Restaurant Review #108: Cobras and Matadors, La Brea

Bacon wrapped prawns, or the last thing I'd ever eat

Cobras and Matadors is a small, cramped, boisterous restaurant. Light bulbs whose filament barely glows orange flank the booths against each wall, and the walls are decorated with hills of used wine corks and large black and white photographs in black frames. Even on a Tuesday night at 8:00, the restaurant was nearly full, including the four or so patio tables, and we were glad to have reservations.

It was rather chilly, and the table we were seated at was right in front of the door. I wasn't too happy about this, but somehow a visit to the wine store warmed me up and I didn't freeze through my meal. At the Hollywood location of C&M, you can hit up the adjacent wine store after ordering your food, and bring it back to the table to drink. Corkage is a reasonable $5, and the wines are also much less expensive than you would expect to pay if they were on a wine list. The man working in the wine store was confident, relaxed, and friendly, and had the air of being its owner. The red wine and the sherry he recommended were both excellent. He worked with my friend's price range and taste preferences to help us choose. You'll get child-sized drinking glasses for your wine, but this didn't seem to interfere with the flavor too much, and I hear you can request stems if you wish.

Patatas fritas (fried potatoes), not to be confused with French fries

This simple dish was one of the winners of the night. The yellow sauce in the foreground is alioli, or garlic mayonaise, and the red sauce in the background was a spicy, tomatoey, peppery concoction. Just don't expect long strings when you order these patatas fritas. There was also a sweet potato variation.

Jamon and manchego croquettes

Croquettes were one of my favorite dishes in Spain. My first morning there, I accidentally ate an uncooked one that was sitting on the counter at my host family's house, thinking that it was some sort of Spanish breakfast item that I wasn't familiar with but that had been left out for me. Even uncooked, they were awfully good, and I only figured out that they were meant to be cooked when they were served up deep fried at lunchtime. Cobras and Matadors croquettes really don't compare to Celia's home cooking--they were on the dry side. Also, they didn't particularly taste like manchego. I was pretty satisfied with them overall, though. They came with the same red dipping sauce as the potatoes. While the sauce seemed appropriate for the potatoes, it was really too strong for the croquettes, as it completely masked their flavor.

Bacalao (salt cod) cakes with alioli

I also really liked the bacalao cakes, perhaps in part because it's just so fun to say "bacalao." It was also exciting to be able to eat something that was like a crab cake (minus the sweetness), but that wouldn't make me sick. They were quite salty, but then, everything was, and all Spanish food seems overly salted to me.

Bread and cheese plate

All of the cheeses had that "hey, this is from the cheese store, not the grocery store" flavor to them, meaning that they were all good. If you're a cheese glutton like I am, I don't recommend sharing this plate. It came with a sweet apple spread, which was a welcome break from all the saltiness.

I also tried the grilled octopus, not pictured here because it was so unphotogenic. It might have been good, but it was so overcooked that it was nearly black on the outside (did I order blackened octopus?). The narrow ends of the tentacles were essentially just burnt nubs, while the thicker middle portions were basically just chewy and blackened. I think this dish could have been better had it been cooked properly. The marinated button mushrooms that accompanied it were tangy and spicy. Was the octopus supposed to taste like that as well?

Funny, I never ate French toast in Spain

Maybe they only do that regionally. I didn't know French toast could be a dessert either, but my friends told me that in France, it is. The question is, what do they call it there? Surely they don't just call it toast. It was excellent, as it was soaked in something that made the bread incredibly moist. The strawberry and fresh whipped cream were also delightful.

Has the chef been to Spain? These churros are Mexican!

I was a little disappointed by my churros y chocolate as the churros were coated with cinnamon and sugar. My friend, who has also been to Spain, concurred that she had never eaten such a churro in Spain, but that they were plain, kind of like a funnel cake (but less greasy). The chocolate was fine, though. This kind of chocolate is meant for dipping your churros and is thinner than a melted chocolate bar but thicker and less milky than most hot cocoa.

Overall, I had a hard time concentrating on my food because of the crowded, noisy atmosphere and low lighting. Some say that in such an atmosphere, these elements are meant to distract from less than compelling food. I don't think that was the intention here, but it still had the same effect. I would like to say that I would go back at a less crowded time, but given that Tuesday is traditionally the slowest night for restaurants, and 8:00 is somewhat late, I'm not sure when I would go (Monday at 6:00? They don't serve lunch). If you want a quieter table, you should consider sitting outside, if it's not chilly. Yes, I think that even with the noise of a major street, it would be quieter. The service was mostly fine but unmemorable; however, they never refilled our water, which was particularly noticeable since the food was so salty. We got lucky and parked on a side street, but you might need to use the valet service.

The food was pretty good, though Spanish food has never been my favorite because of its incredible saltiness. I might go back though, if another wave of nostalgia hits.

Cobras and Matadors
7615 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036

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