Matzo ball tapas? It had to happen.
The little dishes of Spain were born a few hundred years ago, first for practical purposes. Slices of bread or meat that were used to cover glasses of sherry to keep the flies out morphed into signature dishes that advertised each tavern. When they first became popular in the United States, tapas mostly were confined to classics such as serrano and manchego, tortilla espanola or croquetas. But further morphing was afoot, with modern tapas spots wantonly bending borders and drawing from a variety of cuisines.
Which leads to Anise Tapas & Grill, a glatt kosher restaurant. As the name implies, the restaurant also offers entrees and burgers, but you won’t find tapas like these anywhere else in the valley.
The matzo ball tapas, which Anise calls Great Ball of Fire ($7), is a baseball-sized matzo ball, coated in panko and fried. The matzo ball itself was improbably light and fluffy, which made the panko coating a nice crispy contrast. There was shredded cabbage on the plate for crunch and drizzles of the sriracha mayo that led to the name. It turned out to be quite mild, a pleasing combination of contrasts with the mayo just the right counterpoint to the neutral matzo.
They saved the spice for the Shakshuka Poco ($10). Shakshuka’s a trendy dish, beloved in Israel and some other parts of the Middle East, though still rare in these parts. By nature it’s eggs poached in tomato sauce, often served for breakfast. In this case, it was a fiery mixture of tomatoes, bell peppers, onions and what’s no doubt the spiciest paprika on the planet, the flames tamed by the single poached egg and its runny yolk.
You can get hummus topped with many things these days, but the Hummus con Carne ($14) at Anise was probably the best we’ve had, a large plate covered with a thick layer of the familiar garbanzo-bean puree flavored with lots of cumin and topped with a heap of shawarma-esque chicken and lamb bits that were positively addictive. It was served with puffy coarse-wheat pita that had more character than the usual white variety and was the perfect foil for the weight of this dish.
The Crimini Relleno ($9), described as “creamy stuffed mushrooms,” featured a filling that was indeed creamy, but the only flavor came from the mushrooms themselves, not that that’s necessarily a bad thing.
A little more character had been infused into the decor, which featured leather and wood, big windows and oversized, colorful art that somehow all went quite nicely with the Sinatra soundtrack.
Service was abrupt at times, but once our server figured out we were willing to go with the flow, he seemed to relax. And to be fair, he and the others were racing around, serving some fairly large tables.
Being a kosher restaurant, Anise isn’t open on Fridays, but it’s worth seeking out, for some truly inventive dishes that are unique in the valley.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Email Heidi Knapp Rinella at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find more of her stories at www.reviewjournal.com and follow @HKRinella on Twitter.