Sunday, March 24, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Time flies when you’re serving delicious food to your neighbors. Forte Tapas owner Nina Manchev can’t believe this summer will bring the 10th anniversary of her hip, European-style restaurant at the corner of Flamingo Road and Rainbow Boulevard.
“I don’t even realize how much time has passed until someone asks about the restaurant,” she says.
Manchev’s family immigrated from Bulgaria to the Chicago area about 30 years ago, then ditched the Midwest weather for sunny Las Vegas. She was studying hospitality and considering a career in marketing or hotel design when a food-focused student tour of Western Europe put her on a different path.
“I was about 20 years old and I figured out I didn’t want to climb the corporate ladder, I’d rather do my own thing, and the best way I could connect with people and provide a great experience was through restaurants, food and beverage,” she says. “I was working at [a casino] and in retail and helping my parents out — they had a little deli on Industrial Road — and started to put together my own plan. When I showed it to them, there was really no resistance.”
That was the first plan for Forte, an Eastern European culinary experience that dabbled in Spanish flavors and formats, specifically the small-plate tapas style of dining, to create an upbeat venue geared toward groups.
Manchev says educating eaters about this seemingly exotic cuisine was a challenge at first, but it was important to maintain authenticity.
“Growing up, no one understood what it meant that I was from Bulgaria,” she says. “There was a stigma around the culture and the food and people kind of poked at it but it wasn’t considered an exciting cuisine. I want people to see the culture in a positive light, and through the years I think we’ve been able to accomplish that. I don’t get that push-back any more.”
Forte has come to be known as a one-stop shop for many different European flavors, and a new chef and menu continues to push the envelope. Tylor Urias, who trained under several Michelin-starred chefs and worked in California, is now at the helm in the kitchen, and many of his new dishes are crafted in a Spanish Josper broiler, a sort of oven-and-grill combo. Grilled bistec with patatas bravas, Australian rack of lamb with potato purée and a roasted seafood catch of the day with winter vegetables are among those new offerings.
Forte’s favorite signature dishes are still available, including stuffed sweet peppers with rice and pork, beef Stroganoff ragu on wild mushroom pelmeni, and the hearty khachapuri, a Georgian bread boat filled with Russian pickled cheeses, butter and egg.
An all-new cocktail menu crafted by new mixologist Ashley Lewis rounds out the culinary renovations.
“We really just want to have a fun, exciting year and try some different things,” says Manchev. “The local restaurant scene was not what it is now when we opened. People are more excited about these different types of cuisine, they’re not trying to figure everything out, they’re just open. And we’re always learning more about this food and this culture and we appreciate how our customers like to ask questions and get a sense of that culture.”
Forte Tapas (4180 S. Rainbow Blvd. #806, 702-220-3876) is open daily from 4 until 10 p.m.