An international trip, right down to the exchange rate
Sergio Salvador salvadorphoto.com
Tapas, Spanish for “snacks you eat before or after a night of partying” (or simply “appetizers” for short), have become wildly popular left of the Atlantic in recent years. While the chance to mix it up with several dishes sounds yummy enough, tapas eateries—and their customers—have had to struggle with an obvious flaw: You can end up getting less food per dollar than with full-sized portions.
Cosmo Tapas has joined the bite-sized revolution, setting up shop in the space that once housed the Martini Grille. With an ambitious menu of tapas from around the world, the international theme is bolstered by enclosing menus inside manila envelopes stamped “International Courier.”
Cosmo benefits from the serious mojo leftover from the Martini Grille days. Despite being only a few months old, it has the feel of a well-worn pair of jeans.
The space seems organizd by great feng shui. There are cool light fixtures, pleasing nature photographs on the wall and a patchwork of colored tablecloths that lend a lovely light to the dining room, as does a large neon painting of Times Square. Ambient jazz-tronica music sets the mood when there isn’t live music (flamenco, salsa or samba, depending on the night). Cosmo also benefits from the serious mojo leftover from the Martini Grille days. Despite being only a few months old, it has the feel of a well-worn pair of jeans.
The crowd that turns out for the music nights is young and diverse—looking around the dance floor, you’d think you were in Paris. Over at the bar, the mixed drinks are interesting and, for the most part, good. The “Samba,” made with Cachaça (Brazil’s bracing sugar cane liquor), grape juice, lime and Muscato wine syrup was excellent, as was a drink special blending orange-hibiscus vodka with hibiscus flowers and fresh orange slices. On the downside, my passion fruit Mojito tasted more like bubblegum than fruit. And the drinks weren’t the strongest. At those prices—specialty drinks averaged $7 each—you could spend $30 to barely get a buzz on, which seemed an unlikely prospect for that crowd.
The menu, likewise, is daring and interesting, but not priced for the dance hall.
A plate of bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with goat cheese was a winner, and I could have eaten about $100 worth of lollipop lamb chops with olive tapenade. Scallops sautéed in garlic, hot pepper flakes and Sherry were awesome. And at nearly $4 a scallop, they should be.
A palm heart salad with mixed greens and a coconut lime dressing was tasty, if small. But the tomato salad bombed. Its centerpiece was a cardboard tomato—in September no less—with a tired onion garnish. The paella came highly touted and had its moments; but the chicken was dry and some of the veggies seemed canned. Its seafood mix of squid and mussels, however, tasted fresh and lively, and helped pick up the slack.
One evening, our server brought out a complimentary plate of spicy fridge pickles, which set the mood for what was easily the best deal we encountered at Cosmo. For $18, the seared tuna entrée reeled in a hefty piece of fish seasoned with ginger and sesame, a dollop of wasabi mayo (my weakness), and sides of veggie-laden rice and seasonal vegetables. Because the entrée selection rotates, I can’t guarantee that option will be there when you visit—but if you’re looking to fill up for less money, consider it. Finishing the meal, a rolled pastry of dulce de leche, walnuts and coconut, called brazo gitano, was well-suited for the excellent cup of coffee I sipped.
Cosmo has a lot of things going for it: great ambience, a creative kitchen, a solid lineup of live music and a sophisticated flair for fun. What it needs is to round out the menu with some low-cost, high-calorie options and strong drink specials. There are plenty of folks there who want to eat dinner and enjoy the party without bum-rushing the ATM.
The Alibi Recommends:
• Bacon-wrapped dates with goat cheese
• Scallops al pil-pil
• Seared tuna entrée (look for other entrée specials)
• Samba mixed drink
4200 Central SE
Hours: Sunday, Tuesday through Thursday 5 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 5 p.m. to midnight. Closed Monday.
Price range: Tapas start at $4, entrées push $20
Credit cards: Yes