White Gazpacho, Scallop
An almond-based, slightly garlicky white gazpacho, with no tomato, is the base on which towers a scallop tartare.
Berenjena Con Miel ($8)
If you don't know how to make sense of La Vara's menu, just get something fried—the fried dishes were easily the best. Here, square chunks of eggplant are flash-fried and presented on a bed of warm, melty tetilla (creamy cow's milk cheese) with honey and nigella seed. "This almost reminds me of a banana dessert," said one of our party—with creamy-middled innards and a creamy, honey-laced sauce to dip through. But the effect isn't overly sweet at all.
Pincho De Ceutas ($13)
We've had Chef Raij's chicken hearts before; in this version, they're simply seasoned with spices including caraway and cumin before they're grilled, emerging slightly charred and tender throughout. They're paired with a light salad (mint, parsley, arugula) in a lime-date vinaigrette, which if anything, we found just as exciting, thanks to the intense citrus hit of the vinaigrette, crunchy cashews, and bright herbs.
Love bacon though we do, this dish wasn't out favorite. A stew of smoked and unsmoked bacon, sweet onions, and pimenton turned out a bit dry and one-note; it seemed to us more a pile of (admittedly tasty) bacon bits than a composed dish we'd order again.
Pollo Asado ($18)
The brined half Murray's chicken is rubbed with coriander, caraway seeds, and cumin, then roasted with berbere-spiced onions. While our white meat was a touch dry, the juicy dark meat, rich spice rub, and sweetly spiced (and appealingly meaty) onions more than made up for it. (It's also a massive plate of food for under $20.)
Perhaps our favorite dish of the night, and a beautiful illustration of what makes this sort of dish so compelling: strong, simple ingredients brought together beautifully. Shredded, crisped chorizo tops bread that's crunchily soaked in olive oil and pimenton, nearly as crispy-smoky-fatty as the chorizo itself, with halved grapes to cut all that savory richness.
One of the better versions of this Valencian noodle dish we've had in the city—pan-fried noodles tossed with clams, calamari, and noodles and cooked in shrimp broth. As with all great seafood-carb pairings, the noodles soak in the rich broth, tasting of the sea themselves; all the tender seafood tastes even better with a swipe through the garlicky alioli.
Lengua Llucmaçanes ($18)
Braised beef tongue with tomato-caper sauce, peas, and carrots. The meat is downright fork-tender and aggressively beefy, making you wonder why you don't eat tongue more often.
Helado De Aceite ($8)
I'm an olive oil ice cream fanatic, but this didn't quite do it for me; the texture was a bit grainy rather than flawlessly smooth, and the olive oil flavor was milder than it could've been. That said, it's plenty tasty, and the layered wafer served with it is delicious.
This didn't necessarily read as the most exciting on the menu, but the date walnut tart was easily the best dessert. A crumbly, sandy-butter crust crumbles at the touch of the fork, with a barely orange blossom–tinged filling and a bracingly tart lemon curd on top.