Have another! Tapas on the table at Mas

The wait is just about over. Will the wait be worth it?

Locals can now find out– as Mas Tapas Bar plans to open its big glass doors on Friday, January 24– assuming the ABC gives the official blessing.

Since Spanish wines– from sweet, rich Jerez sherry to sparkling cava (Spanish champagne)– will be a hallmark of Mas, this final okay for what could be Belmont's most lively neighborhood hangout is an important one.

The patio and adjacent café are still far from ready, but the heart and soul of Mas– its bar and the culinary force behind it– are more than ready to serve. Just like tapas bars in Madrid or San Sebastian, Mas is a friendly, informal kind of place (just about any attire goes, we're told), but one that doesn't scrimp on either ambience or ingredients.

Striking tubular lights cast a vivid glow over the imposing 40+foot concrete bar which separates– or connects– the kitchen and the dining area. Lining the opposite wall, in between huge picture windows, are several smaller, more intimate counters spotted, like the main bar, with candles, flowers, and bowls of appetite-whetting olives and spiced Marcona almonds. Brightly glazed ceramic pitchers, platters, and plates scattered here and there accent the more somber grays and blacks of the architecture and call attention to what really counts: the food and drink.

Mas is not a sit-down kind of place. The restaurant is designed to facilitate movement, conviviality, and conversation. That's why there are no stools at the main bar, and it's also why there's no "official" menu or wait staff.

You simply step up to the bar, order a glass of wine, and tell executive chef Tomas Rahal or sous chef Anthony Johnston what you're in the mood for. They'll have platters of montaditos– slices of brick-oven baked bread covered with such things as quince paste and blue cheese, pickled boquerones (anchovies) and onions, fresh porcini mushrooms, and jamon (Spanish ham)– set out for you to pick on.

Or you can order tapas ("little dishes") from the daily menu scribbled on a blackboard behind the bar. A hand-picked staff will be on call to help answer questions, re-fill drinks, and deliver tapas to noshing patrons.

Instead of relying on a fixed menu of signature dishes, Rahal's philosophy– which is one with his craft (he originally thought of calling this restaurant Tekné, Greek for "craft")– can be summed up as "repetition with variation." The ingredients will remain constant, but what he does with them won't.

He might serve calamares fried with a saffron garlic sauce one night, grilled with lemon and olive oil the next. Aged Manchego cheese could come sliced on a plate or melted in a flaming fondue pot. What if you fall in love with a dish that you don't see on the menu? Just ask. Mas aims to satisfy– within reason, and depending on the season. Don't expect gazpacho in January.

If you're planning a trip to Spain– where people tapas-bar hop until breakfast– this is the place for you to build some stamina. In keeping with the late-night tradition, Mas will be open from 5pm until 2am every night except Sunday. When it opens, the café next door, which shares a kitchen with the bar and will surely benefit from its influence (Spanish omelettes with cava, anyone?) will handle the morning and lunch crowds.

From the long bar to the long hours, from the glowing brick-oven to the earthen cookware, it's clear that Rahal wants to help us appreciate and enjoy the sensual, social, and ritualistic aspects of sharing food and drink with friends, old and new. Where did he get his inspiration?

"The Spanish figured it all out for me" says this high priest of tapas. Maybe. But we think bringing more than a touch of Spain to the quiet heart of Belmont takes a little magic, too.


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