My travel bucket list reads a mile long, but my culinary bucket list is quite focused and geographically attainable. In recent years, my backyard of Orange County, California has become a foodie mecca where well-renowned chefs have bypassed Los Angeles to open their restaurants. Vaca, the Spanish steakhouse, is the newest venture from Top Chef finalist Amar Santana – already a celebrity chef in our little county by the ocean with his highly rated Broadway in Laguna Beach.
So I decided to check Vaca off my culinary bucket list………..
Mmmm….maybe I should brush up on my Spanish. As a part-time vegetarian (I only
eat meat as part of the job) I didn’t realize vaca was the Spanish word for “beef”. Not that the bull logo blaring at me as I walked in gave me any clues (I basically flunked out of Spanish – okay!!), it was the hostess who said “You might want to take a picture of our beautiful meat displayed in a glass refrigerator.” And so it was: Aged Rib Eye, Kobe Beef, Boneless New York, Prime Filet…
WOW! If I was a meat lover I would’ve been drooling, but instead I kept thinking of Rocky Balboa in the meat locker, pounding on meat before the big match – is there anyone else who thought that – because you may be my soulmate.
I tend to have my cocktail order ready before the server arrives, but another WOW – their cocktail list reads like a sultry romance novel. Each creatively crafted cocktail or cócteles had me thinking I should have taken an uber. Which one do I choose?
The Vaca Tonic is their signature drink made with Brooklyn Gin, Frozen Gimlet, Fever Tree Mediterranean Tonic, and a Basil Blossom. The drinks are served in modern glassware, most with single sphered ice cubes. The drinks are very “mixologist with a curly stache behind the bar of a speakeasy” – delicate in presentation and refreshing in taste.
The comida menu is perfect for sharing as it is Tapas heavy – small plates with big flavor. Our girl gang decided on eight (we did work out today!)
- bikini sandwiches ~ paleta imberica, manchego, truffles, panini
- erizos con huevo ~ fresh sea urchin scrambled eggs, miso butter toast
- rabo del toro ~ red wine braised oxtail, wild mushrooms
- canelon de pollo ahumado ~ smoked chicken cannelloni, foie gras sauce, sherry reduction
- patatas bravas ~ spicy potatoes, tomato sauce, garlic aioli
- bruselas ~ brussels sprouts, chorizo, sherry gastrique
- albondigas ~ roasted lamb meatballs, lemon-yogurt, cucumbers
- atun crudo ~ tuna tartare, balsamic nori puree, tomato and avocado
My personal faves were the brussels sprouts which Amar is famous for, the potatoes, and the smoked chicken (the sauce was amazing!). The sea urchin was an instagram-worthy presentation, but we were thinking it would be divine for breakfast with a mimosa. The tuna tartare was the only thing I might leave off my list when ordering tapas next time.
The vibe is down-to-earth, chill, and the long narrow interior gives Vaca a New York City-type feel.
I can’t wait to go back and try the paella which everyone at the surrounding tables seemed to be feasting on. The meal was definitely memorable, the service perfect, and loved the cocktail presentation.
I’m now inspired to brush up on my Spanish.
Vaca is located in the Segerstrom Center in Costa Mesa. 695 Towne Center Drive Costa Mesa, CA 92626. 714-463-6060. Valet Parking is available as well as adjacent structure parking which the restaurant will validate.