By Hailey Moschella
Dining Out Writer
You’ll be drawn to the furniture more commonly seen on patios, couches host to couples on a date sipping flashy cocktails, while families enjoy a leisurely meal dining al fresco. Walk into a vibrant atmosphere with thumping music that makes you want to dance Merengue at Vaka Restaurant in Lawrence.
The Dominican/Japanese fusion restaurant boasts familiar flavors with flair. Most notably is the Mofongo, a classic Caribbean dish perfected. There are many fresh seafood options, all prepared with an eye for detail.
The Mojitos are just one of the many options for cocktails, but it’s hard to imagine ordering anything else after sampling this refreshing beverage with fresh mint and lime.
One of my favorite appetizers to prepare when hosting friends is Ceviche with fresh tortilla chips. I’m accustomed to dicing the shrimp cooked in lime juice, but the Ninja Ceviche had me rethinking my methods with shrimp sliced in half horizontally. The plantain chips made for easy dipping.
Limpia Bota includes chicken, guava and cheese empanadas, along with two kinds of croquettes, which with their creamy, almost smokey filling deep fried, overshadowed the empanadas.
I heard great things about the Mofongo at Vaka, and the Ninja Mofongo exceeded my expectations. The fried and then mashed green plantains were full of flavor and had impeccable texture. I love Mofongo with skirt steak, and topped with Chimichurri sauce makes for the most compatible marriage.
My dad enjoyed the Grilled Chicken Teriyaki, served with asparagus prepared in a tempura-style batter with a side of sweet plantains, just one of the interesting fusions of Japanese and Dominican cuisine prepared at Vaka.
The Pescado Samana was a show-stopper. The fried red snapper is served vertically on a large wooden board with Ninja Coconut Sauce, a salad and side. Crispy without the feeling heavy on a hot evening.
For those interested in sushi, try the Spider Roll with fried soft-shell crab, mixed greens, avocado and spicy mayo or the Dynamite roll, deep-fried yellowtail tuna, avocado and spicy mayo.
I would love to try the Dominican-Japanese Vaka Paella, and one of my favorite desserts, the Tres Leches cake with a twist of passion fruit or chocolate.
Vaka is vibrant. Upbeat. Full of flavor in atmosphere and cuisine. Visit this Dominican restaurant for a memorable night that will make you feel like you’re in the Caribbean.
337 Essex St., Lawrence
Fusions of Japanese and Dominican foods
$$$ out of $$$$
Info: vakarestaurant.com, (978) 655-7278
Hailey Moschella loves exploring communities through their cuisine, discovering the story behind every dish. Her column appears in MethuenLife, SalemLife and HaverhillLife magazines. Her favorite culinary delight is taco night with her kids, Henry & Neko.