It’s become evident that we haven’t properly freaked out at the prospect of having neighborhood restaurants by Alex Stratta. There’s been excitement, sure, and lots of hungry curiosity as Stratta—a Las Vegas chef with two Michelin stars and the man behind what were certainly two of the greatest fine dining restaurants in the history of the Strip, Renoir at Mirage and Alex at Wynn—has transitioned into the world of local dining. He’s working on a steakhouse and a casual spot (Sliders and Slices) at the southwest’s Gramercy development, but first up is Tapas by Alex Stratta at Tivoli Village, a first foray into Spanish cuisine from a master of French and Italian.
Again, there has been anticipation for Tapas, but several weeks in, it’s not the buzziest new local restaurant. I’m not sure why. Stratta and his new teammates are producing innovative and satisfying food, balancing traditional flavors with the occasional edgy element that’s pretty hard to find in and around sleepy Summerlin.
Here’s some delicious evidence. The chip-and-dip dish described as roasted eggplant ($7) is actually a pair of impossibly light, fluffy dips, eggplant and romesco, with spice-dusted chickpea crisps as vessels of delivery. Manchego cheese ($9) is in reality as fine a rendition of the classic Catalan pan tomate as you’ll get in Las Vegas—including José Andrés’ stuff—topped with the aged, buttery cheese. Charred Spanish octopus ($15) is a fresh, wondrous, citrus-kissed salad with hunks of tender meat dispersed with shaved radish and celery hearts, sweet peppers, potatoes and garbanzo beans.
During my first visit, I dabbled with a few of the more unfamiliar dishes, including grilled hearts of romaine with briny boquerones, pancetta and sweet figs. It was tasty but odd, and it’s not on the menu anymore. Stratta is already cutting dishes that aren’t resonating with diners, even if he likes them, a shrewd and wise move around these parts. So for my second meal, I ordered everything that sounded great, and each plate exceeded expectations. Flaky empanadas ($10) are filled with a rich medley of wilted greens and Mediterranean Máhon cheese. The simple tortilla ($7) of potatoes, caramelized onions and eggs is exactly how it should be. Paellas ($26-$36) easily feed four and are handled with obsessive care by the kitchen crew—including chef de cuisine Nathan Gerard, who spent some time at Julian Serrano at Aria among other great Strip restaurants—in order to achieve the signature crispy bottom-edge on the rice. It’s worth the effort, especially the Valenciana, augmented with tender rabbit, chicken and unbelievable garlic-butter snails.
Tapas by Alex Stratta is more than the best bet for this Tivoli Village restaurant space to work (it was formerly Poppy Den and Petra), and more than an affordable Spanish tapas restaurant in a neighborhood without one. It’s Stratta’s first swing at doing his own thing. It’s no easy task to move from the Strip to the suburbs, and certainly a monumental challenge to become a first-time proprietor when one’s used to having every imaginable resource at his disposal. This is a first at-bat home run, and that’s usually something people freak out about.
Tapas by Alex Stratta Tivoli Village, 702-483-3555. Sunday-Thursday, 5:30-9:30 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 5:30-10:30 p.m.