Thursday, March 31, 2011

Waterloo & City (Culver City, CA)

Waterloo & City
12517 Washington Blvd, Culver City, CA 90066
Thu 03/31/2011, 08:20p-11:30p

Ben Fatto. It means "well done" in Italian, and was the original name of Waterloo & City.

Ben Fatto was the brainchild of restaurateur Thierry Perez (of Fraiche fame), and rather than a gastropub, the restaurant was supposed to be an all-day rustic Italian eatery. Apparently, he even had a chef from Napoli all lined up. That plan soon went out the window, however, and Perez ended up partnering with Chef Brendan Collins and GM Carolos Tomazos (Le Bernardin, Gilt, Per Se, Alain Ducasse) to come up with Waterloo & City (named after the London railway line). Perez, however, would leave the partnership in early 2010 (replaced by actor Kip Pardue, interestingly), shortly before the restaurant's eventual debut in mid-May. He went on to open L'Epicerie Market in December, and recently poached noted French chef Sébastien Archambault from RH at the Andaz West Hollywood.

About the Chef: Hailing from Nottingham, England, Collins knew that he wanted to cook at an early age, and left school when he was 15 to begin his culinary education. His first job was at London's Michelin two-star La Gavroche, and he would eventually make his way to a number of the City's notable eateries, including the historic Café Royal, The Heights at the Saint Georges Hotel, and Pied à Terre, another two-star Michelin. In 1998, Collins moved to Leeds to take on his first Executive Chef role at The Calls Grill, achieving a Bib Gourmand rating from Michelin the next year. Following, he returned back to London to work as a sous chef at the OXO Tower Restaurant, then transitioned to another sous chef position under the famed Marco Pierre White at Quo Vadis.

Collins then immigrated to the US in 2002, landing at Josiah Citrin's Melisse, where he stayed for four years and served as Chef de Cuisine. He later left to open Mesa in Costa Mesa (where Fraiche's Jason Travi is currently serving as Corporate Chef), then returned to Santa Monica in 2008 to open Alain Giraud's Anisette. Collins then became the Executive Chef at French brasserie The Hall at Pailhouse, where he stayed until joining Waterloo & City in 2010.

Waterloo & City Interior
Situated in the former space of the Crest House Family Restaurant (described by management as an old "greasy spoon"), which shuttered in 2006, Waterloo & City is a sprawling restaurant. The interior was penned by designers Thoreen&Ritter, and reflects W&C's English gastropub roots, while simultaneously embracing a touch of whimsical, nostalgic American retro. Of particular note are the large wooden communal table, 30-foot long copper-topped bar, reclaimed church pews doubling as banquets, and newly-constructed patio out front.

Waterloo & City Menu
Waterloo & City's menu is fairly comprehensive, with a particular focus on the housemade charcuterie. Other items make up Collins' prototypical gastropub fare, accented with a good bit of Cal-French flair. Click for a larger version.

Waterloo & City Bread & Butter
Three types of bread, all baked in-house if I'm not mistaken.

Charcuterie Selection - Prince
Charcuterie Selection - Prince [$26.00]
Chef Collins prides himself on his charcuterie, so of course we had to start with a good selection of it. W&C offers up tasting platters in three different sizes--Commoner, Prince, King--and at the advice of our server, we went with the middle option. Its contents were (along with a small shot of horseradish-topped beef drippings):
  • Chicken Liver & Foie Gras Mousse - Creamy, delicate, and oh-so luscious, with an almost cheese-like character and richness. Superb over the included toasted brioche.
  • Smoked Tongue & Carrot Terrine, Sweet & Sour Chilies, Mustard - My favorite item on the plate, with a heavy, smoky bovine sapor beautifully matched with the sour smack of mustard.
  • Rabbit & Pistachio Terrine, Piccalilli, Brioche - Very nice. I appreciated the tartness of the paired piccalilli, as well as the prick of saltiness from the terrine's pork wrapper.
  • Duck & Walnut Country Pate, Orange Marmalade - Heady and hefty, balanced by the nutty relish of walnut. The marmalade was a touch too saccharine for me though.
  • Cured Meats Selection, Cornichons, Pickled Onions - A fabulous foursome of meats: a silky, smooth, salty prosciutto; coppa, delicate and tender, with a nice fattiness and spice; a textbook salami; and a more richly-flavored duck salami.
Boar Country Pate
Boar Country Pate [$12.00]
In addition to the spread above, we also ordered the wild board pâté, a special this evening. This was a gritty, rustic slice of pink goodness, with an especially heady savor moderated by the sweetness of the accompanying fruit.

Clam and Chorizo Pizza, Zucchini & Blossoms
Clam and Chorizo Pizza, Zucchini & Blossoms [$14.00]
Waterloo & City features a small selection of pizzas, and given my fetish for chorizo, this was an obvious choice. I enjoyed the piquant spice of the sausage, and how it amped up the pizza. However, I felt that the clams didn't quite make themselves known enough--I wanted to taste more brine from 'em.

Veal Filet, Polenta Croquettes, Leek Truffle Sauce
Veal Filet, Polenta Croquettes, Leek Truffle Sauce [$26.00]
I'm generally not a fan of veal, finding it rather boring, but I must admit that what we had here was one of the best preparations of the meat that I've ever had. The veal itself was tender to be sure, but also inordinately succulent, with a particularly profound depth of flavor that really surprised me. Its gravitas was deftly countervailed by the croquettes, and I loved the tempering tang from the leeks as well. My favorite course of the night.

Maine Scallops, English Pea Ravioli, Lemon Marmalade
Maine Scallops, English Pea Ravioli, Lemon Marmalade [$25.00]
Scallops were superb, showing off a delightfully rare consistency and lovely ocean-y salinity, all highlighted by a perfect touch of bitter char. They were delectable eaten alone, but the peas really did a great job in balancing the dish. Very nice.

Beef Wellington, Weiser Farm Carrots, Spinach, Bordelaise
Beef Wellington, Weiser Farm Carrots, Spinach, Bordelaise [$26.00]
Here was a faithful presentation of the classic Wellington: a beef steak covered with duxelles and foie gras, enrobed in puff pastry and baked. Not surprisingly, we're talking big, dark flavors here, with the umami-rich taste of mushrooms playing well with the inherent relish of the beef, while the foie added overarching notes of liver-y goodness, all muted by the relative levity of the pastry. My only complaint was that the beef really should have been cooked to a rarer temperature; ours was medium-well when it should've been medium-rare.

Brussels & Bacon, Balsamic Vinegar
Brussels & Bacon, Balsamic Vinegar [$6.00]
Brussels and bacon, two of my favorite foods--how could I resist? The sprouts, expectedly, were crisp, bright, delectably astringent, and beautifully contrasted by the straightforward saltiness of the pork.

Waterloo & City Dessert Menu
A small selection of desserts and cheese to round out the meal. Click for a larger version.

Coconut Crème, Blackberry Parfait, Blackberries
Coconut Crème, Blackberry Parfait, Blackberries [$9.00]
We kicked off the sweet stuff with a simple coconut cream. Its light, almost ethereal essence of coconut was unquestionably heightened by the brazen sweetness of the blackberries, while the meringue added a great touch of textural variation to the dish. In addition, there was also a trace of savory flavor (I couldn't put my finger on it) to this dessert that I rather appreciated as well.

Bourbon Beignets, Crème Anglaise, Berry Jam
Bourbon Beignets, Crème Anglaise, Berry Jam [$9.00]
Beignets were a special this evening, and were a must-order item for the table. Warm, rich, tooth-achingly sugary, and tinged with a touch of boozy flair, the doughnuts did not disappoint. Dipping sauces of berry jam and crème anglaise were provided, but proved to be unnecessary.

Sticky Toffee Pudding, Salted Caramel, Vanilla Ice Cream
Sticky Toffee Pudding, Salted Caramel, Vanilla Ice Cream [$9.00]
We saved the best for last. The sticky toffee pudding is W&C's signature dessert, and I can see why. The pudding itself was intense, almost too sweet, too rich by itself, and thus, the ice cream served as a necessary counterweight to the sheer gravitas of the dessert. The key here, though, was the salted caramel, which provided just the perfect saline smack to complete the dish.

Waterloo & City is oft regarded as the best gastropub in town, and it's easy to see why. Collins' charcuterie skills are something to be lauded to be sure, but his facility with plated dishes is nothing to sneeze at either, showing off a near faultless marriage of gastropub-y whimsy with fine dining flair. Ben fatto indeed.

Waterloo & City Exterior

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Night + Market (West Hollywood, CA)

Night + Market at Talesai
9041 Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood, CA 90069
Wed 03/30/2011, 08:00p-11:15p

Talésai Exterior

The story of Night + Market must begin with the story of Talesai. It all started with Prakas Yenbamroong, a native of Thailand who immigrated to the US in the 1970s to pursue an MBA at Cornell University. After graduating, he took up a post at Thai Farmers Bank (now known as Kasikornbank), who'd sponsored his degree, working there for four years, first in Bangkok, then in London, and starting in 1979, in Los Angeles. Prakas left the company in 1982 (the same year that son Kris Yenbamroong was born), and opened Talesai ("desert" in Thai) on the Sunset Strip later that year, his reasoning being that he felt a need for a high-end Thai restaurant that could be used to entertain business clients.

Not being a particularly good cook himself, he enlisted Vilai Yenbamroong, his own mother, to serve as Talesai's Executive Chef. Vilai had always been known as a great cook, and her Thai-Chinese ancestry provided her the necessary culinary background to get really creative with the food. Talesai was a success, attracting a good portion of the Sunset crowd with its approachable Thai fare. This allowed Prakas to open up a second Talesai location in 1992, which he later sold to his brother as a sort of a wedding gift. He also opened up the smaller, more casual Cafe Talesai in Beverly Hills in August 2000, which is currently run by Prakas' wife, Sumitra Yenbamroong. There were even plans to open up more Cafes in Orange County and San Diego, but those locations never materialized.

Fast forward to 2008. Kris had just moved back to LA from New York (after going to school for film and graphic arts), and was ready to take over the family business, having grown up working at Talesai and cooking with his grandmother Vilai. Talesai closed briefly for renovation, then reopened in November 2008 with Kris firmly in charge, a more contemporary decor, and a renewed emphasis on the wine program. In addition, Kris wanted to incorporate some of the grittier fare that he ate in Thailand (his family moved back during his high school years). However, his new dishes didn't take, since Talesai's customers were keen on sticking with the same food that they'd been enjoying at the restaurant for years.

The solution to this quandary came in the form of the space adjacent to Talesai, which formerly held a dry cleaner and served as offices for the Key Club (once the legendary Gazzari's). Kris snatched up the spot, and initially planned to use it as a private dining room. Then, as fate would have it, Kris decided to enjoy a dinner at LudoBites. He expressed his dilemma to Ludo, and the Chef helped him and his father come up with the idea of using the newly acquired space to serve all the food that Kris wanted to cook next door, but couldn't. A fellow diner that evening, FoodDigger's Brian Liu, helped to come up with the name for this new venture: Night + Market.

Night + Market officially debuted on December 2 last year, and focuses on serving dishes inspired by the street food that Kris enjoyed during his time in Thailand, specifically the heavier, meatier dishes of northern Thailand. In addition, Kris, being somewhat of a wine nut himself, has paid particular attention to the wine list, which features reasonably-priced bottles from small, boutique producers (and which, amazingly, only has one Riesling). A smattering of beers is also available, and Kris is even working on adding cocktails to the menu.

Night + Market Interior
In stark contrast to the dark, subdued environs of Talesai, Night + Market's vibe is light, bright, and brazenly minimalist. Small tables dot the perimeter of the room, but our large party of ten was seated in one of the two wooden communal tables. Video clips are projected onto one of the restaurant's bare white walls, while miscellaneous artwork for sale (and sometimes Kris' own photography) covers the others. In the future, Night + Market might even open up its back patio for dining, which is currently being used to grow various fruits and herbs for the restaurant.

Night + Market Tasting Menu Night + Market Wine List Night + Market Menu
You'll have no problem ordering à la carte here, but we had requested a tasting menu of a dozen or so courses, served family style. Kris paired a trio of wines with our meal: cava brut nature, german gilabert, spain, NV organic [$28]; riesling, eva fricke, germany '09 [$38]; and listan negro, tinto maceración carbonica, canary islands '09 [$33]. In addition, we also ordered up three more bottles: pinot blanc 'barriques', domaine ostertag, alsace '09 biodynamic [$46]; gamay, 'mon cher' noella morantin, loire, france '08 natural [$45]; and frappato, valle dell'acate, sicily '09 [$38]. Click for larger versions.

fried pig tail
1: fried pig tail
Kris started things out with a bang, serving up a plate of his pig tails. The tails, somewhat to my surprise, were very heavy--think of a combination of lean and fat, nicely crisp, all wrapped around a chunk of tailbone. They were also somewhat spicy, with a touch of sweetness deftly countered by the use of cilantro. This was a table favorite, and we even ordered two more plates toward the end of the meal.

pork satay skewers
2: pork satay skewers | bathed in condensed milk, grilled
If you had to come up with the stereotypical Thai dish, it'd probably be pad thai (more on that later), but pork satay would probably ring in at a close second or third (the irony being that both dishes aren't strictly Thai in origin). The version here was certainly a cut above your typical preparation, with a lovely porcine savor tinged by just a bit of sweetness, courtesy of condensed milk. I enjoyed the pork alone, but it was even better when eaten in concert with the tangy smack of the accompanying vegetables.

shrimp crisps
Bonus: shrimp crisps
Kris then surprised us with an off-menu plate of shrimp chips. Wonderfully crisp, these had a deeper, brinier flavor than your typical crackers, and were a joy to eat either with or without the paired dipping sauce.

pork toro
3: pork toro | grilled fatty hog collar. with 'jaew' northeastern chile dip
I'm intrigued with anything that has toro in its name, and this was no exception. What we have here is grilled pig collar, so I suppose that it should more appropriately be called pork kamatoro. Nevertheless, this remains one of the restaurant's most popular dishes, showing off a firm, yet supple consistency with a thoroughly fatty character and subtle sweetness, all balanced by a touch of bitter char. Use some of the included jaew (a dried chile condiment with galangal) to balance out the sheer heft of the meat.

sai krok isaan / sour isaan sausage
4: sai krok isaan / sour isaan sausage | grilled fermented pork sausage. w/ bird eye chile, cabbage
Next up was one of my most anticipated dishes: sour fermented sausage (sai krok), done in the northeastern (Isan) style. The sausage itself was delightfully tangy, from both the fermentation process and the use of lime, and was deftly complemented by the stinging heat of the tiny bird's eye chilies (be careful with those!). The cabbage, thus, helped to temper the intense flavors going on here, and I really appreciated the additional texture and nuttiness of the peanuts.

hot pot tom yum shrimp soup hot pot tom yum shrimp soup
5: hot pot tom yum shrimp soup
A Thai meal just wouldn't seem complete without a steaming bowl of tom yum right? We were presented with a quintessential example of the soup--aromatic, hot, and sour, with bold, intense flavors of coriander, kaffir lime, galangal, and lemongrass all working together in perfect unison. I especially appreciated the fact that the shrimp were cooked through, but not overdone.

pad thai
Supplement: pad thai | market version w/ sweet radish, peanuts, tofu & dried shrimp
Pad thai has been incorporated into the repertoire of American Thai food so much that it almost seems trite at this point. Night + Market's version, thus, was an attempt to bring the dish back to its more humble roots. The noodles took on more of an important role here, and overall the dish was a bit less sweet than usual, with a wonderful touch of savoriness imparted by the dried shrimp. I also appreciated the crunch of the bean sprouts, as well as how the tofu cubes deftly stood in for the usual protein of shrimp or chicken.

Night + Market Interior

kar moo parlow / whole braised pork hock pickles
6: kar moo parlow / whole braised pork hock | skin on. slow-cooked with dark soy, five spice, garlic...very rich, very good
According to Kris, in Thailand, pig hocks are traditionally served from street vendors in sliced form, taken with rice and various vegetables. However, he always wanted to have the cut whole, to be enjoyed family-style, and so that's exactly what he did here, pairing the pork with mustard greens and pounded chile with vinegar. As you'd expect, the dish was unabashedly fatty, with a tender, almost gelatinous consistency and deep, dark, umami-laced flavors tinged with a good amount of sugariness to boot. Very reminiscent of the Chinese-style pork knuckle (e.g. ti pang) dishes I've had.

kua gling / border beef
7: kua gling / border beef | tendertail w/mortar-pounded southern chile paste
Here was a plate of delightfully tender beef, dry stir-fried and swimming in a fiery pool of chile oil. Peppery and tangy, it was absolutely superb over rice.

ob gai / chiengrai chicken stew
8: ob gai / chiengrai chicken stew | bone-on chick, stewed in a spicy broth of lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and red chile paste
Chiang Rai-style chicken arrived surprisingly tender, joined by the pronounced heat of the dish's chile-based broth and the marked tanginess of lemongrass. This was fantastic with the subtly saccharine coconut rice, and I appreciated how the chicken was still the star of the show, despite all the other strong flavors at play.

salt-crusted sea bream
9: salt-crusted sea bream | stuffed w/ herbs, grilled. delicate flesh that's not oily. a rustic alternative to steaming
Sea bream arrived whole, its fine, white, soft flesh demonstrating a clean, delicate flavor. I really wanted to taste more from the fish's herb stuffing though. As it stood, the bream was a bit one-dimensional, making its two accompanying condiments a necessity.

pu pad pong karee \ curried crab
10: pu pad pong karee \ curried crab | jumbo lump crab, curry powder & onions
Lovely chunks of crab were tender and sweet, adeptly set off by the heady combination of piquant curry sauce and onions, all tempered by the included greenery. Try this over rice.

hor ab / catfish tamale hor ab / catfish tamale
11: hor ab / catfish tamale | catfish baked in a banana leaf w/ chile & herbs
Surprisingly, I quite liked the hor ab, given that I'm not a fan of catfish usually. The herbs and chile employed here worked wonders in augmenting the fish's firm, lean, mild flesh, making for a very enjoyable experience indeed.

kao kluk gapi / shrimp paste-seasoned rice kao kluk gapi / shrimp paste-seasoned rice
12: kao kluk gapi / shrimp paste-seasoned rice | w/ candied pork, shredded egg omelette, red onion, green mango, cilantro, bird eye chile, pungent and delicious!!!
The last dish on our set menu was the khao kluk gapi, one of my favorite courses of the evening. The combination of shrimp paste and dried shrimp (kung haeng, or more familiarly xia mi in Chinese) gave the rice a superb umami-laced savor, while the candied pork contributed just the right amount of porcine sweetness. At the same time, the onion, mango, cucumber, and cilantro brightened up the dish, making for just a wonderful mélange of tastes and textures.

kao pad pu / crab fried rice
Supplement: kao pad pu / crab fried rice
Though the savory portion of our meal proper was over at this point, some of my dining companions were raving about the crab fried rice, so we had to give it a try. Indeed, it was a wonderful rendition of the dish, with the sweet brine of crab adding a perfectly placed touch of ocean-y complexity to the rice.

sai uah / chiengrai herb sausage
Supplement: sai uah / chiengrai herb sausage | w/ noom salsa cucumber
As with the crab fried rice, similar things were said about Kris' sai ua (usually referred to as Chiang Mai sausage), and we had to order it as well. Given my penchant for sausage, it's not surprising that I enjoyed it, finding the sai ua to be a delightfully gritty admixture of sweet, salty, and spicy pork flavors, deftly balanced by the application of various herbs. The noom salsa (Anaheim and Serrano peppers, coriander root, fish sauce, lime, shallot, garlic), meanwhile, was a bonus.

ice cream sandwich
13: ice cream sandwich | enjoyed in ghettos throughout bangkok. coconut ice cream, sweet sticky rice, condensed & evaporated milk, toasted mung beans on a sweet roll
Our dessert was perhaps the most interesting "ice cream sandwich" that I'd ever had. The interaction between the coconut ice cream and sticky rice, augmented by condensed/evaporated milk, was faultless, and I even enjoyed the mung beans, which I usually don't care for. All this sweetness was then moderated by the two pieces of bread, procured from a local Mexican bakery. Very nice.

bacon almond brittle
Bonus: bacon almond brittle
One of my dining companions, Cathy, brought along some of her bacon almond brittle for us to sample (recipe here). As expected, it was a hit, with a delectably lip-smacking interplay between the salty bacon and sweet brittle, all accented by lovely notes of almond.

ice cream
Bonus: ice cream
Toward the end of the evening, I asked Kris about his ice creams, which it turns out are all home-made. He was gracious enough to bring out a plate of all three varieties on offer: Ovaltine, Graham Cracker, and Malted Milk. All three were delightful, deftly showing off the essence of their respective flavors.

Kris Yenbamroong
Chef/Owner Kris Yenbamroong.

Though Kris is basically running two very different Thai restaurants simultaneously now, he appears to be handling things in stride. Indeed, this was one of my best Thai cuisine experiences ever, with flavors that were sharp, lusty, focused, and a refreshing departure from the typical fare that we're exposed to. Certainly then, if you're feeling hungry on the Sunset Strip, Night + Market should be near the top of your list.

Night + Market Exterior

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.