La Vara is one of those very “Brooklyn” restaurants where you feel like you’re surrounded by a diverse group of people who listen to NPR and volunteer at the local food co-op. On an early Sunday evening, there was the lesbian couple having a date night, the Millenials having a grown up day out, the locals taking their regular seats, and the bridge-and-tunnel Manhattan people (us) seeing how the hipper half live.
What brought us all together were the acclaimed Michelin star tapas at La Vara. The tapas here is unique in that it features the Jewish and Moorish influences in Spanish food where Middle Eastern flavors and ingredients like eggplants, chickpeas, artichokes and heavy spices were common. The items on the menu here will almost seem unrecognizable to someone used to a more “traditional” tapas menu of patatas bravas and chorizo.
Embrace the change, as this is unique tapas that you can’t really get anywhere else. The spicy fried chickpeas is a great way to start, a snack that’s as fun and tasty as popcorn. While the chickpeas won’t make or break your meal, the fried artichokes in anchovy aioli definitely will, and for the better. They’re somehow crispy while retaining their soft and meaty body, and the sauce is a game changer, leaving any other fried artichoke you’ve ordered in the past a distant memory. The crispy eggplant with honey and melted cheese was another popular item, well executed and with the eggplants impressively maintaining a crispiness to them, but I found this dish a little too salty.
The croquetas of the day, which was cheese and Serrano ham, are probably the most familiar thing you might try. They don’t disappoint, but they won’t be the most exciting thing on the roster. Skip the sobrasada con miel, a spreadable Menorcan sausage on a piece of charred bread that tasted like too much carb and salt. If you’re feeling adventurous, and if it’s available that day, try the beef tongue stew. The meat is wonderfully tender, and the thick tomato caper sauce is very good on its own and was meant for dipping some bread into. If those taste buds are too much for you, the lamb meatballs are an excellent alternative, not gamey and accompanied by an excellent mint yogurt sauce.
7 tapas plates later, we were done with our culinary excursion and were back on the train to Manhattan, where the tapas is a little less cerebral and a little more meat and potato. Which is fine, because I will never turn down a plate of egg tortilla or fried potatoes. But for something a little different, Brooklyn’s tapas has the edge.
268 Clinton St (between Verandah Pl and Warren St)
Brooklyn, NY 11201