Five years ago, Alessandro Stratta saw his twelve year relationship with the Wynn hotels come to an unceremonious end — when his ALEX restaurant was abruptly closed. You can debate all day long what it meant for the Wynncore to replace the finest in fine dining with a bunch of no-talent dj’s and douchebags, but there’s no doubt that gastronomes from around the globe were crushed.
Well, Las Vegas’s best chef is back, with a vengeance, and neighborhood dining will never be the same.
Taking over the failed Poppy Den space (which before that was a failed Greek restaurant) Stratta has, overnight, infused the Vegas dining scene with in-your-face flavors and take-no-prisoners ingredients that will have even seasoned gourmands shaking their head in appreciation.
And he’s doing it with Spanish tapas.
Yep, Spanish tapas. The real ones. The dishes of which are now as familiar as a French bistro menu to anyone who’s eaten out a lot over the past decade.
But these aren’t just any old versions of Medjool dates wrapped in bacon. These are dates wrapped in crispy pancetta served with an apple-mustard sauce of uncommon savoriness. Or roasted romaine hearts like the ones at the top of the page — draped with bouquerones and slivers of Idiazábal cheese — the whole tied together with a creamy garlic aioli that is by turns, sweet, sour and pungent.
Those sauces are but a glimpse of the high level of cooking going on here. We tried over a dozen dishes and the kitchen didn’t repeat a single one — something that’s a point of pride in Michelin-starred frog ponds (such as the ones Stratta trained in), but a rule that’s honored in the breach in most other restaurants of the world.
When a dish doesn’t come with a sauce, such as with Stratta’s black kale fritters:
…it’s because it doesn’t need one — the crunchy-soft-fruity-veggie textures and flavors playing off one another to great effect.
Stratta’s Bacalao — salt cod salad with olives, oranges and fennel:
(photo by endoedibles.com)
…might be the best use of this preserved fish we’ve ever had, and his baked Monte Enebro cheese with pistachio crust and caramelized onions:
…is what we like to think of as a queso fundido with a higher education.
Anyone who’s been around Spanish food knows that meat and cheese are stalwarts of any menu, but as good as the 20+ vegetable tapas are, it’s over-the-umami-top stars like Stratta’s bone marrow dip (served with Iberico ham “chips”):
….and oxtail stew finished with aged Xerez vinegar :
…that will have you dropping your forks to applaud.
The Moroccan chicken (not pictured), shot through with dried apricots and spices (fennel, coriander, cinnamon, star anise and black pepper), was more Othello than Asturian, but this rabbit and escargot paella:
…could’ve come straight from Don Quixote.
Tapas by Alex Stratta is the sort of restaurant you could eat at twice a week and never get bored. It is to the average tapas restaurant what an Alfa Romeo is to a Dodge Dart. If we were any of the other restaurants in Tivoli Village, we would be afraid.
We would be very afraid.
TAPAS BY ALEX STRATTA
In Tivoli Village
440 South Rampart Ave.
Las Vegas, NV 89145
In case you haven’t noticed, we’re in the midst of another restaurant revolution. A mini one, if you will, but one with far greater benefits for locals and those willing to travel downtown (and to the ‘burbs) for refined, personal, chef-driven cuisine.
Consider the following: When was the last time you can remember this many good restaurants opening in one month?
Lago by Julian Serrano
Tapas by Alex Stratta
The fact that three of them are downtown also says something about a remarkable, recurring renaissance in our humble ‘burg. It also does our little pea pickin’ heart proud to see restaurants starting to catch up with the bar scene around East Fremont Street.
We haven’t had time to sample all of them, but here’s an hors d’oeuvres platter of opinion based upon some early bites: