coffee cakes to take home.

There aren't terribly many modern Middle Eastern eateries here in the Southland (Cleo comes to mind), so Mezze represents a well-placed addition to our local dining scene. I like the concept, and the food just works for the most part; the cocktails aren't anything to sneeze at either. Things are off to a good start here at Mezze then, with Wexler and company certainly doing justice to the old Sona space.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderful review and exquisite photos! I am quite interested in the menu offerings. It seems like a fantastic establishment!

Friday, April 01, 2011 1:41:00 PM  
Blogger citynitz said...

Hmmm.. your views on the dishes oddly mirror mine :P coincidence?

Friday, April 01, 2011 4:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The "to-go" coffee cake looks strikingly similar to the "to-go" chocolate muffing you recieved at Craft LA...

Friday, April 01, 2011 10:58:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Alex: Well don't you seem excited!

Jackie: Great minds think alike?

Anon: Well it is the same pastry chef, so I guess it's not too surprising.

Saturday, April 02, 2011 1:44:00 AM  
Blogger bagnatic said...

raw fish and cherries...interesting.

Sunday, April 03, 2011 8:12:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Interesting, but surprisingly effective.

Sunday, April 10, 2011 3:11:00 AM  
Anonymous Marian the Foodie said...

I'm going there for dinner tonight. Super excited! I love Middle Eastern food! :)

Wednesday, June 01, 2011 5:08:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Nice--be sure to let me know how it goes. And maybe ask about you know what...

Wednesday, June 01, 2011 6:31:00 PM  

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