The Riverbend's Moveable Tapas Feast

New Orleans, La. –
Tapas-style dining is a raging trend in American cities, and New Orleans is no exception. But back in their homeland, Spain, tapas are simply part of the lifestyle. These small plates of savory nibbles are sometimes used as snacks to bridge that hungry gap between lunch and the famously-late Spanish dinner hour. Conversely, a smattering of tapas can just as neatly stretch into a complete meal of its own, though one with many stages and, often, many stops along the way, making for an ambling evening of courses.

That's the way Xavier Laurentino learned to dine out. He's the chef and owner of the new Riverbend restaurant Barcelona Tapas. Born in Barcelona, he spent his formative years in a small village called Carcastillo, near Pamplona in Basque country, where the most popular tapas are called pinchos. These are basically slices of baguette piled with meat, seafood, cheese or vegetables and all held together by extra-long toothpicks. Patrons pluck pinchos directly from platters lining the bar at Spanish taverns and pay by the number of toothpicks littering their plates when finished. Spaniards often make a night of it, essentially combining a progressive dinner with a pub crawl as they eat their way around a circuit of restaurants and bars serving tapas in this style.

It's an utterly casual and inherently social form of dining, and this Wednesday, Sept. 29, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., New Orleans has an easy way to try it during the latest edition of the Riverbend International Tapas Crawl.

Laurentino conceived the Tapas Crawl this summer as a way to demonstrate a tradition of his home country and to promote the dense cluster of Riverbend restaurants he joined in the spring after relocating his restaurant from Metairie, where it had been called Laurentino's. The Tapas Crawl quickly developed into a regular event, and is now it's held on the last Wednesday of each month with a changing line-up of participating restaurants.
Barcelona Tapas is always in that number, and this time around other participating restaurants include Brigtsen's Restaurant, Dante's Kitchen, Hana, Jazmine Cafe
, Sara's and G.B.'s Patio Bar & Grill, all of which are located within a few blocks of each other. The "international" reference in the event's name should steer expectations away from traditional Spanish flavors, and indeed Barcelona Tapas is the only participating restaurant that normally serves tapas, including a list of those pincho-style nibbles. The others range from Vietnamese to contemporary Creole to Indian fusion.

But while the flavors differ from place to place along the Tapas Crawl route, you'll find the same format at each stop: order at the bar, and you get a tapa-sized dish plus a short glass of wine. Bring cash to keep transactions quick and simple, and don't expect to sit. There's no itinerary, so diners are encouraged to wander from place to place, repeating the circuit if desired.

This upcoming event will be the third rendition of the Tapas Crawl since its debut in July, and it has already won a following. That's hardly a surprise. If there is any group of people culturally prepared for a social evening of eating and drinking and ambling around a beautiful, historic neighborhood, surely it is New Orleanians. You can see it all play out, and assemble your own moveable feast, on Sept. 29 in the Riverbend.

Restaurants participating in the Sept. 29 edition of the Riverbend International Tapas Crawl include:

Barcelona Tapas
720 Dublin St., New Orleans, 504-861-9696

Brigtsen's Restaurant
723 Dante St., New Orleans, 504-861-7610

Dante's Kitchen
736 Dante St., New Orleans, 504-861-3121

8116 Hampson St., New Orleans, 504-865-1634

Jazmine Cafe
614 S. Carrollton Ave., New Orleans, 504-866-9301

724 Dublin St., New Orleans, 504-861-0565

G.B.'s Patio Bar & Grill
8117 Maple St., New Orleans, 504-861-0067