Assuming you still read other websites and magazines for restaurant reviews (magazines?), you've probably heard about La Vara, this new Spanish restaurant in Cobble Hill. The other guys have written about it ad nauseum because of its well-known husband and wife chef/owners who also operate Txikito and El Quinto Pino in Chelsea. Those two places are extremely well respected, and though we're not quite as in love with them as everyone else seems to be, we can understand why people are talking about La Vara opening in Brooklyn.
I think ultimately we are just bored to death with Spanish restaurants. We have so many of them in this city, and they're all essentially the same. The menus hardly vary from one to the other, and they all attract the same clientele. Sorry if I don't sound excited about the prospect of another night eating croquetas next to a table full of drunk girls trying to relive a semester abroad from 1997. We've also been burned in this scenario before. This time last year, the very same people hyping La Vara were freaking out over Tertulia, a new Spanish restaurant from another well liked chef. That one turned out to be a big let down.
Luckily, La Vara bucked the trend and has us excited about Spanish food again. Instead of rehashing what we've already seen so many times, chefs Alex Raij and Eder Montero decided to do something different by exploring the influences that the Jews and Moors had on Spanish food over the centuries. I can't tell you exactly what that influence was, because I remember absolutely nothing that I learned in school. What I can tell you is that the end result is not some crazy departure from the small plates that you're familiar with, but the dishes are just more interesting and include some elements that you might not expect to see on a Spanish menu. It's also a quaint little restaurant on one of the nicest blocks in Brooklyn, making it both Perfect For Date Night and an amazing Neighborhood Hang if you live in the area. Just make sure you brush up on your Spanish pronunciations before you go. The servers here do not f*ck around when it comes to rolling an "r" or saying "gracias" like "grathias." Let's just say we did a lot of pointing at the menu.
Also known as fried artichokes, and these ones are amazing. They're soft and crispy and salty just like you want them to be, and they come with an anchovy aioli. Order some.
This is an incredible dish of fried eggplant that's been drizzled with honey and cheese, which certainly doesn't make it taste worse. Also a must order.
This is the salad you want from the La Vara menu. Don't let your server talk you into the salt cod one, which we'll get into next. This is a beautiful plate of charred peppers, okra, and leeks sitting on top of a romesco sauce that will make you reach for some bread for plate cleanup.
Our server pushed us hard on this citrus and salt cod salad, so we went for it, even though there were plenty of other things we were eyeing. Don't make the same mistake we did. It's not that this is a bad plate of food, but it's a little bit boring. There's too much good stuff on this menu for you to be eating something boring.
This counts as a can't miss item from the menu. For those of you that don't speak Catalan, it's a cumin roasted lamb breast, shaped into a delicious rectangle. It's pungent and crunchy on the outside, and tender and lamb-y on the inside. I can't say I've ever had a dish like this, and I want it again badly.
We've had this "noodle paella" dish at other Spanish restaurants before, and usually like it more than we did here. I think we're used to the noodles having a bit more brown on them from the pan. This was just sort of a pasta dish with some squid and clams in there. Give it a shot if that sounds good to you. We were just expecting something a bit different.
This is a special from time to time at La Vara, and if you get the chance to eat it, you should. Those familiar with Texas probably know Migas better as a dish with eggs and tortilla chips. The La Vara migas are crunchy croutons tossed with some chorizo and roasted onions. It's a very good plate of food, but if you put an egg on top of this it would be next level. Moral of the story? Bring your own egg.
Another special from the menu, and one that we definitely weren't not gonna order. This huge hunk of pork basically arrives on a plate looking like a huge slice of pig pie in a deep green chimichurri sauce. It's really delicious, and also probably very bad for you