When Cleo Third Street opened two weeks ago inside the Orlando Hotel, a Cleopatra look-alike stood on the stairway landing greeting guests as they arrived. The new, 6,000-square-foot restaurant design by DesignAgency is striking. There is an enormous seven-foot mirrored ball hanging over the entrance in the front patio. It reflects back the guests entering and leaving, evoking curiosity to all who look up.
Inside is a rich, earth toned color palette with Mediterranean tile and mosaic accents. Another striking feature is the custom mural by popular LA street artist Crytik titled Facing East. The artist’s inspiration is from Turkish Kilim rugs and Moroccan tiles.
The restaurant is named after the Queen of Egypt, and the menu is reflective of Executive Chef Danny Elmaleh’s 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. Elmaleh worked alongside his father in the kitchen and later traveled to the U.S. to attend the famed Culinary Institute of America in New York.
Sitting upstairs at a table for ten, we excitedly sampled a variety of Elmaleh’s Mediterranean dishes while sipping Maestro Dobel Tequila signature cocktails with the names “Frankly, My Dear…” and “Desert Sunrise.” I’m a huge fan of Elmaleh’s cooking, after reviewing the first Cleo inside the Redbury Hotel on Vine Street about two years ago. I fondly remember the warm and addictively good laffa bread, meaty kebabs and cool mezze plates.
At Cleo Third Street his laffa is thicker and chewier than pita, perfect for scooping up the “masabacha” hummus topped with whole chickpeas, instead of a pureed dip. It’s tossed with tahini, cumin, parsley and a squeeze of lemon. I also scooped the laffa up in lebaneh, a greek yogurt dip mixed with sheep’s milk feta cheese and the Middle Eastern spice mixture za’atar. It’s delicious.
There was a carrot salad with pine nuts and micro greens and a pickled beet salad with chunks of avocado, a few walnuts and pomegranate seeds tossed in for texture and pizzaz.
The Greek salad was mixed with deep red Campari tomatoes that were larger and sweeter than cherry tomatoes. Cubes of cucumber, feta and kalamata olives rounded out this flavorful vegetarian dish.
A slew of hot mezze plates arrived that included a plate of Brussels sprouts sprinkled with toasted almonds, chili flakes, and capers that were all tossed lightly in a pleasing vinaigrette.
Everyone took out their iPhones to capture the flaming Haloumi cheese dazzled with orange blossom honey and a walnut chimchurri. It lit up the dining room with theatrical flair.
Kebabs came out on a plate with a brown paper liner. There was a lamb kefta that is mixed to resemble a skinny meat loaf on a skewer. It’s made with ground lamb mixed with cumin, paprika, minced onion, coriander, and parsley. Also on the plate was a thick cut of Wagyu flat iron steak and a salmon kebab doused in lemon.
The cameras came out again when a beautiful blue and white Moroccan style tagine was brought to the table. As out server lifted the lid in a dramatic fashion, Elmaleh’s lemony chicken stew with saffron rice and sliced green olives were revealed for all to admire and enjoy.
Another “family-style” dish to share around the table was a charcoal-grilled branzino served whole with fresh tomato and olives.
For dessert we had macarons in a variety of rainbow colors and Elmaleh sticky toffee pudding cake enhanced with dates – a satisfying, sweet ending to a wonderful dinner.
Before leaving I was introduced to Daniel del Olmo, the CEO of Disruptive Restaurant Group. “We are eager to welcome our neighbors along West Third Street. This area is one of the most popular go-to dining corridors,” he said. “Cleo Third Street is the latest concept from sbe’s Disruptive Restaurant Group.”
Next I met Ken Pressberg, the owner of The Orlando Hotel. “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 is also preparing weekend brunch. Along Third Street is a takeaway window with small bites to grab on the go.
Looking for a local hotel to place out of town guests during the holidays or a restaurant to celebrate with family and friends, experience Elmaleh’s blend of exotic Middle Eastern flavors at this new contemporary Mezze bar and restaurant. $$ 8384 W. Third St. (323)579-1600.
This review was also featured in the Dec. 14, 2017 issue of the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News – http://beverlypress.com/2017/12/mediterranean-delights-at-cleo-third-street/