One time in grad school for dramatic writing, a teacher tore into me and called the play I was working on “sophomoric” and “juvenile.” Classmates called me afterwards to console me, and though I’m pretty much over it, sometimes I look back at that moment and wonder if she was right. In all of my efforts to be taken seriously, perhaps I was at my best when I made the Janet Jackson Breast Cupcake? Or Condoleeza Rice Pudding with Berries of Mass Destruction?
Take, for example, the dinner I had last week with friends in Brooklyn. I couldn’t get over the fact that two of the friends I was eating with were named Cara and Dara and we were eating at a restaurant called La Vara. Cara and Dara at La Vara. I told everyone I knew; I Tweeted about it. I told the waitress and the chef. At a certain point, you’d think I would’ve gotten over it, but no sirree. I find the title of this post endlessly amusing. In fact, I could just end it here but then you wouldn’t get to see the absolutely amazing food that we ate.
La Vara is the newest restaurant from Alex Raij and Eder Montero, the married chefs I cooked with for my cookbook. I had a really good time when I cooked with them at their restaurant Txikito in Chelsea and Alex and I have stayed in touch over the years. This newest creation of theirs, which earned a stellar review from The New York Times, focuses on the Jewish and Moorish foods of Spain. It’s located on a charming block in Cobble Hill that looks like a New Yorker cover.
Craig and I arrived early and I suggested we each have a glass of Sherry. (The wine list begins with Sherry options.) The waitress let us try the Manzanilla and the Amontillado and we both liked the Amontillado a little better, because it was nuttier whereas the Manzanilla was more acidic.
Once our friends arrived–did I mention that their names are Cara and Dara and that the restaurant was La Vara? They also brought their husbands, our friends Andrew and Kieran–we began to order food. Lots and lots of it. First up? Deviled eggs with a zesty green sauce and smoked paprika:
That’s a great study in transforming a humdrum finger food into a restaurant dish that feels special. Plus it was oh so flavorful.
You keep eating those, though, while I dig into these fried baby artichokes with aioli on top.
Oh man: if I could make these at home, I’d weigh 500 pounds right now. They’re crispy but soft on the inside, vegetal but also as naughty as a bag of chips. You’ll need to order two of these for the table. One for me, one for everyone else.
This was a special, the night we went, featuring roasted eggplant and roasted peppers and lots of other good stuff. Look how pretty:
But the prettiest of all was probably the REMOJÓN: citrus and house cured salt cod salad with olives, pistachios, pistachio oil, egg and pomegranate.
That’s a work of art right there, one you don’t even want to touch with your fork for fear of ruining it. But dig in and you’ll be rewarded with all kinds of textures and flavors; a perfect winter salad.
The favorite bite of the night, though, according to the table (Dara and Cara, remember?) was the Berenjena con Miel: Crispy Eggplant with Honey, Melted Cheese and Nigella Seed.
This really is a genius combination that’s hard to describe. Imagine the lightest, crispiest fried eggplant you can think of (and I know their trick, it’s featured in my book: it’s coated in corn starch, a technique Eder learned at Nobu) that’s then sweetened with honey and served on top of a savory cheese and you’ll get the idea. We had to order another one of these, we liked it so much.
The fideua was also a marvel: Valencian style noodle paella with shrimp, squid, clams and aioli.
Roasted cauliflower is also a good thing to eat:
More surprising was this panzanella-like salad featuring fried bread and fried chorizo, a very winning combination.
The suckling pig came lacquered with a sweet glaze–the skin was remarkably crispy–and the inside fall-apart tender.
The lamb meatballs (or Abondigas) came with a mint yogurt that helped cut the fattiness.
Dara and Cara, who don’t eat meat, supplemented their dinner with these swiss chard fritters:
And Moje, a layered salad of imported tuna, olives, endive and Marcona almonds.
At this point, we were all pretty stuffed, but how could we say “no” to dessert? We couldn’t.
And a good thing too because these ricotta fritters were drop-dead delicious:
Kieran almost sabotaged the photo, he wanted a bite so bad:
We also enjoyed the Egipcio, Orange blossom scented date walnut tart with lemon curd and sweet cream.
And the Helado de Aceite: Homemade olive oil ice cream with sea salt and Valencian olive oil.
A marvelous meal it was and with marvelous company to boot. Did I mention their names? I know, I know, I’m being “juvenile” and “sophomoric.” Fine! But if your name is Shmolive Shmarden, we’re not going to dinner. I’m holding out for Shmench Shmlaundrey.
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