It must be brutal to walk away from a restaurant concept that succeeded for more than 15 years, but that’s what owner Samad Naamad did this past summer with Tangierino, his Moroccan eatery in Charlestown. Sensing shifting neighborhood tastes, he hired chef Matthew Leddy (ex-Townsman) and tasked him with reinventing the location as a Spanish joint. The result is Madera 83, which replaces Tangierino’s romantic North African rooms with a cozy, plush-looking taberna featuring tufted red leather banquettes, gleaming polished-wood walls and a longish menu of fairly traditional Spanish small plates.
A classic kickoff is a plate of jamon serrano ($9), the thirst-inducing, salty, dry-cured Spanish ham, which pairs nicely with small cheese servings such as garroxta ($7), a mild aged goat cheese, or a wedge of valdeón ($7), an intense Spanish blue. Aceitunas alinadas ($5), warmed-up, herb-dashed olives, and pimientos de padrón ($8), grill-kissed hot green peppers sprinkled with grated cured egg yolk, help set the table for a small plates feast.
Pan con tomate ($7), grilled rustic bread topped with raw tomato pulp and sea salt, loses some traditional zing by subbing roasted garlic for raw. Croquetas, fried spheres of thick béchamel with savory admixtures, boast similar subtle tweaks to canon with better results: creamy, briny croquetas de bacalao ($10) get an aioli drizzle and a topping of marinated fennel, while croquetas de setas ($9) inspire second orders with their gorgeous, earthy pockets of minced mushrooms squiggled with spicy harissa aioli and bright piquillo relish. Patatas bravas ($8), crisp-fried fingerling potatoes, also get a capsicum hit of smoked tomato aioli and thin-sliced pickled chilies.
Cold vegetable plates are a bumpier course. Ensalada de manzana ($10) is a sweet/tart apple salad punched up with frisee, sumac and blue cheese, while ensalada de tomate ($11) presents pretty, great-for-December heirloom tomato wedges with marinated fennel and the concentrated acerbicness of black olives. But escalivada catalana ($9), a stew of eggplant, onions and tomatoes sprinkled with pine nuts and served with grilled baguette, has the odd, off flavor of nearly raw tomato sauce. Meanwhile, alcachofas asadas ($10), a generous arrangement of roasted marinated artichokes dotted with sherry labneh, suffers from straight-from-the-fridge coldness that mutes its flavor, though it improves when allowed to warm up at the table.
Hot dishes are more consistent, starting with the super-simple coles de bruselas ($8). Brussels sprouts are cooked to just the right char and crispness in olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt and smoky pimentón. Sardinas a la parrilla ($7) is one perfect, plump, whole grilled sardine with a sweet/salty garnish of raisins and capers. Mejillones ($11) is a nice mess of Maine mussels neatly simmered in a broth of vermouth and garlic with a floating pimentón-aioli crouton. You’ll want extra bread ($1 for a few slices) to sop up that wonderful broth. Gambas al ajillo ($13) is another simple seafood charmer of griddled shrimp in a shallow puddle of white wine, sherry, garlic, chilies and herbs. But pulpo a la plancha ($14) disappoints despite a fine stew of tomatoes, onion, confit eggplant and fried garlic, thanks to the unpleasant texture of the possibly previously frozen octopus, with its thin, tough rind and mushy interior. Pollo al chillindrón ($13) is an unconditional crowd-pleaser, its long braise of chicken legs in tomatoes, chickpeas and chorizo yielding another sensational gravy (again, get more bread). Costillas de cordero asadas ($15) are delectably crisp-roasted, if rather fatty, small lamb ribs helped by the yin yang of sherry glaze and mint-pistachio relish. Albondigas con membrillo ($10), tender pork meatballs with a neatly crisp exterior, get a novel sweet note from a quince paste-based glaze.
Larger plates include paella a la madera ($26), which benefits from an insistent saffron aroma and goodly meat/seafood mix, but the lack of a crunchy socorro crust results in some dull textural uniformity. Pescado a la parrilla ($25) left us with no such reservations: It’s a perfectly done, fileted-in-the-kitchen, grilled whole fish (the delicious, underused local species porgy one night), topped with a vibrant, cilantro-redolent salsa verde and a lot of nifty pan-crisped potatoes.
The short list of desserts has its adventures, too, like a flourless chocolate cake ($8) with whipped cream that was promoted as molten but cooked through; a terrific, not overly sweetened almond-walnut baklava ($8); and a winning arroz con leche ($11) that takes crème brulee, punches it up with Iberian spices, and thickens it with the same short, fat Calasparra rice used in the paella.
The bar features some specialty and Spanish cocktails ($10-$12), including the cute Remember-illo ($11), a sort of bourbon swizzle decorated with a ruby chunk of membrillo (quince paste). There are de rigueur white and red sangrias ($9/glass, $36/pitcher) plus a list of nearly 20 draft and packaged beers ($5-$16). The wine list includes 67 bottles—a third of them available by the glass ($9-$14)—including 50 reds, leaning to Spain and California (most under $53). We loved the 2015 La Cartuja ($46), a velvety garnacha/cariñena blend from Priorat, and a Portuguese charmer in 2015 Aplanta ($48), a bright, fruity aragonez/alicante blend from Alentejo. A list this versatile, fairly priced and food-friendly is a huge asset to a tapeo, though some staffers could use a refresher on the basics of wine service.
With its soft lighting and flowing drinks, this little neighborhood spot seems guaranteed to launch a few thousand successful first dates. Naamad took a leap and a gamble with this reinvention, and Madera 83 has rewarded his daring by getting most of the venerable Spanish tavern formula comfortingly right.
Croquetas de setas
Ensalada de tomate
Coles de bruselas
Gambas al ajillo
Pollo al chillindrón
Albondigas con membrillo
Pescado a la parrilla
Arroz con leche
Madera 83, 83 Main St., Boston (617-242-6009) madera83.com; Hours: Brunch: Sat., 10:30 am-3 pm; Dinner: Sun.-Thu., 5-10 pm, Fri.-Sat., 5-10:30 pm; Pinxtos: Fri.-Sat., 3-5 pm; Late-night menu: 10:30 pm-midnight; Reservations: Yes; Liquor: Full; Parking: Very limited street spaces and valet on Thu.-Sun. nights