Alex Stratta is a name synonymous with excellence. This Michelin award winning Chef is now bringing his culinary magic to the common diner via his newly opened Tapas by Stratta restaurant. The Tapas concept although seemingly the recent rage in bringing an affordability and approachability to the masses here in Las Vegas, has been around for a very long time.
The word “tapas” is derived from the Spanish verb tapar, “to cover.” According to The Joy of Cooking, “the original tapas were the slices of bread or meat which sherry drinkers in Andalusian taverns used to cover their glasses between sips. This was a practical measure meant to prevent fruit flies from hovering over the sweet sherry. The meat used to cover the sherry was normally ham or chorizo, which are both very salty and activate thirst. Because of this, bartenders and restaurant owners began creating a variety of snacks or appetizers to serve with sherry, thus increasing their alcohol sales. The tapas eventually became as important as the sherry.”
Far removed for those days of practical culinary improvisation, we see this concept of small plates popping up from many major culinary Chefs who are bridging the gap between fine dining and affordability. The concept is to share and create an experience with conversation and various small plates instead of focusing on one main entrée. And…We don’t have to worry about the fruit flies invading our sherry, since Chef Alex has honed his culinary skills to now bring a much more sophisticated approach to the Tapas style dining experience.
Nestled amongst the myriad of restaurants in the rustic faux Italian town square of Tivoli Village, Chef Stratta has opened his version of a Spanish Tapas style restaurant that has transformed the now defunct PoppyDen with bright warm beige yellow walls, eye catching red-orange seating, décor highlighted with an eclectic mix of white framed mirrors and lively original Chef Stratta paintings. As we relaxed into the seats, we were anticipating our turn to try some of the Tapas offered by this amazing Chef. He stated, “This is a labor of love.” And by creating everything from the artwork on the walls to the artwork on the plate, we are thrilled that he has poured his creative soul into this new venture.
We took a look at the menu and found the food to be pleasantly thought out and superbly executed. Starting with the Slow Roasted beet salad with cheese, candied walnuts. The the creamy and pungent taste of the cheese provided an inviting contrast to the dense-semi sweet beets along with the crunch and texture of the candies walnuts to get us off to a great start. Next on the plate was the Jamon Iberico Spanish ham with tiny cigar shaped crackers. These crunchy treats are paper thin and delicate with a mild saltiness, which provided us a true taste of Spain. A nice sharable plate we highly suggest are the charred Padrón peppers with garlic chips, and onion crisps. Although not too hot, they were an perfect companion to our Tapas line up.
Our favorite of the evening was the special beef cheeks. They were meltingly tender with a deep rich flavor highlighted even further with little bits of Medjool dates,spiced with jalapeno, sprinkled with sesame seed, on a bed of pureed chic peas and braised red wine sauce. Each bite was exquisitely prepared and the meat melted with the spicy sweetness of the sauce. We had to reboot and to halt the motion of the fork in order to try our next dish that was the special Paella of the evening.
Highly recommended was the Paella with squid ink that created an inky blackness, and fresh seafood flavor. It’s cooked to order in shallow pans using bomba rice, dense rice that is similar to Arborio rice. Rice is the most important ingredient in paella, which is the reason many paellas are called “arroces” in spain.
The rice is cooked to a socarrat. Socorrat, from the Spanish verb socarrar (meaning to singe), is an intrinsic part of paella, which when done properly creates a crisp bottom crust that needs to be scraped from the metal pan. The deeply toasted texture lends the dish its signature quality.
We were glad we saved this dish to share later in our culinary journey. Although Tapas is known as small plates, there was nothing small about the flavors and textures of each dish. With several of these plates, we were well satisfied.
Amid, our tasting and conversation, we indulged in the house sangria, of wine and fresh fruit mingled together that was refreshing and thirst quenching. Of course we had to indulge in a glass of Tempranillo to further our “Spanish” cuisine experience. Although the wines by the glass were very reasonable we felt the wine list needed more flexibility in price and range.
Last but now least, was the Flan. Being a native Miamian, Flan was something that was the dessert of choice while growing up. Not just any Flan will do, this one has a firm, dense,creamy texture, layered with a caramel sauce that adds to the sweetness but doesn’t overwhelm with too much sugar.
Growing pains are normal in any new restaurant, and we believe Chef Stratta ‘s depth of culinary excellence far exceeds any beginning hiccups. Adjusting to a more approachable dining experience creates a learning curve for everyone involved. We can only hope that many will come by to share several outstanding Tapas crafted by one of our cities greatest chefs. Having this caliber of restaurant aside from the glare of the neon, is both refreshing and exciting.
Tapas by Alex Stratta is open Dinner:
5:30PM to 9:30PM (Sunday-Thursday)
5:30PM to 10:30PM (Friday & Saturday)With a seven day happy hour menu available from 4:30-6:00 pm.For reservations call 702-483-3555 or visit tapasalexstratta.com