On a recent Friday night at Inedit, two tall, dark guitarists wore all black, furiously slapping their instruments as a flamenco dancer in a flowing navy-blue dress clapped and stomped with the beat, pushing her nose and breasts into the air each time she shouted "Olé!" Bottles of red wine were poured with reckless abandon.
On a Thursday, however, we could almost hear the sound of our own heartbeats echoing inside the cavernous, deserted restaurant. The 200-seat Spanish restaurant's name is short for inedito, which translated means undiscovered. Though situated in a downtown walking district, less than half a block off Hollywood Boulevard, this weeknight it felt as undiscovered as a Florida panther colony. The piercing clatter after a lone waiter dropped a water pitcher echoed off blood-red walls and almost made us jump out of our seats. Inedit wasn't alone in its solitude; Hollywood's downtown has always felt halfway there; though it has a walkable district that should draw at least some crowds on weeknights, many of the establishments surrounding Inedit were also nearly empty.
Owner Jose Varela says he and his brother Luis opened the space in late 2012 to show off Spanish cuisine, in both traditional form and the modern interpretations that in recent years have made the country the culinary world's obsession. Jose contended that his restaurant would be different from Inedit's predecessor, La Barraca, which was run by chef Jorge Luis Fernández. That was open only on weekends and geared toward tourists and curious locals, Jose says. Inedit serves traditional Spanish cuisine throughout the week, including lunch sandwiches called bocatas.
Where La Barraca had beams of exposed dark wood and reddish-brown paint sponged onto walls to mimic a Spanish villa exterior, Inedit's new owners have installed a more modern yet distinctly Spanish décor. Past a dark-wood-paneled entrance, the restaurant is divided into two distinct halves, united only by buckets of red paint and pictures of musclebound bulls. One drawing of a massive black toro stands menacingly above the restaurant's entrance, its bulging, striated muscles accented by sharp lined shading. The gaze of its all-white eyes was set to the distance, as though it were readying itself to gore an unsuspecting matador. Inside are more bulls, including a mosaic collage made from different-colored squares of leather. A jet-black central bar divides the more stodgy, white-tablecloth side of the dining room from a lounge space filled with high-tops and industrial steel stools. Three large chalkboards illustrate recipes for such tapas favorites as salpicon de mariscos (a cold marinated seafood salad) and dozens of cocktails.
The lounge space is what Varela calls "El Taller de Tapas," or the Tapas Factory, designed for people to share a bottle of wine and bites in a more casual environment. Inedit's one-page, double-sided menu is mostly tapas, small plates of charcuterie and seafood. Unfortunately, Inedit's rendition of patatas bravas ($7.50) turns the classic Spanish fried-potato dish into a small bowl of fried potatoes that were greasy and missing the brava sauce — a spicy, garlicky tomato emulsion — that usually comes with the dish. There were similar mistakes in the tortilla espanola ($7.75), which was burnt to a crisp on the bottom and tasted like an overcooked omelet. Our server offered us sangria at $8 a glass, but on the bill, they came to $9 apiece.
Across the room, the main dining space is surrounded on three sides by red walls. On a dormant weeknight, multicolored light shapes shone from a projector on the ceiling truss, re-creating the feel of standing in an empty nightclub. On the weekend, multicolored spotlights came alive, casting their blue-green glow on a flamenco dancer while the hanging steel structure became almost unnoticeable in the middle of all the action.
Shows take place at 8 and 9:30 p.m. and last about 45 minutes. (No cover; reservations are suggested if you want a table.) After a quick flamenco rendition of "Happy Birthday" and the opening song, diners began making their way onstage to become part of the show. A heavyset Hispanic man with white hair and closely cropped narrow beard waved his napkin in the air to get the dancers' attention. Soon after, he was on his feet with his chest pushed out and his hips undulating from side to side. Dancing along to the driving guitar chords in his lavender buttoned-up shirt, French cuffs, and purple tie, he was both strange and delightful. Likewise, an awkward-dancing Anglo, whom the entertainers convinced to play out an onstage bull-and-matador fight, was a pleasant distraction from a boring Zarzuela de mariscos ($23), a seafood stew simmered in a red sauce with peas. Squid rings, two mealy, fishy-tasting mussels, one head-on prawn, and two square fillets of flavorless white fish came in a red sauce that was bland except for a faint hint of earthy, honey-like saffron.
A flurry of clay-red cazuela dishes with gambas al ajillo ($10) — shrimps cooked with olive oil and garlic — and chorizo al vino ($8.95) — Spanish sausages infused with paprika and simmered in red wine — emerged from the kitchen and fanned out across the room. The half-dozen shrimps were the small ones you find in fried rice from a cheap Chinese takeaway restaurant. Good olive oil gave the sauce a fruity pop, but not enough garlic made each bite greasy and muted. There wasn't even a hint of red-wine sauce with the chewy, pale-red stumps of chorizo.
The Zarzuela tapas was one of more than a dozen entrée-sized and -priced offerings that included meat, seafood, and four kinds of paella. The lomo de credo en salsa de mango ($18.50) came as two disks of underseasoned, overcooked pork loin with crumbly, garlicky skin-on mashed potatoes and a cloyingly sweet and eerily yellow mango sauce.
The Varela brothers say they brought in "Chef Amancio" from Barcelona to oversee the kitchen. Luis is a business-school graduate who worked in kitchens in Galicia and Barcelona. "We are focused on letting the client not only enjoy the show but the food," Varela wrote in an email. Though he claimed La Barraca was more about the food than the show, we would go back to Inedit only for the show and perhaps the two-for-one Friday cocktails.