PANINI COSMOPOLITAN CAFÉ
MEXICAN-MEDITERRANEAN COMBO HITS WESTWOOD
There are a lot of factors that will make or break a restaurant after it opens. They say the three most important words in business are location, location, location. A good name helps. And of course, the quality of the cuisine trumps all.
The new Westwood restaurant and bar Panini Cosmopolitan Café didn’t floor me with its namesake. Likewise, it’s location on the south side of Wilshire isn’t in the heart of Westwood Village but it is central to area residents and a lot of businesses. And while I’m not a fan of its overly sweet and weak cocktails (although they did make me a good Negroni when I went off menu—that’s a good sign), the food is impressive.
From restaurateur Moe Ghazi, along with business partners Mike Mokhtare (general manager) and Kevin Klein (director of operations), the menu is an inspired mix of Mexican and Mediterranean dishes that complement one another, including caramelized carnitas, Puerto Nuevo lobster tacos, stuffed eggplant, freshly marinated charbroiled chicken, and filet kabobs.
“What makes an exceptional eating experience is not only the food you taste, but also the aroma you smell and the ambience you experience,” says owner Moe Ghazi. “With Panini Cosmopolitan Café, we wanted to create an atmosphere and menu that would figuratively transport guests to the sunny, sandy beaches of the Mediterranean.”
While the cocktail menu is comprised of fresh fruit margaritas, hand muddled mojitos, bubbly, tropical drinks, and signature cocktails, in addition to beer, wine and an extensive tequila list, I couldn’t really find any drink on the menu to my liking. I’m not a mojito guy (not a fan of mint), and the martinis and margaritas were too sweet for my taste. Maybe it’s more for the just-made-it-to-drinking-age college crowd.
During our recent visit, we started with an order of the tasty BBQ Pork Sliders—three carnitas sliders on Hawaiian bread with chipotle aioli and pickles. I always love the sweetness that Hawaiian bread adds to any sandwich. Nice touch.
Another great starter item is the Shrimp Ceviche prepared with citrus juice, cucumbers, onions, cilantro, and chile. This dish is light and fresh; great to share or as your very own appetizer.
Deciding to order several Mediterranean favorites, we thoroughly enjoyed a delicious bowl of Ash Reshteh, a hearty Persian noodle soup. More familiar dishes that delighted included the Hummus made with whipped garbanzo beans blended with virgin olive oil, fresh lemon juice, fresh garlic, and tahini paste, and the Babaganoosh—charbroiled eggplant whipped with garlic, onion, olive oil, and lemon juice.
Heartier items that could serve as individual entrees include the Goat Cheese Chicken Panini, made with grilled chicken breast, goat cheese, and roasted red peppers, along with the Salmon Panini (highly recommended) made with oven roasted salmon topped with garlic wine sauce, capers, and red onions. How could we not order a Panini? It’s a signature item after all.
Both sandwiches were solid but I would really recommend the Charbroiled Whitefish (swai) with Mexican rice, beans, and grilled vegetables. This one is a great combination of Mexican and Mediterranean and is still light and fresh without being overtly heavy. We didn’t get to the kabobs, so I’ll just have to try them during my next visit.
If you save room for dessert, the Homemade Banana Bread Pudding with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream is a great way to go. I love the combination of ice cream with bread pudding. If you’re going to do dessert, you might as well do it right and luckily they do at Panini Cosmopolitan Café.
Weekly specials include daily happy hour from 3pm to 6pm; Taco Tuesday from 4pm to 11pm; and brunch, which is served on the weekends from 10am to 2pm. A good go-to place for Westwood locals, Panini Cosmopolitan Café also serves as a golden off the beat path locations for anyone looking for a tasty meal without fuss.
Panini Cosmopolitan Café is located at 1553 Westwood Blvd. Hours: Mon-Friday 11:30am-11pm; Sat 10am-11pm; Sun 10am-10pm. Valet parking available after 6pm. Call 310-477-0089.
Story by: Jose Martinez
Some photography courtesy of: Panini Cosmopolitan Café