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Apr 6, 2011 09:40 AM

Les Mezze-erable

It seems to me we have had a spate of hard-to-believe-great-from-the-gate openings in LA of late (Spice Table, Lukschon, Hostaria del Piccolo, Playa, Shunji’s, Cleo); a few that seem like they need more time to declare themselves as keepers or weepers (Scarpetta, Red Medicine, Bouchon); and one very disappointing debacle ([D]Red O).

With this impressive opening rally in mind I went, with two friends and high hopes, to Mezze on La Cienega in the old Sona (and many others) space only to be (mis)treated to some really bad food and haphazard service. The place was really very crowded for a Tuesday at 8:30 - I hope our bad experience reflects a new place’s lack of skill with a large crowd more than total ineptitude. The restaurant is quite nice looking. And the menu seems intriguing and well thought out. Most notable, architecturally, is the wide open area in front of the place with a narrow “patio” that opens onto La C. like a giant garage door. It looks really great – though the noise, cold air and smoke that wafts in from the street was unpleasant. Second most notable is a big glassed-in cooking/pizza area with seats right in front to watch the action. These areas and the bar and dining areas are lovely.

Service: Everyone was really nice. Our waitress could not recommend a thing (“everything is so good”), charged us for a drink we never ordered and forgot a coffee we did. A far more together hostess provided some guidance.

One Flatbread
Merguez Sausage, Fontina, Tomato Jam, Aleppo pepper $14 – we all thought most frozen pizza has more flavor and crunch. The crust was limp, and the toppings bland, despite the exotic description.

Three”Mezze Plates”
Spring Tabouli, Green Garlic, Fava bean, Pancetta, Almond $10 – not bad, probably the second best thing we had.
Poached Egg Shakshouka, Yogurt Emulsion, Sweetbread, Pita $12 – I believe this was described to us as a Bedouin, or perhaps a Syrian, breakfast. It is hard for me to imagine that even the poorest, starving Bedouin would serve such an underseasoned dish to his family, or even his camel. It was a mushy, bland tasteless mess.
Braised Tripe, Falafel $10 – we all thought this sounded interesting and it looked nice. The falafel was fine but the tripe was too much for all of us: one friend declared it unclean - nothing like the wonderful Italian tripe Osteria Angelini serves.

One Entrée
Striped Bass, Eggplant, Soujouk $24 – It was OK. Third best dish, I guess, but nothing to go back for.

Two Sides
Pee Wee Potato, Zhug, Aioli $9 – Best dish by far: small yummy roasted potatoes with some fine spice and kick.
Heirloom Bean Foul, Celery Salad, Preserved Lemon $9 – watery, flavorless.

The meal was really a big let-down but I sensed a consciousness behind the place that may lead to improvement. It seemed (mostly) that the chef/kitchen has quite a few good ideas that were badly sourced, seasoned, sauced and/or served. Or, as one guest said it is disappointing “when you're promised such exotic flavors and end up with mush.”

401 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90048

7015 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90038

Red Medicine
8400 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90211

Hostaria del Piccolo
606 Broadway, Santa Monica, CA 90401

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  1. Well, as you know, my experience was vastly different last Saturday night.
    The only overlapping item ordered was the merguez sausage, which was crisp, flavorful, unlike your description.
    The balance of items we ordered were lamb-based, and I have a feeling this is where they do their best work. The waiter on that Saturday night recommended the items we ordered, and we were not let down.
    I am not a fan of tripe in any format.
    Felt all the entree items, except the lamb entree, held minimal to no interest, as in same old, same old, found in many places food.
    Definitely felt no need to order side veggies as there was much food on the table without them.
    Sorry to hear of your disappointment, but then if you don't like lamb, maybe this restaurant isn't for you.

    2 Replies
    1. re: carter

      "...but then if you don't like lamb, maybe this restaurant isn't for you."

      That kills it for us then as my doesn't eat lamb. Damn, no lamb!

      1. re: carter

        I love lamb -- I should have remembered your suggestion. Once we ordered the merguez pizza we thought we ought to skip lamb for the entree - probably a mistake. If I read of improvements I will go back and try the lamb entree. Can't understand why your pizza was so good and all three of thought ours was terrible.

        Yes, Phursluv, Cleo is a MUCH better destination for this cuisine at the moment.

      2. Thanks for the thorough review. I just talked of this place to a friend who was also interested in Cleo. Hope she goes there instead.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Phurstluv

          Not sure if you read my initial review of Mezze, but don't write it off.
          As to Cleo, I seldom care to go to any hotel to eat dinner and that is already strike one against Cleo. Not saying anything about the food, because in truth, not heard much either way.
          But a hotel dining room near Hollywood & Vine is not my idea of a dining evening, unless going to the Pantages, or going out later on in that neighborhood, which I will never be doing!

        2. Wow - talk about two extreme experiences... Sorry to hear your expectations were clipped at the knees. I know shakshouka is big in Israel (and probably throughout a big chunk of the Middle East). It's basically huevos rancheros from that neck of the woods. Great for breakfast, lunch or a light supper and by nature of the sauce(s) not what you experienced. Maybe dumbing down?

          The tripe description reminds me of a scent from the Stephen Chow Movie, "God of Cookery." The specific segment begins at 2:45:

          I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this was an aberration. carter caught my attention with is splendid write up and was hoping to head out there for a meal...

          1. I'm totally with you Ciao Bob. With regard to hit-the-ground-running joints I would like to add Son of a Gun---but this is about Mezze:
            The redo of the Sona space is impressive and with the place packed I approached the menu with some excitement. No Carter, I have no problem with lamb, tripe, or fava bean dips. But the flavors were bland, the offal awful, and the foul foul.
            I know, I's been only 1 week. Still, couldn't there have been at least one compelling dish? I went to Cleo early in its run, not with great expectations due to its trendiness and hotel location, but one taste of that piping hot pita slathered with zesty zingy hummus and I was converted. Here, not only was I left cold but was actually repulsed--by the mushy striped bass, the malodorous tripe, and the tepid, greasy flatbread.
            At the end our group was still starving but couldn't bear the thought of trying another bad dish. If there was a "consciousness behind the place" it was deeply buried and would take years of psychoanalysis to uncover.

            1 Reply
            1. re: toddchow

              Duhhhhh, how could I forget? Yes, Son of A Gun most surely should have been on that list.
              And you are also probably right about the unliklihood of salvation too...

            2. The original comment has been removed