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The flaming Zombie cocktail

Marrakech Express

by Lesley Balla | Photography by Jessica Sample | Angeleno magazine | September 24, 2013

One glimpse of Acabãr’s utterly gorgeous interior and that guy—the one in front of the ornate brass doors asking for reservations before letting in patrons—is quickly forgotten. And once you pass the hostess stand and behold that magnificent atrium (a holdover from the restaurant’s Dar Maghreb days), the tall columns and colorful hand-painted wallpaper bedecking the beamed ceilings transport you to another place entirely.

It’s kind of magical, in a massive movie-set kind of way, and completely different from Dar Maghreb, which acted as an exotic Moroccan dining hall on the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Stanley Avenue for more than 40 years. It was a place where you went on dates or with big groups, where, seated on low-slung sofas at hammered metal tables, you ate b’stilla, couscous and grilled quail kabobs and pretended you were in Casablanca or Marrakech.

All that’s gone, and though Acabãr is no longer strictly Moroccan, in the hands of Hollywood director Roland Emmerich and Frederic and Nicolas Meschin—the brothers behind the Little Door—it is something of a party along the Spice Trail, where you can nibble fattoush salads, basturma (thin sheets of Turkish-cured salmon over caraway-scented potato pancakes and shaved cucumber) and charred octopus, listen to DJs and sip tiki cocktails from the tap. It’s like Morocco by way of France, with a decidedly Hollywood twist.

Now, if the aforementioned guy manning the door does not assure you that, yes, you’re still in L.A., then the army of servers, bussers and bartenders surely will. They bustle around, moving fast to clear empty plates and bring new ones. So if you’re up for a long, lingering, quiet dinner, this isn’t it. This was clear, immediately upon hearing about the “roller girl” who had been itching to skate on the marble floors since the ’90s (and they let her).

Like before, there are no windows, save for the open-air skylight in the atrium, but the layout is completely different. Walls were removed to create one open space with a comfortable dining room full of flickering candles to the left, and a swank lounge with plush banquettes and flecks of light from pierced lanterns dancing on the ornate walls to the right. Between the two is a long, previously nonexistent, zinc-topped bar.

The cocktail menu, conceived and overseen by Julian Cox and Josh Goldman, is fun. The duo went for classics and contemporary quaffs; some, like a traditional Zombie, are served on tap. Made with three rums, only two are allowed per person and, trust me, any more than that and you might forget to blow out the flaming lime on top before you go in for a sip.

The food is definitely a departure from its predecessor, too, with Octavio Becerra, who helped build the Patina empire with Joachim Splichal and was last at Palate Wine + Food, leading the charge with the menu. A server might describe the experience as a culinary journey with inspiration from China, the French West Indies, India, Southeast Asia and the Mediterranean. Or, in a word: global.

While I’ve long admired Becerra’s cooking, I wasn’t expecting to find a dining destination. The place is just too pretty for that; it would, I figured, lack substance. But I was pleasantly surprised by many of the dishes, especially those making use of local ingredients. This means things may come and go as the seasons change, but signatures, like the Porn bread—a log of cornbread studded with smoky bacon and aged cheddar—will likely stay. I have no idea what this has to do with the Spice Trail, and I really don’t want to think about the origin of its name, but people do gravitate toward it.

Having sampled several items from each section of the menu—crudos and ceviches; earth and land; crispy and fried; gills and fins; skewers and satays—there are a lot of standouts. The basturma is quite good; the halibut ceviche, with big chunks of the fish with avocado, aji amarillo and beautifully fresh Santa Barbara sea urchin on top, is a favorite. I loved biting into the beet arancini to find bright-pink rice inside; the orange-scented ricotta was a lovely touch.

I can almost see how steamed bao buns filled with duck confit and pickled stone fruit fit in here, but fried squash blossoms stuffed with Tomme cheese and sided by zucchini mousse, though incredibly delicious, seems out of place with the theme. Perhaps some of those spice traders made their way into Italy and France, too.

With small plates, you can eat one or two by yourself or pass them around. But there are family-style dishes, too, like large platters serving a whole crispy sea bass with peanuts and chiles, or roasted duck with broccoli. Everyone can taste, which really goes along with the festive atmosphere.

We hear plans call for big-name DJs spinning through the night, live music and even some sort of Cirque du Soleil-like performances in the lounge. So, no, Acabãr isn’t your average dinner-only restaurant, but the food and cocktails are enough of a draw to make it a full night of satiation for all the senses—in one stop.

1510 N. Stanley Ave.
Dinner: Tue.-Sat., 6pm-2am
Prices: $8-$86

Who Goes
While Dar Maghreb lured in people from all walks of life, this place is angling for see-and-be-seen status.

When to Go
For a relaxed vibe, go earlier in the evening—the space’s beautiful details are still visible and you can hear conversation. As the night livens up and the lights go down, music pumps and it’s a surefire scene.

Punch Me
What’s a party without a punch bowl? A few punches serve six to eight people. Think: bourbon, Jamaican rum, cognac, lemon and sparkling wine.