Fantastic Meal at Tagine
I've been meaning to try Tagine on Robertson since I first read about it on Chowhound, but this week's mention in the L.A. Times reminded me to go ahead and make a reservation. It's easy to miss, and they don't have valet, but there is street parking nearby and there are several public parking lots in the area. Inside is a very small room, where parties can either sit side by side on pillow strewn benches or perch on backless stools. For a party of two, we sat on the benches, and it was very comfortable. And quiet. People are always looking for quiet, and this was a lovely place for a date.
The friendly servers brought us a copy of the night's tasting menu (the only thing offered on weekends) and the wine list. At $42 pp for 7 courses, the menu is a fantastic bargain. The wine list offers some good choices -- I wasn't drinking, but my husband enjoyed the sangria (much more spiced and less fruity than other sangrias, it was a nice complement to the food) and a couple of glasses of red wine (the Morroccan red he had, for $8 a glass, was a particularly nice wine -- very smooth and full bodied without being overwhelming).
But this is really about the food, and all of it was delicious and nicely presented (with one exception, which I'll note later). With 7 courses, we were pleasantly full at the end of the meal without feeling overstuffed -- they really portioned it well for a tasting menu. We started with a small dish of a caprese salad (why can no chef, whatever cuisine he is serving, resist a caprese in summertime?) which was very good, but not remarkable. A couple of bites only and tasty. However, the caprese was also served with some beets, dressed in olive oil and fresh herbs, that were some of the best beets I've had. Something about the herbs they dressed them with tempered the sweetness of the beets without hampering the beet flavor. We kept running our fingers through the beet juice and olive oil on the plate, trying to figure out what that flavor was. Delicious.
Second was a small course of two roasted shrimps in spices (each) with a small tomato and cucumber salad and some hummus). Shrimps were a terrific sweet flavor and a great texture, and were nicely matched with the crisp salad. At this point, I asked for some of their sweetened mint tea, but iced in a glass, which went very well with the food.
Third course was a striped bass, roasted or grilled with the skin on. I'm not always a fan of white fish, since it can be bland or mushy and is often cooked poorly, but again, this, while a simple preparation (spices and a bit of chermoula) really had a LOT of flavor without tasting strongly of something other than the fish.
Fourth course, a b'stilla with cornish hens. Good b'stilla. Not a lot to say beyond that, but I love b'stilla, and this was good b'stilla.
Fifth course, shrimps in what was described as a "creamy sauce". The flavors reminded me of bouilliabase -- I suspect the creamy sauce was made from shrimp stock, cream, saffron, garlic and red pepper. Sauce didn't overwhelm the shrimp (which wasn't quite as great as the 2nd course shrimp) but was good enough that I wanted to lick the plate.
Sixth course, salmon in honey sauce with figs. This was a very sweet preparation of salmon, but salmon can stand up to some sweetness, and the flavors, again, were great. Very Moroccan, with that blend of sweet and savory and spice, without feeling like a "theme meal" which some Moroccan restaurants seem to aspire to.
Seventh course was braised lamb shank and grilled lamb chop with couscous and vegetables. This was the most "traditional" dish (apart from the b'stilla) and was pitch perfect. The lamb shank was the texture of butter, as were the (root) vegetables, the lamb chop had a great grilled flavor. The only thing I could have wished for was a dab of harissa.
The only false step in the meal was the "dessert" -- listed on the menu as baklava, fresh fruit and mint tea, the baklava was tiny -- maybe half a bite apiece (though that half a bite was great) and the fruit was lackluster -- a single strawberry, which was good, two cherries, which were fine, and a small bunch of squishy seeded grapes. The mint tea was good though, and served in those lovely Moroccan tea glasses.
The service was very gracious, the chef came out and greeted people, and the atmosphere was very relaxing. As a total experience, we enjoyed this meal more than any we've had in a long time. If you have a big sweet tooth, you might want to plan to stop somewhere nearby for dessert, but if you're satisfied with a half a bite of baklava, it may just be the perfect meal.
132 N Robertson Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90211
Your description sounds a lot like my last meal at Tagine - smaller courses, more non-traditional dishes like salmon, a larger number of courses, even the microscopic baklava. I preferred the tasting menu from when the restaurant opened, when it had a few less courses, but they were larger, more traditional (meaning no Italian salads or fish one would never find in Morocco), and diners had the choice of their main entrée from a list of about a half-dozen dishes (a tagine, lamb chops, etc.). There was an excellent salad, a b'stila, a selection of grilled meats and seafood, a couscous plate, the main entrée, then a plate of baklava and cookies, all served with pita bread. (They had recently lost their baker for Moroccan bread.) The price of the main course one chose could cause the tasting menu to fluctuate between $45 and the low $50 range, and it was only offered on weekends, but I felt it a better deal than the current offering.
I went to Chameau in between the two visits to Tagine, and we were told we were having the new tasting menu in its first week. Throughout the meal, I couldn't help but feel the chef was trying to impose a bit of Chameau's Moroccan-Continental fusion style onto what Tagine was doing, which was making traditional Moroccan cuisine for modern sensibilities - not the same thing. At least the wonderful traditional b'stila at Tagine remained unaltered. I just wish the rest of their wonderful offerings had been left alone, too.
Not having been to the "original", I think it's still pretty wonderful (except for the sad dessert), although not a super traditional Moroccan meal. Perhaps it suffers in comparison to its former glory, but I think it still stands up well to many other dining offerings in town.
I like both Tagine and Chameau, yet they are quite different presentations, yet both quite good at what they are trying to be. The former is quite dark, with pillows and more romantic overtones, while Chameau is more of a Swinger's take on Moroccan decor, with food prepared and served in the traditional American format, meaning appetizer or salads first, followed by one main entree and of course dessert if desired. Never been disappointed in the food at either.
Must try Simon's Cafe here in Sherman Oaks one of these nights, meaning any one but Saturday, according to Diana's report of the past day or so.