The new Cleo Third Street at The Orlando Hotel offers a grand experience, both gastronomically and visually. Named after the queen of Egypt, the 6,000-square-foot restaurant features an enormous 7-foot mirrored ball over the entrance, evoking curiosity to all who look up. A Cleopatra look-alike greets arriving guests.
Inside, a rich, earth-toned color palette complements Mediterranean tiles and mosaic accents. “Facing East,” a golden mural by Los Angeles street artist Cryptik, inspired by Turkish rugs and Moroccan tiles, adds drama to the space.
The menu, like the décor, celebrates Executive Chef Danny Elmaleh’s Mediterranean heritage. Born to a Moroccan father and a Japanese mother, Elmaleh later moved to Japan, where his father opened the country’s first Moroccan restaurant. The young chef worked alongside his father in the kitchen before later traveling to the United States to attend the famed Culinary Institute of America in New York.
I’m a huge fan of Elmaleh’s cooking, after reviewing the first Cleo restaurant at the Redbury Hotel on Vine Street about two years ago. I fondly remember the warm and addictively good laffa bread, meaty kebabs and cool meze plates.
At Cleo Third Street, Elmaleh’s laffa is thicker and chewier than pita, perfect for scooping up the masabacha hummus topped with whole chickpeas. It’s tossed with tahini, cumin, parsley and a squeeze of lemon. I also dipped the bread in lebaneh, a yogurt dip mixed with sheep’s milk feta cheese and the Middle Eastern spice mixture za’atar. It’s delicious.
As we excitedly sampled the variety of Mediterranean dishes, we sipped Maestro Dobel Tequila cocktails with names such as “Frankly, My Dear…” and “Desert Sunrise.”
The restaurant offers several salads, including a carrot salad with pine nuts and micro greens, as well as a pickled beet salad with chunks of avocado, walnuts and pomegranate seeds tossed in for texture and pizzazz. The Greek salad, mixed with deep red Campari tomatoes that are larger and sweeter than cherry tomatoes, also features cubes of cucumber, feta and Kalamata olives to round out a flavorful vegetarian dish.
We continued the meal with a slew of hot meze plates, including a plate of Brussels sprouts sprinkled with toasted almonds, chili flakes and capers, all tossed lightly in a pleasing vinaigrette. The flaming haloumi cheese dazzled with orange blossom honey and a walnut chimichurri lit up the dining room with theatrical flair.
Kebabs came on a plate with a brown paper liner. The plate included a thick cut of wagyu flat iron steak and a salmon kebab doused in lemon, as well as lamb kefta seasoned with cumin, paprika, minced onion, coriander and parsley.
Phones immediately came out to snap a beautiful blue and white Moroccan-style tagine dish brought to the table. The server lifted the lid dramatically, revealing Elmaleh’s spectacular lemony chicken stew with saffron rice and sliced green olives.
Another enjoyable family-style dish to share is the charcoal-grilled branzino, served whole with fresh tomato and olives.
For dessert, we had macarons in a rainbow of colors and sticky toffee pudding cake topped with dates – a satisfying, sweet ending to a wonderful dinner.
At the restaurant, I met Ken Pressberg, the owner of The Orlando Hotel, who was incredibly pleased to feature Cleo.
“The Orlando Hotel has been a part of our family history for three generations and it has become a landmark on West Third Street,” Pressberg said. “Making a decision on the right restaurant partner is very important to us all. We are thrilled to be partnering with such a sophisticated and esteemed group of hospitality professionals.”
Besides lunch and dinner, Elmaleh also prepares weekend brunch. And on the Third Street-side of the building, the restaurant has a takeaway window with small bites to grab on the go.
If you’re looking for a local hotel for out-of-town guests during the holidays, or a restaurant to celebrate with family and friends, then experience Elmaleh’s blend of exotic Middle Eastern flavors at this new contemporary meze bar and restaurant. $$ 8384 W. Third St., (323)579-1600.
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