Forte Las Vegas is one of our most exotic and unusual restaurants. I often bring out-of-town friends there, and boast on it, telling them that there isn’t even a place like it in New York.
The restaurant is a funky, Bohemian place, specializing in tapas from proprietor Nina Manchev’s native Bulgaria, Spain, and Georgia, that is the former Soviet republic. Manchev, who is only 25, grew up here, and she gets lots of help from her parents, Stefan and Mimi, her bombshell mother, Mimi. Don’t mess with Mimi.
The press has been kind; Forte is a local treasure that Vegas is lucky to have. Monday evening, the Manchevs hosted a small party for their many supporters, serving hors d’oeuvres such as Russian salad, spicy cheese spread, and sausages with a crackling caramel crust. I drank a lot of their sangria. Nina tended bar, when she wasn’t schmoozing.
If you haven’t been to Forte, the menu is interesting, and there will be many dishes you may not have experienced before. One thing I always tell myself I won’t eat and end up ordering anyway (because it’s filling) is adjarski khachapuri, a boat shaped Georgian cheese bread with egg, partially cooked, in its open center.
It is served piping hot from the oven, and you mix the egg with the hot cheese, and watch it cook. The result looks like a cheese omelet.
Next, I usually have solyanka, a Bulgarian/Russian meat and pickle soup, and some shropska salad, followed by banitza, a flaky turnover that here fairly drools feta cheese. It’s a specialty of Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital, and it’s totally addictive. The salad, sort of like a Greek village salad sans lettuce, differs in that it’s covered with a snowfall of grated Bulgarian feta. They’re big on feta around here.
I love the khinkali here as well, Georgian steamed meat dumplings that have enough garlic to kill ten vampires. Think of them as Chinese pot stickers that have been steamed rather than fried, then double the size of them
I then progress to a dish called Bulgarian mixed grill, three sausages that are made for the restaurant by a local purveyor, La Espanola, for the restaurant. Nina gave them the recipes. Their names, if you really want to know, are kiufte, karnache and kebabce, and each one has a different shape and spicing. Aren’t you glad you asked?
Then, there are Spanish dishes, surprisingly similar to those at Jaleo or Julian Serrano. A mixed grill of three different chorizos tasted like, well, chorizo, each with a nice char, and only their shapes to separate them.
The chicken wings are sensational, with little nibs of fried garlic underneath them. Gambas al ajillo, shrimps sautéed in white wine and more garlic, come with thick slices of grilled country white bread.
If you aren’t into infusions, there are wines and spirits you’d be hard pressed to find elsewhere else in the city. Of particular interest are a grappa-like spirit called Peshterska, and a spicy sweet red wine from Georgia, Tamada Khvanchkara, reputedly a favorite of Stalin (writes a scribe named Simon Montefiore, in “Court of the Red Czar.”)
If you live anywhere near the confluence of Rainbow and Flamingo, consider making Forte your go to neighborhood bar and restaurant.
Forte, 4180 S. Rainbow Blvd. 220-3876. Sunday-Monday 2-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-12 p.m. Dinner for two, $36-$69.
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