When Vera opened in October, it made sense for a corner of the bar to be devoted entirely to things that have been preserved— namely, cheese and Spanish ham. (The other main thing Vera serves preserved— grape juice— was a few feet down the counter.) But as chef/owner Mark Mendez points out, here we are in the summer with all these great fresh things. So what was the cheese bar is going to become Otro Bar— as Mendez says, “We will be scaling back on cheese and ham just a bit, and focusing more on what’s available during the summer, since there is so much going on right now that I wanted to find a way to use it all.” Vera also will introduce Placas del Dia, plates of the day, each day offering a particularly elaborate main dish (as opposed to the small plates that make up much of the menu) for either ordering as an entree or sharing. (There will be recommended pairings as well.) We spoke with Mendez about why he’s making these changes at his popular restaurant; the list of Placas del Dia follows below.
So why are you changing things around?
You know, part of the fun of having my own place is that if I want to change it up, I can. And it’s the time of year when there’s so much good stuff— almost too much. And I want to use it all. I mean, I put out some crudites the other night and people went crazy for them. I had so many people ask me for the recipe, and I’m like, what recipe. You have a really good potato and you salt it. That’s the recipe.
So what are you going to offer right now?
There’s going to be a beet salad, I got a ton of beets. So many different kinds of beets. And a green bean escabeche. And I’m finally going to do a tortilla [the Spanish kind with potatoes and eggs]. I’ve had so many people ask for that, say you can’t be a Spanish restaurant without a tortilla. And I didn’t want to do it, but now there’s a place for it. And we’ll probably make some hardcore Spanish stuff, like take albacore tuna and do a conserva, or sardines, stuff like that.
I got some padron peppers, we’ll have them. I got some corn— I know they don’t have corn in Spain really, but they eat it in the Canary islands. It’s a Latin thing, and it’s just so good. I think a lot of things are really good this year.
Frankly I’m trying not to overwhelm the chef there with too many ideas. He looks a little scared, I’m trying to take it easy. But I was at the market today and I just kept buying things. It’s the best time of the year for the market, if you ask me. I get stuff and then I think what to do with it. I don’t get to go to the market as much as I might want, but they send me lists and I get stuff in and I taste it, and then I think, okay, this is just perfect and all it needs is salt, this isn’t as ready, it needs a little something, so I’ll preserve it in some way.
How about these new specials of the day? Was that because people were having trouble with the small plates thing, give them more entree-sized things?
I dunno, maybe a little… I wanted to make the menu smaller and do more specials, so part of it was, seriously, space on the paper. I mean, we’ve only been doing them for three days and it’s going scarily well. We did the baby pig last night and I swear, everybody in the place got it.
So it’s fun to do bigger things like that. But I have to admit, what really gets me inspired this time of year is vegetables. I’m a little over pork. You don’t have to eat it in everything. It’s a time of year when you want to eat a little lighter anyway. And it’s exciting for me to be doing things with vegetables and showing people what you can do with them— how you don’t have to do much with them. Like we have this zucchini and we just saute and season it. Things like that are much more approachable for people. They’re simple.
Not everything has to be super cutting-edge. I just like simple things that taste good. People say, a beet salad with goat cheese— it’s square. Yeah, but it tastes really good. Not everybody eats out fifty times a week like food writers do and has had everything already.
PLACAS DEL DIA
Cochinillo (roast baby pig)
Filet, bone marrow