I recently visited Vegas for the first time, for a business meeting at Caesar's. If you love the Strip, you need go no further. But though the average quality of restaurants on the strip was high and I enjoyed my meals, I found the environment alienating and the prices exorbitant. So I was pleased to join some friends who had discovered an Eastern European place with an intriguing menu in a strip mall about 4-5 miles off the Strip.
Forte's was a great find, the most enjoyable meal I had during my three-day stay -- lots of surprising and delightful small plates that seven of us shared. Although there are a few Spanish dishes on the menu (we tried the stuffed squid in ink, which were exquisite, and the shrimp, which were small and done well in the Spanish style, but nothing out of the ordinary), the bulk of the menu is devoted to a mix of southern European and Russian dishes -- the website mentions Bulgaria, Rumania and Russia. Given a few ingredients that were familiar to me from my experience with Turkish and Armenian food (sudjuk, kiufte), my guess is that the culinary center of gravity would be southeastern Europe and Georgia.
The place is relatively small and informal -- much less formal than I would have expected given their fairly high-end website. On the August Monday we visited, the owner and one waiter were holding down the fort (there was probably someone in the kitchen as well). Service was excellent.
Some high points:
Thracian clay pot - This was my favorite, maybe because it was so different from anything I've had before. It was a wonde4rful mix of roast peppers, scallions, baked eggs, and feta with generous portions of thin sliced "dry-cured" steak - very flavorful, tasting as if it had been marinated.. The dish as a whole was creamy, and the feta provided a great accent to and link among the other ingredients.
Shopski clay pot - The vegetarian version of the latter, without the steak.
Bulgarian mixed grill - Great collection of well prepared meats, most of them new to me.
Kinkhali - Georgian dumplings - light (comparatively) wrapping stuffed with fragrantly spiced meats.
No low points.
Even though we stuffed ourselves on small plates (and beer), the bill came out to $35 a piece -- a great deal by Vegas standards. And when we told the owner how much we enjoyed his cooking, he poured us complementary vodkas (which he infuses himself with ingredients as diverse as ginger, apple, and what seemed to be pickling spices -- the third a bit less popular our table than the first two) - a great finish to a delightful meal.
Forte European Tapas Bar and Bistro
4180 S Rainbow Blvd Ste 806, Las Vegas, NV 89103