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The No-Date Ghetto @ Cobras & Matadors

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I dropped in at the Los Feliz branch of Cobras & Matadors Saturday evening around 6:30 with a friend. We had made no reservation; after all, it was early, the restaurant was big enough, and it was relatively early for L.A. dining. We both looked rather, um, "deconstructed" for eating out on a Saturday night. She was in the process of moving, so neither of us was in our finery. When I asked the host if he could fit in two, he eyeballed us and began to equivocate, saying the restaurant was fully booked. Never mind that the room was less than hall-full. He began to move about, looking to the big windows, and finally he said he could possibly fit us in if we didn't mind sitting outside. That was fine with us, so we took at side outside and had a nice meal.

Eventually, over the course of a ninety minutes or so, the restaurant did fill up. (Whether they all had reservations or not, I don't know. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt, though.) But, as we ate, my friend looked inside and observed, "All those people dress the same." And it was sort of true: Everyone inside was in their party dresses or halter tops, their untucked-but-ironed button-down shirts and best expensive jeans. The hair was appropriately straightened or gelled for the occasion. Then I took a look at our fellow diners on the pavement. Polo shirts. Flip-flops. Pony-tails. There was not a starched collar or speck of foundation to be seen. Inside, everyone was on a date. Outside, we were just the casual, no-nonsense people who happened to show up wanting some food and wine, showing up without the same level of attire or mating-ready posture as the customers indoors. As such, it seems we had been stuck in Cobras & Matadors' No-Date Ghetto.

The candles on our tables didn't get lit; after all, candles are for amor, right? And, by dessert time, the waiter was clearly in a hurry to get our check cleared. (After all, the two guys in camo shorts and white t-shirts need somewhere to eat, and, dressed like that, it's certainly not going to be inside.) I've been at restaurants where there is clearly a date scene, but I've never quite witnessed something to that extent. And it's not insulting as much as amusing. (The past tendency to ignore customers not also ordering wine at the Beverly Boulevard Cobras & Matadors was far more egregious.)

So be warned: Cobras & Matadors in Los Feliz is not a place for casual platonic dining on a Saturday night.

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  1. Thought I stumbled onto Datehound, or maybe Attirehound? I kept on reading figuring sooner or later there would be something on the food. Anything at all on the food?

    1 Reply
    1. re: Servorg

      Oh, sorry, the food...

      The pork tenderloin stuffed with ham and manchego was not a winner. Another friend of mine, for whom Cobras is her favorite restaurant, agrees it's not good. My friend was soundly put off by it.

      The asparagus with walnut vinaigrette and machego and almonds, on the other hand, has, for the four years I've been eating at Cobras, never failed to please me. Nor have the sweet potato fries. I could have done without the gazpacho (my friend's choice with the warm weather), but it wasn't terrible.

      The churros were fantastic, though. I had them the very first time I went to the Beverly location, and they were burnt. This time, they were absolutely perfect, smooth and custardy inside. The dipping sauce, made from Mexican Ibarra chocolate, is addictive. I would go just for some sherry and a plate of those amazing churros.

      The food here is nothing groundbreaking, but it's reliable and enjoyable. I had a glass of rosé cava and an oloroso sherry with dessert, and my friend had a red.

    2. Hi... Maybe the candles on the outside patio tables didn't get lit (figuring in your above mentioned 90-minute timeframe from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m.) because its still , well, light out at 8:00 p.m.? Do they light the indoor table candles at that time (or earlier) because there is less daylight indoors? And how would the host know that you and your friend were not dating each other ;-)

      1. That's interesting and you may be on to something, but attire aside, I've had several experiences with seating shenanigans, etc. at Cobras and Matadors so I don't think it's limited to clothes or dating status, they're just kind of funny that way. And I think the service on the patio suffers in general. But I agree that it can be enjoyable in the right situation (preferably on a weeknight, perhaps).
        I didn't think they took reservations at all, but maybe it's changed?

        2 Replies
        1. re: Chowpatty

          This was my first visit to the Los Feliz location, but the Beverly Boulevard location (and the now-defunct Cobra Lily) have always taken reservations.

          1. re: Woolsey

            Yep, they take reservations -- they're even on opentable now.

        2. I know that at the Mid-City location by the Grove, you can be as slummy as you like, and that you look awfully silly getting overly dressed up when the guy next to you (probably me) is in a T-shirt and board shorts. Different attitudes for different neighborhoods, I suppose.

          1. It seems like it would make more sense to put the well dressed people out front on the patio where passerbys would see them and be (supposedly) impressed by the coolness of the scene. Or is the patio not in the front?

            1 Reply
            1. re: writergirl

              I was thinking the same thing. Wouldn't the outside be more visible to people walking or driving past?

            2. Interesting. Cobras is definitely not a favorite of mine - I find the food at the LF location to be overly heavy, and while everything sounds good, I don't feel it delivers. However, before moving to Los Feliz years ago I often went to the Beverly location and really liked it. Putting that aside, I am surprised to hear that everyone was dressed up (and that you perceived some snobbery because you were not). That is something I don't believe I have ever observed in our 'hood, which is more known for its tattooed hipsters. I think you caught it on a strange night or something.

              Also, while I'm not sure they always have (back when I used to frequent the Beverly location they didn't), Cobras in LF definitely does take reservations. Whether all of those other people had them, of course, I cannot say. But I did call about a month ago for an 8:00 reservation on a Friday (I called around 4) and was surprised we could not get in until 9 - I think they must be much busier these days.

              1 Reply
              1. re: meganinlosfeliz

                Well, it was Saturday - date night. And I definitely thought the indoor crowd looked more (stereo)typically Hollywood than Los Feliz.

                As for the food, it struck me as much more "polished" than at the Beverly location, but not in a good way. Maybe that's not the word. More... standardized. Like a franchise. Everything was neat and buffed and plated quite prettily. But it was sort of soulless. The original Cobras & Matadors had a nice roughness to it. There was a sense of home-cooking - even if that meant that sometimes the churros were overcooked - that was missing Saturday night. I think the fact that the Los Feliz location has a much larger menu due to its larger kitchen and probably has a lot of the food preprepared (like most chain restaurants) makes a lot of the difference. I certainly didn't hate it. We had a good time. But the Beverly Boulevard location is still the best Cobras & Matadors in my book.

                All the times I went to Cobra Lily, their food was the best. I suspect it was because their menu was even smaller than the Beverly Cobras & Matadors', so they could focus on cooking the few dishes they served really well.