Lebaneh with Feta
Falafel – Tahini, Tabouleh
Mushrooms – Dates, Hazelnuts, Puffed Rice
Lamb Tagine – Apricots, Silan, Couscous, Sesame Seeds
Moussakah – Layered Eggplant, Bolognese, Bechamel
Kale Flatbread – Crème Fraiche, Parmesan, Garlic Oil
Sticky Toffee Pudding – Butterscotch, Walnut Feuilletine, Vanilla Gelato
Fig & Almond Pannacotta – Amareto and Almond Brittle
Small French Press – LAMill
Generally blasé as it relates to Mediterranean cuisine but always hopeful for something to change my mind it was with guarded expectations that I sat down with a friend at Cleo, and although both the room and the crowd veer trendy and loud the food can best be described as bold – each of the eleven plates we experienced featuring textbook execution, beautiful presentation, and the sort of flavor profile rarely embraced in an upscale environment. Located inside the SLS, under the gleaming guise of the Greek Pharaoh and Starck designed through-and-through, our 6:30 seating started with pleasant greetings at the podium and quickly swept away to a small two-top flanking an open kitchen the service could not have been better, drinks kept brimming throughout the evening and plates arriving in a slow, measured fashion – exactly as requested. Beset by tagines and spice jars juxtaposing slick surfaces and sparkling chandeliers beneath a lively soundtrack that only rarely interrupted conversation our meal began with a quartet of $7 ‘mezzes’ and with both spreads silky smooth and teaming with flavor atop pillows of Laffa the Kibbeh and creamy spinach puffs were no less special, the former balancing ground lamb to nuts and spice beneath a golden shell. Moving next to larger plates under simplified headings like “Vegetables” and “Meats” it was with some disappointment that we were informed the coveted Duck Bastilla was unavailable but making due with four more items both the elegantly paired mushrooms and equally well conceived tagine were quite good while the still-bubbling moussakah was my favorite plate of the night. A touch underwhelmed by crispy balls of falafel that had trouble standing up to the sauce in which they sat it was in flatbread that our savories finished and with a crisp, charred crust from the central oven likely to make any topping taste better the bitter kale amidst pools of tangy crème fraiche was wonderful, an elegant and light dish I could see playing well to the pre-club crowd heading to LiFE. At this point approaching nine o’clock, with every seat in the space filled, our meal concluded with coffee alongside a duo of desserts and as much I liked the somewhat out-of-place pudding it was the pannacotta that stole the show – each creamy bite flooding the palate with milky-sweet tones while Amareto soaking the figs lingered at the end.
FOUR STARS: Although higher priced than the typical ‘mom n’ pop’ or Greek festival setting, almost every single item we tasted at Cleo was reference standard, the total bill with tax and tip clocking in just under $160 for nearly three hours of great food, service, and ‘scene.’ Certainly not a place for quiet conversation but definitely a spot where both the ‘club’ crowd or the local looking for a nice night out can be equally comfortable I commend the team at Cleo for bringing something totally new to the scene – it is original concepts like this and Yusho that The Strip really needs.
RECOMMENDED: Lebaneh with Feta and Laffa Bread, Kibbeh, Moussakah, Kale Flatbread, Fig and Almond Pannacotta.
AVOID: Falafel was a bit heavy handed and low in flavor, thus allowing the tangy tahini to entirely overwhelm.
TIP: Unable (or unwilling) to offer an explanation of why the Duck Bastilla was unavailable just thirty minutes after starting service I’ve been told by a friend that he encountered a similar problem with two seafood items on the night of his visit and, as such, those targeting a specific item or items may be best served to inquire in advance.
WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor