OUR SIDE OF TOWN-DINING & TRAVELING THE WORLD

THE VELVET MARGARITA (Ay Carumba!) REMEMBERS ITS CHICANO ROOTS

A CANTINA IN THE HEART OF HOLLYWOOD —

 

The Velvet Margarita

 

I have to admit, the outside of The Velvet Margarita on Cahuenga Boulevard is a bit startling with its flamingo pink name embroiled on black. But I was curious. So one night we opted to walk through the single black industrialstrength door to find ourselves facing blue curtains. As we parted the drapes, our mouths dropped at the spectacle before us. We were definitely in a time warp – a mixture of Chicano Hollywood crossed with hot Tijuana whorehouse red — black-flocked wallpaper, candlelit chandeliers, and an atmosphere bustling with tequila, laughter and sensory overload.

 

A Bar's Eye View at the Velvet MargaritaWe were greeted by manager, Ali Sarraf, whose grandmother was Pancho Villa’s cook.(I kid you not) Seating us in a retro blue velvet booth where the lighting was so dim, it was miraculous we were able to see each other…let alone our food! We did, though we knew at once that this was not going to be an ordinary evening of Mexican cuisine, this was going to be an experience!

 

The owners of the Velvet MargaritaNightclub impresarios, “Big Daddy” Carlos Adley and his wife, Ava Berman, wanted a visually captivating restaurant. Veterans of the L.A. club scene, they partnered with Sidney Purdue to bring this fantastical HollywoodmeetsTijuana venue as a gift to the area and tribute to its vast Latino/Chicano subculture — they hoped to not only bring a restaurant but an ultra lounge to the newly revitalized corridor on Cahuenga, which is fast becoming one of the hottest spots in town for dining and entertainment. Open until 4 am on the weekends, it’s the perfect after hours place for people to sip shots of nearly 30 varieties of tequila and eat. Featuring velvet “Day of the Dead” paintings by renowned Mexican artist, Felix, and exhibiting pounded tin works, wrought iron, and glass Aztec calendars embedded in the oversized and imposing booths, privacy is the name of the game here but the food is much more than just another taco place. With Mexican movies starring Cantinflas and Vicente Fernandez silently playing on two large gold-framed screens above the extensive and dramatically lit bar, the dining area is more “subdued” and the menu, reasonably priced.

 

THE BAR AT VELVET MARGARITAImbibing their tequila cocktails including The Velvet Margarita, a signature drink presented in a fresh pineapple, blended with mango, pineapple, and Penca Azul, and the Velvet Chingon, consisting of Cazadores Resposado, fresh lime juice, and bar sugar, we were told choosing tequila is about what’s pleasing to your palate. The wait staff is trained to help you make the right choices depending upon your meal. What goes well with your appetizer? Your entrée? The end of your meal? With your cigar? “Don’t be shy, be inquisitive. Always ask for help in choosing,” instructs Ali. They will soon have a tequila trolley so people can “choose and experience the tequila off a cart as it was meant to be.” 

 

For starters, we nibbled the tuna cerviche and turkey empanadas (an immediate favorite!) and were told that the recipes were authentic to Carlos’ grandmother, Lupita, and his entire family.  Red tortilla chips came with 3 dips; pinto bean, salsa fresca, and a flavorful salsa made from Serrano chiles.

 

The Turkey Albondigas soup had a bit of a spicy kick to it while the Tequila Shrimp Bisque was a winner with its comfort cream base.

 

A platter with choice of tuna, carne asada, or chicken would have been enough but the chicken mole proved to be a delight. Normally I’m not a fan of mole. It’s very rich and usually overwhelming in flavor.  Here, this sauce was rich but not overpowering and extremely satisfying. The chicken enchilada with a mouth-watering tomatillo sauce was first-rate. All the entrees here are served with rice and beans.  The oddity is the scoop of potato salad that also accompanies the entrees — an unusual side dish in Mexican food.

 

The Dining Room at Velvet MargaritaFor dessert, we devoured apple empanadas with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce — a perfect end to an innovative meal. We could have had seconds. Ah, but the night was not over. Glasses arrived with shots of tequila to sample. El Tosoro had a bit of a sharp edge to it but the 1942 Don Julio tasted like butterscotch — smooth and easy to savor, hitting just the right part of our palate. This could become a habit we’d hate to break. After the first of the year, expect the storefront to open onto the sidewalk for Sunday Brunch and Mariachi bands serving up an entirely different menu.

 

Forgetting we were eating in the heart of Hollywood, we parted the curtains and walked out onto the street, leaving the hot bordello red and Wedgwood blue interior behind us. It felt like we had been in some colorful, kitschy Cantina in the Baja, mixing it up with the locals, before staggering home to bed. Now, all we needed was the horse, the pistol, and the sombrero!

 The Velvet Margarita  (323) 469-2000;16 12  N. Cahuenga Boulevard, Hollywood, CA 90028Hours: Monday – Thursday 11:30 a.m. – 2 a.m.;Friday 11:30 a.m. – 4 a.m.; Saturday 5 p.m. – 4 a.m.;Sunday 5 p.m. – 11:30 p.m.  VIP room upstairs, patio in the back. Mastercard, Amex, Visa accepted. Best Bet:  To drink — ask your waiter which tequila shots to order unless you already have a preference (priced accordingly).

Tequila Cocktails (from $8-$30); Turkey Empanadas and Tequila Shrimp Bisque  to start; Chicken Mole, skewered Carne Asada; for dessert, definitely the apple empanadas.

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