Red Tapas in Palm Beach Gardens: Where Server Dress Code Includes a Specific Shade of Lipstick and Servers Work From iPods

Discover. Taste. Share. These are the words chosen by Red Tapas Bar and Grille to embody what a trip to the new Palm Beach Gardens restaurant is all about.

Red Tapas is the latest dining concept from the owners of nearby Cabo Flats, a popular Mexican cantina and tequila bar located at Downtown at the Gardens. The idea behind Red, however, was to offer something unlike anything else in the area.

With its bright-red interior décor (think a South Beach vibe) and well-stocked menu (a world view of tapas that goes beyond the traditional Spanish offerings to include American and Asian-themed dishes), general manager Melissa Hartman said every detail at Red Tapas has a lot of thought behind it.

From the red leather décor on the banquettes to the red-lit bar -- even the Mac "Viva Glam" red lipstick that female servers all wear -- has meaning. "It's just a sexy color, and it makes a statement," Hartman told Clean Plate Charlie recently. That includes a giant pair of red lips custom-painted by local artist Lauren VanArman, the restaurant's focal piece hanging on the back wall beyond the bar.

The business operation runs off a completely wireless system, with both

servers and bartenders sending orders to the kitchen via Apple iPods, while

central station "hubs" are nothing more than iPads. The Wi-Fi is

available to everyone at Red (password required, of course), but the

mobility is meant to make for a unique experience, Hartman says.


thing you'll definitely notice: no plate descriptions on the menu, an

intentional move by Hartman, who wants patrons and servers to interact

as much as possible. "I want the experience to be very engaged. We

hand-picked and trained our servers to know every dish in detail, every

cocktail, every glass of wine so they can help patrons navigate their

evenings' selections."

Operations aside, if you like small plates, Red has plenty of them to choose from. The menu covers Spanish, Greek, Italian, and Asian-themed dishes, most affordably priced between $4 and $10. The menu is organized similarly to how you'd read a high-end wine list: lighter options at the top, with bolder, more intense offerings as you make your way down.

Likewise, the cocktail, wine, and sangria menus are equally organized -- and decently priced -- with cocktails and martinis all $9 and $10, respectively, while house-infused sangrias run $7 to $20, depending on the flavor. Red's signature martini, known as the Red Tapatini, will be a highlight, however. A combination of Belvedere Red label vodka, passion fruit purée, triple sec, and jalapeño-infused simple syrup, half of all proceeds from the sale of the $10 specialty cocktails will be given to the World AIDS Fund -- a promotion that has no end date, says Hartman.

If you're not going for the creative cocktails and sangrias at the large, u-shaped interior bar, dining can begin with one of several "fused greens" -- salads ($5 to $11). Hartman's favorite: the dual Italian caprese, an offbeat take on the traditional dish, with sliced tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, and pine nuts finished in a creamy pesto in place of the usual balsamic.

Or begin with cold tapas, like the blackened edamame, the tuna sliders, gazpacho shooters, or deviled eggs -- many of which are gluten-free or vegan options. Continue with hot plates, like the bourbon spare ribs, beef empanadas, steamed mussels, or sizzling garlic shrimp.

Pretty sure you know what to expect? Try the scallops tostonera (scallops embedded in a circular bed of mashed plantain and served with a coconut rum drizzle), red duck waffles (a breast of duck plated atop a velvet Belgium waffle and finished with two sunny-side eggs and a side of maple syrup), or patatas bravas (roasted potatoes in a spicy tomato sauce). Unless you know some of the more colorful, traditional dishes of Latin culture -- and can decipher more contemporary American cuisine by simple names -- the server's help is necessary.

A few larger hot plates will fetch closer to $20, and although they are great for sharing, these options are also good for solo diners who want an entrée. Take the stuffed cornish game hen, lamb chops, and filet mignon. Flatbreads and specialty raviolis round out the last of the smaller sharing plates. A fish and meat paella is perfect for larger groups to share ($17 to $28).

Red Tapas Bar and Grille will be open for lunch and dinner beginning Thursday, October 25, from 11:30 a.m. to midnight (subject to change) Monday through Friday and 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Visit the restaurant's website and Facebook page.

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