There aren't many places in Los Angeles where you can be sipping wine and nibbling appetizers when all of a sudden, 20 feet away, a train roars by. That's just one of the little thrills you can expect at the brand-new restaurant Momed in Atwater Crossing, the creative-arts district just over the Glendale border.
Momed stands for Modern Mediterranean and modern it is. We residents of the 818 may have to throw out everything we thought we knew about Middle Eastern food (and we know a lot) and approach this intriguing new restaurant with a clean slate. The food is a hybrid of flavors from Turkey, Morocco, Greece, Lebanon, Armenia, Russia and beyond with a keen eye on current eating trends and modern aesthetics. Restaurateur Alex Sarkissian, a former VP of Retail at Dolce & Gabbana, brings his chic sensibility to the expansive space. Smooth cement, polished wood, graphic tiles and enchanting lighting render an atmosphere that's modern yet warm, sophisticated yet unstuffy, airy yet intimate. Every 20 minutes or so, the entire open back wall becomes filled with a train speeding by.
Long modern tables lie waiting for large groups. Smaller tables are sprinkled throughout. Sharply dressed servers move effortlessly among them. My husband and I order the mezze platter ($13.50), a smartly presented trio of spreads with fresh, slightly leavened flatbread. We might have chosen the Red Russian kale tabouleh or charred eggplant ikra but we settled on the golden beet tzatsiki, muhammara and avocado hummus. The tzatsiki is wonderfully creamy from the lebneh and surprisingly delicate of flavor from the shredded fresh beets. The muhammara, with its walnuts, pomegranate and roasted red pepper, has a delicious spicy kick. Their claim to fame, the avocado hummus, has no chickpeas. I call it naked guacamole. The young olive oil and bits of parsley let the simple avocado flavor shine through.
Wine goes perfectly with these appetizers and Momed's wine list is truly different. Kosher Shiraz from Israel. A Reserve du Couvent from Lebanon. Sauvignon Blanc from Slovenia. Dry white or red wine from grapes grown in volcanic soil on the isle of Santorini. A dessert Muscat from Galilee.
We took a pit stop on the small plate menu before moving on to the main meal, trying out their duck shawarma bun ($13.50). Now I'm kind of a stickler for correct word usage and having just learned that shawarma is Turkish for "turning," I asked if the duck was actually sliced and cooked on a turning spit. It was not. It was cooked confit (in fat) and prepared similar to a street vendor's shawarma wrap. I admit it was delicious with its bits of fig, oven-dried tomato, cilantro and aioli spread.
I decided I had to get over my aversion to Momed's tendency to take liberties with words. (Hummus means chickpeas for crying out loud, and isn't flatbread by nature an unleavened bread?) So when my chicken tajin arrived I was thoroughly delighted with the slow-cooked dark chicken meat and Israeli couscous in a brothy sauce with just a whisper of cinnamon. I was expecting the dizzying scents and colors of a Moroccan bazaar but got a more modern tajin — a dreamy, steamy Turkish bath ($24.50).
My husband's charmoula-crusted wild sea bass was truly outstanding ($25.50). The charmoula, a peppery paste made with herbs, spices, garlic and harissa, added a dry, earthy quality to the sweet, moist sea bass. The pool of bright green herb coulis below the fish contributed yet another element.
We were too full to try their embellished flatbreads (pide) from the wood-burning oven (such as fig and arugula and shrimp "lahmajoun") but plan to go back some Monday night when the pide are only $10 and all bottles of wine are half off.
Momed is tricky to find so be sure to look it up on the map it before you leave. But once you're there it's something special. Take someone you want to impress.
Where: 3245 Casitas Ave., Atwater Village
Hours: lunch, Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner, nightly 5:30 p.m. to close
Prices: mezze, salads, sandwiches and flatbreads, $6.50 to $16.50; mains, $12.50 to $26.50
More info: (323) 522-3844; atmomed.com
LISA DUPUY welcomes comments and suggestions at LDupuy@aol.com.