Reservations go live today for Vaga, the latest restaurant from acclaimed local chef Claudette Zepeda. Zepeda’s latest project is located inside the new Alila Marea Beach Resort Encinitas, a dramatic-yet-understated 130-room property overlooking South Ponto beach. While Vaga has been accessible to overnight guests since the hotel opened in mid-March, the restaurant will officially open to the public on Wednesday, May 5. It’s a significant date for Zepeda, who will mark the anniversary of her grandmother’s passing with a mariachi band that will also celebrate the restaurant’s launch.
Family has always been intrinsically linked to the chef’s culinary mission. Zepeda’s Mexican heritage and extensive travels through the country informed her time at El Jardin, during which she was nominated for a James Beard Award and garnered glowing features from Food & Wine and the New York Times.
At Vaga, Zepeda says the menu is equally personal, reflecting a lifetime of living and eating in San Diego. Though she may not be exclusively using Mexican ingredients, the chef says this is still her food at the core, and importantly, it’s the kind of food she wants to cook and eat right now. Zepeda is now offering three and five-course tasting menus, with plans to introduce a 14-course omakase-style meal that will take diners through her journey of growing up on both sides of the border. Launching in June, it’ll be available to guests seated at the chef’s counter that fronts the open kitchen.
As the resort’s executive chef, Zepeda is also overseeing the Coffee Box, a cafe featuring fresh pastries and Lofty Coffee, and the Pocket, a poolside bar serving snacks ranging from tacos and ceviche to sushi.
Here are some of Vaga’s foundational dishes:
Crispy Dan Dan Pastry: This shared appetizer is an evolution of the popular Dan Dan birria tacos, inspired by the flavors of the classic Sichuan noodle dish, once served at El Jardin. The flaky pastry is modeled on a scallion pancake — its dough laminated with ghee and Zepeda’s signature salsa macha — filled with beef seasoned with house-fermented black beans and served on a sesame sauce.
Callo De Hacha: Zepeda loves fashion as much as food, and worked with local stoneware maker the Wheel to create plates in her ideal shade of pink. This delicate and striking dish is an aguachile of Baja sea scallops called callo de hacha dressed with carrot, passion fruit, and habanero and topped with young coconut and a cloud of coconut foam.
Scallops: Last August, while developing Vaga’s menu, Zepeda woke up from a dream about food and jotted down notes for this dish on her phone. That list of ingredients turned into one of her favorite holdovers from her preview menu: seared scallops on roasted plantain puree with heirloom corn, chili oil, and parmesan cheese.
Wild Mushrooms & Squash: At El Jardin, the menu’s vegan option revolved around what the chefs gathered from the Liberty Station restaurant’s backyard garden. In North County, Zepeda will be sourcing seasonal produce directly from a number of area farms, including Chino Farm and Cyclops Farms. This springtime version includes marinated wild mushrooms, two types of squash, and a sauce made from English pea pods.
Panna Cotta: Pastry chef Paola Gonzalez has been a longtime collaborator of Zepeda’s, working with the chef at both Bracero and El Jardin. Her dessert, Flower Child, is inspired by walks taken with her grandmother in San Diego, who would always stop to point out edible plants along their path. Served with amaretti, vanilla marshmallow, and kumquat sorbet, Gonzalez’s panna cotta is flavored with chamomile, rose, and lavender.
2100 N Coast Hwy 101, Encinitas.
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