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ENCYCLOPEDIA VEGAS: BRIEF ENTRIES ON EATING, ART AND FUNKY THINGS

Instructional cuisine

Like many today, I love learning about the food that I buy from stores and eat in restaurants. The whole Food Network decade-long-and-going phenomenon bears this out. But sometimes (make that all the time), you just don't have Alton Brown along for the ride to the bistro or market to supply some epicurean exegesis.

Luckily, more and more places are following the notion that people are hungry for knowledge, or even for some tidbits of food info.

So, puns pushed to the side of the table (not likely), here are some recent edible learning experiences that I've enjoyed.

The Periodic Table of Tapas

Firefly* is one of my favorite Vegas dining places. It also has one of the best happy hours around. Located on the Paradise corridor, it's close enough to the Strip to feel Vegasy but it's also a locals place.

When you can make it to Firefly*'s 3-6 p.m. happy hour, it's all ½ price drinks to enjoy with the numerous tapas choices available. If you're new to the Basque/Spanish tapas culinary protocol, Firefly* will gladly supply you with a complimentary lesson. Sit at the bar ... soon a plate containing a classic and emblematic trio of tapas will arrive.

You'll get a slice of Spanish tortilla – a baked egg and potato omelet (here spiced with sriracha pepper sauce for a kick), a seranno ham-wrapped, almond-stuffed date and a chicken albondiga (or meatball). The finger foods in this traditional triumvirate are skewered on toothpicks, just like little pinchos should be.

Start with this happy hour flash card for a guide to learning tapas. Order some sangria or vino. Move on through the menu. If you are already familiar with more elaborate tapas, there's never anything wrong with a review of the basics.

Firefly*

3900 Paradise Rd.

Earfuls of foodie knowledge (and mouthfuls for supporting learning)

Last week I received my gift certificate for $25 from KNPR in the mail. I earned this scrip for donating to Vegas' mainline for audible food info (and intelligent radio news in general).

I picked Firefly*'s next door/sister establishment, Dragonfly, for the place to redeem this fund raising thank you note. I do indeed support KNPR. It's a great place to learn about food, especially with the syndicated show “The Splendid Table” and commentator John Curtas' consonantal quips and saucily rhymed critiques of local culinaria. I am known for savoring rhymes, too.

Konichiwa-minded, I hit the Asian-inspired joint's bar for $25 worth of menu experimenting. In a spread way too big for one, I viewed an array of "izakaya" or bar snack items: fried shishito peppers in sweet miso sauce, a banana leaf-wrapped steamed salmon slab, a platter of yakitori style skewers (chicken breast tempura, kobe beef slices and chicken meatballs). I washed half down with a newly discovered and relished chuhai, (shochu "vodka," fresh lemon juice and soda water). The other half was a good doggie bag grab-u.

Arrigato, Dragonfly, for donating gift certificates to KNPR. It made the learning even tastier. Hai!

Dragonfly

3900 Paradise Rd.

Caveat (chili sauce) emptor

When I saw an ad for The Sweat Shop, my eyes and nostrils opened wide. Those are charged words in our economy.

But I found out that Vegas' Sweat Shop is not about the chains of commerce. It's about the charge of capsaicin.

The Sweat Shop is little earthy boutique dedicated to chili and barbecue sauces. And spicy rubs and condiments, too.

Austin, Memphis, Kansas City, Charlottesville, Bangkok, Kingston, Marrakech. If there's a place that likes peppers in its dishes and bottles piquant potions, then you can probably buy an obscure sauce here. If something is not available, the pepper-focused staff will help you research and find a supply of any available concoction.

Moreover, you can learn a lot about peppery things at The Sweat Shop, like the Scoville Chart, which registers the heat of peppers. It's all about those little molecules of capsaicin, the chemically hot part. Though microscopic atomic mixes -- (CH3)2CHCH=CH(CH2)4CONHCH2C6H3-4-(OH)-3-(OCH3) -- their volume in a pepper can make the fruiting body mellow to the tongue or scaldingly, moltenly hot to a sorry palate.

Under the safety glass of the Sweat Shop's counter, you can see dangerous decantations of nearly pure capsaicin that can blister and burn. Leave them to the truly expert and the chili crazy.

But, if you're looking for some more normal heat -- and actual flavor -- ask the pepper experts at The Sweat Shop to find that new, special sauce for you. They'll gladly help, no sweat.

The Sweat Shop also runs a burgeoning online hot sauce supplying trade.

(Oh yes, a chili is not a peppercorn and peppercorns are not chilies. But this is not a horticultural blog, per se. Please don't make hasenpfeffer out of this writer on the chili pepper shorthand rhetoric.)

The Sweat Shop

Open by appointment, contact www.thesweatshop.com or (702) 339-7477.

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