Vega Tapas Cafe
WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
Menus dominated by small plates are common now, but Vega was the first permanent restaurant in the New Orleans restaurant to do it. That was over ten years ago, long enough for the place to have not only established its own style, but also to get a good groove going with special menus. Something new is happening at Vega almost every week. Overall, the cuisines of all the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea are explored.
Eating here amounts to composing your own tasting menu. The only large plate on the menu is paella, which can easily be split at the table. The rest of the food emerges on small plates (although some of them are nearly entree size). Indulging in a dinner of four courses is easy to take both in terms of size and price. The menu changes regularly, and the variety of ingredients, seasonings, and cooking techniques is very broad. This is accompanied by a minor but noticeable inconsistency.
Chef Allison Vega opened the restaurant in 1996, in a space formerly occupied by a couple of good Greek places. Vega and her husband left town a few years later to cook in the Caribbean, and sold the restaurant to their manager Glenn Hogh. He has since moved into the kitchen, showing a great deal of creativity both in terms of cookery and marketing.
A long, spacious room with big windows in front. The building is rather old and shows comfortable wear. You pass a small dining room and bar on the way in.
Greens, almonds, Manchego, sun-dried tomato-balsamic vinaigrette
Baby greens, apples, brie, caramelized leeks, cider vinaigrette
Spinach, roasted golden beets, candied walnuts, goat cheese, curried vinaigrette
»Jumbo lump crabmeat, arugula, feta, red onion, shallots, blood orange vinaigrette
»Fried oysters, crispy jamon serrano, romaine, basil Caesar dressing
»Creole tomato gazpacho
Sopa del dia
Ceviche of shrimp, Gulf fish, mussels, calamari
»Carp roe dip
»Seared rare ahi tuna, avocado-tomato relish, chili-cilantro vinaigrette
Seared beef, peppercorn vinaigrette, sun-dried tomato cous cous
Spanish artisan cheese plate
Foie gras terrine
»Grilled eggplant layered with fresh mozzarella, arugula, sun-dried tomato and basil pesto
»Grilled roman artichoke, feta relish
Grilled seasonal vegetables, romesco and alioli sauces
»Patatas bravas, garlic alioli
Pasta Mediterraneo, with spicy tomato and roasted vegetable sauce, olives and capers
Pan-roasted Gulf fish on curried cous cous
»Gambas al pil pil (shrimp, smoked paprika-garlic oil)
Cumin-rubbed shrimp, yam salad, cranberries, marcona almonds
»Steamed mussels, capers, fresh dill, white wine-butter broth
»Seared diver scallops, butternut squash puree
Spicy curried giant green mussels
Chicken, wild mushrooms, leeks, feta in crispy phyllo pastry
Smoked duck sausage ‘corndog’
»Serrano ham-wrapped quail, pineapple-fig-balsamic glaze
»Smoked duck breast with spicy pecan glaze
Herb-roasted goat cannelloni, brie béchamel
Grilled beef tenderloin with Valdeon butter
»Pan roasted veal sweetbreads, crispy serrano ham, mushrooms, sherry butter
»Exotic spiced pork baby back ribs
»Paella de la Vega (shrimp, mussels, chorizo, calamari, scallops, chicken, vegetables, saffron rice)
»Burnt catalan creme custard
»Tres leches waffle
White chocolate bread puddings, saffron anglaise and coconut gelato
Chocolate truffle cake
Gelati et sorbetti
FOR BEST RESULTS
Go in party of four to six, and order for the table. Most dishes are big enough to share, and the range of the menu is so wide that this becomes much fun.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
Some of the experiments on the menu are unsuccessful. When busy, the service slows down noticeably.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment +1
- Value +1
- Attitude +1
- Wine & Bar +1
- Hipness +1
- Local Color +1
- Open Monday dinner
- Easy, nearby parking
- Reservations accepted
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
Vega is not, strictly speaking, a tapas restaurant. Tapas bars in Spain might have a hundred or so different little nibbles, each one or two bites. Many of Vega’s offerings have Spanish accents, but they’re more like generous appetizers, and almost as big as some entrees I’ve seen.
I usually wind up eating four or five courses here. Go through the whole menu and listen to the three or four specials before even thinking about ordering. Work at least one cold dish into the mix. It doesn’t matter at all what order the food comes out. But don’t miss the carp roe dip. Even if the idea of eating fish eggs turns you off, get it. It’s creamy instead of grainy, and when you start scooping it up with pita chips you won’t be able to stop. I have been know to go through two orders of this stuff single-handedly.