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A Moveable Feast: Riverbend Tapas Crawl 

Tapas Crawl

6 p.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday, July 28

Riverbend neighborhood

click to enlarge A native of Spain, Xavier Laurentino opened Barcelona Tapas in the Riverbend neighborhood - PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
  • Photo by Cheryl Gerber
  • A native of Spain, Xavier Laurentino opened Barcelona Tapas in the Riverbend neighborhood

Though a raging trend on these shores, tapas are simply part of the lifestyle in Spain. Sometimes used as snacks to bridge the hungry gap between lunch and the famously late Spanish dinner hour, a smattering of tapas just as neatly stretches into a complete meal of its own, though one with many stages and, often, many stops along the way.

  That's how Xavier Laurentino, the chef and owner of the new Riverbend restaurant Barcelona Tapas (720 Dublin St., 861-9696), says he learned to dine out — through ambling evenings of countless courses. 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. Slices of baguette are piled with meat, seafood, cheese or vegetables and are held together by extra-long toothpicks. Patrons typically pluck pinchos directly from platters lining the bar and pay by the number of toothpicks littering their plates when finished.

  "There was this informal agreement in towns like Carcastillo that you spread your business around and supported your neighbors," Laurentino says. "So you didn't eat dinner at one place, you ate at all of them. My village had about 2,500 people, but we had 29 restaurants and bars that we could walk around to visit and that's how we did it: a drink and a tapa here, then on to the next place."

  It's an utterly casual and inherently social form of dining, and July 28, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., New Orleans has an easy way to try it out during the inaugural Riverbend International Tapas Crawl. Laurentino is organizing the event to demonstrate a tradition of his home country and to promote the dense cluster of Riverbend restaurants he joined this spring after relocating his restaurant, formerly called Laurentino's, from Metairie.

  Along with Barcelona Tapas, participating restaurants include Brigtsen's Restaurant (723 Dante St., 861-7610; www.brigtsens.com), Dante's Kitchen (736 Dante St., 861-3121; www.danteskitchen.com), One Restaurant & Lounge (8132 Hampson St., 301-9061; www.one-sl.com), and Sara's Restaurant (724 Dublin St., 861-0565; www.sarasrestaurant.com), all of which are located within two blocks of each other.

  The "international" reference in the event's name is meant to steer expectations away from exclusively Spanish flavors, and indeed Barcelona Tapas is the only participating restaurant that normally serves tapas, including a list of those pincho-style nibbles. Brigtsen's, Dante's Kitchen and One each prepare contemporary Creole cuisine, and Sara's specialty is Indian fusion.

  For the Tapas Crawl, you'll find the same format at each stop: Order at the bar, or at another specified area, hand over $5 and you get a tapa-sized dish — a small nosh ready to eat on the spot — plus a short glass of wine. Bring cash to keep transactions quick and simple, and don't expect to sit down. There's no itinerary, so diners are encouraged to wander from place to place, repeating the circuit if desired. All five restaurants will offer regular dinner service during the event for other patrons, or for any tapas crawlers who decide they want to stay for a more conventional meal.

  "This (dining) style has existed for ages back home, but here we're going to start with baby steps," Laurentino says. "I want to do this more often if it catches on, and I think it will. We have this cooperative culture between chefs here and the New Orleans people get it, the fun of walking around and making a night of it."

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