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Spanish cuisine has long been a darling of the foodie world, from the lofty heights of superstar chefs such as Ferran Adria and Jose Andres to simpler and more humble tapas eateries. Which is where Finca neatly slipped into the local dining scene about three months ago.

The restaurant is the brainchild of Scott Evans, owner of the much-lauded Pago. Thanks to Evans' past success and the pent-up demand for Spanish cuisine, expectations were high for Finca's arrival.

The first thing that hits the senses on entering the restaurant is the wonderfully smoky aroma coming from the kitchen — where the wood-fired grill and flat-topped grills are used to great effect.

The restaurant is unapologetically modern in approach and design, evidenced by the decor, which offers plenty of stark metals and surfaces, suggesting a contemporary, unfussy take on tapas dining.

The menu is divided into three simple areas. Small plates are offered in both frias (cold) and calientes (hot) varieties, while you can also select from a handful of raciones, or larger entree-sized plates.

Begin with a bowl of gazpacho ($4). This traditional Spanish chilled soup is gussied up with the cool taste of watermelon, a few crumbled almonds and topped with a pretty lavender flower. It tasted like a treat on a recent searing summer evening — especially when paired with a chilled glass of Veracruz Verdejo ($8) from Finca's 100 percent Spanish wine list. If wine isn't your thing, there's a well-stocked bar with a selection of interesting beers, ports, sherrys and signature cocktails.

Another common tapas staple is the ribbon-thin, prosciutto-like jamon serrano ($9). Finca's offering of this cured ham was more than palatable, but left me yearning for a bigger, more diverse sampling platter. Tostas setas ($5) was something I would happily order again. Crunchy country bread comes smeared in silky, smoked ricotta piled with mushrooms and pine nuts.

In comparison, the albondigas ($10) felt stingy — a trio of modestly sized lamb meatballs, surrounded by tomato sauce, and topped with manchego cheese. A much better value was the cerdo de asador ($8), a skewer of Ballard Farms pork belly atop a minted pea puree and spicy mojo rojo sauce. With just a hint of char on the outside, the pork was utterly gooey and juicy on the inside.

My favorite dish was the mejillones ($9), which was a dozen or so mussels bathed in a zippy cava-and-lemon powered stock. Hunks of salty chorizo studded the dish, while a lump of bread is delivered on the side for sauce sopping.

Vegetables are delivered with aplomb at Finca, which means "farm" or "vineyard" in Spanish. Zanahoria de asador ($6), a dish of grilled carrots, cumin honey and saffron butter, was absolutely delicious and made me rethink carrots entirely. Verdes estofado ($6) was another revelation: braised greens sauteed with bacon, then finished in sherry cream sauce. The result was so decadently rich I might just reconsider my position on greens, too. By contrast, calabacin a la plancha ($5) was a more sedate and somewhat forgettable dish of zucchini, salsa verde and olives.

While it's hard to go wrong sampling and sharing small-plate menu items, a warning is in order in regards to the larger raciones. These protein-centric plates are served ala carte. If you order the solomillo de asador ($22), you will get a sizeable, respectably grilled double-cut pork chop in chimichurri sauce, nothing more, nothing less.

A special one evening was a locally sourced and beautifully marbled ribeye ($30) bathed again in chimichurri sauce. But again, that's just a steak with a $30 price tag. Our server, thankfully, recommend we order side tapas dishes.

Indeed, hosts, servers, managers and even chefs — who I chatted with one evening while sitting at the counter area — were on the ball during all visits.

The dessert list is recited tableside by the wait staff. I eschewed rice pudding and the house-made churros in favor of a slice of tres leches cake ($6). It was denser and drier than I would have expected, topped with only a blob of cream, and sitting in a glaze of blueberry-lemon sauce. Instead, a simple vanilla flan ($6) topped with candied lime peel, was the perfect light finish.

I'm cautiously optimistic for Finca, as there's a potentially great restaurant in the works here, thanks to the chefs' commitment to elegant and refined dishes skewed through the lens of locally sourced ingredients. I'd recommend dropping the entree-sized plates and double down solely on tapas. Sharing small plates over a glass of wine or cocktail, at a leisurely pace with friends, can be such a fun way to dine.

Tribune restaurant reviewer Stuart Melling blogs at Send comments to —


Overall • HHhj

Food • HHhj

Mood • HH

Service • HHhj

Noise • bb

Contemporary, Spanish-styled tapas made with locally sourced ingredients and served with a modern, vibrant interpretation.

Location • 1291 S. 1100 East, Salt Lake City; 801) 487-0699

Hours • Open for lunch Monday-Friday from 11 a.m. -5 p.m.; dinner, Monday-Saturday 5 p.m. -10 p.m.; weekend brunch Saturday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; late night tapas and cocktails Friday and Saturday 10 p.m. to midnight.

Prices • $$

Children's menu • no

Liquor • full bar

Reservations • only for group of 6 or more

Takeout • no

Wheelchair access • yes

Outdoor dining • yes

Onsite parking • yes

Credit cards • all major