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R.E. Tapas Kitchen and Lounge

The original tapa probably was a slice of bread propped atop a sherry glass. That seems a pretty far cry from Calvados pork tenderloin skewers, but that’s what happens when you take a tradition and run with it.

Tapas originated in the roadside taverns of Spain. The origin of the term is, like most such things, lost to the intervening centuries, but since "tapa" stems from the Spanish verb for "to cover," conventional wisdom has it that those first tapas probably were used as lids to keep fruit flies out of wine glasses, and no more, no less. Over time, enterprising barkeeps improvised and improved, until the term referred to little dishes served in the late afternoon to bridge the gap between the after-work period and the dinner hour — Spanish happy hour, as it were.

In this country, tapas have taken hold only during the past decade or so, although I don’t understand what took so long because it’s a very appealing tradition. Instead of a conventional one, two or three courses, a person dining on tapas gets to partake of lots of different dishes, tailoring the number to his or her appetite. And since the custom generally is to serve tapas family-style it’s a particularly convivial way to dine, with the shared conversation that always accompanies shared food.

Traditional tapas tend to be relatively simple and reflective of Spanish cuisine. But the diversification of the American palate is showing up in the fusionistic tendencies of our tapas places, which meld aspects of many cuisines. And such is the case at the new R.E. Tapas Kitchen and Lounge, home of the Calvados pork tenderloin skewers.

Which, actually, we didn’t order, mainly because we overlooked them, so taken were we with nearly every item listed on R.E.’s menu. And so here’s the report on what we did have:

Feta Fries ($6), old-style, chunky french fries topped with a creamy spinach sauce with feta cheese melting into it: Sinfully good; we told each other how decadent they were but still kept reaching back for more.

Grilled Hearts of Romaine ($5.50): Most grilled salads tend to be on the timid side, but this romaine was fairly well charred, which was quite nice. I swear I can taste the fuel used to grill mild-tasting foods and that seemed to be the case here, although it might have been my imagination. At any rate, the truly generous pile of prosciutto, flavor-filled Gorgonzola and mild balsamic vinaigrette accented the charred romaine perfectly.

Carpaccio of beef ($7) was pretty much conventional carpaccio — which is actually a compliment — although the mound of potato-lobster salad served with it was a plus.

Baked artichoke hearts ($7) were warm and almost melty, topped with a Parmesan-crumb mixture that added a nice bit of textural contrast.

Quesadilla Margarita ($4.50) was a classic border-bender, the tortilla stuffed with the traditional Italian Margarita combination of mozzarella, tomatoes and basil.

Rolled eggplant ($7.50) was more classic — classic Italian — a nicely executed miniversion of an eggplant rollatine.

Osso Bucco Piccolo ($9): We really wanted the Osso Bucco Ravioli ($6) but apparently our server misheard. At any rate, these were a bit of a novelty because we’ve never thought of osso bucco as something that could be done small, although the "piccolo" — from the Italian for "small" — should have been our first clue. This turned out to be slow-braised veal shank in slices, which, like most osso bucco we encounter these days, should’ve been braised just a little longer.

And Albondigas ($5.50): The only dish we had that was in the traditional tapas mold (the menu also includes Tortilla Espanola, croquetas, empanadas and others), these soft, moist meatballs were served in a soulful tomato sauce. The only thing is they were sort of … well … not quite boring, but not really very interesting, either.

Which is a testimony to R.E. Tapas’ kitchen. We love the classic tapas, but there was so much creativity on this menu, and clearly executed in its dishes, that we wanted to try them all. Mozzarella Beignets? Stuffed Date Lumpia? Tequila-Lime Chicken Satays? Images of many of them rotated on the restaurant’s video screens, which only tempted us further. We’ll be back to try more.

And more of the sangrias, no doubt; our pitcher of the house ($25; $6 by the glass) was not as fruity as some, but also not as strong, and quite refreshing. There are several other flavors, plus numerous mojitos.

And desserts. The Local Chevre Cheese Cake ($7) paired goat cheese with hints of balsamic and finished it off with a strawberry coulis and sliced strawberries, for a finish that wasn’t overly sweet but had intriguing flavors.

Service throughout was fine, with the dishes arriving almost at random, as we expected.

Las Vegas already had a couple of good tapas spots before R.E. opened, but R.E. can hold its head up proudly among them. And, a bonus: It’s not in the tourism corridor.

Las Vegas Review-Journal reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at 383-0474 or e-mail her at hrinella@reviewjournal.com.

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