Grilled calamari salad
Unlike Lucques, Nobu, and Melisse, Cravings is not a restaurant name that gets thrown around in the press and amongst foodies. You may have never heard of this restaurant, especially if you don't live in West Hollywood. But don't let a lack of buzz deter you from checking it out, because you'll be very pleasantly surprised by the food, atmosphere, and service. You'll also be pleasantly surprised by the ample free parking behind the restaurant.
I was invited to Cravings specifically to try their selection of meze, which will be served during the restaurant's new happy hour. If you aren't familiar with meze, think tapas -- lots of small plates to be eaten before a meal (or even as a meal).
Cravings' atmosphere offers something for more than one type of diner. The sidewalk seating on Sunset caters to the hip, see-and-be-seen crowd, including what appear to be Entourage-style groups meeting with agents, while the back patio, almost removed from the chaos of the street, recreates a tranquil European cafe. Most of the tables are well-spaced, and pole heaters warm the cool night air. Ibrahim Oztok is the chef of this family-run business that has been serving Italo-Mediterranean food for over 25 years.
This slow roasted eggplant dish with onions and tomatoes in olive oil was delicate, creamy, and avoided being too oily (eggplant acts like a sponge, so my compliments to the chef for getting it right).
One of my favorite meze was the grilled calamari salad, which answered my questions about whether I could enjoy calamari that wasn't fried. I could. If you've been turned off by a previous experience with the bad, chewy, flavorless stuff, try this richly flavored salad with tender cuts of calamari.
Watermelon and feta
The incredibly simple, very traditional combination of pungent, salty, creamy feta balanced with delicate, sweet, crunchy watermelon and enhanced by sips of a murky, white, licorice-flavored Greek liqueur called ouzo pleased both the eye and the palate. It was also a refreshing break from the heavier dishes.
Cacik, or yogurt blended with cucumber and garlic, is similar to tzatziki. Cravings' version is extra thick and creamy with a garlic kick.
Pan-fried Aegean-style kofte
Meatballs, schmeatballs? Not so at Cravings, where the meatballs have a surprisingly complex flavor thanks to marinara, onions, peppers, and eastern Mediterranean spices. These are nothing like the Italian version you've probably tasted a million times.
Couscous Marocain aux amandes, Moroccan-spiced lamb chops, eggplant peperonata
While I was there, I also got to check out the entrees and desserts. The lamb dish you see here was one of the manager's recommendations, so I checked it out even though I am not really a fan of lamb or couscous. I was thrilled from the first bite of couscous. A far cry from the flavorless, sawdust-quality couscous that most places serve, this couscous was moist and had a great taste and texture thanks to the crunchy almonds and plump raisins it was mixed with. I was less excited about the lamb chops, which were dry and under-seasoned.
Ancho chili crusted sea scallops with saffron sauce; fennel, red onion, and mushroom ragu
I will admit that it was difficult for me to objectively evaluate the entrees because I was already full by that point in the meal (small stomach be damned!), but the scallop dish didn't live up to the high standards set by the fantastic meze and delightful couscous. The scallops were one of the day's specials, but I thought they were just okay. I couldn't taste the ancho chili flavor at all, and the scallops were a bit chewy and contained the occasional bit of unwanted crunch (a common problem with scallops). If Il Moro, Orris, and myriad sushi joints can get their scallops right, I expect other restaurants to be able to do so as well.
For dessert, Cravings offers a standard dessert tray selection of creme brulee, pound cake, cheesecake, tiramisu, and a couple of other options. They also serve dessert wines and coffee. At the manager's recommendation, I had a stellar muscat that I nursed for a good thirty minutes.
The first dessert I tried was the cheesecake. Thanks to my favorite TV chef Giada de Laurentiis, I recently learned that Italian cheesecake is generally made with ricotta cheese rather than cream cheese. If you find cheesecake made with cream cheese to be much too rich and heavy, give ricotta cheesecake a try -- it is generally lighter and not excessively sweet. Cravings' version is no exception.
Cravings' version of the classic Italian dessert, tiramisu, is more cake-like and less rum-soaked than most versions I've tried. It should be noted that the restaurant's dessert portions are quite generous. In fact, all of the dishes, including the meze, are well-portioned.
Patio at night, great for a casual yet romantic date
Given the quality of the service and food, the prices, which range from $12.50 for pasta to $32.00 for filet mignon, seem like a bargain. The menu offers a wide enough variety that everyone from picky eaters to gourmands will be able to find a dish to enjoy.
Overall, my experience with the service at Cravings perfectly matched the restaurant's description of itself, which you can read in the About section of their website. Manager Emrah Ehrgenc himself served our food, described each dish, recommended accompanying drinks, and showed the kind of fantastic hospitality that every special guest hopes for but does not always receive. If the website is true to its word, they extend the same hospitality to all of their customers. Also, if you're looking for a place to hold a special event, I would highly recommend Cravings based on my special guest experience. Their private room can accommodate up to 30 people.
8653 Sunset Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90069
Tags: Los Angeles Restaurants West Hollywood Mediterranean Food Meze Madness