More Please! 

Charlottesville’s stylish and tasty hot spot will leave you wanting Mas.

Add to this an all-Spanish wine list including sangria, sherry and port. Make sure to dress the friendly and knowledgeable staff in formal black dress, and you’re well on your way to creating the kind of eatery you’d expect to find in SoHo. But here’s the catch: This place is an hour away in Charlottesville. It’s called Mas.

Spanish cuisine is experiencing a revival these days. It focuses on simple presentation of the freshest products, brick ovens and wood-fired grills. Earthy, briny, sweet-and-salty, smoky, tangy and even gamy are the dominant flavors, with just a touch of the spicy sneaking in here and there.

Tapas dining is fun, and Mas has made it easy and enjoyable. Arranging the offerings a bit like a sushi menu allows patrons to simply check off the items they wish to sample. Tapas ($3-$10) are small plates, though a bit larger than you might expect, and raciones ($6-$20) are double-sized portions, more akin to real entrees.

Expect to find a variety of marinated olives on your olive-oil-stained table and an extensive wine list of recent Spanish vintages immediately after you are seated. Wines are available by the glass ($4-$10) and by the bottle ($15-$60). The menu arranges tapas from least to most expensive, but also gives a good sense of a progression through five courses.

We ordered liberally, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically for dinner after a sun-drenched day of walking on the mall, and our server suggested that we order a few dishes at a time. This turned out to be a good suggestion that kept fresh plates arriving as the empty (nearly licked clean) plates were removed.

Feel free to explore at Mas. Staffers are eager to suggest their own favorites, and they’ll make you feel welcome enough to ask. Here’s an overview of our recent journey. Aceitunas: a sampling of imported olives, including black Moroccan oil-cured, garlic-stuffed, and sun-dried tomato-stuffed. Datil con tocino: crispy, roasted bacon-wrapped dates (my new personal favorite — you’ll want a double order).

Gambas a la parilla: whole shrimp grilled with garlic oil and served with aioli. Esparragos a la parilla con romesco: grilled asparagus with a smoky rather than spicy red pepper, tomato, garlic and sherry sauce. Churrasco con chimichurri: grilled Angus beef with an Argentinean pesto-type sauce.

This is “create your own perfect meal” dining, allowing you to eat just as much or as little as you want, while staying within your diet and entertainment budget for the evening. A sampling of eight tapas from the various courses, a good bottle of Rioja and dessert is easily enough for two hungry day trippers and will run you about $100. Money well spent, if you ask me.

Whether you just happen to be hungry while in C-ville or you’re planning a destination dining event with friends and want to try something new, think of Mas. I still am. S

Mas ($$-$$$)
501 Monticello Road
(434) 979-0990
From Richmond: follow Interstate 64 west to exit 121(Route 20), turn right.Follow Route 20 to Meridian, turn right. Turn left onto Monticello Road.

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