Still en route to becoming the central entertainment hub of Downtown LA (and thus, the greater LA area), L.A. Live seems to be expanding by the minute. New venues, restaurants, and bars are moving in all the time, yet the massive center remains a bit more of a tourist haven than a local hangout (aside from frequenting Laker games or the occasional show/concert at Microsoft Theater). But there are definitely plenty of reasons for locals to visit, and one of them is the new outlet of SBE Hollywood standby, Cleo. The mediterranean concept debuted in 2010, finding success as both a trendy, Hollywood hotspot and respectable eatery with tasty shared plates. Fortunately, the new Downtown further enforces that legacy with a sleek, modern, and more laid back design, as well as a menu that is even better than I remembered, making it the place to eat at LA Live.
We started off with some of their bright craft cocktails, which were both really tasty. I ordered the Vinebury, which was a lovely combination of vodka, St. Germain, cucumber, serrano, and lemon- (all of my favorite things) and was really refreshing. My friend ordered the Jasmine Margarita, which she seemed to greatly enjoy. We lounged on their outdoor patio, which was as idyllic a place in Downtown LA you can find for having cocktails with friends.
We began with a few little bites like Lebaneh with pita and dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), a few of my Mediterranean favorites. The Lebaneh was thick, creamy, and a bit tangy, while the accompanying pita was warm and fluffy. The stuffed grape leaves were nice as well, and were a light way to start the meal.
Though not entirely Middle Eastern, the Quinoa & Roasted Vegetable Salad was a refreshing, veggie-centric dish that helped break up all the meaty dishes. The kale was a bit crispy but still tender, while the puffed quinoa added another nice crispy element. The fresh carrots and broccoflower were nice additions as well, while the green tahini tied in some Mediterranean flavors. It was actually quite a nice and substantial salad.
For the seafood portion of the meal, we ordered the grilled octopus that was served on top of lebaneh with celery. The octopus was cooked perfectly (one of my barometers for how well restaurants treat their seafood), and boasted a smokey flavor that was bolstered by a myriad of spices that gave it an impressive depth of flavor. Creamy lebaneh and shaved celery cooled off the dish, balancing out the heat of the octopus, making the dish well-balanced and satisfying.
Of course, we had to order the Pork Belly Kebab, another dish that was well-cooked and nicely spiced. The pork was really tender and had some sort of sauce/glaze (not sure what it was) that lent it a bit of sweetness. Another really tasty and satisfying dish.
Finally, we ended the meal with the Lamb Tagine, a really delicious stewed lamb with apricots on a bed of fluffy couscous. Definitely one of the highlights of the evening, the dish was meaty, a bit sweet, and (like the others) layered with plenty of spices. I loved how satisfying and comforting it was: exactly the kind of dish I crave during these colder winter months.
Overall, we were really impressed by our meal at Cleo. It's easy to become a bit jaded once a restaurant expands into a semi-chain with locations in Hollywood and Las Vegas, expecting the food to become more crowd-pleasing or just plain mediocre. But Cleo has clearly not fallen into that trap, and we're proud to report that the new DTLA location is churning out great food, making it a serious culinary upgrade for LA Live.