With so many restaurants and bars flirting with tapas one or two nights a week, Steven Arroyo has taken the bull by the horns, so to speak, and opened Cobras & Matadors in the old Boxer space on Beverly Boulevard.
The new restaurant features a dozen and a half tapas on any given night, along with a handful of entradas, or main courses. Actually, it may be just the idea for the young and restless in this Beverly-Fairfax neighborhood. You can slip in for some olives and almonds, gazpacho or a small plate of dry-cured lomo or pork loin and Manchego cheese and a couple of other of the "little dishes of Spain" with a glass of Rioja before going on to the movies or a club. At the moment, the drinks will have to wait until Arroyo's wine and beer license comes through; meanwhile it's strictly BYOB. (He's in the process of converting Bicentennial 13, the wine shop next door, which he also owns, to a showcase for all-Spanish wines.)
With butcher paper on the tables and funky piazza lights strung overhead, Cobras & Matadors has a laid-back, casual atmosphere. A touch nostalgic, it's just off-kilter enough to suggest another place and time.
The effect is enhanced by blown-up black and white photos of Arroyo's family from L.A. of the 1920s and '30s. There's his grandmother Henrietta with bobbed hair playfully boxing with a friend or lounging on Venice Beach with a Chinese parasol in the '20s. The young Hemingway would have fit right in with this crowd.
At Boxer, Arroyo tried several formats before he ended up with a menu of updated comfort food. Here, the food is more rustic, and closer to authentic Spanish tapas than what anybody else is doing.
There's a fine version of \o7 pa amb tomaquet\f7 . That's Catalan for bread rubbed with tomato and, in this case, embellished with dry-cured pork loin and an aged Spanish goat cheese. Green lentils sauteed with \o7 jamon serrano \f7 (the Spanish equivalent of Italian prosciutto) comes in an earthenware \o7 cazuela\f7 . \o7 Patatas fritas\f7 --fried potatoes--make an irresistible snack dunked into a glossy greenish \o7 alioli, \f7 or garlic mayonnaise. I couldn't stop eating them.
What else should you try? The tiny veal and pork meatballs in a fiery pepper sauce.
You could, if you're up to it, follow a few of the tapas with a main course. I'd suggest the grilled skirt steak, which is terrific with either or both the anchovy butter or a pungent Spanish cheese sauce. A hearty stew of white beans with red wine and chorizo sounds like a good idea, but unfortunately, the night I tried it the chorizo tasted a touch too gamey for comfort. And so it goes on this large, but uneven menu.
When it comes to dessert, except for a decent \o7 crema caramela\f7 , the choices veer right back to the comfort food zone with summer fruit crumble and cream and a chocolate souffle cake with berries and a soft mound of whipped cream. Arroyo seems to have an uncanny sense of what his audience wants to eat. Now.
Cobras & Matadors, 7615 W. Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 932-6178. Open nightly for dinner; plus Sunday brunch. Tapas, $3 to $7; main courses, $9 to $13. Valet parking.