By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published May 18, 2009 at 8:32 AM

For most Americans, the concept of tapas is confusing and intimidating.

Largely unfamiliar with the trend, Americans are left wondering how the Spanish concept of tapas translates onto tables in the States. Here's the secret: tapas are simply small portions meant for sharing. Meat, seafood, vegetables, pastas, pizzas and even sweets make their way onto the tapas menu mixing traditional appetizers, main entrée concepts and dessert variations. 

In addition to being perfect for rough economic times, the small-plate portions solidify their position on local restaurant and bar menus to keep you out and enjoying yourself.

Here are some local restaurants that feature tapas:

Bosley on Brady
815 E. Brady St.
(414) 727-7975
If you could take a classic seafood and steak joint and throw in a southern twist, you'd find yourself at Bosley on Brady. But to add a conceptual twist to a culinary mix, Bosley mixes small plate tapas with main course entrees. Offering a set tapas menu, Bosley's list includes fried green tomatoes, smoked fish spread, pistachio scallops and island potato chips drizzled with gorgonzola.

Balzac Wine Bar
1716 N. Arlington Pl.
(414) 755-0099
Balzac's menu makes a statement. Literally, it says "sharing means caring." And that's the perfect pretense to a table full of tapas. The menu focuses on cheese plates, thin crust pizzas plus small plate seafood like mussels, tuna and scallops. 

Generations Five Points
294 W. Main St., Waukesha
(262) 446-3300

New to Waukesha in 2009, Generations Five Points takes the tapas trend out to the suburbs. There are no main courses here, Generations Five Points urges diners to sit, relax and share a sampling of the 15 or so items on the menu. Monthly menu changes reflect seasonal variability but examples include duck confit canapé, crab cakes and chicken potstickers.

235 S. 2nd St.
(414) 220-9420
Ginger opened in the space that formerly housed Barossa to serve combine the subtlety of small plates with the relaxation of a lounge. Ginger may have picked up on the Spanish tradition of tapas but they're making it very Milwaukee. Ginger manages to cater to them all; petit tenderloin filet or tater tots, asparagus risotto or mac n' cheese and cioppino or wings.

Heaven City
S91 W27850 National Ave., Mukwonago
(262) 363-5191

Tapas take over Heaven City every Tuesday, but only Tuesday. Serving a full menu every night of the week, Heaven City takes a tip from Spain  and grills smaller plates for sharing. The staff recently added a 6 oz. filet ($10.95) to a menu that changes weekly. Typical offerings include braised lamb, sea scallops, tiger shrimp and fresh cheeses.

Hinterland Erie Street Gastropub
222 E. Erie St.
(414) 727-9300
Hinterland's lounge menu recently took a tapas turn. In addition to a full dinner entrée menu, Hinterland carries its fusion of sustainable agriculture and natural food to small plates.  Offering 20 items for less than $10, Hinterland's tapas menu changes every single day but always includes a healthy dose of meat, seafood and vegetarian options. Served every night, Hinterland shows a more casual side serving fish and pork tacos, flatbread pizzas and hangar steak skewers.

La Merenda
125 E. National Ave.
(414) 389-0125
They serve tapas and only tapas, making La Merenda perhaps Milwaukee's most authentic tapas restaurant. A culinary trip around the world, La Merenda's menu picks up on traditional dishes from Argentina, Colombia, Italy, Thailand, Morroco and China. The nearly thirty items on the menu make for infinite combinations perfect for sharing between tables of two or ten.

217 N. Broadway
(414) 431-7944

It's by no means the same restaurant, but Swig took over both the space and tapas concept of the old Sauce Restaurant. Swig's menu offers it all. Open for both lunch and dinner; diners can choose from salads, sandwiches, small plates or full entrees. It's a perfect choice for a group leery about whether the tapas concept will be a universal hit. Swig's tapas menu is classic -- small-plate portions of classic American appetizers like crab cakes, hummus with pita, spinach and artichoke dip, bruschetta and beef tenderloin crostini.