Vaga in Encinitas delights with exquisite menu, views and service
During my morning drive from Leucadia to Oceanside, I watched the many construction phases of the Alila Marea Beach Resort at the end of La Costa Boulevard. I finally made my way into this beauty of a hotel and restaurant recently and was blown away.
Vaga Restaurant & Bar, the luxury hotel’s signature restaurant, is connected to 130 coastal and garden view rooms and suites that use innovative design to highlight the natural elements of the coastline. The resort also features an oceanfront pool and over 28,500 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space as well as Spa Alila, a world-class spa and wellness experience.
A property of this standing is sure to win prizes. And last year, Vaga was appointed to “40 Best New Restaurants in America” by Esquire Magazine in 2021. As I strolled the grounds of the resort, I imagined out-of-town business guests feeding their event planner to mark this fabulous location for a meeting.
For my dining experience at Vaga, I was shown to a north-facing outdoor table with stunning views to the east and west. I will say up front that our server, Marshall Moss, was as knowledgeable and knowledgeable at his craft as I have come to know him in North San Diego County.
Moss was able to describe the cocktails, menu, specialties, and suggested wine pairings in a way that conveyed knowledge and passion, not just memorization. The well-versed steward romanticized each item description as if he had a personal relationship with it. Combine that with an epic location and a menu worthy of such food and drink acumen and it adds up to a special evening.
Before jumping into specifics, the culinary talent brought to open Vaga was also world class. Executive chef Claudette Zepeda opened Vaga and her star-studded resume includes time as executive chef and partner at El Jardin, head chef at Javier Plascencia’s acclaimed Bracero, and she’s been on Top Chef Season 15 and Top Chef. Mexico.
Zepeda recently assumed the role of Consulting Chef and will continue to be the creative visionary behind the culinary experiences at Alila Marea Beach Resortwhile entrusting the daily culinary execution of Vaga to Ananda Bareno.
Bareno has an equally impressive culinary resume and will also oversee menus for The Pocket Pool & Bar, Coffee Box, special event catering and in-room dining.
OK, let’s get to the goods here. It’s essential to start with a cocktail as the creative list begs to be tried. My table mate opted for the ‘No Place Like Home’ which includes vodka, grapefruit, plum essence syrup, falernum dash (Caribbean rum liqueur with allspice and lime ).
This drink has to be a finalist for the most visually appealing cocktail ever. It’s so pretty you almost won’t want to drink it, but do it because it’s delicious. I went with the “Convoy” as a nod to one of my favorite San Diego bands of the same name and also on Marshall’s suggestion that it was a great cocktail…more for the price!
All this and I had never experienced Japanese whiskey with homemade citrus cordial, Chinese five-spice and sparkling water. I will be back to hit the bar for this one, it was fabulous.
As we were going to sample a variety of dishes, we asked for a few versatile dry white wines and again our server Marshall was spot on with his suggestions. We opted for Schloss Gobelsberg Gruner Veltliner and Domaine LaRoche Chablis, both perfectly crispy, dry and refreshing.
Then the party started. Local Yellowtail Crudo with Asian Pear, Avocado Mousse and Spicy Black Garlic Sauce and Brisket Buns with Smoked Brisket, Braised in Salsa Verde with Bacon, Stuffed into Chinese Bao Buns launched into a kind of surf and gourmet turf.
Then, in a whimsical nod to my beloved Michigan Upper Peninsula pasties, the chef created a whimsical version of those with his Dan Pasty, made with ground beef, seasoned with oyster sauce and ginger. , stuffed in a crispy shortcrust pastry, finished with sesame mole and a green papaya salad. I loved !
Then there were the wildly creative octopus carnitas consisting of braised octopus legs, finished on the flat grill with spicy beef fat, mashed white beans and marinated mushroom ceviche, with warm tortillas. Again, super creative and tasty.
Even after all this culinary goodness, the best was yet to come. The Baja Seabass was the best thing I’ve eaten in a long time. The boneless fillet of black striped bass, roasted in a wood oven, with cracked skin, Green Goddess sauce and Marcona almond basmati rice with spicy ghee was a delight for the senses. The rice was the best I have ever had. Seriously.
More amazing seafood came next with East Coast scallops, pan roasted with caramelized plantain sauce, Macha pepper, Peruvian corn, Parmigiana.
After a quick stroll through the dining room to stretch my legs and gather for dessert, we were introduced to the Chocolate Bombe. It is a chocolate sponge cake, layered with dark chocolate mousse, miso and sesame caramel cream, dark chocolate icing. And of course, Marshall paired it well with a La Terre Sauternes.
Vaga is all of this and more. It’s not cheap and for the most part would be considered a great night out for a special occasion. This is a dining experience delivered to a very high standard of skill, execution and service, so I would consider it worthy. Or just take a look at the bar, view and enjoy cocktails and appetizers. Whichever way you decide to experience Vaga, it’s worth checking out.
Find them at 2100 N. Coast Highway 101, Encinitas www.vagarestaurant.com 760.452.3484