Located on a nondescript, desolate, forlorn stretch of Sepulveda Blvd, even though it’s seemingly right across the street from a fashionable Whole Foods super market and mere blocks from the bustling Sherman Oaks Galleria, Simon’s Café usually might serve only a handful of covers on a random weeknight. But don’t let this fool you.
The eponymous Simon, a Moroccan expatriate, is quite the accomplished chef (who had one of the first Moroccan restaurants in Japan and even did some time cooking on a cruise ship years ago), a wizard of deliciousness in the kitchen who can cook up a storm at a moment’s notice. He’s quite modest and affable too, even though his name is emblazoned above the front door in cursive script. It’s his café, after all, but more importantly the small space truly feels like an inviting extension of his own home with artisanal Moroccan carpets providing a little fenestration on the otherwise plain, white walls.
There’s a pithy, perfunctory one-page wine list with a few token vintage Chateau Lafitte Rothschild wines listed as “MP” for the heavy hitters amongst us.
But you’re really here for the food.
He cooks deceptively simple (though labor-intensive) Moroccan cuisine from a luscious, rich, ambrosial tagine that perfumes the better part of the room as the waiter lifts and whisks away the pyramid-shape top leaving a plume of gustatory vapor to ignite your taste buds even before a bite is devoured. The tagine is a hearty, blissfully tasty stew, with prunes and a myriad of other fruits to add top notes of curated sweetness. His couscous amounts to pure loveliness with various vegetables interlaced with the mouth-watering, toothsome grains.
His merguez sausages, which he mentions is made with hand ground beef and lamb and addictive spices, are quite delicious and may even transport you back to Marrakech for a few minutes.
Most of the dishes have a true depth of flavor and attest to the veteran skills of the chef. A true labor of love if you will.
Truth to tell, one of the best dishes on the brief menu is a Middle Eastern combination platter composed of freshly fried falafel, baba ghanouj, a suave hummus splashed with olive oil, a spiced though not spicy muttabal, and a chunky tomato “salsa” for a lack of a better term. All are delicious. And yet the falafel balls, freshly made from scratch, mixed to order, and then fried are ethereally light, scrumptious, balls of garbanzo bean delight. Some almost melt in your mouth like an ultra-fatty morsel of o-toro sushi.
Even dessert is great here from a textbook-perfect chocolate mousse to a green tea crème brulee to a unique though delicious oddity: eggplant poached in rosewater syrup. Yes, eggplant. Who knew that eggplant could actually work as a dessert? Perhaps it’s a fruit after all.
After dinner, the room may still remain quite empty, though in the end it’s all about the food. The food’s the thing. And Simon’s Café lovingly reveals that.