Sunday, March 13, 2011

La Tasca Does Vegetarian Tapas Right

The American Dietetic Association is celebrating National Nutrition Month in March. The theme for 2011 is Eating Right With Color.

I recently published some suggestions to chefs on ways to provide more interesting vegetarian options on their menus. Although I don't claim to be a vegetarian, I am eating far less meat as part of a new low-cholesterol diet. My wife went vegetarian over a decade ago, and meals out are a lot more satisfying for both of us when she's able to eat more than just pasta, salad, and side dishes.

On Saturday night my wife and I hit the the streets of Arlington, Va., in search of a good meal. A Moroccan joint looked promising, but the lighting was too bright. The Thai place was empty and we were already familiar with the Indian restaurant. Then we stumbled across La Tasca, a local franchise that serves a sprawling menu of Spanish tapas (small plates of food to share). There are more options for meat eaters than vegetarians, but the menu does include a section dedicated to vegetarian dishes, and it didn't disappoint.

Our first experience with La Tasca in Alexandria, Va., was just average. The food was tasty, but sharing food between a vegetarian and a meat eater didn't work. In contrast, our affair in Arlington was fun and flavorful. We started with rustic bread and three olive oils for dipping. Then came the battered and fried eggplant slices and the delectable Cabrales cheese sauce.

We hadn't finished our appetizers when the multiple plates of tapas arrived. Everyone has had onion rings, but our plate of onion and red and green pepper rocked. The breading was light, flaky, and oh, so tasty.

If you like homefries, La Tasca's version is complemented by both a mild hot sauce and a garlic aioli. Crispy taters, spicy, creamy dips - how can you go wrong?

The wild mushrooms were fantastic. I've really grown to become a fanatic of funky fungi. The shrooms were nice and firm and the olive oil didn't drown out the earthy flavors.

I wasn't blown away by the paella, but my date loved it. Both of us were impressed by the spinach and pine nut croquettes. The balls were crispy on the outside and creamy and wonderful on the inside. Imagine a savory piece of Lindt chocolate. If you were driving, you'd have to pull over to enjoy the taste rush.

Our meal climaxed with a plate of Canelones de Berenjenas, one of the best vegetarian creations I've ever sampled. The La Tasca menu description says, "Eggplant rolls stuffed with herb-roasted roma tomatoes, grilled, sweet piquillo peppers, and a mild goat cheese." That just doesn't capture the volume of saliva generated by the scent and flavor of these magical rolls. Presented on the plate, they looked like they needed a drizzle of some sauce, but after a bite it was obvious that the flavors had their own legs. (Seriously one of the best things I've ever eaten.) We spent 15 minutes trying to figure out how La Tasca softened the eggplant to make it roll without being soggy, and still couldn't solve the mystery of this masterpiece menu item. Eggplants are pretty easy and fun to grow, so we'll be trying this ourselves this summer.

So if you're in the D.C. or Baltimore area, look for La Tasca for an awesome menu of Spanish tapas. Their selection of sangria is on full display in big vats and wine lovers will not be disappointed by the depth of the list. For me, the bottle of Alhambra Negro was the perfect beer to keep my taste buds moist.

I'd love to hear your comments and suggestions on eating vegetarian.
I'm Blogging National Nutrition Month

1 comment:

  1. I am going to start using croquettes as a way to use up left over rice, beans or other grains and veggies....Roll them in some breadcrumbs and throw them in the oven!

    Thanks for the great date night out...