At age 14, Moroccan-born Simon Elmaleh already had a job, and it was no paper route—he was already earning his chops in the kitchen of a Mediterranean restaurant. Just two years later, he launched his 17-year career as an assistant chef on a five-star passenger cruise liner, and in 1986, he opened the first Moroccan restaurant in Japan. In 2001, he brought his decades-long passion for Mediterranean cuisine to California, where he founded Simon's Restaurant.
A Los Angeles Times writer praised the "warm atmosphere," which is decked out in rich cream-colored tones and vintage French cabaret posters. At cloth-draped tables, guests feast on traditional Moroccan tagines, spicy homemade lamb sausages, and baba ghanouj, described as "vivid—roasty and pure, whipped into a fluffy cloud of eggplant."
Chef "Ben" Benameur has cooked for a variety of palates, including Hollywood celebrities. But his culinary career began a bit more humbly—first learning to cook alongside his mother while growing up in Morocco. Chef Benameur eventually immigrated to Los Angeles and brought along his mother’s recipes and his own distinctive culinary style. He passionately embraces the flavors and techniques of Moroccan cooking while adding his own modern interpretations whenever possible. At one particular catered meal, his sophisticated iteration of homespun cooking caught the attention of award-winning actor Ryan Gosling. The rising-star, who was 24 at the time, reached out to the chef and eventually agreed to co-found a restaurant—Tagine—alongside Chef Benameur and sommelier Chris Angulo, according to Lifestyler magazeine. Above all else, the Zagat-rated eatery remains committed to the cozy warmth of Moroccan home cooking, even as the chefs demonstrate their gourmet talents and inclination for upscale touches. In its 2006 review, the Los Angeles Times noted that, "at Tagine, Chef Benameur subtly varies his spicing from dish to dish and skillfully weaves flavors through the set meal with a light, sure hand." He continues to rely on his mother's hummus recipe and lamb entrees marinate is an many as seven different Moroccan spices. However, Chef Benameur also looks to the flavors of his new home by finishing dishes with vegetables straight from the day's farmers markets. With its dark-olive walls and earth-toned banquettes, Tagine's intimately sized dining room also puts diners at ease with a warm, inviting ambiance. Gentle jazz plays over the speakers. Exposed Edison bulbs dangle from the ceiling and gently light the space. Handmade mirrors dominate one wall opposite a collection of framed black-and-white photographs. To help readers picture the setting, the Los Angeles Times review gives one piece of advice: "think Rick's place from 'Casablanca' updated for the 21st century."