You never know when one person will change your life. Chef Lenora Marouani, Abernethy’s chef and newly named a “Los Angeles Emerging Chef,” has met some fascinating people who have led her on new culinary journeys, the first being her husband,Adnen.
We dined at Abernethy’s at the Music Center last Friday night, and chef Marouani shared stories about people who have enriched her life. She met Adnen, her partner at their Barsha restaurant and wine bar in the South Bay, in Las Vegas.
“While cooking in the kitchen at Caesars Palace, we met over spinach,” she said.
She was working at Restaurant Guy Savoy and realized she was out of spinach for the evening’s meal preparation. She frantically searched every kitchen at the hotel and was turned down by everyone. Adnen, in charge of VIP room-service dining, welcomed her into the walk-in refrigerator. He had some of the best ingredients and presented her with the most beautiful spinach. They exchanged information to see each other again, before she raced back to her kitchen with her bounty.
Marouani’s story set the stage for a lovely evening at Abernethy’s. We started with cocktails of a frothy Maghrebi Mint (named after a region in Africa) with Plantation rum, black tea, mint, pine nut orgeat, lime and cardamom. It was so smooth and easy to sip. My husband’s Harissa & Smoke cocktail was made with La Luna mezcal, apricot, lemon, chef’s harissa, vermouth and grenadine. It was very smoky tasting and refreshing to enjoy with a bowl of hummus topped with crispy chickpeas and served with za’atar lavash crackers dotted with sesame seeds.
Thick cuts of crunchy rustic baguette were served with a light white whipped ricotta cheese served with soft yellow and purple beet wedges, sliced heirloom cherry tomatoes and a drizzle of Saba (a thick grape syrup used to make balsamic). A nice touch was spiced grape chutney and pretty greens with purple veins.
Chef Marouani delivered a bowl of swordfish semi-crudo, and shared the story about how she became the new seasonal rotating chef at Abernethy’s. She met the wonderful Socalo Co-Chef Mary Sue Milliken at RE:Her, a national non-profit organization to uplift, support and advocate the advancement of women-identifying and nonbinary food and beverage entrepreneurs and leaders. She was also introduced to Milliken’s friend, business partner and executive chef Susan Feniger. Since Feniger is one of the esteemed culinary advisors at Abernathy’s, she invited Marouani to have the opportunity to showcase her unique narrative of soulful Tunisian cuisine.
Returning to the semi-crudo, we used crisp taro chips to scoop up slices of fresh swordfish topped with a Mediterranean relish, and decorated with slices of radish, coriander flavored onions, cucumber ribbons and citrus segments. It was clean, fresh and appealing in color, offering a balance of flavors.
Other seafood items on the menu include a delicate branzino served with a light couscous risotto, succotash and a drizzle of chive tahini sauce. A bowl of mussels is presented with capers, soyrizo and preserved lemon. It comes with crusty bread to dip and soak in the broth.
When I asked chef Lenora how she was introduced to the cuisine from her husband’s homeland, she replied that she was influenced by her travels to Tunisia to meet her husband’s family. Large celebrations to honor the newlyweds included lamb’s head soup, one of the best things she has ever tasted. “My mother-in-law prepares flavorful dishes effortlessly,” she said. “She makes one dish at a time that turns into a grand feast.”
The concept of gathering around creative food felt like a warm hug to her, and she wanted to bring the idea to Los Angelenos. Replicating some of her mother-in-law’s delicious recipes and adding her own touch, she offers perfectly cooked lamb meatballs resting on a m’hamsa couscous stew with mechouia (a Tunisian grilled salad) with caramelized onions, spinach and a touch of cooling labneh, along with sprigs of cilantro and sliced radish, one of the most popular dishes on the menu. The beef cheeks on polenta and topped with crispy shallots and watercress is also very popular. It’s rich and savory, ideal for a cold night to warm your soul.
Other entrées include whole shrimp in a horia puree made with carrots cooked with harissa, garlic, olive oil, coriander and served with green tabil collard chips. She also prepares Jidori chicken thighs on turmeric stewed quinoa, and serves them with fingerling potatoes, tomato confit and spiced shishito peppers.
For vegetarian fare, she makes a chickpea dish served three ways – chickpea balls, in a stew and a hummus puree. She also offers a falafel lettuce wrap and spiced veggies.
Be sure to finish with a chocolatey brownie topped with saba sweetened figs and served with vanilla bean gelato. Also on the dessert menu is a Tunisian style rose water and cardamom pudding made with coconut milk, raspberries soaked in rose water and cardamom pistachios.
Right now, chef Lenora divides her time between Abernethy’s and her Barsha restaurant. Barsha means “abundance” in Tunisian.
As a mother of two girls under 10, she brings them to work during the week to watch mommy cook at the restaurant located at the Music Center on the Jerry Moss Plaza.
Marouani appreciates the people and opportunities that have led her to live an abundantly fulfilling life. She believes that if you’re open to it, “good things come your way”.
During the month of March, order a frothy Barsha Fizz cocktail made with Future Gin, a women-made spirit, and $1 will be donated to the Downtown Women’s Center. Reservations on OpenTable. abernethysla.com. $$ 220 N. Hope St., (213)972-8088.
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