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Sweet Devil Moon Tapas Lounge

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Trolling for tapas: Sweet Devil Moon puts a spin on a Spanish staple

Hearing that Sweet Devil Moon, a "totally tapas" eatery, had recently opened in Decatur's Oakhurst neighborhood, my sister and I were eager to sample the savory, garlic-laden delights. A Spanish version of a heavy hors d'oeuvre, tapas long ago spread to other Spanish-speaking countries and beyond. The institution of tapeo -- going out with friends to a series of tapas bars before lunch or dinner -- is intended to whet your appetite with wine, snacks and conviviality.

Weekends at Sweet Devil Moon are lively. A diverse, friendly crowd flocks in, and the small space fills up quickly. Friday nights feature live music, most often a flamenco guitarist. But even on a cold, quiet weeknight, Sweet Devil Moon feels energetic with red altar candles, red walls, heavy curtains, folk art and twinkly white lights.

Sweet Devil Moon labels itself a Peruvian tapas restaurant, and several dishes like the seafood chowder and the chicken soup are distinctly Peruvian. However, the menu is more eclectic, drawing from traditional Spanish-style tapas like marinated octopus, middle-Eastern staples such as hummus and stuffed grape leaves, and Central American/ Caribbean staples like yucca.

The Jalea ($4.95), lightly battered and fried calamari, octopus, fish and a shrimp, was accompanied by a garlicky jalapeño sauce and a sweet tamarind sauce that tasted like the sweet-and-sour condiment at an Americanized Chinese restaurant. The dish arrived at the table lukewarm and had gone clammy, so I dunked everything in the green sauce (the dish's redeeming virtue) and was fairly content. Besides, we soon had many other distractions.

Sweet Devil Moon's hummus ($3.95) arrived next and was a knockout. Redolent of garlic, with a good lemony tang and a generous dash of red pepper, the only disappointment here was the amount, just enough for one person. Tapas servings -- here, as anywhere -- are small, so if you want a full meal, order hummus for everyone at the table, otherwise fighting will break out when there's not enough to share.

A quirkier choice is the Chicken and Pastry ($3.95), served in a two-part ceramic holder. In one part sits the chicken, mysteriously described as "sheered," combined with mild cheese and bits of pecan for a pleasantly gloppy consistency. In the other compartment are delightful miniature tarts, which you use to scoop up the chicken. It was ideal for a cold night.

Another of Sweet Devil Moon's heartier offerings is its Peruvian seafood chowder ($6.95) with rice, mussels, shrimp and crab, thickened with condensed milk and a whole egg poached in each bowl. Intense garlic and thyme flavors dominate, and a bowl on its own comes close to making a good meal.

Other menu options include stuffed grape leaves ($3.95) -- tender, moist leaves filled with rice and ground beef (mildly spicy). The Hearty Chicken Soup ($3.95) is a straightforward chicken broth with rice, green peas, bits of chicken and a poached egg.

I hope Sweet Devil Moon will improve its wine selection, add a cheese dish to the menu and eventually offer a simple dessert and coffee. But overall, the restaurant offers an adequate tapas experience. One of the more interesting places to pop up lately, it has a better shot at success in this funky neighborhood than if it had opened elsewhere. In a perfect world, tapas bars would be on every corner. Then we could take long lunches, daily siestas and six weeks of vacation, just like in España ... a girl can dream, can't she?

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