Even before I moved to Charlotte, I had a favorite restaurant here: Coco Osteria. I ate there on my first visit to the Queen City (and every trip thereafter). I loved the food, the ambiance, and the service. I never once dined inside of Coco’s—I always sat outside with a bottle of wine smack dab in the middle of uptown surrounded by the energy of the city. To my horror, Coco’s shut its doors in December and reemerged as Malabar, a Spanish tapas restaurant, in January. I was devastated. To make matters worse, I had to walk right by 214 N Tryon every day on my way to and from work. I’d peer into the windows trying to get a feel for the place. I’d note how many people patronized the restaurant at various times of day. I inspected the menu dozens of times.
Last month I realized some of my favorite dishes from Coco’s are now served at Luce, a sister restaurant located in the same courtyard, mere steps away. So then I became a little less angry and slightly less hostile and decided to finally try Malabar.
Inside Malabar, the seating area is quaint with about 15 or so tables. They tend to fill up shortly after noon and again around 6:30 in the evening.
There is also a bar area with a handful of stools.
The Malabar dinner menu boasts four types of tapas (vegetable, meat, seafood, and cheese), plus entrees, and traditional made-to-order paella.
I needed a cocktail to assist me in analyzing the menu, and I opted for the Caipirinha, which had a mango puree and fresh muddled basil. It was different from traditional Brazilian Caipirinha, but very enjoyable nonetheless.
It wasn’t an easy decision, but we opted for tapas rather than paella so that we could sample more of the menu.
The star plate of the evening was the Almejas a la Mancha (sautéed clams, chorizo, and saffron). At only $10, I think this was a pretty generous serving.
Both the chorizo and the clams were tender and coated in a delicious Spanish red sauce. My best bite was a sauce soaked piece of bread, topped with a large slice of chorizo, and garnished with a succulent clam.
We also order the Croquetas ($8). These were basically little fried logs of mashed potatoes. They were decadently creamy, but the best part of the dish was the garlicky white sauce the croquetas were perched upon. The menu says the croquetas are made of potato, manchego, and jamón serrano. The potato and manchego were definitely there, but ham and pepper? I couldn’t taste either of them. And only three croquetas for $8? Overpriced in my opinion.
Next was the Braised Beef Empanadas ($9). The plate came with four empanadas, which were good but in SERIOUS need of a sauce. Thankfully we had leftover red sauce from the clams and chorizo, and a spoonful on each empanada completely transformed the plate.
I went back to Malabar for lunch and tried their Cubano with pork and ham, homemade pickles, swiss cheese, and mustard for $9. This sandwich was OK, but I was a bit disappointed. This is North Carolina, and I was expecting hunks of succulent pork. Instead, the sandwich had thinly-sliced lunch-meat style barely discernible meats.
For vegetarians or those looking for a lighter option, Malabar has several entree salads available in the $10 price range. You can opt to get the salads without meat, bringing the price down to a mere $5.
On the whole, I like Malabar but I don’t love it. There are several other tapas on the menu I’d like to try as well as the paella, so I will return. In addition to the paella, I’ve heard great things about the Pimientos Rellenos and Albondigas (beef meatballs in tomato sauce).