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Season for noshing

  • Mussel Escabeche with Chili Relish and Duncans' Cremini Mushroom Escabeche from Chef Mark Stark at his new Bravas Bar de Tapas in Healdsburg.

    (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

The holiday entertaining season is upon us, time to share delicious noshes and sips with friends and family.

One of the easiest ways to entertain is to slice, dice and marinate a few Spanish tapas, the savory snacks enjoyed each evening in cafes all over Spain.

"The key to tapas is simplicity," said chef Mark Stark, who gave a "Spanish Tapas for Holiday Entertaining" class in early December at Relish Culinary Center in Healdsburg. "It should be simple if you're throwing a tapas party."

Bravas Bar de Tapas

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Last Christmas, Stark put on a casual tapas party at home as a test run for his new restaurant, Bravas Bar de Tapas in Healdsburg. Bravas is the fifth Sonoma County restaurant opened by Stark and his wife, Terri, since 2002.

At Bravas, which means "spicy" or "wild," the Starks have recreated the fun-loving spirit of Spain's sangria-sipping, bar-hopping, food-obsessed culture.

"They have a spring onion festival every year," said Stark. "They celebrate an onion! Any excuse for a party."

The Starks decided to do tapas in their new space because it has a small kitchen and the dishes are not terribly complicated.

"All of these dishes are easy," Stark said. "And they're better when you do them ahead of time."

The name tapas comes from the verb tapar, to cover. The earliest version consisted of simple slices of cured ham or chorizo sausage, placed over a glass of wine or sherry ostensibly to keep out fruit flies.

Since then, the tradition has expanded to encompass hundreds of venerated dishes, from marinated olives and seafood to fried potatoes and potato omelets.


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