La Vara, Cobble Hill
It was a good sign when I arrived at La Vara and saw that the restaurant sits right next door to the Cobble Hill Park. When Jessica was young we lived in Brooklyn Heights and spent many hours at that park. I have a picture of her in her first Halloween outfit walking in a parade. The second good sign was that in 2012 Eater had voted Alex Raij the best chef of the year.
La Vara is friendly with a great vibe. A large wrap around bar, many seats and a huge round banquette in the front. The large front window overlooks Clinton Street and the beautiful brownstones that run the gamut of that block. Putting all that aside, the food is just spectacular. I have not been to a restaurant in awhile where every dish that came out of the kitchen was delicious, well prepared, balanced, and just overall excellent. Also the timing of the dishes coming out of the kitchen was spot on too. We got there at 7pm and were out the door by 830. You honestly can not beat that.
Everything is tapas style. The only negative is that many of the dishes are really small but maybe that is why they are so delicious. First thing out was two grilled sardines that easily pulled apart with pickled ramps on top and toasted slices of bread. If I was eating the entire thing myself which I would have been happy to I'd take the sardines which spread like butter across the toast and pile the ramps on top.
A classic Spanish appetizer is baguettes cut in half and spread with chopped tomatoes. This was their take. Small baguettes cut in half rubbed with olive oil and topped with chopped tomatoes, mojama (spanish dried salt tuna) and thin slices of nori (dried seaweed). The combination of Spain meet Japan is brilliant. Really clever.
This was a special. Squid thinly sliced like pasta with raw shrimp layered on top and chopped cucumbers. Underneath was a thin buerre blanc like sauce.
How beautiful is this? Veggie lasagna. Roasted eggplant, potatoes and fennel then topped with roasted cauliflower. This was sitting in a spicy tomato broth. You needed bread to sop up every last drop.
I am still thinking about the meal this morning. Lots of specials. No hints of garlic on anything. The food was absolutely divine. If I lived in Cobble Hill I would probably be parked at the bar at least one night a week having dinner. I can hardly wait to go back.