The name of the latest restaurant from Michael Hide Cardenas (Sushi Roku and Lazy Ox Canteen) gets to the point: Taberna Arros y Vi, or Rice and Wine Tavern. As Cardenas simply puts it, "a lot of our dishes incorporate rice and wine." The restaurant in Santa Monica began serving multi-regional Spanish cuisine in Santa Monica since last month, June 12 and had a recent grand opening on Thursday, July 18.
"We do a lot of Catalan," says Cardenas. "That's Barcelona, Valencia. We have pinxtos from the Basque area. We use the chorizos from the Andalucia. Spain is such a diverse country, whether it's Basque or city food in Madrid. There's a lot of different flavors coming from each region."
There are five paellas, first divided by styles of rice, Bomba or Calasparra, then ranging in meat from chorizo to beef shank and flavor profiles. There are sangrias, five as well, which come in unexpected combinations, such as the red pepper made of Chardonnay, bell peppers and cilantro or the beer sangria with pear, orange juice and Estrella Damm beer. The selection of tapas is longer, with quite a few Spanish classics in the form of croquettes and gambas al ajillo, or garlic paprika shrimp, with grilled bread. A Majorcan-style fish stew with prawns and mussels is among a handful of more substantial dishes.
Cardenas brought in Verite Mazzola, previously at Palmino in Westwood, Ford's Filling Station and Akasha in Culver City, as head chef to put forth dishes that emphasize fresh ingredients and simple cooking. "She's of Italian descent and spent some time in Spain," says Cardenas. "She's very food savvy and very driven. She hasn't taken a day off since we've opened, often behind the line day in and day out."
Cardenas sees a parallel between cuisines in California and Spain. "The climate is similar to L.A. It's kind of resurrecting a Wolfgang Puck grill-style cooking when he first came out doing California cuisine. Spanish cuisine is driven by market-fresh ingredients. They don't use a heavy sauce. We're not focusing on the modern gastronomy aspect. The menu has more traditional items -- paella, grilled items, vegetables."
For interior design, Cardenas commissioned Preen Design for the initial infrastructural work, then called upon artist Rick Maverick, who he says previously helped bring warm elements to the design of Lazy Ox Canteen, to put the finishing touches in the form of lighting and artwork.
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