It was probably unfair to visit Cafe Ba Ba Reeba two days after returning from munching on tapas prepared by three of the finest chefs of Spain — Alfonso Beltran, Paxti Bergara and Jose Manuel Crespo. Crespo, for one, has published a book on the elevation of the traditional Spanish tortilla de patatas and its many variations, and Begara, for another, has won a “Best Tapas” award in Spain. All of them dazzled the crowds at the CIA’s World’s Of Flavor Conference with an array of small plates you usually won’t find outside of San Sebastian.
But with tastes sharpened and senses heightened, we kept an open mind and went to the Fashion Show Mall last week for a lunch of small plates — as opposed to a small plate lunch. And what we found was food as solid as it has always been at this Lettuce Entertain You outpost.
Tapas (the Spaniards don’t pronounce the “s”) and pintxos ( “pincho” — bite sized snacks on toothpicks or bread), have always been a tough sell in America in general and Vegas in particular. One of the conference’s speakers: Gerry Dawes (www.gerrydawesspain.blogspot.com/) said that was probably because in Spain, tapas bars are frequented one after the other as part of a tapas “crawl” that the locals use to socialize, stroll amongst, and feast throughout the evening. Putting one tapas bar (or tapas restaurant) all by its lonesome bleeds the energy from the experience, and misses the whole point. But unless someone builds a Madrid Hotel and Casino sometime soon (Hey! It could happen!), we’re stuck with the occasional Spanish take on this small plates phenomenon.
Cafe Ba Ba Reeba’s tapas are bigger, blunter, heavier, saucier, and let’s face it: less creative than you’ll find in Spain…as you’ll see by comparing these tasty snaps taken of Paxti Bergara’s tapas/pintxos (plus the Spanish food table and a smoky, saffron rice preparation) at the aforementioned Mediterranean Flavor Conference:
Here, the portions are American-sized, and use good ingredients — from Serrano Jamon to good beef to excellent Manchego cheese — but the delicacy is missing. Still, they’re pretty darn tasty, and go great with the many excellent bargains on the all-Spanish wine list.
We don’t like the paella as much — it needs to be done outdoors, and be smokier (and more saffron-y), and have a nice bottom crust of soccarat (the caramelized rice bottom crust you scrape and savor), but it’ll do in a pinch. The sangrias are balanced and well made, and there’s nothing quite like sitting on the patio here and watching the world go by.
To hear my first review of Cafe Ba Ba Reeba (from over four years ago — yikes!) click here.
CAFE BA BA REEBA
Adjacent to the Fashion Show Mall
3200 Las Vegas Blvd. South # 1144
Las Vegas, NV 89109