Sitting at dusk, leisurely nibbling on mezze, or small plates, between sips of wine or tea is a way of life in the Middle East. Mezze ease you into the meal in the most delightful way. And if you can enjoy them outdoors, even better. L.A. has the climate, and it also boasts a number of restaurants where you can feast on these marvelous little bites. Here are a few.
Head with friends to chic Cleo for any of more than 30 mezze from executive chef Danny Elmaleh, all less than $10. Order them in flights, a mix of hot and cold. He has some wonderful dips, including thick ivory labnehwith nuggets of feta, muhammara (sweet red peppers accented with pomegranate syrup and walnuts) and a smoky baba ghannouj. A wood-burning oven turns out artichokes with tiny Niçoise olives, cauliflower with vadouvan and cashews, and olives with almonds and oranges. And if you can order only one flatbread, get the one topped with merguez sausage, caramelized onions, peppers and smoked mozzarella.
Cleo Restaurant at the Redbury, 1717 Vine St., Hollywood, (323) 962-1711, http://www.cleorestaurant.com. Mezze, $6 to $7.
At this La Cienega Boulevard bistro, chef Micah Wexler revels in the bold flavors of the eastern Mediterranean. His small plates make a sumptuous mezze spread. Start with a flatbread from the wood-burning oven, maybe the smoked sturgeon with sumac, labneh and dill, or cauliflower with Moroccan olives, feta and golden raisins. I love his spring tabbouleh with green garlic, fava beans and lots of parsley. There's sea urchin with couscous, fatoush (bread salad) with baby gem lettuce, and braised Moroccan chicken wings with picholine olives, not to mention the terrific spicy chopped chicken livers with apple mostarda.
Mezze, 401 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 657-4103, http://www.mezzela.com. Flatbreads, $5 to $16; small plates, $9 to $17.
Petros Greek Cuisine and Lounge
Grab a seat on the outdoor terrace at this elegant Greek restaurant. First order of business, saganaki, fried kefalotiri cheese with fresh lemon squeezed over, and then the combo dips — owner Petros Benekos serves his mother's kefthedes, or meatballs, in tomato sauce. Also grilled octopus and traditional filo pastries, either tyropita (stuffed with cheese) or spanakopita (spinach and cheese). The mezze plate includes much of that, plus horta (greens), fried calamari and fried eggplant. Be sure to order some of his superb feta from mountainous Epirus off the Ionian sea.
Petros Restaurant, 451 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Manhattan Beach, (310) 545-4100, http://www.petrosrestaurant.com. Also Petros Los Olivos in the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn, 2860 Grand Ave., Los Olivos, (805) 686-5455. Mezze and dips, $9 to $33 (for the mezze plate).