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Moroccan food, L.A. cool

Chameau has moved to the Fairfax District, but it's still a fascinating mix of the old world and the new.

September 30, 2004|S. Irene Virbila | Times Staff Writer

Chameau, the sweet little Moroccan restaurant in Silver Lake that was open only a few days a week, has packed up and set off west, to the Fairfax District. Same number of tables -- 13 -- but now it's open six nights a week.

That's terrific news for fans of the restaurant's Moroccan-born chef and owner, Adel Chagar. His cooking is as far away from the folkloric as it gets. He's more like a jazz trumpeter riffing on a theme, conjuring up the scents and colors of North Africa filtered through a hip L.A. sensibility.

The restaurant is a little hard to spot. It's enough to know that it's just north of Diamond Bakery on the west side of Fairfax just above Beverly Boulevard. And because it has no windows on the street, it's a complete surprise when you open the door to find yourself in a small bar bathed in cobalt blue light. The dining room is partly hidden by two carved stone screens, and it's a patchwork of raucous color -- '60s coffee shop revved up with Bauhaus stripes and rectangles. It pops.

The sole reference to Morocco is a thin strip of a painting, an abstracted image of dunes and camels. But look on the menu. First courses include an elegantly presented chilled watermelon and cucumber salad and a spicy merguez sausage with chickpea puree and goat cheese. Duck b'steeya is a fragile packet of pastry leaves, moist shredded duck and almonds in a drift of powdered sugar. (Yes, it's sweet -- a little sweeter than most.) Sardines are rubbed with spices, butterflied and grilled. Foodie alert: Chagar also has a starter of braised lambs' cheeks in Dijon mustard sauce.

As a main course he serves seared monkfish with preserved lemons along with eggplant and spinach. Harissa, the North African hot sauce, gives grilled poussin a lift. It's cooled down with a sauteed green herb-and-olive salad. And roasted saddle of lamb for two comes with a delicious couscous garnished with everything under the sun.

The front of the house is run by co-owner Kelly Klemovitch, and service is relaxed and friendly. The coffee-shop style booths are comfy, and you want to hang out longer. There's dessert. And Moroccan mint tea. Why not? Maybe some almond "horns," a crescent-shaped pastry with hot chocolate ice cream -- which, needless to say, isn't hot at all. Or cookies with black pepper cream. Or watermelon sorbet.

It's all interesting. What an exotic to land on Fairfax Avenue, a stone's throw from Canter's Deli and the vintage treasures at Catwalk. The neighborhood is a-changing.



Where: 339 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles

When: Dinner, 6 to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday; closed Monday. Beer and wine. Street parking; valet parking on weekends.

Cost: Appetizers, $8 to $11; main courses, $18 to $25; desserts, $5 to $6.

Info: (323) 951-0039

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