Tapas in Brooklyn? I’m in! A feature in the New York Times? Score! We made our way to La Vara (no website yet? Yelp page here) four months after the restaurant opened. We were very, very excited. We had been planning this date for months!
Did I tell you I like tapas? No? I might have mentioned it here, here, and here. Tapas makes me happy, so understandably I was all over it when I learned that we could walk to this new place in the neighborhood.
The place was bright, cozy, and had a hum about it like it boasted something new. And it did. Novel Spanish cuisine that was supposedly Manhattan-grade mixed with Jewish influences definitely opened up possibilities. We looked at the menu and told our server that we would order EVERYTHING.
We began with Sangria for two, refreshing glasses of fruity drink I had to pace myself with lest I experienced an effect similar to the equally delicious sangria at Pipa.
The fried artichokes came promptly, hot and juicy with crisp edges, they reminded of the fried artichokes at the Trattoria in the Jewish neighborhood of Trastevere in Rome. The anchovy aoili pulled the meaty vegetable into coastal flavors, and we gobbled it up quickly and pined for more.
We ordered the salad special of the evening, hoping to reminisce our jamon serrano moments in Barcelona. The dish arrived in a pool of orange dressing. It was light and not overwhelming, but was a little off-putting because it looked like thousand island dressing. We forgave, it might be regional. The chilling of the snap peas might have taken a few minutes past their prime green.
I love paella too (read about it here, here, here,here, and here) so I was all over ordering the Spanish paella noodles in the menu called fideua. I read enough online to know that portions at La Vara were extremely small for the price, and I thought, people are being cheap! Actually, La Vara is being cheap. Sorry! Please don’t serve me an $18 entree if I can hold its entirety in the palm of my hand, unless you are going to blow me away with the taste. The fideua arrived saltier than the saltiest thing I’ve ever had anywhere. I’m Filipino and I over-salt on a regular basis. The salt killed all the other flavors, which was a shame because it seemed like there were a few. We forced ourselves to eat it because we were famished, and then I remembered, oh crap, is this the dish that NYT review said was “Brown, broken and floppy, the noodles look like a halfhearted attempt to disguise last night’s pasta…the fideuà tastes a little like toasted durum wheat and a lot like the dripping-wet haul from a Valencian fishing net.” Fail. This dish was sad. 🙁 We awaited vindication in our next dish, which was taking a bit to arrive.
After a few minutes the server (sweet as pie) asked if we wanted dessert, and I said we never got our other dish. She apologized, and we subtly asked that she tell the kitchen to take it easy on the salt because the fideua was very, very salty. She said she’d tell them. I don’t think she took that as a complaint.
The skate finally arrived (I think it was forgotten), and it was tasty enough for us to conclude that La Vara is better in fried things than in others. We toyed about ordering another dish to cap off the night, but with the salty fideua, the skate delay, the unacknowledged complaint, and the hefty bill while still hungry, we scrapped the plan. I went to this restaurant optimistically mocking the cheapskates who complained the portion sizes were too small. The portion sizes are very small for the prices and the underwhelming flavor. Do not order the fideua. It will make you sad!
We said we’d give it a few months to shape up and possibly try La Vara again. But that evening we walked out spending more than we wanted and wondering if we should get a second meal at our favorite pho place nearby. I hate feeling cheap about food, but I think my posts prove that I don’t mind spending for good grub. La Vara is not among them. For now.
268 Clinton St
(between Congress St & Veranda Pl)
Brooklyn, NY 11201