LA is the type of city where a new, hot, all-the-rage, hard-to-get-into restaurant seems to open up every week. I feel like every time I’ve covered them all, ten new ones have appeared and I’m outta the loop again. What’s a girl to do? I mean, there’s only so many fabulous meals and bottles of wine I can drink, guys. I have limits.
So my friend AJ Buckley was having a birthday, and he was kind enough to invite us to celebrate with him at Cleo, one of SBE’s latest ventures at the Redbury Hotel in Hollywood. Since we were going to be a raucous group of 20+, we were given access to their private lounge/dining room upstairs. The room is everything you would expect from the SBE group– modern, swanky, glamorous, and au courant, but with a discernibly warmer, cosier vibe than the other SBE restaurants I’ve been to. Like if a Kardashian and John Corbett had a baby type of dining room. Make sense? Nope? Stay with me.
First off, their cocktail menu is out of control. At $14 a pop, they aren’t cheap, but listen to this: a “Medusa’s Bite” is a lethally delicious combination of Hennessey Black Cognac, Domaine Canton, lemon, crushed grapes, and ginger ale. Or how about a “Mediterranean Margarita” with in-house made fresh fig almond syrup? Or a “Honey Citrus Sidecar” with agave nectar and yuzu juice? Talk about elegantly wasted.
After a couple of those bad boys, we settled down to eat. Our (great-lookin’) server appeared, dressed handsomely in black and white, complete with artfully disheveled bow-tie, and got to work on listing some recommendations for the table. Cleo’s whole schpeel is modern Mediterranean- hence the name, and the ginormous picture in the dining room of a freaky-looking Theda Bara dressed as Cleopatra- so the menu included small plates and things to share like tagines, Greek salads, flatbreads, kebabs, and lots of yummy-sounding dips to put your pita in. Since it all sounded so good, and since our waiter seemed to have such a great (lookin’) head on his shoulders, we decided to entrust him to decide for us.
First up were some of those dips: hummus with tahini, lebaneh (Greek-style yogurt cheese) with feta, and a htipi, a creamy, sharp cheesy spread. And of course, some dreamy Laffa bread cooked in a wood-burning oven and served hot in a little paper sack. Yes, please! Next up were the flatbreads, perfect little pizzas cooked on naan-like bread, each one better than the next: Merguez sausage, caramelized onion and smoked mozzarella. Artichoke with crushed potato and wilted arugula. Seasonal mushrooms with gruyere. Simple, approachable, and addictive as hell. Our last round was a refreshing baby beet salad with candied walnuts and pomegranate vinaigrette, some tender smoky chicken kebabs, a beautiful piece of grilled hangar steak, saffron rice, and the best- not lying- brussel sprouts I have ever, ever had. Even Matt, who likes brussel sprouts about as much as I like golf, totally adored them. To be honest, I think the brussel sprouts were the first things to be devoured at that table. A flippin’ brussel sprout! Okay, I’m done.
Yes, Hollywood hot spots can be annoying, and pretentious, and ridiculously scene-y. But Cleo isn’t one of them. It’s a beautiful, glamorous restaurant with comforting, delicious, approachable, and even relatively affordable food. The most expensive item we had was the hangar steak at $15, and although their dishes are considered tapas, their portions aren’t laughable, unlike some other tapas restaurants in town. You’ll leave satisfied, with money to spare (unless you get into those cocktails– but they are worth it). Hype or no hype, Cleo’s food speaks for itself. And that flatbread is speaking to me right now. In Greek.
Oh yeah, and happy birthday, AJ!