FRESH AND CLEAN: New Zealand green mussels with spicy butter, chorizo and blue cheese. (Photo courtesy Maggie Louie)

FRESH AND CLEAN: New Zealand green mussels with spicy butter, chorizo and blue cheese. (Photo courtesy Maggie Louie)

DOWNTOWN — Just past the Third Street Promenade, tucked away on Second Street, sits Santa Monica’s newest little neighborhood tapas and paella joint, Taberna Arros y Vi.

Yeah, it’s a mouthful, and we haven’t even eaten anything yet.

There is a distinct feeling of being at a small family-owned restaurant. Many regulars fill the bar area, which is brimming with conversation and laughter. Staff joke and mingle with one another and patrons, giving the entire place a friendly, inviting vibe.

Executive Chef Verite Mazzola began her career as a humble pastry chef working for the likes of Wolfgang Puck, but soon found herself “hot side” running a full kitchen and staff. Now a seasoned veteran, she takes great pride in the restaurant and the quality of every dish they prepare. With daily deliveries from local farmers, imported spices from Spain and line-caught fish, shipped fresh daily (and sometimes with hook still in), the quality of her ingredients sets her apart in creating these classic Spanish dishes.

Here’s a sampling of what they offer:

 

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Morcilla bocadillo: Blood sausage sandwich with piquillo peppers and harrisa aioli

 

This oversized sandwich could be the Spanish version of a po’ boy or a Cuban. The blood sausage, made by Verite, uses rice in lieu of the onions, which balances the mineral flavor of the blood. This technique of sausage making is similar to that of the classic Creole sausage, boudin, but the taste is entirely different. Morcilla is rich and creamy; the rice absorbs the flavor of the blood but without adding a mealy or bready texture. The sausage is sliced and laid flat on the bread that’s been prepared with a healthy slathering of the harrisa aioli. Topping that is the roasted piquillo pepper. This large pepper is a type of chile, but is sweet, not hot. Grown in northern Spain near the town of Lodosa, this pepper has hints of pimento and roasted red pepper, but a distinct sweet smoky flavor all it’s own.

 

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Octopus carpaccio: Cured orange fennel salad, kusshi oyster, topped with fresh herbs

 

It’s hard to imagine how they slice the octopus so thin. Verite uses a technique that involves first making an octopus roll. After freezing this roll/log she is able to slice the delicate meat paper-thin. The roll is reconstructed on the plate with the thin disks placed overlapping, down the center of the long plate. Atop the delicate octopus sits the cured orange fennel salad. Light licorice and fresh citrus perfume without overpowering the dish. Finally the fresh herbs give a nice crunch to every bite. Everything I tried was absolutely amazing, but the octopus carpaccio was addictive.

 

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New Zealand green mussels with spicy butter, chorizo and blue cheese

 

If you love mussels but have never tried New Zealand greens, this is a must. The New Zealand greens are the cleanest tasting mussels I’ve ever had. The fresh, “non-lingering” taste is due to the cold-water temperatures, I’m told by Chef Verite.

“We sauté the shallots, white wine and chorizo, brown it all in a pan to order, add the mussels just until they open then add the spicy rosemary butter with tomato, a touch of blue cheese and serve immediately,” said Verite.

This is evident in the texture of the mussels. Perfectly cooked and based in the delicious sauce, the melding of flavors and textures is a “must order.”

 

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Crustless Honey Cheesecake

 

Chef Verite started her career as a pastry chef, so it should come as no surprise that she still has a passion for nurturing the sweet tooth. Using local honey as her inspiration for this velvety delicate cheesecake, Verite creates another original. For those looking for a lighter cheesecake packed with flavor, this is a great pick.

 

 

editor@smdp.com

 

 

If you go

Taberna Arros Y Vi

1403 Second St.,

Santa Monica, Calif.

www.tabernala.com

(310) 393-3663