El Vaquero: The Cowboy comes to Eugene

There's just something sexy about a cowboy.

Rustic and charming, well mannered, causally touseled and wearing a bit of leather...rrrowwrrr!

Yes, a cowboy is sexy, but he becomes especially so when he's serving you an incredible assortment of creative drinks, excellent tapas, and gourmet desserts.

There' s a new restaurant in town called "El Vaquero." As soon as we got paid, I bribed Loving Boyfriend to go with me to "The Cowboy" for a date by offering a night away from the "kids" (ie. the puppy), some killer tapas, and heck, I even offered to pay. Needless to say, he was game.

I called and got reservations for 8pm (recommended...because this place is new in town, there can be up to a 2 hour wait), we dressed ourselves up properly for a date on the town, and headed out a bit early with intentions of spending some time in the bar trying out one of their drinks. I came armed with the knowledge that the restaurant is owned by Katie Marcus-Brown and Sara Willis, the masterminds who created one of my other favorite restaurants in town, Red Agave, which is known for it's creative cocktails.

When we got there, the place was packed. Not only the restaurant, but the bar. The walls were painted in warm shades of cream and red, and the decor was rustic and simple with exposed wooden beams and glazed particle board on the floor. Chic accents lended a hip southwestern flair to the place - a shiny silver bull's skull hung on a torquoise wall in the bar, and several of the bar stools were covered with cowhide.

We sidled on up to the bar, and requested a drink list. Perusing the list is like taking a trip around the world to various bars to taste each of their specialty drinks. Included were drinks from Spain, Peru, France, places around the US and even one from Eugene's own Red Agave.

I decided on the Planter's Punch, from the Planter's Hotel in Missouri, a mixture of Meyer's Rum and passionfruit puree, while Loving Boyfriend went a bit more traditional with a Manhattan. We sat down in the bar, and waited patiently for our table. Before long (much shorter than I thought it would be since we had come early), we were granted a table.

The menu is, by far, Eugene's most extensive tapas selection. In fact, there's nothing like this in Eugene. We wavered between the choices, and decided on the Albondigas de Camarones: shrimp dumplings, Croquetas de Papas: artichoke-pecorino and sweet potato fritters, and the Almanida: cured Spanish chorizo, fried marcon almonds, marinated spanish olives, marinated piquillo peppers, marinated manchego (curado), marinated carrots with pickled red peppercorns, and boquerones (white anchovies). I had also been told that El Vaquero's house-made bread was one of their specialties, with a different variety every day. Today's selection was rosemary biscuits and we dutifully ordered them to go with our meal. We topped this off with a half carafe of sangria (you simply must have sangria with Spanish tapas).

Everything, and I mean everything, was mouth-wateringly delicious. They started us off with a free plate of crisp cucumbers to dip in their tangy house avocado salsa with a squeeze of lime. the Almanida showed up next and it was a fabulous combination of Spanish flavors, each portion bursting with flavor. My favorite were the delicate boquerones. They were completely unlike the anchovies I've had elsewhere. They were very mild in flavor and not really fishy or briney...they tasted almost like trout, but fresh from the ocean. The albondigas de camarones came lightly covered in a rich cream sauce and speckled with parsley and spices, and the croquetas de papas literally melted on your tongue and were bursting with spicy curry (the sweet potato) or the subtle smokiness of spanish paprika (the artichoke-pecorino). The rosemary biscuits lived up to their reputation...they were tender, fluffy and light, and packed with flavor.

For dessert, I had my eye on the Sticky Toffee Pudding with sundried cherries and bourbon whipped cream, but we decided instead to go with the cheaper "dessert tapas," smaller portions of desserts, so that we could try two. We went with the carrot cupcake with orange cream cheese frosting and, as I have a weakness like Rob, of Hungry in Hogtown, and cannot pass up a creme brulee: chocolate creme brulee.

The desserts arrived shortly after we ordered them, and were delicious. The crust of the creme brulee let out a satisfying crack, and the custard was rich and creamy and speckled with evidence of real vanilla beans. The only downfall of the evening was that they mistakenly left us with only forks to eat our dessert, and if you've ever tried to eat a creme brulee with a fork, you'll understand why I felt it was necessary to dip my finger in the mini ramekin and get the rest out: it was that good, and I just couldn't wait for a spoon (Don't worry, no one saw me! I hope.). The carrot cupcake was moist and dense, with just the right amount (a dollop) of the rich orange cream cheese frosting on top. The best part? We enjoyed all of this for a mere $41.00.

I've found a new love: this cowboy has stolen my heart. I do love Red Agave, but it's pricey. I have other haunts around town that are on the cheaper side, but the food in not nearly as wonderful as what we discovered at El Vaquero. I think I see many more dates at El Vaquero in the future for us!

Sorry there aren't any pictures - I'm still a little timid about the flash on my camera in restaurants...especially those that are fairly dark! And even though I had planned on bringing it and trying some photos without a flash, I accidently left it at home. But the way we were eating, I'm not sure that I would have been able to resist long enough to snap a picture of each of our dishes!

El Vaquero
296 East 5th Avenue
Eugene, OR

6 comments from you:

Clare Eats said...

Oh Cowboys are sooo cute ;) hehehe
I love Tapas and that restaurant sounds soooo delish! I wish it wasn't sooo faraway *sigh*

BTW are you anywhere near Oakridge or Duke?

rob said...

Michelle, I'm sitting here waiting for my pasta water to boil, and I'm beginning to think reading about a delicious meal someone else enjoyed is a mistake.

That sounds fantastic. My wife and I first tried boquerones in Spain last year, and they are wonderful. The artichoke-pecorino fritters are also making my mouth water.

My only criticism is that when two people are confronted by three desserts, the obvious (dare I say only?) course of action is to order all three.

MC Hungry Hippo said...

Hullo Michelle,

I just found your food blog and was excited to see that you are also a biologist. You see, I recently started my food blog and, I too, am a biologist, in grad school, getting my PhD. But in New York City...
I enjoyed reading about the Truffle Festival and El Vaquero sounds delicious.
I look forward to reading the rest of your blog.

Paz said...

The Cowboy certainly gives reason to fall in love. Yum!

Great description, I didn't miss the photos. ;-)


michelle said...

Hi Clare! He he he...yes...yes they are. I think you'll just have to come over here from Australia for a visit and try it out! I've never heard of Duke oregon, but Oakridge is about 50 minutes southeast of Eugene...we're 2 hours due south of Portland. Know another Oregonian?

Hi Rob! I've been in your shoes before...unfortunately I read all those posts in the afternoon after lunch has worn off and dinner is still on the horizon. I want to find boquerones somewhere...they're sooooo good. I do have to say: touche' to your dessert comment. Ah, to no longer be a student!

Hi Hungry Hippo! Thanks for visiting my site and all the nice comments. Good to see I'm not the only biologist thinking about food! How much longer do you have to go? Whatcha workin' on?

Hi Paz! Aw, thanks! Yep, there's just something about a cowboy...

Clare Eats said...

That will teach me to be more secific LOL
I didn't even think abou tHOW BIG America is LOL
I actuall meant Oakridge(Tn) or Duke(NC) FACE experiments....

I so plan on coming over to the US soon... I hope...