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November 11, 2004

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: A Tale of Two Tapas


There are two tapas bars in town and one of 'em is so good it's squishin' the other one like a bug. Cafe Ba Ba Reeba is the one you should head to if you have a hankerin' for small plates of delicious food. The other will remain nameless, but I wish its cooks would grab a plate or two or ten at Ba-Ba-Reeba, and see what decent Spanish tapas taste like.

Usually I leave certain locally owned places alone. Chains are fair game, especially when they pull my chain, but Mom and Pops serving an inferior product don't get mentioned, if they're making a go of it. Don't pick on the little guy is my motto; and if their clientele can't tell the difference, I don't want to spoil anyone's fun or profit. My only exception to this self-imposed rule is when someplace is pretentious, expensive, and mediocre (or worse). Anyplace on the strip is fair game of course -since they're almost always pretentious AND expensive; and we all know there are certain, just-of-the-strip EXTREMELY PRETENTIOUS French and Italian places that I love to hate.

But I've laid off a certain just-off-the-strip Tapas restaurant because it's run by nice people who deserve to succeed. And even though I've had poorly spiced food, tired cheeses, in artfully sliced meat, and spotty service; I've kept my mouth shut. Now that Ba Ba Reeba has opened, there's something to compare it to, and in the spirit of constructive criticism, I hope the tapas-bar-with-no-name will chow down on some food there and get the hint.

What they'll find is excellent bread, fruity Spanish olive oil, well cured and sliced jambon Serrano, garlic shrimp that seem overpowering when brought to the table, but are mellow and addictive to eat. The spicy veggies and artichokes may be a bit oversized for some, but there's no denying their freshness and intriguing seasonings. One long short rib melts in your mouth, and my companions raved over the chicken and chorizo skewers (Spanish chorizo being more Slim-Jim-like than its Mexican cousin). The Caesar Salad and the sweet-scented chicken empanada are fine renditions of these classics and I loved the assortment of olives and the manchego cheeses with quince paste. The only complaint about the desserts was that they were tapas-sized-not Claim Jumper sized--that's how good the roasted bananas, lemony flan, and chocolate milk-soaked chocolate cake were. This is one place where everyone at the table will want to order their own dessert (or two), rather than the ritual one heart-attack-on-a-plate and four forks.

There's nothing wildly inventive about this food, but care and pride in the kitchen is a must. Small plate restaurants seem to be capturing the Zeitgeist of the way we're now starting to eat.....and I'd love, LOVE to have two places to go when I need a Spanish-food fix.

Cafe Ba Ba Reeba - Fashion Show Mall

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