I heard about the change of ownership and name at Mamounia in Beverly Hills and a business dinner provided a good excuse to branch away from downtown restaurants. My experience was off to a promising start when the manager informed me that although Tagine did not yet have its wine & beer license and could therefore not serve alcohol, *ahem*, there was no corkage fee. I made a quick trip home to retrieve my SO and a few bottles of, er, grape juice and we were in business.
Getting there: Tagine is easy to miss as it does not have signage. I suppose diners just have to deduce that the heavy wooden door and dark windows immediately north of the storefront that does have its street number displayed, 130 N. Robertson, is 132 N. Robertson.
The dining room, comprising eight to ten tables with bench seating lining the walls is very inviting and comfortable. I like that the décor is Moroccan inspired and not ersatz Moroccan. The dim lighting was lost on my party of four, but the couples enjoying a quiet dinner seemed to appreciate the intimacy and warmth of the space.
Menu: Our waiter informed us that the menu is still under construction, but that there were three fixed menu options of three, four or five courses ranging in price from $25 to $40 per person. The three course meal includes an appetizer, choice of entree and dessert. The four course menu includes a bastilla and the five course menu adds the bastilla and a beef brewat roll. The main course options were chicken tagine, roasted lamb and pan roasted sea bass. My SO and coworker opted for the chicken and our guest and I each selected the fish.
The chef sent out a bowl of homemade humus and pita bread while we made our selections and sipped on our grape juice. The humus was very mild and the chef's emphasis seemed to be on the chick peas rather than garlic. The consistency was also much thinner than I am used to, but it was flavorful and fresh tasting.
The first course platter of carrots batonette prepared with preserved lemons, roasted eggplant pureed with paprika, baked cauliflower and cucumber salad arrived with bread. The carrots were my favorite because of their preserved Meyer lemon flavor. The cauliflower, my SO's favorite, was delicately cooked but I found it too salty. This was my first encounter with eggplant prepared with so much paprika. It was tasty and spicy without being hot, but I would have to try it again without work distractions to decide if I really like it.
Next was the chicken bastilla. This was a favorite dish at Mamounia and it has not declined in quality. It was almost too sweet for my taste, but the savory chicken layered between filo and crushed almonds cut through the honey's bite. The portion, about 8 inches in diameter, was large for four and, delicious as it was, we did not finish it.
The entrees did not meet my expectations. My SO reported that the chicken--quarter chicken served on the bone--prepared with preserved lemons and green olives was bland. The fish was perfectly cooked but its flavor was overpowered by an herb crust. It was perfectly passable, but not quite what I expected from a former Water Grill chef. The entrees were served with a vegetable couscous that did hit the right balance of spices.
Dessert consisted of table grapes, segmented tangerine, baklava and almond cookies served with tea. The baklava was of the very dense variety and it seemed to have been slightly over-baked. Kudos to Tagine, though, for making it themselves. The tea had a lemon verbena and honey flavor that everyone enjoyed and which I thought was a thoughtful deviation from the traditional mint tea served in Moroccan cuisine.
Overall impression: Tagine has a lot of potential and is off to a good start, but the new owners and chef are obviously still working through the transition. Service was excellent and attentive from my initial phone call through the end of the meal. I look forward to returning in a few months and reporting back.
132 N. Robertson Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA 90211