I wondered what Steve Cole, the intense perfectionist who owned Café Allegro, would think of the black-velvet paintings that now hang in the bar or the "carved" conquistador figurine -- seemingly made of wood but actually molded fiberglass -- hanging on the dining-room wall. There are no tablecloths, the napkins are paper and I've seen bullfighters approach el toro with more charm than the waiters I encountered during one recent lunch visit.
The restaurant's new operator, Louie Izurieta (the other three owners are Hanrahan, Alex Briones and Vicki Robertson), says the look is "rustic Spanish."
Right now, it's an all-tapas venue during the evenings, although Izurieta says the kitchen will start offering dinners, including paella, in a few weeks. The kitchen, overseen by Gamma Coronado, has a few irritating torceduras to unkink before it can compete with more stylish tapas vendors, such as La Bodega or Don Pepe's Spanish Cuisine. But the joint has potential. I thought the traditional Spanish potato omelet, tortilla Española, was good but way too heavy on the garlic -- and I love garlic. The albondigas a su gusto -- little meatballs in an almond-sherry cream -- were disappointingly bland, offering little of the "pleasure" that the Spanish name promises. But the lunch menu's pressed Cuban sandwich is as good as any you'll find in Miami.
Izurieta has lots of ideas for the space, which he fell in love with while sipping a cocktail on the rooftop patio one Saturday night when it was still Joe D's. "I was so amazed," he said. "Here was a great space, but no one was in there."
Business is better now -- even the concept of Matadors, including the kitschy décor, is an improvement over the lame idea of a Joe D's satellite. And I can't help but admire its distinctive eccentricity. For instance, the owners call the vibrantly orange Club Ibiza, which adjoins the dining room, an "art deco martini lounge," though it more accurately might be called El Greco Deco.