Barcelona Restaurant: Old School Needs New TricksFebruary 28, 2011
There’s a definite charm to Barcelona Restaurant. The warm colors on the walls, the brick and wood accents, and the archways create a friendly atmosphere, which is echoed by the likable bartender and the group of obvious regulars at the bar, sipping wine and martinis. It felt like an old school establishment run by welcoming people. But if you’re going to keep that old school charm in a restaurant, you need to make sure your food is either timeless or evolves with the times. Unfortunately for Barcelona, their lack of forward-thinking made for an inconsistent meal.
We arrived a little early for our reservation last Friday, and the very friendly hostess offered to seat us immediately or suggested having a drink at the bar; we opted for the latter, and the evening was off to a promising start as we received very generous drinks from the bar staff and good conversation with a couple of regulars. Barcelona’s wine list is bountiful, featuring many wines by the glass from various parts of the world. Soon we began to get hungry, and we were seated at a nice little table by the windows overlooking Western Avenue. The soft lighting created a somewhat romantic atmosphere as we looked over the fairly extensive menu.
They have a good selection of interesting appetizers including sautéed clams; grilled chorizo; stuffed mushrooms; caprese salad; and a couple of ravioli dishes. For entrees, there are many vegetarian, chicken, beef, seafood, and pasta dishes to choose from, with nods to both Italian and Spanish preparations. Some that looked tantalizing that we did not try included chicken paella; seafood Alfredo; Drunken Swordfish in a chili pepper tequila-lime sauce; Veal Daniel with prosciutto in a Jack Daniels cream sauce; and the Pork Mediterranean. We decided to try three appetizers: the grilled chorizo, the caracoles (escargot), and the butternut squash ravioli. The chorizo was nicely cooked, a little spicy, and topped with melted mozzarella and roasted red peppers – it was delicious. The caracoles were also cooked well – they were pretty tender, and served on garlic bread with roasted red peppers and pesto sauce. The pesto was terrific and really tied the dish together. The ravioli was pretty good – Mrs. MHK really enjoyed it, while I thought the pasta was a little too undercooked, just south of al dente. But the tomato cream sauce was very tasty.
Mrs. MHK ordered the seafood special of the evening, fresh sea bass with risotto. Noting that Barcelona’s owners are originally from Mexico, and seeing the chicken enchiladas in mole` sauce on the menu, I went with that. All entrees include a dinner salad, and here’s where the meal took a somewhat downward turn. It’s not too common that you see salad included with a meal these days, and perhaps our experience illustrates why that is. Straight out of a 70’s diner, our house salads were served on those textured glass salad plates. Each salad’s lettuce was carefully topped with one grape tomato, one cucumber slice, and one red onion slice. It was so precise it was laughable. The Italian dressing tasted like it was out of a Kraft bottle. If you’re going to serve a salad with dinner, at least try and make it your own modern version, not a recycled version from the last 30 years.
The sea bass was served in a light tomato sauce with capers, steamed veggies and what was advertised as risotto. The fish was overcooked – sea bass should flake apart and melt in your mouth. This was a disappointing waste of what is usually a beautiful fish – the texture was meaty and didn’t deserve the nice sauce it came with. The risotto was also a big disappointment. Risotto should be creamy – not swimming in sauce, but not dry like rice. This was dry like rice. It was formed into a tower of sorts in the middle of the plate – it looked nice, but again, it was rice, not risotto. It soaked up the sauce from the fish, but proper risotto doesn’t need additional sauce.
The enchiladas looked wonderful – the tortillas were stuffed to the gills with chunks of chicken, and the brown mole` sauce smelled delicious. But before I even tried it, the presentation made me shake my head. The enchiladas were topped with a pile of shredded lettuce, two enormous slices of tomato and about a dozen slices of raw red onion. I wasn’t sure what I was expected to do with this – it looked like what you get when you order a burger, not enchiladas. A small amount of tomato and onion as a garnish is one thing; this was a salad on top of my entrée. So I pushed it aside and dug in – the chicken was moist and tasty, and the saffron rice was perfectly cooked. Had the owners not hailed from Mexico, I would have said the mole` sauce was great for this area. But with their heritage, they should know that real mole` contains a ton of flavor – mole` should make your mouth say ole`! This was a pretty mellow mole`, but it was adequate enough.
We looked over the dessert menu, and there were some attractive items like Tiramisu, homemade flan, and one of my favorites, Tres Leches cake. Tres Leches features vanilla cake soaked in milk with layers of vanilla cream – it’s delicious. I was set to order just that when I noticed that listed just below was chocolate Tres Leches cake, with chocolate cake soaked in Bailey’s and layered with chocolate mousse. Now we’re talkin’. The cake was super moist and had obviously been soaked in something, but there was no evidence that it was Bailey’s. The mousse filling was very good, so overall it was a great dessert.
Barcelona’s prices are quite reasonable, although the $26 for overcooked sea bass was definitely not worth it. But with four drinks, three appetizers, two entrees, and one dessert and coffee, our bill tallied only $120 before tip. So for ambience, comfort, and a little bit of romance, Barcelona delivers. But that old school charm needs to filter out of the food presentation and quality of taste; a more modern approach needs to be developed if Barcelona wants to keep pace with the modern culinary world. Viva la evolucion!
The Mouse House Kitchen gives Barcelona Restaurant 2.5 out of 5 stars.