I had a hard time deciding which restaurant to post this time around. I’ve decided on Vega Tapas, but do so only because it was a lovely night out with old friends and new … and because we tried out a new “lighting” trick. I can almost imagine your sigh of relief, as I’m sure you’re as excited as I am about it.
One of my big beefs about nighttime in public and in small spaces is that a camera flash is much too bright, but the lighting we often enjoy as late evening diners is just simply not conducive to photos without the flash. What often happens is that I compromise my desire (okay, okay, compulsion) with photographing my dinner with kindness and consideration for my fellow diners. What results is a not-so-great, faux-sepia looking photo, which never captures the essence of my eating extravaganza. This is, of course, much to my chagrin.
I have been the victim one too many times of getting home and sorting through photos, only to find none which are salvageable photos for the blog. Then I feel sad that when I want to write about my experience, I can’t show you the food … which leaves me feeling like I’ve failed you a bit. Needing a solution and needing it immediately, I took a photo of a scallop last week at Vega and was immediately disappointed. Without thinking, I shouted out, “lights, please!” To my utter delight, both of my dining companions whipped out their smartphones, joshed briefly over the better flashlight app and shined a nice ray of hope upon our plate:
Take 2 is a much better photo, right?
So, from that point on, the remaining courses to hit the table were lighted more … appropriately, you might say. 🙂 All I had to do was say the magic phrase! No, “please, thank you” was not the right one … it was simply, “lighting please!”
Of course, the amateur photographer was providing the lighting, rather than the professional, but still, the professional approved. John Dooley, of John Dooley Photography, enlightened us with his presence, and of course, put the rubber stamp on the photos, which made me feel better about sharing them here!
I’ve also taken to having a little before dinner apertif, a Ketel One Lemon Drop. Everyone has a different practice of making these gems, but very few actually do it right. There’s a fine harmonizing when pairing tart and sweet, especially when that sweet is straight sugar. Vega, you did it right, and OH how I hope that you keep it up!
So, back to the food. I am on a number of my favorite restaurants’ mailing lists. Though Vega Tapas is rarely my first thought when I think tapas (you do recall my obsession with the more-than-palatable friend and Chef, Adolfo Garcia, yes?). (In fact, yes, my first thought of tapas is always always always Rio Mar.) (Now also on my radar is Rambla, and I’ve been to both in the last 10 days!) About a week ago, I received an email from Vega touting a Tour of the Mediterranean, with an emphasis on Monaco. Now, I’ve been abroad, but never to Monaco. After looking at the menu in my email, I made a mental note to try it out. I was pleasantly surprised, and even added in a few additional plates, bringing our dinner to a full head with an incredibly delicious, smooth and bittersweet dessert selection.
First up was the Patatas Bravas, crunchy and spicy, just the way I like them. I fell in love with Patatas Bravas in Budapest in the Summer of 2008. Finding a suitable restaurant to spend my late afternoons and evenings while studying law was a challenge, but once we stumbled upon this darling, we were hooked. Pata Negra provided us with a beautiful array of food and quite possibly the best patatas bravas I’ve ever had. A close second is Vega Tapas, then third is Rio Mar. There’s something so specific and required about potatoes presented this way that it takes a very special chef to understand the balance. Vega’s Patatas Bravas that night were beautiful and crispy with a bit heavy pinch of salt and pepper, with just enough aioli to add taste but not “sog” them up. Yum.
Next up came the eggplant napoleons, in the typical terrine style. Refreshingly chilled, this puppy was perfect to prep the palate for the rest of the evening. I’m not even a lover of arugula, and I ate every bite!
By now, we were all ready for the next course, and then the Monaco plates to come out as designed. This chicken in phyllo left much to be desired, was doughy but crispy on the outside … it just didn’t feel right or taste right. The sauce, however, was excellent, and I used up the rest of the bread soaking up the goodness. I think perhaps a little less filling would have been appropriate, but what do I know? I’m just a customer.
Next in line was the Monaco Menu:
- 007 SEAFOOD MARTINI (Shrimp, Mussels, Calamare & Gulf Fish in Cucumber Vodka, Herbs & Citrus — shaken, not stirred)
- GRAND PRIX ESCARGOTS in Pernod & Leek Crême
- MUSSELS “CASINO” (Broiled Prince Edward Island Mussels with Applewood-smoked Bacon, Herbs, & Gruyere)
- THE MONTE CARLO (Vega-styled Monte Cristo Sandwich of Jambon et Brie)
- CRêME KIR ROYALE (Champagne Cream with Prince Rainier Cherries & Coulis Framboise)
My favorite of the list was the Kir Royale, with the Monte Carlo closely following up. You’ll be shocked, I’m sure, but I’ve never actually had escargot (read “snails” … eeew) until that night. Surprisingly, they were meaty, like a cooked oyster crossed with a bite of filet mignon. (I know, it’s a weird description, but it’s the only one I’ve got, kids.) I ate one, but two? No, thank you. I tried it, and while I liked it and have vowed to try anything once, I just couldn’t bring myself to have another when my companions were loving them so much more than I. So, in sacrifice (*coughcough*), I gave up my second to my pal.
The mussels, however, were quite wonderful. First, I love anything with bacon. I mean anything. Bacon chocolate, bacon wrapped [insert favorite food here], bacon bacon bacon wrapped bacon. I love that crispy, mouth watering, melting fatty bacon. It’s hard to screw up bacon, unless, of course, it’s too greasy. But even then … come on … it’s bacon! Top it off with a smooth milky cheese and I’m in heaven. Then, breaded?! It’s the most perfect combination ever. Bread, cheese, bacon. The new trifecta … just kidding.
Though I hate to do this part, I must. The most disappointing dish was the Seafood Martini. Don’t get me wrong, the cucumber vodka was exquisite, it was just the rest of the dish that was just all wrong. To borrow words from my dear friend and fellow foodie, it fell flat. I understand that the attempt was at a ceviche-like texture with a twist on the taste, but it just didn’t work at all. Perhaps something a little less overpowering would have been best. Frankly, I might have even preferred the cucumber vodka in a shot glass on the side.