This fall, new construction on Willy Street is set to involve a Latin-inspired restaurant with a focus on vegan and vegetarian dishes as well as locally-sourced meat.
Fuegos Steak and Tapas could be open by November at 904 Williamson St. It fills “a niche that’s missing in Madison,” according to chef and consultant Oscar Villarreal.
“I’m developing a menu that’s a Spanish-style steakhouse,” Villarreal said. “The twist is it’s going to have a Latin flair on the vegan and vegetarian side.”
The full menu as Villareal imagines it will have a combination of Spanish and Latin American influences, with empanadas and tostadas alongside seafood-heavy paella and raw, vegan entrees.
Fuegos Steak and Tapas aims to be higher end and eclectic, with an open kitchen plan, a full bar and locally sourced ingredients. The restaurant takes up 4,400 square feet on the first floor of a 25-unit apartment building. It would seat 150-180 inside and 12 outside.
“Willy Street is just very diverse,” Villarreal said. “We love the diversity down there. We love the fact that there are no Starbucks or other corporate chains.
“We’re looking to be that type of ‘niche-y’ restaurant that will enhance the others that are down there.”
Fuegos is a family venture. Cassandra Villarreal, Oscar’s daughter who has worked in the restaurant industry since her pre-teen years, owns Fuegos with Oscar’s partner, Jordan Wegner.
Sandra Wegner, Jordan’s mother, is developing vegetable-driven dishes for the restaurant’s vegan menu. These include raw preparations, gluten-free dishes and fried things topped with cheese made from cashews and almonds.
“We went to (Mad City) Vegan Fest four, five years in a row,” Oscar Villarreal said. “We’ve never seen any Latin food there, never a Latin spin on anything.”
Potential “Fuegos Vegan” options include a raw take on a Spanish pasta dish called fidellos, made with shredded squash and a cold vegetable broth.
A mock-up of the menu also shows a take on a pastelito (turnover) made with rice, sesame and chia seeds, coconut and sweet chili oil, and a gazpacho with melon, mint, cilantro and jicama.
Oscar Villarreal, a self-professed “carnivore,” has taken charge of the meat and fish side of the menu. He's planning dishes like duck with port, blueberries and walnuts, grilled octopus with garlic and tomato, and steaks dry-aged in house.
The son of a Texas-raised, Mexican-born Catholic mother who cooked a lot of lentil- and egg-based dishes during Lent, Villarreal’s culinary background is wide ranging. It includes a stint in a culinary program at high-volume Walt Disney World in Orlando (“like boot camp,” he said), an Irish pub in Menomonee Falls called A.J. O’Brady’s, a fine dining lounge called Piano Blu in Pewaukee, and Fusion 5 Bistro in Janesville.
Villarreal and his family live in Madison now. A native of Lake Geneva, Villarreal plans to source lamb from Delavan and pork and beef from Wisconsin farms.
“A conscious carnivore is what I am,” he said. “I want to see our pigs running around free before they go to the butcher.”
Fuegos plans to serve lunch and dinner on weekdays and brunch on weekends. Prices will be similar to nearby A Pig in a Fur Coat, Villarreal said, and the hope is to include vendors like the bakery next door, Madison Sourdough Co.
“We’ll be working with other businesses,” Jordan Wegner said, “to keep everybody moving forward as a community, not just competing with one another ... maintaining that health in the neighborhood.”