The stunning hand-crafted Moroccan tiles grace the entry and bar area of Mezze on La Cienega. Large glass jars line the wall by the entrance, filled with star anise, cinnamon sticks, lavender and black lime. The walnut size black lime, known to offer a sour, yet smoky citrus flavor, is used with legumes, seafood and meat dishes in the Middle East and at Mezze.
The restaurant is the brainchild of two college buddies, who even though they are fairly young, have a wealth of restaurant and hospitality experience. Chef Micah Wexler, a nice Jewish boy, met Michael Kassar, a nice Catholic Lebanese boy, at Cornell University while both majored in Hotel Administration. After graduating from the program, the two traveled and worked together in the hospitality industry in Spain and Italy.
Coming back to the United States, Wexler worked at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon and later with Tom Colicchio as a Sous Chef at Craft in Los Angeles. Kassar meanwhile, managed Spago Beverly Hills for several years.
Always keeping in touch, the two dreamed of working together as partners in their own restaurant. Nine months ago they opened the doors to Mezze, an innovative Eastern Mediterranean restaurant.
Acclaimed designer, Waldo Fernandez, brought in a big skylight, wood from Lebanon, and tiles from Morocco. The fruitless olive tree draws your eye to the center of the dining room, while the open kitchen allows guests to observe Chef Micah and his crew creating dishes with origins from Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Morocco and Turkey.
Sitting in the bar, we read the creative cocktail and wine list with white wines from California and Morocco and reds from Greece, Morocco and Lebanon, as well as from Northern California.
I ordered a bubbly Sumac 75 cocktail of sparkling wine with Cocchi American aperitif, sumac syrup and a twist of orange and my husband chose a Belgian White Ale from Colorado, aptly named “white rascal”.
Our cocktails were delivered with habit-forming house-made potato chips that are sprinkled with zatar, an herb and spice mixture from the Middle East. There is a belief that zatar makes the mind alert and the body strong. I sure hope so, because I noshed on many of these addictive chips.
Putting the chips aside, we ordered a variety of flatbreads to fire up our taste buds. The cauliflower with Moroccan olives, golden raisins and bright white feta cheese was superb in flavor resting on a slightly crunchy thin pizza-like crust. Another goodie was the smoked sturgeon flatbread with pickled shallots, capers and a thick yogurt called labneh. The labneh calmed the zest of the shallots and capers.
Next we tried Chef Micah’s grandma’s recipe of chopped chicken livers with zesty grape mostarda on slices of toasted challa bread, not too salty and packed with flavor.
I thoroughly enjoyed the brisket shawarma with a tangy mango pickle condiment called amba. It’s used often in Israeli and Iraqi cuisine to spice up falafels and kebabs. Served inside a whole-wheat pita sandwich with house pickles, the meat was tender and seasoned perfectly.
To finish our meal we enjoyed bite-sized labneh cheesecake with persimmon, ginger and chopped hazelnuts resting on a thin cookie crust. The warm churros sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon arrived with decadent chocolate and vanilla dipping sauces.
As we left, the amiable Kassar shared that on Dec. 24, Mezze will be celebrating a Jewish Christmas Eve dinner. Chef Micah will present Grandma’s chopped chicken livers, smoked sablefish and matzo ball soup for a one-night-only holiday menu. Guests can schmooze while enjoying wild salmon, pastrami with mustard on rye, potato knish and my favorite brisket shawarma with house pickles. Dinner begins at 6 p.m. and runs until 1 a.m.
For those who don’t want to leave home, Mezze delivers for lunch and dinner. Call in advance to place your order. $$ 401 N. La Cienega Blvd. (310)657-4103.