Of all the teachers of my middle school education, Señora Jones is the one I remember best. For three years, Señora Jones was my Spanish teacher who made us sing songs like La Cucaracha and something else about la pupuseria junto al comal, to practice our pronunciation. She brought in foods and candies from different Spanish-speaking countries every week, though I never believed her when she called Jolly Ranchers ja-jas. She said that “ja-ja” is how a jolly rancher laughs. *hmm* She was quite eccentric, which made her the subject of many our pre-teen jokes; but I have a sneaking suspicion that that was her intention after all. Not for us to make fun of her, but that if she was una loca, we would never forget her, her ridiculous canciónes, and her lessons in Español. Twenty years later, and I may not know the exact meaning of a transitive verb, but I’ll be damned if I don’t know exactly how to conjugate it. That's right, and when I conjugate, it sounds just just like Señora Jones, who would always clap her hands together, declare, “Let’s conjugate!” then sing the conjugation in the funny little melody she made up.
When first I heard of the restaurant Gozar, I thought it was “go, zar.” It never occurred to me that this mostly Spanish tapas restaurant, but with heavy Puerto Rican and Cuban influences, was the Spanish verbo en inglés “to enjoy.” “Gozar,” con un acento en la sílaba segunda. It is “go-ssar.” And not twenty seconds later, Señora Jones is in my head commanding me to conjugate en el presente to “Gozo, gozas, goza. *pause* Gozamos gozáis...gozan!” Ay, caramba, Señora Jones! Get thee out of mi cabeza!
Gozar is located on the corner of Robertson and Santa Monica Boulevard right on the border between plush Beverly Hills and faaaaah-bulous West Hollywood, as if to send the subliminal message that it it the best of both worlds – rich, classy, and upscale; young, sexy, and of course, gay. The place is built for you to live out its name. Enjoy the fireplace on the back patio, enjoy the backdrop of the Pacific Design Center, enjoy the food and drink, and most importantly, if you’re on the second floor overlooking the bars next door or on the patio out front, enjoy...the eye-candy. Really, passers-by, customers, and staff, all a feast for the eyes.
We took a seat on the front patio, joining the rest of the beautifully buzzed. Gozar has sangria, and the names and descriptions on the menu of some of the martinis and specialty cocktails sounded delicious, but a little too fruity for my taste. We decided, instead, to take the time to sober up before the medium-long walk back to the car.
I’ll admit that after already many a toast a few doors down, my brain was toast. I didn’t feel like looking at the menu. You order, as I put the menu back on the table face down. Whoa! Did that just come out of my mouth? Normally, I am quite involved in the ordering process (unless I am with my family). I really must have wanted to simply sit there in the warm summer air, casually chatting with neighboring tables, nibbling on warm bread that crackles on the outside but was steaming soft on the inside, grinning like an idiot, and gozando the view. Besides, the menu is Spanish, with other Latin influences, so unless it’s an organ or an eyeball, it’d probably taste great to me; and since they’re tapas anyway, if it didn’t taste great, it wouldn’t be a huge waste.
We started easy and ordered peppers with blue cheese and walnuts. When you wear that bold pink floral printed sundress that has hints and tiny splashes of lavendar and turquoise, you might choose to “pick up” the turquoise: accessorize with your big hoop earrings that dangle tiny turqouise stones and wrap a delicate golden thread studded with turquoise and amethyst around your neck. In the same way, the blue cheese “picked up” just the faintest tang in the slippery sweet peppers, and the crunch of the nuts made you notice how soft and delicate the peppers are. The only thing I didn’t love was the moat of uneccessary olive oil around the perimeter of the plate.
Empanadas were racked up against each other like triangular dominoes in a shallow puddle of trnaslucent beige sauce. The filled pastries were nothing special, but I did note that they were baked, rather than deep-fried like what I remember most recently from Empanada’s Place. The pastry was lighter both in color and texture, flaky like puff pastry. The filling was sort of boring and bland, which might explain why I don’t remember its components in detail.
I love albóndigas, and was very much looking forward to similarly sensational meatballs that I had at Cobras and Matadors, which were meaty but not dense and hard, flavored with dark smoky spices, and served in a sweet and piquant (omg, I used the word "piquant!") tomato-based sauce. Gozar's albóndigas were slightly bigger, served in a shallow-sided bowl, also in a tomato-based sauce, but seasoned a bit more like Italian meatballs in marinara sauce rather than Spanish albóndigas. They were soft and delicious, just not quite what I was expecting.
Though we were starting sober up and would have been clear to drive by the time we had walked all the way back to the car, we weren't ready to call it a gorgeous night. We gave in and ordered wine because we were having so much fun sitting there on the patio and gozando the evening, the air, ourselves, the view, the people around us. To go with the wine, we ordered un plato de antojitos. When it came to the table, I realized that this is what we should have ordered first. There were perfect cubes of cheese that were starting to glisten with oil in the warmth of the summer evening's air; I am going to assume it was Manchego. There were small piles of olives, dried figs, and enormous ivory almonds that were slightly toasted so that they tasted both nutty and creamy at once.
I wasn't exactly sure what to do with the little seafoam green Denny's salad-dressing-on-the-side container in the middle with grainy mustard, but it sure tasted good slathered on what was left of the bread, along with several slices of the three different types of cured meats on the plate. I am going to guess that the one that looked like pepperoni was a dried, cured chorizo; the one that looked like a thicker cut of prosciutto must have been jamón serrano, and I have absolutely no idea what the third one was. It was all very greasy and very deliciously satisfying.
I can't say that Gozar's food was outstanding, or authentic, or creative. That is probably better left to a restaurant like Cobras & Matadors. But I'm sure I'd love to go back to Gozar again to "gozar" the whole experience - food and drinks, service and atmosphere, and always and most especially, the company.