It is an honor to introduce one of my best friends, Julie McAvoy (Jujus). Sure, Saturday Steals could stay in Seattle with small excursions here and there. But, then you’d truly be missing out. Jujus finds some of the best deals. Plus, exploring new things with her is like being 16 again, driving with friends, and singing to music with the windows rolled down. It is exciting and filled with endless possibilities. Welcome to sharing a meal with Jujus…
Saturday Steals – Va de Vi
by Julie McAvoy
White linen tablecloths, swanky jazz swirling with light conversation, and a $675 bottle of Pinot Noir as the first choice on the wine list. Va de Vi is not your typical restaurant. This is a “very-special-occasion” type of place, if you ask me. Of course there were plenty of groups reveling in their normal Walnut Creek Saturday-night-outings, but the group that can afford that is shrinking (don’t get me started on the widening income gap in America or the economy).
I, on the other hand, was here on a very special mission – to enjoy an out-of-our-budget pleasure with my roommate. We have been recycling bottles and cans for the past few months and managed to collect about $100 in our reused sun-dried-tomato-jar piggy bank. What better way to spend it then on a decadent small-plate meal and wine? Of course, our goal was also to see how far we could stretch our hard-saved cash. (Have you ever smelled a plastic bag of supposedly empty beer cans that has been marinating on a porch for a month? Trust me, recycling is not always as pleasant as hippies make you think.)
As I extol our green accomplishment and browse the wine menu, I wonder if the $675 bottle was listed first so that the $405 Australian Shiraz doesn’t seem quite as outrageous. Thankfully, Va De Vi also has an extensive flight menu. Buckle your seat belts because these wine flights are sure to take you on a succulent journey through fabulousness. Three tastes of three ounces each range from $9.99 to $25 depending on your palate and wallet.
Since my wallet is tight and my palate is very accepting, I ventured for “The Bailout” flight at the alluring price of $9.99. And, as expected the wine director at Va De Vi knows what she is talking about. These wines were approachable, flavorful, and melded amazingly with the selected rich small plates.
The first selection was a 2009 Stephen Vincent Merlot from California. Its smooth, rich flavors perfectly complimented the mini chicken mole tacos ($8). I would like to say I knew the slight hints of chocolate in the merlot would accentuate the exploding flavors of chocolate, chiles, and garlic in these mini tacos. However, it was simply a very happy coincidence that they matched so perfectly. The thin plate held 4 sand-dollar-sized crispy corn tortilla cups overflowing with shredded chicken mole, pickled onions, avocado, queso fresco and cilantro. Initially, the small size of the tacos turned me off, but after one bite of this crunchy little paradise, I stopped doubting the chef and surrendered to his expertise.
Following this opening act was hard to do, but delicately grilled asparagus ($8) did just the trick. A soft-boiled egg rolled in panko bread crumbs drizzled delicately over the firm green vegetables with each delectable bite. The next wine selection, a 2007 J. Vidal-Fleury Cotes du Rhone, paired nicely with the acidic, sharp flavors of the citrus-shallot vinaigrette dotting the dish. This fruity blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre enthralled me so much that I ended up ordering a full glass of it (at a reasonable $6, it was a great deal).
For the meat course, we ordered hanger steak ($13) and braised boneless short rib ($12). To our surprise, the first dish that came out was neither of these, but we ate it just the same. Our waiter’s runner had accidentally served the adjacent table’s lechon ($12) to us. What is lecon, you ask? Don’t worry. I asked the same thing. It is a delightful mix of textures that has a not-so-delightful name: crispy pork belly. The outside of these little meat disks was pleasantly crunchy all the way around. While just under the skin, was the soft, flavorful belly meat that almost melted in your mouth (if meat could melt). This was served on top of white rice cakes with pickled onions and a chili soy glaze. Perfection.
Yet another serendipitous pairing delighted my taste buds as I sipped on our third wine selection, which was a 2008 Tamayo Red Blend from Contra Costa County. Seven grape varietals were used to produce this tantalizing and interestingly layered blend. The sweet hints of vanilla complimented the sweet chili soy glaze that was artfully drizzled over the lechon. While the deep fruitiness and spice accentuated the crisp, tender meatiness of the fried pork.
As we were enjoying our surprisingly tasty addition, the other meat dishes arrived. I felt bad for them because they suffered from inopportune timing on this particular evening. If we had delved into them first, they would have astounded us. However, after the crispy pork belly, these fairly common meat dishes were underwhelming, especially the short rib served over mashed potatoes and brussel sprouts. Thankfully, I had ordered the glass of Cotes du Rhone, which arrived just in time to lift my spirits and bring this delicious journey of recycling money to a serene finish.
Grilled Asparagus: $8
Mini Chicken Mole Tacos: $8
Braised Boneless Short Rib: $12
Hanger Steak: $13
2007 J. Vidal-Fleury Cotes du Rhone: $6
Wine Flight: $9.99 – $25