Hearing that the new tapas restaurant and wine bar, Minotaure, opened up in Chloe’s old space left me feeling like I found a hidden gem. A high-profile chef, flamenco dancers and over 30 different Spanish tapas every night on the lonely stretch of Culver Boulevard? It sounded promising.
Upon arriving at 7ish, the dressed-in-red restaurant was virtually empty save for our party of four and two other couples. The
menu of four pages sewn to a thick orange board displayed a variety of hot and cold tapas as well as paellas and salads.
After pondering the menu for awhile we settled on the Ceviche del sol ($13, shrimp and swordfish); Jamon Serrano ($10, antipasto ham, proscuitto, canteloupe and olives); Tuna Roja ($14, ahi tuna with avocados and green chili); Camaron de Coco ($12, coconut shrimp in balsamic and coconut sauce); Banderillas ($10, chicken and beef kabobs in lemon-white wine sauce); and Binuelos de Verdura ($8, feta and mozzarella cheese puff with spinach). Yup, we ate a lot.
All the dishes were eh OK with the favorites being the Tuna Roja, coconut shrimp and the spinach and cheese puffs but the group consensus was that the meal wasn’t all that impressive. Since I’m not a tapas restaurant expert, I left it to Dre to let me know how it faired compared to other ones she patronized. According to her the selection here wasn’t especially enticing and there were many better tapas eateries than this one. Comparing Minotaure to Violet, the tapas restaurant in West L.A., she said that the portions here were bigger but cost about the same, which is to say still expensive.
OK, the food wasn’t blow-you-out-of-the-water good but at least our waitress Leila was nice. Very personable, she offered us her suggestions for which tapas were the best and which wine on the wine list would suit our taste for something full-bodied. But although she was a sweetheart, the fact that she kept us waiting 30 minutes to give us our bill, another 15 to give us change because charging credit cards and cash at the same time “confused” her and offered us a communal cup to share a taste of house sangria amongst ourselves earned her a mediocre tip.
I think the waiting wouldn’t have been too bad if we didn’t have to sit there and listen to the Spanish guitarist for most of the night. He sat on a low chair, back to the wall, by the bar loudly strumming his guitar with no particular tune except the beginnings of a paso doble song that never transpired. “He sounds like my 7-year-old nephew,” Dre said. I get it, it’s supposed to be “atmosphere” but all the music really accomplished in doing was pissing me off.
Leila told us that Minotaure gets packed on Friday and Saturday nights for the flamenco dancing. Apparently she and some other waitresses dress up as flamenco dancers, while even more guitarists provide the music which gets restaurant patrons up and dancing. It just made me curious as to who shows up here on those nights. Locals? Friends of the owners?
I can see how people could be charmed by the decor, ambience and theme of the restaurant, but when it comes down to it, that’s all bull. With more and more tapas restaurants popping up all over the place, you’d have to do more to stand out from the competition than look pretty. Offer a happy hour (Violet at least has 7 before 7), special dining nights, wine flights, something other than more Spanish guitarists.
It may be unfair of me to condemn a whole place for the trespasses of one restaurant but, really, if even the new “hot” restaurant leaves one feeling, well, cold what’s the point of eating anywhere in Playa del rey?