Neighborhood ‘Cheers,’ small plates with Mid-Eastern flavor

| March 1, 2013 | 0 Comments
ON THE MENU with Helene Seifer

ON THE MENU with Helene Seifer

One of the great pleasures in life is having a neighborhood joint, a “Cheers,” where everyone knows your name. People expect such a convivial place to be a simple pub, but my haunt is a world-class restaurant that happens to be walking distance from my house—Hatfield’s.

Sophisticated, yet friendly, Karen and Quinn Hatfield’s eponymous restaurant has a soothing white-on-white décor.  The noise level is quiet enough for ease of conversation, and the food itself is beautifully prepared and delicious.

I especially enjoy hanging at the bar with my husband for our “Friday date nights.” This is not a crowded hipster lounge scene, but attracts a stylish and friendly clientele. Mixologists Matt and Karl are companionable, too, and know their way around a cocktail shaker. Start with a bianco Manhattan, or go off-menu for a bespoke drink. There’s also a well-edited list of wines by the glass.

The menu changes seasonally, but always features à la carte and prix fixe options with plenty of vegetarian, fish and meat dishes. Bar-side, my husband and I usually share two or three appetizers and an entrée.  A favorite starter is the croque madame. Unlike anything you’d get in a Parisian bistro, Hatfield’s version is toasted brioche filled with slices of yellowtail sashimi and prosciutto.  The cool raw fish, the crunchy toast and the salty ham are a satisfying and perfectly balanced combination.

Another standout is the luscious sausage and beet green mezzelune (stuffed half-moon pasta) in beet sauce. Excellent main dishes are layered with quality ingredients and intense flavors, such as a roasted black bass with escarole, Hon Shimeji mushrooms, spaghetti squash and citrus vinaigrette. Karen creates the innovative desserts, and I can attest to the yum factor of her sugar and spice beignets with Venezuelan chocolate fondue and Earl Grey milkshake.

Appetizers range from $15 to $21. Entrées are $32 to $36.  Desserts are $7 to $12.

Hatfield’s. 6703 Melrose Ave., 323-935-2977. Dinner only.

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For a more casual culinary experience, I venture into Hollywood for dinner at Cleo in the Redbury Hotel. Loud without being deafening, decorated with vintage Hollywood photographs and glam draping, this Middle Eastern restaurant  helmed by Chef Danny Elmaleh features bold, rustic flavors in a small plates format.

Not to be missed are the mezzes, which means “sharing” in Arabic. Small bowls of the thickened yogurt lebaneh are served with chunks of feta.  Roasted red pepper and walnut spread muhammara is wonderful slathered on warm flatbread. Roasted brussels sprouts with hazelnuts are a crispy delight.

Larger plates of note range from beef cheek tagine to tender grilled octopus. There’s a full bar with innovative cocktails. My addiction is the clementina, made with Ketel Orange, crushed basil, serrano chile, and juices. It’s a perfect balance of sweet and savory, with a welcome chaser of heat.

Dishes range from $5 to $16.  Order at least two to three plates per person.

Cleo at The Redbury.  1717 Vine St., 323-962-1711. Dinner only.

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