Small plates, when done well, are by far my favorite way to dine. Jose Andres’ Jaleo in D.C. and Good Food on Montford in Charlotte are two of my personal favorites. I love sharing plates and getting to taste multiple flavors, tastes, and styles throughout the meal instead of sticking with one dish. Malabar, a new Spanish Tapas restaurant in the heart of Uptown, does it very well. An authentic Spanish menu, attentive and informative staff, beautiful interior, hip ambiance, and a fabulous location fills a void in Charlotte’s uptown dining scene.
Malabar took over the former Coco Osteria location in uptown after Charlotte restauranteur Augusto Conte decided to move to a Spanish tapas concept. Not wanting to disappoint devoted Coco diners, he moved some of Coco’s popular dishes to Luce, his Italian concept on North Tryon. Conte Restaurant Group also owns Mezzanotte, which I’m dieing to try (for their Neopolitan style pizza), Toscana, and Trattoria Antica in Waxhaw.
Malabar’s location is perfect, right in the center of Uptown in a trendy, urban setting. The dining room is small and intimate, perfect for girls night out or a romantic date. The server/manager was extremely attentive, charismatic, and helped us navigate the menu by offering his favorites. I loved the way the menu is set up, divided into categories: meats, cheeses, vegetables, fish, entrees, and paellas.
The first was an eggplant bruschetta, with roasted red peppers, almonds, garlic, and tomatoes. The creamy eggplant was perfect with the perfectly toasted bread and elevated by the bold flavors of the garlic and peppers. I wanted more. The lamb skewers were juicy and tender, I didn’t get tons of flavor, but the hit of lime juice was a nice complement. Next up was one of my favorites of the night, Pimientos Rellanos, or stuffed roasted red peppers.
Soooo yummy. Delicate, juicy, brightly roasted red peppers stuffed with cheesy goodness. I wish I had gotten a picture of the inside. These are fabulous. We followed up with a tasty Spanish cheese, aged Manchego with rosemary rind.
Pretty simple, could have used some accompaniments. It was however, a good segway into these crunchy, salty, and pillowy-light Croquetas filled with creamy potato, nutty manchego, and salty serrano ham.
Not at all heavy or greasy like some fried food can taste, these Croquetas were delicate and crispy on the outside, creamy and luscious on the inside. Delicious. Not wanting to pass up any traditional Spanish dishes, we ordered a plate of Jamon Serrano and were delighted when this came to the table
Serrano is a dry-cured ham found all over Spain, similar to Italian prosciutto. It is much less salty than American ham and has less fat than prosciutto with a firmer texture. The curing of the meat imparts a deep flavor and aroma. It was perfect served on its own.
Next up was something I never fail to order when it’s on a menu: sautéed clams with chorizo.Or, Almejas a la Plancha. The spicy chorizo and saffron combined to build a delicious, rich, and deeply flavored broth. The clams sucked up all of that chorizo-saffron goodness and were tasty, but the creamy broth was by far the best part. Everyone was dipping the extra table bread into the bowl by the end of this to soak up the last of it.
The next plate was amazing: Champinenes, or sautéed wild mushrooms. Simple concept, amazing outcome.These weren’t just any old mushrooms. These were the most earthy, meaty, delicious mushrooms I can remember eating. You have to get this dish.
After working our way through the tapas menu, we decided to sample some desserts.
We had a lovely dining experience at Malabar. If you’re looking for something different, try it out for an authentic Spanish dining experience. The tapas menu has a lot to offer, not to mention four different paellas to choose from. The staff was welcoming and very helpful talking us through the menu. I will definitely be returning to Malabar for those stuffed peppers, rich and meaty mushrooms, and to sample the paella.