Sunday, December 19, 2004

Taste test: Chameau

I feel silly that I never ate at Chameau all the years it was the closest restaurant to my house in Silver Lake. So when I heard that the new location on Fairfax had great decor and creative takes on Moroccan dishes, I decided to finally give it a try.
The room: This place is definitely my favorite restaurant design in L.A. at the moment. Lots of colors and textures, everything from an allusion to a camel's eyelash dangling from the ceiling to colorful blocks of light to patterned wall screens add up to a very festive interior. "I'd like to have my house look just like this," I said. "It's a little bright," said Kathy. When I arrived at 7:30, several tables of older folks were finishing up their dinners, and the restaurant was having some trouble with the music system. A young, hip couple sat down, noticed the tables of early-bird diners and lack of music (I guess they were shocked that they might actually have to converse) and got right up again and left. Later on, the music came back on and the room filled up with stylish younger folks. My only quibble with the otherwise fun psychedelic design is the formica tables, which lend a slight coffee shop feel to what is otherwise a more ambitious mid-range restaurant.
The food: After some amazingly tasty spicy olives, bread, lemony dipping oil and eggplant spread, we ordered three starters: merguez sausage with goat cheese, grilled sardines and the sort of signature dish, the duck bastilla. I loved spreading spicy harissa on the crispy sardines and the merguez had a nice kick also. I was a little skeptical of the deconstructed bastilla, which was like a pastry disc sprinkled with ground duck and topped with another pastry disc -- I kind of like my bastilla to hold together like a spanokopita. But in the mouth, it all combined perfectly with the powdered sugar topping for a nice savory/sweet contrast.
For mains, the three of us shared a loup de mer with charmoula and the lamb shank with couscous. Both were excellent -- the whole loup de mer, a type of firm, white, Mediterranean sea bass, is rarely seen on restaurant menus here, and I loved the garlicky charmoula sauce with it. I'm not always a lamb fan, but the tender braised shank came in a wonderful inky sauce which could be poured over the couscous, and it wasn't at all overly lamb-y. For dessert, we shared an almond snake with caramel ice cream and bittersweet fudge sauce -- a nice sweet ending, but I'm not sure if marrying traditional Middle Eastern pastries with ingredients like chocolate and caramel really works that well. Skip the Moroccan wine, the French rose (only $28 a bottle) was much better.
The verdict: A big hit for food, decor and service, but a little pricey for Eating L.A.'s budget. Three of us ate well for $125, but there were no leftovers.
339 N. Fairfax Ave.
(323) 951-0039