Cleopatra adorns the walls, her clearly ecstatic nude body whetting patron’s appetites at the well-stocked bar. The images, an art collection remaining from the previous incarnation of the establishment, harken back not only to an ancient past but to a more recent era when in the wake of Howard Carter’s discovery of King Tut’s tomb, Art Deco incarnated the world’s love affair of Egyptology. And while, blocks away, the Egyptian Theater is Hollywood’s enduring monument to the period, Cleo at the Redbury provides its own culinary homage.
And while time capsule relics fill out the space, it is thoroughly modern cuisine that fills out Chef Danny Elmaleh’s menu. The Israeli-born chef draws on the exotic flavors of the Eastern Levant in traditional dishes, which he both updates and elevates masterfully: small plates such as hummus with tahini, cauliflower with vadouvan and cashews, kebabs and a yogurt-filled pastry called Börek that has been described as “orgasmic.”
The flatbread, served hot in paper, acts as an ideal vehicle to mop up the liquid decadence that utensils fail to retrieve. Lamb chops, of course, are a menu staple. But perhaps the purest example of Elmaleh’s talents are the tajines. Slow-cooked, aromatic and bursting with complex flavors, the tagines — chicken, lamb, meatball and mussel — like a good Hollywood movie, will make you believe you’re somewhere else, in this case perhaps, Casablanca.
And that segues nicely to the film of the same name because Cleo, like Rick’s Café, is at its heart, a gin joint. And like Rick’s, nights at the five-year-old establishment produce a motley crowd, creating an air of intrigue and possibility — traits embodied in the cocktails themselves, like the signature Vinebury, featuring Absolut and St. Germain served up with crushed basil, cucumber, Serrano and lemon. Or, for those who prefer the darker spirits, there’s the fittingly named Old Hollywood, composed of Maker’s Mark and a house-made fig-and-almond syrup and bitterly dashed, like the dreams of countless starlets (actually it’s just a dash of walnut bitters, but that just doesn’t read like a Hollywood script, does it?)
And neither dinner nor this article would be complete without a Hollywood ending. And how’s this for a sweet finale — the chef makes his own desserts. Pair any one of his sumptuous creations with a glass of single malt and you’ve got yourself an Oscar-worthy meal.
… and you’ve got yourself a meal fit for a queen (of Egypt, naturally).
717 Vine St.
Hollywood, CA 90028
Scott Bridges is an L.A.-based journalist who has worked as a police-beat reporter, a community newspaper editor, and a food and travel writer. He currently works as a freelance writer, contributing to The Huffington Post and Bizjournals.com, among other sites. He is a native Californian who lives on the Westside.
All photos (except the first one) courtesy of Scott Bridges.