Hollywood’s exotic Dar Maghreb restaurant just off the Sunset Strip was a sexy party spot for Hollywood back when “Charlie’s Angels” Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith celebrated fellow angel Farrah Fawcett’s birthday there with Ryan O’Neal in 1979. A 1975 Army Archerd column describes a party with “30 of the town’s top comedy writers-creators jammed in a pillow-decorated Arabian nights, tent-like room, dining desert-style sans silverware,” and the “gastronomic hysteria” that ensued.
But the longtime celebration destination was on its last theme-restaurant legs when helmer Roland Emmerich walked in searching for Moroccan food, saw the “incredible architecture” and ended up buying the building.
Despite the restaurant’s long history, it seemed like a fresh start was the best way to communicate to L.A. diners that it was no longer the kitschy place for a birthday party with belly dancers. So Emmerich partnered with Frederic and Nicolas Meschin, owners of clubby industry hangouts Little Door and Little Next Door, and partners Jerry Murray and Sue Choi, to bring a dose of Little Door’s sophisticated style to Acabar, which opened in late July.
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Former Dar Maghreb customers will recognize many of the Middle Eastern touches that Little Door designer Keith Greco preserved — nearly all of the mosaic floor and wall tiles are intact, as is the ornately coffered ceiling covered in patterned wallpaper. The previous fountain courtyard is now a striking bar area flanked by a dark lounge on one side and a sleek dining area on the other.
Owning a restaurant isn’t for the faint of heart, but if anyone can take the heat, it’s Emmerich, who’s accustomed to directing casts of hundreds in big-budget epics like “Independence Day.”
Emmerich said his advisers had the usual three words of advice about investing in a restaurant: “Don’t do it.”
Of course, the director isn’t actually cooking at Acabar. Heading the kitchen is Octavio Becerra, who most recently cooked at Palate, a wine and cheese-focused restaurant that drew plenty of foodie attention despite its somewhat remote Glendale location.
While it’s Emmerich’s first foray into restaurants, the rest of the team has worked at many of L.A.’s trendy spots, including bar wizards Josh Goldman and Julian Cox of Ink, Bestia and Picca, who created a menu of historic cocktails, punches by the glass (or the entire punchbowl) and even cocktails on tap.
Emmerich is a fan of the meaty giant skewered prawns with spicy Moroccan harissa sauce, and the German-born director says he’s looking forward to the raw bar opening in a few weeks.
“What I like about Octavio is it’s just good food — not any specific cuisine,” Emmerich says. Becerra is going for “big flavors” on the mostly small plates menu ranging from Moroccan (lamb merguez meatballs) to Vietnamese (Indochine duck) to French (squash blossoms provencal with tomme cheese).
The most attention-getting appetizer, however, is “porn bread,” a bacon-cheddar inflected cornbread baked and served in a fairly phallic metal pipe.