Bite: Amar-velous! Vaca

Amar Santana—chef-owner of Broadway by Amar Santana in Laguna Beach and contender on Bravo’s “Top Chef”—and business partner Ahmed Labbate bring the cuisines of Barcelona, Madrid, Andalucía, Sevilla, and the Basque to Vaca in Costa Mesa. Tapas include sea-urchin scrambled eggs and callos with braised beef tendon, tripe, and tongue. Among the cold cuts is Jamon Iberico, aged five years. A meat paella with pork belly, chorizo, blood sausage, duck confit, and beef cheek complements the seafood and vegetable versions. Aged superior meats such as beef-rib steak, as well as a Japanese Kobe ribeye and boneless Strauss grass-fed New York strip, are displayed in a case in the center of the restaurant. Wines by the glass, and most bottles, are Spanish. Top-notch cocktails use a house-made vermouth, and the Vaca Tonic calls for Brooklyn Gin, frozen gimlet, tonic, and basil blossom. Vaca, cow in Spanish, brings Santana full circle—or at least within half a block: He was opening chef at the former Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale’s South Coast Plaza. Tapas, $6 to $16; cold cuts, $8 to $12 per plate, and up to $36 per ounce; main plates, $24 to $55 per pound; sides, $7 to $11; desserts, $7 to $12. 695 Town Center Drive, 714-463-6060, vacagroup.com

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