BITE-SIZED

Tiny Room, Big Flavors

Spanish chef delivers tempting tapas in Riverside

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Three years ago, when notorious Food Network host Guy Fieri of "Diners, 
Drive-ins and Dives" rode into historic Riverside to film an episode at already-popular 13 Gypsies, he catapulted the tiny restaurant onto the larger culinary map. Reservations are highly recommended (even for lunch), since there are only a handful of tables and just two chefs. And while the restaurant itself may be small, the tapas-style offerings are huge on variety and flavor.

Owner and chef Howard Kirk, who grew up in Spain, ensures that his Spanish dishes are created from scratch with quality ingredients. All of the bread is made in-house each morning. While items may be slightly pricey, it's worth the splurge for date night or a small dinner with friends. You've been warned: Popular menu items sell out. Share a carafe of fruity red wine sangria or unwind by ordering a glass of vino from the wine list.

If you order just one item (and you'll want to order several, trust me!), the risotto of the day is always a must. Made from short-grain Arborio rice, it's thick, creamy and perfectly cooked. On a recent visit, I all but licked our plate of pork shoulder risotto clean.

Another frontrunner is the Mushroom Seville. Pieces of toast topped with a light spread of goat cheese are served with a cup of creamy brandy, garlic and herb sauce chockfull of sautéed mushrooms, perfect for spooning onto the toast.

The shrimp, sautéed in olive oil, garlic and crushed red pepper, proved to be a simple yet flavorful dish with a little kick. With five jumbo shrimp, there were enough to share.

One unique tapas on a list of more than two dozen is the Roman-style gnocchi: Rectangular planks of flat Semolina flour gnocchi are pan-seared, then topped with a garlicky cream sauce, sautéed mushrooms and a generous sprinkling of freshly grated cheeses.

Relatively new to the menu are the savory crêpes. With five to choose from, it's hard to go wrong. We enjoyed the ham and cheese — creamy flavorful Alfredo-like cheese and pieces of Black Forest ham rolled up in a delicate crêpe.

Save room for traditional Spanish desserts like flan or the tres leches cake made by pastry chef Toni "Mama" Kirk. The spongy tres leches, soaked with a trio of milks, is a luscious way to end your tapas feast.

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