Mediterranean tapas. Not only are they bursting with flavor from precious spices like saffron (sold like gold, by the gram), zesty soumac, spicy harissa, or tangy, nutty za'atar, but they are meant to be eaten meze-style, as shared small plates. Mezze, on La Cienega (where Sona used to be) is constantly changing it's menu to maintain the integrity of seasonal ingredients. Chef Micah Wexler (umm, Craft AND L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon in New York?!) offers a unique take on some classic, middle eastern bites.
The space is simple, and diners can admire the brightly-lit chef's tank on the far wall where the cooking happens, or the olive tree and rosemary bushes which compliment the saffron colored walls.
Chef Wexler had some traditional Jewish dishes still lingering on the menu from the holidays, where he offered a 'Very Jewish Christmas Eve' menu to his Jewish patrons. Grandma's chopped chicken livers with grape mostarda and challah caught my eye, and a shakshouka with farm egg, yogurt and sweetbread.
We ordered the heirloom bean foul with parsley and lemon preserve and the shakshouka to get things going. They were both perfect for dipping with the pita and were great together. A scoop of creamy bean puree followed by a heap of warm tomatoes and peppers, dripping in a stew of spices, oils and egg yolk. This Israeli version of ratatouille, even with the pretentious looking yogurt foam, can transport you right back to your childhood. I was Amezze'd.
The bean puree with preserved lemon and parsley maintained a soft but substantial consistency, so that this dish could never be confused for hummus. Wonderfully refreshing and mildly tart, the lemony flavor was a subtle reminder of the Moroccan influence of the meal.
The Egyptian Rebel Fries were appropriately messy, a large serving which we could democratically share. With brisket, heirloom beans, jalapenos and syrian cheese, this was a filling dish and I was pleased that the fries remained crisp beneath all of the toppings. The cheese didn't add too much grease or saltiness to the fries. The hot peppers didn't have seeds so they didn't overpower with too much heat. Again, a true democracy of flavors in these rebel fries.
The hanger steak came with carmelized onions and sumac and was juicy and tender.
The sea bass had peppers so sweet that I thought they were grapes, and the fish was cooked to perfection. Each dish was comprehensive in it's array of flavors but not over-seasoned or overly salted. The flat breads were a nice addition, I especially recommend the cauliflower one with Moroccan olives, feta and golden raisins to eat along with the meat dishes. The plump raisins give that hint of sweetness that really compliments lamb, steak, or chicken. And for something really incredible all on it's own, the spicy merguez flat bread is a must.
For dessert came churros with spiced dipping sauces and a parfait. The churros were hallow inside, and seemed like pop overs more than doughnuts. They were spiced with cloves, which I think can be overbearing and unpleasant most of the time, but hey, it made sharing easier.
For inspired California cuisine with a taste of Mediterranean flavors, Mezze is a refreshing alternative to the tired Lebanese and kabob restaurants around LA, and a breath of fresh air from the stuffy, sceney crowd you'll find at Cleo.