If you're trekking the beach for Basel revelry and looking for a bite to eat or a few cocktails to sip, you might want to stop into The Redbury where Cleo has recently opened. The trendy Hollywood outfit has suited up to bring Middle Eastern cuisine to South Beach's busy Collins Avenue.
At its helm, executive chef Danny Elmaleh is overseeing operations of the three Cleo's (second is at at SLS in Las Vegas), bringing his Moroccan and Japanese heritage to play with Mediterranean influences. Think Jerusalem hummus, moussakah, and spinach ricotta dumplings.
Cleo's menu demands ample reading time, and there's simply no way you're going to successfully navigate through it on one visit, so don't stress. Order up a cocktail and start with a couple of dips. Hopefully you get one of the server's who've been brought over from the Los Angeles location so they can assist you on your culinary journey. Ours was a ball of knowledge and started us up with a Vineburry (Absolut, St. Germain, elderflower liqueur, crushed basil, cucumber, Serrano and fresh lemon) and a Mediterranean margarita (Avion, housemad fig almond syrup, and fresh lime). All cocktails are $15 and handcrafted.
As far as the décor and vibe go, Cleo (aptly named after Cleopatra) looks like a place where the Egyptian queen would have wined and dined. Dimmed lighting by way of drop down chandelier, Moroccan rugs placed under tables, and a tiled window gleaming into the wood-burning oven
A selection of eight dips makes it hard to choose just one, so don't. Choose from babaganoush, hummus with tahini, carrot harissa, Turkish salad, or cucumber and yogurt. We tried the lebaneh with feta and chicken liver. The lebaneh is a staple at Cleo, and oh so delicious. Basically like a cheesy Greek yogurt, it's tangy, zesty and sweet all at once. The chicken liver is thick and fluffy. All dips are priced at $7 and come with laffa bread the size of your head.
Prices are fair, with items from the wood burning oven, delicacies, kebabs and sausages also priced at $7. Matter of fact, the highest priced thing on the menu is $16 (raw bar and all), which is quite the surprise for a place that exudes South Beach swank. The idea here it to keep people coming back again and again to explore the menu with friends without having to worry about meeting rent.
Chicken kebab is seasoned with cardamom while the wagyu kebab is marinated in Coca-Cola. Mexican Coca-Cola that is, which does wonders to meat. We could have easily had a few more of each.
Raw items include oysters with a chili lime mignonette and granite, tuna tartare, octopus and grouper ceviche, and kibbeh nayyeh. Definitely go for the latter, which is a lamb tartare with mint, bulgar wheat, and lebaneh ($12).
A wood-burning oven cranks veggies out like nobody's business. Think cauliflower with bagna cauda, rutabaga date with orange, shishito with Parmesan and sherry, and roasted asparagus with romesco out. We opted for the artichokes with nicoise olives (all items are $7).
Our server raged on the brussel sprouts ($10), declaring them the best he's ever had. In a city laden with the round and shrub vegetable, we had to see whether that was true or not. Cleo's rendition flash fries them and adds capers, parsley, almonds and red wine vinaigrette to the mix. Cleo gets points for both flavor and originality, but the calling them the best ever is a heavy statement.
Lamb tangine is served on a bed of cous cous with apricots, silan and sesame seeds ($16).
Our favorite dish of the evening, however, was the clam and noodle ($14). Tiny clams with dollops of saffron aioli lay atop supple but crisp noodles. Reminiscent of a fideua but with a kick to it, it's a must have dish.
Sticky toffee pudding ($7).
Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha