Viva Madrid, 225 Yale Ave. (at 2nd), Claremont
One of the 909’s most unique restaurants, Viva Madrid is the only Spanish tapas bar in this corner of the Empire. It’s been operating since the late 1990s in a small arcade of shops near a bagel shop and Rhino Records.
A bunch of us went there to celebrate a birthday last week. The restaurant is cozy, seating under 50, all squeezed in, plus another dozen at the bar. Even on a Thursday night the place is full, with a half-hour to 45-minute wait, a testament to its popularity. It’s a prime place for dates and celebrations. The close quarters add to the room’s energy level.
The single room is heavy on ambiance with rustic wooden tables and chairs, Spanish tchothkes on the walls, a large chandelier and dim lighting. A flamenco guitarist played on a small platform near the ceiling. Three friends toasted a 60th birthday at the bar. The restaurant attracts a wide age range, from college students to seniors.
The heart of the menu is the tapas, 40 small plates from $1 to $9. Each has a few bites, good for sharing, but not with many people. While they could be considered appetizers, most diners make a meal of them.
The six of us shared 11 tapas: yellowfin tuna on toast, an empanada, salmon-wrapped asparagus, chicken croquettes, chorizo-stuffed mushrooms, bacon-wrapped dates, barbacoa chicken, cheese and olives, beef with garlic and white wine, mussels and a basket of bread. We also had a seafood paella, which is a rice dish (double portion $32), and a creme brulee for dessert. Some had sangria ($15 per liter). The bill worked out to $27 per person, with the birthday honoree’s money not accepted.
There were some mild complaints: The size of the tapas varies too much (why are some two pieces and others five?), the bread didn’t taste fresh, the asparagus tasted canned, none of the dishes were especially complex or inventive.
Those cavils out of the way, most of the food was delicious. We all enjoyed our meal quite a bit, for the food, atmosphere and conviviality. Most of us are irregular but repeat customers, hitting the place for special occasions. There’s no place in the region quite like Viva Madrid.
I say, viva Viva Madrid!