Tabla de chimichurri at Mojito.

Whatever you think it means, Mojito does tapas right

Who doesn’t like a table full of tapas? These days, when just about every eatery from diners and dives to classy upscale joints offers small plates to tickle the taste buds, tapas are just about everywhere.

But that word may not mean quite what you think it means. Tapas are Spain’s version of “small plates,” snack-size portions served to whet the appetite, to accompany drinks, or even to consume until one’s appetite is finally sated by enough small bites to add up to a large dinner.

Spaniards, not to mention foodies worldwide, enjoy a friendly argument over the origin of tapas. The Castilians claim precedence for the 13th century King Alfonso X, nicknamed “Alfonso The Wise.”

He might as well have been called “Alfonso The Hungry” as the alleged creator of tapas, an innovative solution to a digestive ailment that required him to eat small portions through the day. When he was cured, he was so happy with this regimen that he ordered no wine be served throughout Castila or Leon without snacks alongside.

Maybe. This strikes me as one of those stories that’s just a little too pat to be true, like George Washington cutting down the cherry tree. What’s more, the folks from Andalusia in Southern Spain, home of Jerez de Frontera, the epicenter of Sherry wine, have vocabulary to support their claim to tapas: “Tapa” means “cover” or “lid” in Spanish, and as far back as people can remember, Andalusian taverns have served round slices of bread or dried meat to cover the copa, or Sherry glass, to keep flies from getting at the nectar within.

This week let’s raise a glass to Louisville’s Mojito, serving small plates that mix and match Spanish, Cuban and South-of-the-Border flavors since 2007. Sibling restaurant to the popular Havana Rumba, it’s just about always packed with happy diners, and there are at least three good reasons for that: Good food, friendly service and reasonable prices.

I recommend taking your time over a mojito or cocktail to study the extensive tapas menu. You’ll find more than four dozen tapas , both hot (“calientes”) and cold (“frias”), virtually all priced in the single digits from $6.50 to $9.50. Bocadillos (sandwiches) are priced in the lower teens, and a Spanish paella will feed two for $34, four for $68.

We started with salad plates, an artfully composed hearts-of-palm Palmito ($7) and a tasty take on a Caesar ($7) given a Latin twist with sharp Manchego cheese and crunchy, addictive bites of fried cassava in place of croutons.

A cold tapa, piquillo peppers ($6.50), was a delight to the eyes and palate: Bright-red roasted Spanish red peppers were packed full of mild goat cheese, garnished with microgreens and chopped Marcona almonds and drizzled with a sweet-tart glaze of smoked honey.

A Tortilla Española ($6.50), was a small, fluffy omelet made with organic eggs filled with chopped onions and potatoes on a garlicky aioli and spicy red piquillo sauce.

The Tabla de chimichurri ($7.50) consisted of thin, savory grilled skirt steak plated green with Argentine parsley-and-garlic chimichurri.

It wasn’t easy to make room for dessert, but a silken goat cheese flan with rich dulce de leche ice cream ($7) inspired us to try.

A collection of small plates, er, tapas, added up to a good-size dinner, sufficient to send us home with a leftover box or two. Even so, a fine repast for two, with a couple of cocktails, rang the cash register chimes at a very fair $62.01, plus a $12.99 tip.

Mojito Tapas Restaurant
2231 Holiday Manor Center
425-0949
www.mojitotapas.com

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