A few years ago I went on a wine safari in south Rhone Valley with a guide who eloquently explained that in Europe dinner is not so much about sustenance, but more about connecting with people. He commented that the company one keeps affects our memories of how the food and wine actually taste. This sentiment was 100% apropos for my visit to the new Cleo at LA live. Its not that the food was bad, per say, and I wouldn’t necessarily deter someone from eating there if they were visiting LA live, but for the most part experiencing the Mediterranean fare at Cleo was plainly unremarkable.
Stark and imperial is one way to describe the ambiance at this new location. Brightly lit, sparsely adorned, and a bit sterile, the feel is much less intimate in comparison to the bold boudoir-esque climate at it’s sister location in Hollywood. Music seems to be playing, but only audibly enough to hear sporadically, making it more of a nuisance than enjoyable. Conversation is difficult, as the acoustics in the room create a loud hum and everyone’s voice becomes one big cacophonous overtone. It’s worth noting however, from the moment of entrance, the staff is very friendly and cheerful, an excellent juxtaposition to the chaos of LA Live.
With no Grenache or Chianti the wine list at Cleo is at the least limited, if not inadequate. Our waiter, Taylor, surmounted our frustrations over the wine limitations by serving a flight of their bold reds, which was accommodating and helpful in making a choice. The margarita was basic, clean and crisp but nothing to write home about. I should mention the management at Cleo will not allow you to buy a drink at the bar and transfer your bar tab to the table tab, which could be very annoying depending on what your plans are for the evening.
Taylor explained that the plates served would be “tapas style”; small but sharable. Our meal started with an in-house-made hummus topped with extra tahini, cumin, and a few scattered garbanzo beans. The hummus, accompanied by a warm lavosh served in a paper bag, arrived at the table in good time. The presentation was original and witty. The hummus itself was tasty, though once the toppings were mixed in, somewhat thin. Lesson learned: As my dinner partner pointed out, “don’t mix in the toppings”.
For our main course we sampled the scallops and the hangar steak. The scallops were actually delicious (though one was undercooked). The steak itself was flavorful though a bit overcooked for “medium” and did remind me of an in-flight airplane ration, albeit first class not coach. It was somewhat impressive for airplane food but not so amazing otherwise. The accompanying carrot purée, perceivably pumpkin sauce, was quite savory as was the side of fingerling potatoes. The staff politely checked on our table often, and engaged in entertaining but non-invasive conversation. From funny jokes to discussions of calligraphy, water fountains, and Caligula, my company and the staff most definitely made the meal more fulfilling.
As I took a walk around the restaurant, the clientele seemed to mostly consist of wealthy out of town-ers visiting LA Live, which makes sense. The kitchen was not as organized as others I’ve seen, and the women’s bathroom was a mess with paper towels overflowing everywhere. On my walkabout the hostess asked how I was enjoying my meal and the sous chef smiled as I passed by. The attentiveness of the staff here was definitely a nice touch.
Being somewhat of an introvert I often abide the law of Sartre, “hell is other people,” but regarding Cleo LA Live the truth seemed contrary. It was the friendly staff and my company that made my evening complete. With that being said, the food was far from inedible and I’d say the prices were comparably moderate for the area. If you are at LA Live anyways it’s potentially better than some other options, but I definitely wouldn’t plan my night around eating there. I give it a C.
In pre-celebration of the birth of MSM, Saturday night was filled with joy and magic that unveiled all sorts of secrets that Downtown LA has to offer. It began with an adventure to Takami Sushi and Robata, a sky-top sushi bar with soaring views of LA, followed by a secret tour of a mysterious spherical penthouse, ending with a dance at the brilliant best kept secret in the city.
Takami Sushi and Robata: TADA!
One thing I adore about MSM is that he knows I have food allergies and other eating restrictions, so he always thoughtfully sends me a link to menus days before we visit an establishment, giving me ample time to a. figure out what I want and b. speak up if there’s nothing I can eat. When I first saw the menu for Takami, my eye went straight to the glorious title The Endless Summer (my favorite season!). I couldn’t wait to try this refreshing sounding concoction of vodka, watermelon, mint, and a spritz of ginger ale. Once on the premise, I immediately ordered a Cucumber Gimlet. After all, isn’t it a woman’s prerogative to change her mind? Crisp and not overwhelmingly sweet or acidic, the gimlet was delicious. MSM ended up with The Endless Summer, which was exactly as it sounded, yummy. I highly recommend either.
Takami Robata is actually three restaurants that share a dining area. This being said, there’s no way to plan the arrival of courses since the food is plated as the different kitchens prepare them, and there is no communication between kitchens. Sharing each course is the best plan of attack. Neither of us had been here before so the menu was our oyster, so to speak.
We decided to start with the shishito peppers (I LOVE THESE) and buttered scallops served on the half shell. You really can’t go wrong with shishito peppers. I have never not liked these at any restaurant. I assume they must be difficult to mess up. The scallops…..OMG…..like butter! They actually tasted like buttered popcorn. A hint of sweetness balanced perfectly with salt and cooked to a precise texture, not too soft, not rubbery.
Next we shared the Angus filet, zucchini, and asparagus Robatas (basically kabobs). All of these were amazing. Just the right amount of spice. Nothing over-whelming. The veggies were juicy and had the correct amount of crunch. The meat….Voila! MMMMM.
At this point I was actually close to full but we continued with the Lemon Albacore Roll and a Spyder Roll. I was a little underwhelmed by the spyder roll because I had to remove the mayo inflicted crab meat. What a travesty. The Lemon Albacore was FANTASTIC. We also had a plate of ahi sashimi with jalepenos that I almost didn’t want to review because no one does this like Nobu so its not really fair to judge. I will say I recommend avoiding this sashimi dish because the literal CHUNKS of tuna were SO BIG it seemed to be prepared for a giant!
The staff of the restaurant was interesting. Our actual waitress, perhaps new, didn’t seem too versed in the menu and when I told her I had a soy allergy she said “remind me as you continue to order”. Really? Then she brought the peppers to the table with soy all over them. hahaha. Luckily my allergy isn’t anaphylactic. There was another person there whom I’m not sure was a waiter or a host or what but he was fun, funny, and fantastic. Not to mention he sported the most amazing mustachio I have ever seen. We enjoyed his banter. The ambiance is very “club” like with a touch of fancy (the out door tables especially ring “high end” to me ) yet almost like a “fancy in the airport” vibe. I loved observing the other patrons at their tables. Such a great mix of people in Down Town LA, as opposed to the homogeny so often seen in Santa Monica. There were fat women and skinny women and extremely effeminate men and macho women and macho men, and HUGE men and tiny men and all types of outfits….you get the gyst. It was great and kind of felt like we were in another country or at least a different state, making Takami a nice little escape. The view from the rooftop of this trio of conjoined bars is nothing short of spectacular.
Breaking mid dinner we walked along the patio seating and looked out over LA. Our curiosity was sparked regarding one very high round penthouse in the near distance. No one at the restaurant seemed to know what this was so MSM took it upon himself to find out.
The Sheraton VIP Lounge: A view from the top.
MSM used his vampire ways to convince the doorman at The Sheraton DTLA to not only explain the secret behind the round building perched atop the hotel, but to also give us a private tour! Sadly the story gets less interesting from here….its a VIP lounge for Sheraton card holders, similar to an admiral’s lounge at the airport. Half the “lounge” is an eating area where breakfast and dinners are served. The other half is a gym. A very nice gym. Though it was sort of “whatever” up there, it was another incredible view of our glorious LA.
Cana Rum Bar: The perfect hideaway for a dark and stormy salsa dance 😉
The next and final step of our adventure is, in my opinion, seriously one of the best kept secrets in LA. At first approach this bar feels like one would need a secret password to cross the velvet rope. In some respects you do, as this speak-easy type bar is a members only club. Don’t roll your eyes though, because the low 25$ membership price-point (that allows you two guests with each visit) is SO WORTH IT! Live bands or DJs every night, this is a dance club heaven but with a Cubana lounge vibe. There’s a cigar room out back with open beams. Literally, open beams- no glass. Sticking with the theme of the night, I just loved the variety of guests enjoying the ambience. The music was fun for dancing, the decor reminiscent of a Caribbean pirate ship, and the drink menu is vast and full of both unique fun rum concoctions and traditional pirate faire. I can’t recommend this place enough. If your itching for a little bit of Havana in your life, this rum bar is the spot to go.
What the heck to wear while adventuring in DTLA on a fair weather night:
SO….as per usual MSM insisted I not wear my heels. At some point I’m just going to have to suck it up and wear them so he can see that I do not, in fact, complain of pain while meandering somewhat aimlessly in heels on date night. Believe it or not, I DO own some comfortable stilettos that are both sexy and functional. However, this particular Sat was especially a celebration for him, so I decided to wear flat boots which ended up being a great idea. I was just the right amount of warm and definitely comfortable. Also I loved the Mod look of my ensamble.
Down Town Los Angeles has really been growing in a good direction. So may exciting new galleries, shops, and eateries popping up left and right. My favorite is the little alcoves where amour can hide to sneak in some secret kisses ;). Très Parisienne not to mention perfect for the upcoming Valentines Day weekend. Or for any other weekend a couple may want to venture out. Je viens de l’adore quand LA aime l’amour. I adore when LA loves love!
Happy Valentine’s Day ya’ll! I know its hokey and contrived, but instead of spitting at it, why not embrace the craziness by reveling in the idea of loving life!