Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Foodventure #42: Seven Courses at Tagine (Beverly Center area)

Having had Moroccan-like dishes, but never a Moroccan-themed meal, before; my interest was piqued when Webquaintances at Biggestmenu want to do a get together at Tagine for their $42 seven-course tasting menu (listed by the LA Times as one of the local "delicious deals" this year). Oh yea, and for the possible celebrity sightings, given that Ryan Gosling is co-owner of this restaurant (and was the waiter when LA Times' S. Irene dined there.)

The dimly-lit environs had an authentic feel to it (at least to me and my pre-conceived notions), a small and intimate dining area (seats about thirty people max) with dark, heavy-looking Persian draperies and comfy, cushy, velvety furniture. The dining crowd that night were a mix of young professionals and trendy Hollywoody types, but no such luck of a celebrity sighting, let alone service from Mr. Gosling. I thought I saw
Tom "Everyone's Friend" Anderson there, but my dining entourage couldn't confirm, given the mostly candle-powered lighting and our more predominant distraction of soaking up the rest of the ambience and the menu.

While waiting for the last of our foursome to arrive, we were given the common upselling trick of "flat or sparkling" on our water, but didn't get any looks when we replied tap. Nor did the staff mind seating us 20 minutes before our last companion showed up, so far, so good on the service front . . .

The last of our group arrived and we all placed our orders for the tasting menu as well as a carafe of red sangria to share. The wine cocktail was tasty, a refreshing, balanced blend of wine and fruit with subtle nuance of tannins, tang and sweet spices.

The courses came out pretty quickly after we ordered. Our first dish was a mozzarella, basil & tomato stack with a beet and bermuda onion salad on the side, both dressed with vinaigrette. I was pleasantly surprised by the beet and onion combo (since I'm not a big beet fan) but was underwhelmed by their caprese, the tomatoes were unripe and there was only a smidgen of basil flavor.

Before we were finished, we got served the second course (the first of several rushed servings throughout dinner) - shrimps marinated in moroccan spices served with hummus and cucumber salad. It was a good dish but not memorable: I got the feeling that the flavors were toned down to make it "safe" for less adventurous palates. My companions and I did lament the lack of bread to dip into the hummus.
A little carb isn't too much to expect, right?

After that was bussed I also noticed another service-related mishap, lack of silverware changing or even some sort of dish/napkin to set them down on. Here's hoping the tables were clean enough to drive off pathogens, but not so clean so that I taste sanitizer. (And yes, we had the same fork and knife for all seven courses -- thankfully the dessert was finger-friendly.)
Third plate, striped bass and roasted potato with chamula sauce. Another solidly fine dish, but not outstanding (I actually liked the potato more than I did the fish). I am curious, though, as to what chamula actually is and how it worked its way into the menu (a rudimentary search turned up mostly Latin-American related results), but it tasted like a savory, mildly seasoned pan gravy.
Fourth course is the restaurant's namesake, shrimp tagine: shrimps, mushrooms and roasted cauliflowers in a
harissa cream sauce with a sprinkling of couscous for garnish. Now *this* was something special for my tastebuds, the plump shrimp melded nicely with the earthy mushroom, the slightly-spicy sauce and mildly charred cauliflowers. Again, a dish I wish there was more starches for scooping up the wonderful sauce (or maybe just an opportunity to hide in the darkness and lick the plate clean.) Also mild disappointment that this wasn't served in an actual tagine casserole dish.

Midway through the tasting, we were informed by the server to not take pictures to post up because they would have "presented it better" otherwise. But--shouldn't every dish be plated as nicely as possible? We may not be professional photographers, but what the camera captured isn't a gross misrepresenation of what we saw. Besides, I thought all the dishes were well-plated, so his comments were a double "wtf?" moment for me.
After that, we got each got half a
bastilla, a cinnamon and sugar phyllo pastry with a chicken-egg-almond filling. I think it was an interesting sweet-savory combo dish (a more exotic version of Aussie pies, really) and something I would try again, but one of my companions was a bit weirded out by the contrast.
Number six on the list is a grilled salmon with dried fruits and honey sauce. I was less fascinated with this; it could be due to me not being indifferent about figs and prunes, or maybe I had my sweet-savory cravings satiated with the bastilla, or perhaps the sauce is more syrupy than I expected. It was definitely not bad, but not great either.
Seventh dish is lamb two-ways: oven roasted with lentils and eggplant over couscous, and grilled lamb chop. The lamb was well prepared here: tender, nicely seasoned with only a tinge of gameyness, and couscous was fluffy and tender.
Rounding out the tasting was a mini dessert trio of grapes, baklava and lemon custard eclairs along with sweetened Moroccan mint tea--a nice, refreshing and not-too-heavy finish that left me satisfied but not bloatingly full, and we drank a few cups of tea while comparing notes and talking about our other food excursions. Probably would have stayed a bit longer if we weren't the last table, but we weren't overtly pressured to leave.

All in all, the Moroccan meal at Tagine was a fun, somewhat new experience for my tastebuds and fairly good benchmark to build upon. Can't wait to explore more cuisines of North Africa and see how they compare, and in a rare moment of agreement with S. Irene, I'm curiously wondering why this particular ethnic set is underrepresented in L.A., given all our raves for Meditterranean and small-plated foods.

The Bill
Seven-course tasting: $42
Carafe of Sangria: $25 (for 4) = $6.25
Pre-tax/tip total: $48.25

The Rating
Ambience: 4.5/5 (Nicely designed with authentic-looking furnishings and decorations, comfortable seats. Great for couples or small parties, or possibly celeb-crazy out-of-town friends ;) )
Value: 4/5 (A nice, varied menu for a fairly decent price. Portions are not as filling as I would've liked, but I was left satisfied enough.)
Service: 5.5/10 (Major point dippage for the silverware placed/left on tables, rushed pacing and the "no photos!")
Food: 15/20 (The food is overall pretty good, wasn't as exciting as I expected or as memorable as I wished, and I think they're erring on the safe side in the seasonings/spices of most dishes.)

Bonus/Demerit: +1 for a uniquely delicious spiced sangria & sweetened Moroccan mint tea (free refills on the latter)
TOTAL: 30/40 (Decent place to go for partly-edgy palates and if you can overlook lackluster service.)

Other Notes:
- Valet available, also street parking on Robertson & Wilshire
- It's a small restaurant, plan accordingly for large parties or peak times/dates.
- A good selection of vegetarian dishes available, the staff also seems accomodating of special restrictions & preferences (but our group will eat anything and then some ;) )

132 N. Robertson Blvd. (cross Wilshire)
Los Angeles

Finally, much thanks to Kevin for the photos (he was also my dining companion & photog for my Providence foodventure). I'm sure he spent considerable time doing some major photo shopping, given the abysmal lack of lighting there.


Chubbypanda said...

The service you describe seems sort of odd. Maybe they need a more experienced floor manager.

pleasurepalate said...

I always find it interesting when a restaurant doesn't feel comfortable with you taking pictures of their food, almost as if they're trying to hide something.

Overall, thanks for the nice report on the tasting menu. I've been meaning to give it a try, but just haven't done so yet. So would you go back and this time without the tasting menu?

H. C. said...

CPHaha, except there isn't much of a floor to manage.

PleasurepalateYes it is weird, but the trend of no photography seems to be on the uptick. And I would probably try again if someone else suggests going there, but after this report I was told a few other Moroccan places to try so will go for those first.

pleasurepalate said...

I haven't been there myself yet, but I heard that Chameau, which is actually French Moroccan is pretty good.

It's also on my list of places to check out one day.

Anonymous said...

Nice review. I love Dar Maghreb in Hollywood. If you haven't been, try it. Good service and perhaps better yet simpler food.



Wandering Chopsticks said...

Ah, Kevin's pics look tons better than mine. Sorry I've been such a laggard about sending you photos but you got better ones anyway. I gotta get around to writing mine too.

H. C. said...

Palate & Souli,
Thanks for the suggestions, I'll definitely keep those in mind next time I feel like Moroccan again!

No prob no the piccies -- I usually like to post my foodventures pretty quickly after I dined (esp. if I didn't take notes), so that the thoughts are still fresh. Can't wait to see what you have to say about the place :)


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