8442 Wilshire Boulevard (@ South Hamilton Drive)
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
He was leaving me. I actually knew about it for a while, and in fact, we went into it knowing there would be an end. We just never explicitly talked about it. I think we were just too involved – chatting over coffee first thing in the morning, meeting for a quick lunch, and of course, long nights that would just tumble right back into...coffee in the morning. But then, the days were getting shorter, summer was ending, and I could sense things were changing. He was leaving me, but it didn’t really hit me until...
He asked me for a recommendation letter.
Drat! Classes were starting again, and my summer intern was going back to school! Now I’d have to go back to doing all the work myself. *grumble*
I wrote a glowing recommendation, albeit begrudgingly. Hey! Are you reading this?! If you go on to land a fanta$tic job after graduation, you better remember who wrote you that letter!
We decided to go to Cobra Lily for his farewell lunch. The restaurant is not near the office, and typically, farewell lunches have been at Asian Kitchen or something else walkable, but he wanted to try Spanish tapas. I had to oblige him since I was the one who, on more than one occasion, bored him to lágrimas – reminiscing about my own b-school days talking about the award-winning business plan I wrote for a tapas bar, gushing about dinner last night at Cobras and Matadors, or explaining how every cuisine has some version of small plates. *gasp!* Am I turning into my Dad?!?
The restaurant is in a tiny space on the corner of a small side street and Wilshire Boulevard, just before it's no longer Beverly Hills. Parking is impossible in this area at nighttime, so I was pretty surprised that we were able to just slip into a metered spot not more than 10 yards up from the restaurant. As we walked toward the sandwich board on the sidewalk advertising that Cobra Lily is now open for lunch, I watched a group of about 15 people on the other side of Wilshire waiting to cross. My pace accelerated to a trot when I realized they were headed for lunch, too. We had to beat them inside and get our order in before theirs. OMG, I am turning into my Dad.
Inside, there is a feel of medieval castle, with dark wood walls and furniture, gothic lettering, wrought iron and deep red accents. During the day, natural light filters in through fairly large windows on two sides, but it’s still dark inside. At night then, it’s really dark in there. The only diners already there for lunch were sitting next to the window up front. We took the other window table. The boisterous group of 15 tumbled in shortly after us and shoved five tables together into one long row in the middle of the dining room. I knew it. Quick! Look at the menu!
Cobra Lily has a page of pressed sandwiches, but I would have snatched the recommendation letter back and torn it into shreds if he ordered a sandwich. Then again, I ordered a Caesar salad :) But only because it came with enormous anchovies, which I plucked right off and popped into my mouth, rolled up whole. I left everything else, greens, cheese, and croutons, on the plate for him with about half an anchovy. I think anchovies scare him, otherwise we would have ordered the white Spanish anchovies with almonds, piquillo peppers, and toast.
The menu is basically an abbreviated version of the menu of its big sister, Cobras and Matadors. I have hazy, almost pornographic, memories of a tentacle from my dinner there, so we skipped the seared “octopus galicia” with olive oil and salsa verde for lunch this time around. Probably doesn’t help that I can’t help watching Eddie’s video at The Prince with hand over mouth in completely horrified, yet fascinated, disgust. So instead, we went with the things that were deliciously memorable for me and would be a good, gentle intro for the intern to Spanish flavors and the taste of tapas for the Intern.
I absolutely loved the sauteed wild mushrooms with basil picada – a few different kinds dripping with olive oil that were dark, earthy, meaty and soft, are still sharp with the bite of lemon juice, fresh garlic and basil. The small patchwork wooden bowl, exactly like the one at Cobras and Matadors, held a generous serving, that for two people, even seemed too much to share.
Cobra Lily calls them salt cod cakes with aioli. For some reason, I remember them as croquetas de bacalao. It doesn’t matter what they’re called. Salt cod by any other name would still taste as salty creamy delicious. Salt cod gives me a giddy high like no illegal prescription drug could. I’ve inhaled salt cod brandade, and went into orbit after tasting the croquetas at Cobras and Matadors. I would have slipped into a dizzy coma with these, except that I was at lunch and kept reminding myself that I had to go back to the office. They weren’t perfectly round ping pong balls, but flattened into chubby little cakes that were lightly fried to golden. Breaking into them with a fork, it was just the softest, thinnest angelic crisp and then a halo of steam above the flaky creamy potato-cod inside. I loved a bite with the ivory silk aioli, I loved a bite with the miniature punch of the capers, I loved a bite all by its salt cod self.
When I had ordered the lomo embuchado y garocha before, I thought what I had gotten on the plate was simple jamón and slices of manchego cheese. Lomo embuchado is pork loin that has been cured by marinating and rubbing with paprika and other spices, then air-dried. The slices on our plate alternated with dark, chewy raisin toast rounds and garocha, an aged goat cheese, which makes it hard and slice-able. Put altogether, it’s better than any ham and cheese sandwich I’ve ever had, and apparently, I don’t even love goat cheese. ;)
For me, lunch was delicious. I could have done with just two plates of the croquetas de bacalao and been more than perfectly content. The Intern said he liked everything, but who knows? He could have thought it was absolutely disgusting and was just saying nice as any summer intern should, though I can’t imagine why he would lie just to kiss my butt, since I had already signed and handed the recommendation letter over to him. Maybe on this internship he learned that you should never burn bridges in business. Or maybe he just learned what lomo embuchado is.