6/13/2013 04:00:00 PM

First Look: Santa Monica's New Taberna Arros y Vi

It's been almost a year since we heard about Michael Cardenas' plans to open a Spanish restaurant in Santa Monica's beloved Tudor House, which closed in 2012. The Lazy Ox owner had plans to open a paella pub-like spot with Perfecto Rocher at the helm, but plans with the Spanish-born chef fell through. Out of nowhere the Taberna Arros y Vi debuted yesterday with a virtually unknown Verite Mazzola at the helm creating a menu of Spanish specialties, including paella, plus sangria, Petrov cocktails and more. We stopped in last night for a quick look and found a cool spot with antlers and boar's heads and flickering candles, big beautiful chairs, a big bar and a few cozy nooks. And addictive fried tiny smelt.

The first thing we noticed upon walking in was that Bar Pintxo has nothing to worry about. While it does seem odd to open a Spanish restaurant a few doors away from Joe Miller's small tapas spot, the space and menu are pretty different - one, Taberna, is much larger, with more a Spanish-inflected gastropub menu; Bar Pintxo is small, bustling, bar stools, pintxos and tapas. Maybe Spanish cuisine will takeover Santa Monica, you never know. Cardenas, who helped build the Sushi Roku brand and then set out with his own gastropub that became the launching pad for Josef Centeno's cuisine, has a knack for creating the right space for bold-flavored food, and after a taste through some of the dishes, we see a lot of promise here. 

Snacks like the fried tiny smelt with spicy aioli for dipping, and crispy spiced potato skins, which are really more like chips, were pretty fantastic. The small pans of paella had nice flavor and a decent socarrat on the bottom. The fideau negro was full of tender octopus rings and plump shrimp. There were chocolate-stuffed figs covered in chocolate and a delicious flan for dessert. Everything could have just a little more or less something, but Mazzola, who previously worked at Ford's Filling Station, is off to a good start. Check out some sights and bites below. Taberna Arros y Vi is open daily for dinner with happy hour from 5-7 PM (1403 Second St.; 310-393-3663).


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