Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Review: Varga Bar

I read about Varga Bar on Phoodie the week that it opened, but it was by chance that I landed in there the first time. Lauren's friend's boyfriend Karl and I were walking to meet the girls at a wedding rehearsal dinner and found ourselves in need of refreshment, so we ducked into Tria, only to find it too packed. Two blocks of walking later, we stumbled into beer Valhalla.

About twenty beers on tap. All American; about half local from such luminaries as Sly Fox, Dogfish Head and Flying Fish, and a smattering of nationwide standouts like Rogue – and most importantly for native Michigander Karl, Bell's Oberon. Karl went for that and I had a Rogue pilsner that was quite good. Karl's good-natured protest about the lack of an orange slice in his Oberon so endeared him to the bartender that we were treated to a taste of Backwoods Bastard, from Founders, another Michigan brewery. Aged in bourbon casks and clocking in at 9% ABV, it was like a smooth velvet hammer on the tongue, with a creamy head that made it taste like dessert. Luckily it was only a taste or I would have been in no condition to go to the rehearsal dinner.

But what's this: they serve food too? The menu looked pretty dynamite, and when I saw that they had Up in Smoke, possibly my favorite cheese ever, I knew we had to come back to eat soon. The menu proved far more seductive than the pin-up ladies painted on the ceiling.

So we went back, and here's what happened. First, we had to have the Up in Smoke. It's a goat cheese that's wrapped in smoked maple leaves, and it was served with a rather unfocused array of accompaniments, from sliced apples and pears to grapes to a mustardy sauce to a dried cherry and root beer sauce to ... well, let's say it would be helpful if the kitchen narrowed down the pairings so as to provide a more focused cheese experience. For $5, it wasn't a super-large hunk of cheese, but not bad considering what it must retail for, and again an excellent cheese nonetheless.

I was going to get the roast pork sandwich with broccoli rabe and truffled provolone, but our chat about the Clambake for Two was rattling around in my head and we made a last-minute decision to go for that instead. It sounded great from the menu description: lobster, shrimp, scallops, clams and mussels, along with potatoes, corn and sausage, all in a rich broth. For $36, a bit of a bar-food splurge but we figured what the heck.

I suppose it was the $36 floating above the pot that soured me on the experience, but I found myself somehow wanting more. Everything was delicious, but just too sparse. Once the lobster was out of the pot, there was one large shrimp, and then maybe 3-4 each of the shellfish items. I realize it's not a bad price if the lobster is taken into account, but I would have been happier with no lobster, more other stuff and a lower price tag. Even the cheap stuff, like the potatoes and corn, were in short supply – at least bulk things up by throwing more of them in there.

Again, though, the quality was very good. My lack of enjoyment of the dish was more attributable to the price (and my cheapskateness) and my aversion to disassembling crustaceans.

Though the chef still seems to be tinkering with the menu quite a bit, all signs point to this place being a hit. At the very least, it has established itself as one of the more formidable places in town to drink some quality beers. I will no doubt be back to give a few more items on the menu a shot.

Varga Bar on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

meandtheblueskies said...

Hey, it's Washington Square. That's why you got so little for so much. But it sure did sound tasty.