Balkan bites, celebrating the spirits of Mexico, and scotch, scotch, scotch

My notebook is crammed this week with word of recent event dinners, each of which was distinctive and, in some cases, highly unusual. The one I’ll think of most often was at Forte European Tapas Bar & Bistro (4180 S. Rainbow Blvd., 220-3876,, where Nina Manchev continues to push the envelope and bring new wrinkles to the Las Vegas food scene.

Forte, if you aren’t already aware of it, serves tapas from Nina’s native Bulgaria, as well as ones from Spain and assorted Balkan countries on or near the Black Sea. And she’s clearly invested whatever she’s made into her business. Today, Forte has a brand-new glass-door wine cellar, several new works of art on the walls and, sometimes, even white tablecloths.

Manchev brought chef Rumen Aydarov of Besso Restaurant in Bulgaria’s capital city of Sofia to prepare a nine-course menu for about 80 guests, each course paired with a wine or spirit from her homeland.

It’s rare that I’ve had a chance to eat something I’ve never had before, so it was truly a privilege to enjoy the chef’s kyopoolu (ratatouille in a whole yellow pepper), a timbale of wild mushrooms with spinach and pine nuts and his ethereal roasted suckling veal. All wines served, by the way, such as a delicious Katarzyna “Encore” Syrah 2010, are found on Forte’s wine list.

Over at the Cosmo, the irrepressible Spanish chef José Andrés was in town to promote China Poblano’s new menu of cocktails and food created especially around tequila and mescal, which you can still taste through March 25 (698-7000).

Together with his head chef—the beautiful and talented Shirley Chung—Andrés has created more dazzle in the form of dishes like pozole de langosta, a terrific, coral-red hominy soup with chunks of fresh Maine lobster and two kinds of chilies—guajillo and ancho—and chayote guisados, a medley of chayote, cauliflower, Swiss chard and arbol salsa.

My favorite new cocktail here is the Mexican Tailor, a grown-up drink made with house infused “gin-quila,” freshly pressed apple, lemon and a touch of the Mexican herb epazote. This place always surprises.

Finally, I was in the mood for scotch, in this case Glenfiddich, which the brand ambassador from the distillery chastised us to pronounce in the Scottish way (that’s Glen-fidd-ick, never Glen-fidd-itch). We were lucky to taste five of his scotches—the 12-, 15-, 18-, 21- and the rare 30-year-old—each presented with a different course at StripSteak, Michael Mina’s steak house in Mandalay Bay (632-7414). Lessons learned? I didn’t realize that scotch went so well with foie gras or braised Kobe short ribs. The 30-year-old, furthermore, makes a classy substitute for dessert wine.

Hungry, yet?

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By Xania Woodman

As the lines between country and pop continue to blur, I’ve found myself listening to the unimaginable—country music—and rather liking it. Taylor Swift is the gateway drug, it turns out, as is Keith Urban and pretty much anyone who looks like him in a tight T-shirt and Levis. God bless ’merica!



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