Fire in the belly
Fuego170 S. Virginia St.
My husband quickly agreed to go out to a “tapas bar”—though he might have misheard me. (I’ll let you think about that one.) The drawback was he dressed for the presumed occasion, and upon entry felt compelled to immediately apologize to the staff of Fuego—a delightful Spanish restaurant that opened in April near Pioneer Center—for looking like he “just got out on parole.”
But Fuego’s well-groomed and well-mannered staff betrayed no contempt as they courteously escorted us to a window table for two facing Pine Street on a recent dark and cold weeknight. Haunting Spanish classical guitar music suffused the romantically lit and orderly dining area on what turned out to be a great ad hoc date night with my scruffier half.
I beg forgiveness, but exceptional dining events in the United States bring me almost as much pain as pleasure as I recall my years in Europe and retrogress into the Expatriate Snob, lamenting that it’s usually so hard to find “here” what I was able to get at will “over there.” Eating the tapas at Fuego was one of those moments.
“Tapas,” derived from the Spanish “tapar,” or “to cover,” are certainly functional as appetizers, except in Spanish dining they are as much goals in themselves as preliminaries. Knowing full well the risks of filling up too much before the main entrees, we indulged in three: fried asparagus straws ($6), marinated tapenade mushrooms stuffed with kalamata olives and a spicy breading ($5), and lobster puffs ($6) with the seafood blended with cheese and breading (Oh!). All were awesome, and I was unable to pick a favorite. I could have eaten nothing but tapas all evening, which is typically what we did on the other side of the sea. And I must say, minus the lack of ocean and the fact that it was 7 p.m. and not midnight, I really could have been back in Spain.
By the way, a milestone was achieved. Accustomed to default spice levels being too bland for me in American cuisine, I brazenly opted for the house maximum (“Fuego Spicy”) rendition of the vegetarian paella ($13). The perfectly roasted squash and other seasonal produce over a bed of saffron rice were discernibly fine, but I think—stop the presses—I might have done slightly better to go one level lower with the heat.
My husband’s salmon al tequila ($17) might have been farmed fish, but the chef made the best of it. The fillet is literally marinated in tequila and poached to flakey perfection alongside a garnish of pears, a side of black bean relish, and Fuego’s homemade spicy flat bread.
The tapas are Fuego’s hook, but its culinary inspirations extend beyond Andalusia. A New York steak or Cornish hen au grand marnier will set you back $19 and $14, respectively. The relatively small menu also efficiently lists the tapas as coterminous with “lunch,” and our server Katie indicated that Fuego attracts significant interest from downtown midday diners in addition to post-performance crowds from the Pioneer Center.
I suspect sipping wine and nibbling on the steak or chicken skewers del Fuego ($6) or prosciutto wrapped scallops ($9) after an off-Broadway production at Pioneer Center would make Reno seem downright artsy and cosmopolitan, and I intend to do so. The highest compliment I can pay is that I’m going back—perhaps not to Spain, but definitely to Fuego.