A Nile-style noshing spot for hipsters
On Vine Street just north of Hollywood Boulevard, valets stand at attention, ready to usher guests into the new Redbury hotel. The latest project from SBE’s Sam Nazarian, the hotel design braids elements of Morocco, France and Egypt into an exotic, Old-Hollywood look.
The hotel restaurant is called Cleo after the Egyptian queen, and for those who don’t quite get it, a giant black-and-white photo of Theda Bara from the 1917 film “Cleopatra” greets visitors at the entrance. She’s fabulously fierce with hooded eyes and a revealing costume that probably wouldn’t raise eyebrows on Hollywood Boulevard these days. It makes me want to go and rent the movie immediately, though.
Cleo the restaurant is much more welcoming. It’s about time somebody did a hip Middle Eastern restaurant, and that somebody is SBE corporate chef Danny Elmaleh.
The menu is mostly small plates, but instead of an annoying sprawl of platters that don’t fit on the table, the delicious spreads and dips are presented in small bowls. Who wouldn’t swoon over the slurry of piquillo peppers with feta or the thick Lebanese yogurt with olive oil, lemon and dried oregano? They’re wonderful spread on warm, freshly baked flatbread.
The menu is fresh and appealing, the flavors big and rustic. I love the artichoke leaves, charred at the edges from cooking in the wood-burning oven. Cauliflower florets come perfumed with vaudovan (a French curry powder) and dotted with cashew nuts. And instead of the ubiquitous pizza, Cleo is serving Mediterranean flatbreads.
Couscous is served table-side with all due ceremony. And kebabs emerge from the kitchen fragrant and sizzling. The lamb sausage is terrific and beef tagine with prunes, almonds and sherry is melt-in-the-mouth tender.
In the open kitchen, a chorus line of chefs and cooks work in dazzling whites. Waiters are dressed in black low-rider pants, white shirts and black bow ties worn untied.
Two weeks ago, the place was relatively undiscovered. By now, the lemmings who follow everything trendy have discovered Cleo’s scene. Unless you’ve made a reservation, don’t even try to get in on the weekend. And even so, better have your conversation in the bar before entering the dining room. It is unbelievably loud, outdoing even Mario Batali with the blasting soundtrack.
Still, it’s worth braving
Cleo is turning out some great Middle Eastern food and offering something new and different on the Hollywood scene.
Where: Cleo, the Redbury, 1717 Vine St., Los Angeles
When: Dinner 6 p.m. to midnight daily
Cost: Mezze, $6; salads and vegetables, $8 to $11; flatbreads, $12 to $14; seafood and meats, $10 to $16.
Info: (323) 962-1717; www.cleorestaurant.com
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