Santa Barbara’s currentdining scene reflects three significant changes: the loss of Rocks, Piranha’s move into Rocks’ old space (801 State St.), and the addition of Latin tapas bar and steakhouse Matador (714 State St., 965-1307, sbmatador.com), where Piranha’s sushi chefs once sliced, diced, and rolled.
Matador’s philosophy is primarily focused on tapas, small plates meant for sharing, which brings attention to why we go out to eat in the first place. Tapas-style menus present choices and encourage discussion of the menu and what to order collectively for the table. The Spanish take their tapas seriously and even have a verb, tapear, which means to go out and eat tapas.
The flavors of Spain and Latin America come from their combination of specific spices and Mediterranean dishes. Heavily influenced by seafood available in local waters as well as maize-based staples such as tortillas and tamales, their colorfully zippy cuisine comes alive on tiny plates. Popular spices include garlic, chilis, paprika, cumin, salt, pepper, and saffron.
Matador’s endless menu options feature a few favorites, particularly a citrus-marinated halibut ceviche served at the perfect temperature to accompany your summertime spiced sangria. Chimmichurri filet skewers delight, and the frito y pasilla (flash-fried calamari with pasilla chilis) prove to be consistently delicious little poppers. A light dusting of flour makes them weigh no more than a feather as they dissolve in your mouth. Chipotle cheesecake dishes out a final kick to finish off the meal. Whether you sit at the bar, inside at a table, or line State Street’s sidewalk on the front patio, beverages to choose from include an array of cavas (Spanish sparkling wine), beer, and sangria as well as wines from Santa Barbara, Spain, and Latin lands beyond.