Cobras & Matadors
7615 West Beverly Boulevard (between Stanley and Curson)
Los Angeles, CA 90036
There was that momentary flash of fear. Just a tiny hint of doubt that grabs a hold of me for but a nanosecond every time I suggest a place that they've never been. I had never been to this restaurant, and yet I recommend we try it. What if it's horrible? What if everything I've ever read and heard about it is totally wrong? What if it's all totally right and the kitchen just happens to experience their most off-night ever? What would they think of me? Would they hate me? Would they think my taste totally pedestrian? Maybe even...*gasp!*... bad? Would they label me "that girl" that can't pick a good restaurant and conveniently forget about me for all future dinner invitations?!?!
I snapped out of my little moment of mental melodrama and made a right turn onto Beverly Boulevard, sort of half positively and half negatively hopeful about walking in without a reservation on a Saturday night. It was a strategic move on my part. If there was a table available, then I guess I'd have to worry (especially since an open table at high time on Saturday already implies a *hmm*). If there wasn't then I'd just have to force a *sigh* and show that disappointed face, but secretly I'd be relieved that I could come and give it a test taste on my own to validate before bringing him here next time.
We pulled up to the valet. I could still pull a princess maneuver and suggest we go back to one of "our" guarateed good spots. Then sliding in right behind me, a spa yellow Acura NSX. *argh* We were locked in. We were going in to Cobras & Matadors.
Cobras and Matadors isn't new - it opened up several years ago to much anticipation, and didn't let anyone down with their fairly authentic Spanish tapas, it seems. I had been to that space years before when, I think, it was still Boxer (*whoa* I am old). Cobras and Matadors even went on to spawn their little offspring, Cobra Lily (which I have tried) and cloned itself with another Cobras and Matadors in Silverlake. That's how long I waited to finally try the place.
I could not believe that at 8 o'clock on Saturday, we were able to sit down without a reservation. Cobras and Matadors is a place that I have been told many times is tiny. High-demand. Difficult to get into. Sure, they have tables on the sidewalk out front that are first-come, first served, but even those go fast. Tonight, we had our choice of tables. Disbelief. He's from San Francisco and just couldn't believe that I had even thought of going to any restaurant without a reservation. Oh well, I guess that's the difference between LA and the Bay. We like to live on the edge down here.
We took a table inside. And left the sidewalk tables for those people. You know, the ones who come *gasp!* without a reservation, unprepared and all. ;)
Cobras and Matadors truly is tiny, and very dark. There are only a few larger round tables in the center of the boxy dining room, and tables for two, maybe four, all pushed up against the perimeter. We sat toward the back where a huge, deep oven opened and breathed fire like the mouth of hell. Except for the twilight that barely filtered through the front window, the flames from the oven and the faint flicker from tiny votive candles on each table, I wasn't aware of any other light. And the natural light from outside was fading fast. Dark. Very dark. Perhaps that's a good thing, otherwise it would be embarrassingly obvious how very uncomfortably close you're sitting next to your neighbors. I could have reached over for a taste of the steak in front of the girl at the table next to me more easily than *clink*ed wine glasses with him across from me at our own table.
After sitting down for a moment and scanning the menu to get a feel for what we might order, we popped back up and walked right back out the front door. No, the menu wasn't so horrible that we had to leave. It was, in fact, promising to be an incredible meal of small Spanish plates. We had just decided to pick up a bottle of wine from the "wine store" located conveniently next door to the restaurant; conveniently managed so that we don't even have to pay for the bottle of 2004 Basa Rueda when we "buy" it, they'll just add it to our dinner tab; conveniently "in" with Cobras so that we aren't even charged a corkage fee when they pop it open for us at our table and pour into tiny, stemless juice glasses. Brilliant. Every restaurant's wine policy should be so convenient.
The menu is fairly long, and though it's all Spanish, it seems to have something for everyone. We eased into the meal with roasted mushrooms topped with herbs and nuts. They were roasty (is that a word?) soft, juicy, delicious, but for some reason, it seemed odd to have a whole bowl of little sliced mushrooms all by themselves. It sort of felt like there was something missing. Something like a big fat steak underneath! Ah, but that comes next. We ordered the skirt steak dressed two ways. It came out on one of those plates meant for still-sizzling fajitas. Or galbee. One steak had a rich, dark brown sauce and the other a thick, creamy, cheesy sauce. Was it wrong that I kept scraping the sauces off the meat and just licking it from my fork?
Eating with him is very different. I usually put a lot of emphasis on vegetables. Same with my other usual dining friends. But he is all meat. I guess the mushrooms counted as enough vegetable for him, because after that, the only green we saw was garnish.
Albóndigas are meatballs, and it would be accurate to say that I get hot for the balls of meat, especially the Latin kind, which usually show up in albóndigas soup. The six little albóndigas, sitting in a rich, fully fragrant sauce steeped with spices and topped with chopped fresh herbs (parsley and/or cilantro?), were incredible. There was a very prominent spice in the albóondigas, and I will venture to say it was cumin. Again, thank God for the low lighting in the restaurant, else our fellow patrons would have caught me leaning over the table, holding my hair back and sticking my face into the plate, sitting back in my chair again but this time with a forked meatball held right under my nose, sniffing like a basset hound. It's cumin. I am sure of it.
Holy cannoli, which is sort of anaculturalistic (yes! I made that word up all by myself!) since this is Spanish and cannoli is totally...not. But the exclamation goes to the croquetas. I have had croquetas de pollo, though I can't remember where. I have had croquetas de jamón, and that was at Cobra Lily. These croquetas from Cobras and Matadors were made with bacalao, and I swear on the holy ladle, they were THE best preparation of salt cod I have ever had. And I've had my share of salt cod. There are some things, like anchovies, sardines and salt cod, that if they decide to grace me with their presence on a menu, I order it without question. So yes, I have had salt cod, "bacalao." And these - perfectly round, tender crisp breaded on the outside, ever-so-airy and slightly soft, dare-I-say-creamy on the inside, seasoned and salted, topped with chopped fresh herbs and just barely touched with an amazing aioli - these croqetas were the best. Ever. Hands down. Do I gush? Yes, yes I focking do because...Did I say best? Best ever.
The mushrooms, steak, albóndigas, and croquetas came out all at once - Cobras and Matadors doesn't pace it for you. They are fast - almost too fast. It was kind of a stunning oral and olfatory overload. So we took our time ordering again - one at a time.
We did lomo saltado. It sounds very authentic, because...it is. A type of dried and cured jamón (that's ham, silly) served with aged goat cheese. *ew* Not manchego? I don't love goat cheese, even though I have been known to cook with it on occasion. The dish came out, and strangely, I forgot about the goat cheese. Ivory triangles, alternating with the lomo saltado and a dark sweet bread. They were fanned around a pert little pile of what looked like pico de gallo, but tasted more aggressive with capers (ah, I have finally used "aggressive" and "taste" is a sentence). The goat cheese was aged so it was dry and sliced flat, and looked like Manchego. It had the pungent odor of goat cheese, but the lomo saltado balanced it out, and I suspect the sweetness of the currants (maybe they were raisins) in the bread acted as a third flavor weight. Whatever that means, but you get the picture. Balance.
The wine was getting to me by now, and I developed this strange form of liquid courage. I ordered the octopus. *whoa* It was about eight inches of tentacle amputated from an octopus, wrapped around the perimeter of an oval plate, seasoned with something strong, and garnished with a bouquet of tomatoes and spices. Oh my god, what a stupid idea, now that I am of sound mind, but damn those wine goggles that make even a cephalopod look sexy! If it had been the first thing we ordered, we probably would have finished it. But unfortunately, we couldn't because we were f-u-l-l, stuffed, and to be quite honest, that tentacle really was pretty damn near the tenderest, tastiest octopus tentacle I've ever had, and I wasn't just saying that to get it into bed with me. Still, I can't believe I ate octopus. *shakes head* Damn wine.
We would have ordered dessert, but it was Saturday night, and duh, of course we had a full schedule ahead of us, so we had to scoot along to our ee-cha (second place). Though I had felt that momentary fear, held my breath with a dab of self-doubt in the beginning of the evening, I could now let out a sigh of happy relief. Cobras and Matadors is excellent. Confirmed.