I am always on the hunt for great Spanish food. Ever since I spent a summer in Seville as a college student, I look for opportunities to try Spanish restaurants whenever I can find them. So when Brian saw that a new Spanish restaurant, The Cozy Taberna, was opening in downtown Salem, he knew I’d love to go.
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The Cozy Taberna is located in Electric Alley, Salem, in an old cider brewing building. Not only does that give the restaurant a fun historic vibe, but it also positions the Cozy Taberna within easy walking distance of whatever is happening downtown.
(This is a non-sponsored post. We did not receive any compensation for our review, and as always, all opinions are our own.)
Brian made a reservation for our regular Thursday date night using their online reservation system. He was impressed with the ease of booking, and to his surprise, he found that the only openings were for “Chef’s Counter” seating.
The Cozy Taberna had only been open for a few days, but every table was booked! He wasn’t exactly sure what chef’s counter meant, but seeing that it was the only option, he went for it.
We arrived in Salem around 7 pm and parked about a block away from Electric Alley. As we walked over, I loved looking at the historic buildings nearby, all lit up for the night. Right outside the entry for the Cozy Taberna there is a historic mural which tells about Electric Alley, which used to be home to the local electric company.
Chef’s Counter Seating
We stepped inside and the server offered to take our coats, then guided us over to our seats. Chef’s counter turned out to be a bar-style arrangement, but with an incredible view of the open kitchen.
I was impressed at the fact that I didn’t feel cramped or overheard, even though we were seated at a counter and the restaurant was packed. The open ceiling and a wall of glass windows on one side helped create a spacious atmosphere.
What a show! Throughout the evening, the six to eight people involved in food preparation moved with incredible precision, like a ballet routine.
This was the first time I have ever seen such a busy kitchen preparing food, and it was truly impressive. Not one person moved out of place, and each person clearly knew their craft and could do it with hardly a word spoken to the others around.
We were seated right next to the counter where the head chef was personally supervising and checking each dish before it went out. I found this entire process fascinating, and for a few minutes I didn’t even look at the menu.
The Cozy Taberna Drinks
The Cozy Taberna has an extensive drink menu, but I finally settled on sangria. Since my summer in Spain, I haven’t been able to find a restaurant in America that makes authentic sangria. Usually it tastes like fruit juice with wine added, or mostly wine with a little fruit. Sangria has become my “acid test” of whether it’s legit Spanish food or not.
My sangria arrived and I took a sip, wondering if I was about to be disappointed. Instead I smiled happily and told Brian, “It’s perfect!” This sangria is exactly what it should be—a refreshing, cool drink that is sweet without overpowering. It tastes like fruit, and wine, but neither and both at the same time. The Cozy Taberna has captured the magic that is sangria!
The Cozy Taberna specializes in the small shared plates that I came to love in Spain. You order two or three items and a drink, and then share each item as it comes out.
The servers will only bring you one at a time, so you truly get to enjoy each item individually. We ordered the brioche pop-up, the salt cod fritters, and the goat cheese drop dumplings.
The brioche pop-up arrived first. Golden brown on top, garnished with salt flakes and served on a hot plate with just-barely-solid butter in a dish, it was beautiful.
We each tore off a small piece. I put it in my mouth and the brioche almost melted, it was so light! This flavorful bread felt light enough to blow away if a puff of wind came along.
I was on the verge of ordering another pop-up (and not anything else, yay bread!), when our salt cod fritters appeared. Fritters are a common tapas item on Spanish menus, so I knew they would be a good gauge of authenticity.
The fritters were too hot to handle with our fingers, so we fork-cut bites and swiped them around the aioli. My first bite surprised me— the salt cod was subtle, with only enough fish taste so that you knew there was cod inside. I expected it to taste strongly of fish, remembering the Jamaican ackee and salt codfish I grew up eating.
The soft, dumpling-like center was savory yet understated. I would buy the aioli if they ever decide to bottle it. It’s just the right sauce for anything!
The goat cheese drop dumplings arrived last. The oil near the edge of the plate was still bubbling when we got it, so I had to patiently wait until it cooled enough for me to dig in.
Wow! I loved the goat cheese dumplings! Cushions of goat cheese that rest and mix ever so slightly along their edge with the arrabbiata sauce.
I’m not sure I’ve ever tried arrabbiata before, but this one was fantastic! Just a hint of spicy heat, and tomato flavor without the tomato overpowering everything else. Many restaurants serve something in a marinara or other tomato-based sauce, and all you taste is the tomato— this arrabbiata was balanced and flavorful.
The Cozy Taberna Dessert Offerings
I deliberately saved room for dessert, because every dessert I saw made me certain it was worth waiting for. I asked our server about the Basque burnt cheesecake, because it sounded so unusual. She assured us that it had no burnt taste, it’s just finished with flame. We finally opted for the cheesecake and the chocolate torte, knowing we would be taking some home.
I’m a chocoholic through and through, so of course I dug into the torte first. Truffle smooth, like mousse and fudge together. I love dark chocolate, so I found it exactly sweet enough. The raspberry puree added a hint of tart, but not so much as to overpower the dark chocolate.
I could only eat one or two bites at a time before I needed a sip of water to break up the richness. Next time, I would order espresso with it.
The Basque burnt cheesecake was just as excellent. Although cheesecake makes it sound heavy, and it’s not heavy in the least. Surprisingly light, creamy and moist, the taste was similar to cheesecake and crema Catalan (similar to flan, but milder in flavor). If your favorite cozy fleece blanket became a dessert, this would be it!
Despite my obsession with chocolate, I couldn’t decide which of the two desserts I liked best, so I alternated between bites of each.
Service and Quality
The server took note of our slowed eating and asked if we were ready for boxes and our check. Perhaps what was most impressive was how chill the entire process was from beginning to end. At no time did we feel rushed along.
The Cozy Taberna aims to be a venue where people can enjoy time together. It was clear to us that they take that purpose seriously.
I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at the Cozy Taberna, especially sitting at the Chef’s Counter and being able to watch all the food being prepared. It’s easy to see the attention to quality and detail that goes into every dish, whether in the foil-wrapped actual bricks on top of the Moroccan brick chicken, or the beef roast being set aside to rest fifteen minutes before slicing, or the tiny salt flakes on the brioche.
The excellent food and quality service left us expecting a large tab, but instead it was under $80 for the two of us, including gratuity. For three plates, a drink, and two desserts, that seemed more than reasonable.
We’re already making plans to return to the Cozy Taberna for another date night. There were so many things on the menu I wanted to try, and I’m certain that they will be just as excellent as everything else. Get over there and try it before everyone else finds out about this amazing taste of Spain in Salem, Oregon!
© Copyright Jennifer D. Warren 2022
For another Salem area restaurant review, check out our post about Taproot.