First Bite: At Mezze, Middle East and America Getting Along After All
The Middle Eastern moment in Los Angeles restaurants may be in full swing, having gone from the occasional hit of charmoula or side of Israeli couscous to entire high-end menus, from kebab dives to palaces of cuisine. A new hotel restaurant, a fancy lunch place or a bottle-service lounge is as apt to serve muhammara as a spicy tuna roll these days -- the culture of meze, the bountiful array of shared snacks, is as conducive to a relaxed evening of drinking as tapas, anju or izakaya: It's the way we eat now in Los Angeles.
Mezze, just opened in the former Sona space up on La Cienega, is probably the swankest of the new upscale meze parlors, the former Zen austerity of the dining room softened and opened up by designer Waldo Fernandez, the usual fattoush and tabbouleh given a chefly twist. Micah Wexler, formerly of Craft and more importantly Voyeur, whose proprietors also own Mezze, is basically doing a New American menu inflected with Middle Eastern flavors here, so the braised tripe is garnished with crisp felafel balls, the flatbreads are topped with things like merguez sausage and tomato jam or roasted green cauliflower with feta, and the foie gras terrine comes with freshly made pita instead of toast points and a smear of saffron-tinted lebne, thick yogurt, where you might expect a marmalade. The wood-roasted hen? Rubbed with the spice blend za'atar. The delicate version of the Lebanese dumplings called manti, drizzled with almond milk, is terrific.
Instead of sliders, there is lamb shwarma, dressed with the Jewish-Iraqi mango salsa called amba on tiny rounds of pita. Actually, Wexler, who attended L.A. yeshivas, has quite a few Jewish-leaning dishes on his menu: a crudo of salmon with cream cheese and rye crisps that recalls lox and bagels; a version of the Israeli tomato-pepper stew shakshouka with sweetbreads and a yogurt foam; and "Grandma's" chopped chicken livers with challah. Is what we're seeing exploded bubbe cuisine? Not even close. But there is cheesecake, make that lebne cheesecake, for dessert.
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