Eating Firefly: One man’s quest to devour an entire restaurant
Thu, Dec 6, 2012 (midnight)
Photo: Corlene Byrd
I’m eating dinner at a table next to the one where I ate lunch a few hours ago. I had lunch in this room yesterday, too, before I did dinner in the lounge. And the day before that? Yeah, I was here, for dinner. That’s five meals in three days, all in the same restaurant. Am I sick of the food? Hell, I’ll probably be back tomorrow.
My quest began in April with what felt like just a first meal in a new restaurant. Valley dining institution Firefly Tapas Kitchen & Bar had expanded to my Henderson neighborhood, which didn’t figure to change my life. I dig the original on Paradise but could hardly be considered a regular, and I’ve never set foot in the Summerlin or former Downtown locations. But when good food pops up three minutes from my house, I’m there. I stopped in for lunch the second day they were open.
- Firefly on Eastern
If you’ve never been to Firefly, here’s how it works: They have a few full-sized meals on one side of the menu—paella, steak, chicken, pasta—but I don’t know anyone who orders that stuff. The fun’s on the flip side, where more than 50 tapas reside. And a tapa, more or less, is a big snack on a small plate.
It’s genius, really: Instead of committing to one food relationship, Fireflyers can play the field, sampling flavors and taste combinations without bothering their neighbor for a scoop of Whatever That Thing Is That Smells So Amazing. You just get your own serving, split it with your buddies and repeat until you start feeling bad about yourself. After that you should probably only order two or three more.
My initial visit having gone well, I began frequenting Firefly with regularity during the summer. What else could I do, driving directly past it on my way home from work, the grocery store, other restaurants … Even if I wasn’t what might normally qualify as hungry, I could certainly finish off a slider or a couple of shrimp, right? Plus, the happy hour has drinks half-priced from 3 to 6 every day, which makes me feel like I’m leaving money on the table if I don’t drop in.
I began identifying favorite dishes, but I soon made a much bigger discovery: Nothing on the Firefly tapas menu sucks. Even my least-favorite dish, under the right circumstances, has some merit. Which got me thinking: What if I ate them all? And ranked them? And wrote about it?
Which leads us here. Almost. You should know, before we get to the rankings: I did this on my own, without telling Firefly what I was up to. I figured I should experience the place the way everyone does, rare kitchen off-nights and all. And I did it on my own dime—no help from my paper (thanks, guys)—which explains why I’m digging out old shirts from the late-’90s instead of shopping for new clothes this winter.
I ate 56 dishes in all, many more than a dozen times each. Nearing the finish line, I nearly cried when I noticed the menu had changed, then realized the revisions were only slight (two dishes dropped off, one got added and a few others changed names). On another visit, I questioned my waitress about a perceived price uptick. “You should work here,” she told me when it turned out I was right.
It kinda feels like I already do. I’ve eaten at almost every table in the joint and dined alone at the bar. I spend free moments diagraming perfect four-dish pairings. And in my dreams, I’ve begun tunneling from my house to Firefly.
Yet somehow, at the end of my quest—the final dish having been consumed on November 29—I’m still craving Firefly. If I call my wife now she’ll probably meet me there for dinner. Drop by and say hi.
1. Babyback ribs ($9.50) Ribs aren’t typically my thing, which tells you what it means to have these top my list. A pile of four—good for a small group, a couple or a hungry individual—with meat that falls off the bone and a gooey mango glaze that will turn you into an addict, too.
2. Spicy beef salad ($7) Formerly known as the Thai beef salad (the cool kids still call it that), this one’s memorable for its soy dressing, ginger shavings and chunks of spicy filet mignon. I can’t remember the last time I ate there and didn’t order this.
3. Serrano sliders ($7.50) Sliders as tapas? Some shout blasphemy! I shout more! Traditional Spanish recipes can share my table with American bar favorites, so long as the latter deliver in-sync flavors like these blue cheese/spicy aioli/juicy beef delights. More!
4. Chorizo clams ($9.50) More like a chili than a plate of shells, the clams might be the heartiest dish on the menu. Eat them with your fingers, then attack the thick chorizo broth with a spoon. Or better yet, use the clam shells to scoop up the stew. Ideal for cold winter nights.
5. Ceviche of shrimp ($8.50) The clams’ summertime twin. Firefly’s ceviche is balanced, subtle and plentiful. Tortilla chips help bring the citrusy shrimp and avocado goodness to your face without overfilling your belly.
6. Smoked salmon toasts ($7) Boring? Hardly. Firefly puts a twist on a lox favorite by swapping cream cheese for dill sour cream. Plus, the brioche toast is light, and the capers, well, I’m just a sucker for capers.
7. Lamb skewers ($8.50) Skewers, skewers everywhere, but which ones should you eat? These get my nod—in part because they’re a nice alternative to all the great beef dishes and in part because they come atop a big pile of veggies and lentils (see: No. 34).
8. Boquerones ($5.50) Yeah, they’re anchovy toasts. No, they aren’t gross. They’re delicious, and nowhere near as fishy as you might expect. Four per order, and a fine cold starter if you’re not doing a hot fish course.
9. Crispy duck roll ($6) One cool thing about Firefly: It stretches the tapas definition way beyond Spanish cuisine. Latin American flavors, for example, are abundant across the menu, while this dish tastes like something you might find in Chinatown. Something yummy.
10. Manchego mac ’n’ cheese ($8.50) If not for this dish, you might not be reading this story. I call it the kid saver, since it’s the one plate my 7-year-old always orders—and usually finishes on her own. If you’re all grown up and you like it, too, don’t worry. No one will make fun of you. Much.
The New Original
- Spencer's favorite Firefly near Anthem is a hit, but what about the original 'Fly on Paradise? It's moving, but not far. Owner John Simmons says his first restaurant will take over a larger space at 3824 Paradise Road, formerly home to Mr. B's and Z-Tejas. Simmons plans to open up the new/old Firefly on New Year's Eve, then transform his restaurant at 3900 Paradise into a tacos and beer concept "serving authentic Mexican food and tons of great beers." That joint should be up and running in the spring. –Brock Radke
11. Tierra y mar skewers ($10) Firefly’s take on surf and turf combines shrimp, steak and chorizo, coated in a tangy salsa verde.
12. Camarones a la diabla ($10) Juicy shrimp in a spicy, Asian-y sauce.
13. Merguez ($8) The lamb sausage links are nicely seasoned, and the tomato-pepper confit is sneaky hot.
14. Stuffed dates ($5) The bacon-wrapped best seller.
15. Empanada [pork] ($5.50) Might be top 10 if the portion was bigger.
16. Petite filet ($10) Great value: a sizable steak atop a mountain of tasty veggies.
17. Tuna tartare ($8) I want that sesame dressing recipe.
18. Steak and mushroom skewers ($9) Easier to split than the filet.
19. Pulpo asado ($7.50) Maybe the most complex dish of the bunch, marrying octopus, potatoes and more. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t love it the first time.
20. Apple and Manchego salad ($4.50) Simple yet quintessential.
21. Chorizo plate ($8) Thin sausage slices, in four varieties.
22. Chicken and chorizo stuffed mushrooms ($5.50) Great for groups.
23. Veggie empanada ($5) The un-porky version.
24. Gazpacho ($4.50) Try it even if you think you don’t like cold soup.
25. Fried calamari ($8) Try it even if you think you don’t like calamari.
26. Ham & cheese croquetas ($5) Better than most bar food.
27. Camarones al ajillo ($10) Kinda like shrimp scampi.
28. Steamed mussels ($8.50) The chorizo clams give more bang for your shellfish buck.
29. Albondigas ($5) Meatballs, but way more fun to say.
30. Lamb chops ($9) If you’re sick of skewers.
31. Artichoke toasts ($5) If you’re afraid of anchovies.
32. Tortilla a la Española ($4) The potato-omelet classic—and quite a bargain.
33. Chopped chicken salad ($7) Endive scoopers! Hooray!
34. Veggies and lentils ($5) Hearty.
35. Firefly Fries ($6) Reliable.
36. Baked fillets of tilapia ($6.50) Lemony.
37. Padrón peppers ($5.50) Most are mild, some are crazy spicy. It’s like Russian roulette, with a higher survival rate.
38. Scallop “escargots” ($10) Confusing, since it doesn’t involve snails.
39. Tomato-basil soup ($6) Served with a mini grilled brie sandwich.
40. Shrimp tempura ($8.50) Think beer batter, not Japanese.
41. Chicken skewers ($7) Did someone say skewers?
42. Tuna peppers ($5.50) Trivia: Peppadew peppers come from South Africa.
43. Patatas bravas ($5.50) Dig around for the spicy aioli.
44. Ahi tuna skewers ($9.50) The tartare wins the tuna war for me.
45. Baked tetilla ($8) Cheese fondue. Tip: Ask for tortilla chips in place of bread.
46. Roasted baby beet salad ($6) Multi-colored beets!
47. Firefly fish sticks ($6.50) Your kids might like them.
48. Tomato bread ($4.50) You’ve already got (free) bread on your table.
49. Mushroom tart ($8) Like cream of mushroom soup on a puff pastry.
50. Warm spinach salad ($6) I’d prefer a simple side of hot spinach, like the stuff they serve with No. 16.
51. Plate of Serrano ham and Manchego cheese ($12) The most expensive dish on the tapas menu. I’m not really sure why.
52. Stuffed peppers ($7.50) Q: What’s less exciting than peppers filled with cheese?
53. Roasted eggplant cannelloni ($5) A: Eggplant filled with cheese.
54. Garden variety salad ($6) Aptly named.