Thursday, July 8, 2010

Barcelona Tapas

While New Orleans had one hell of a February this year, the natives of Spain have much to brag about this July. Yesterday, upon the header of Carles Puyol, La Furia Roja advanced to its first ever World Cup Final match, setting up a Sunday afternoon showdown with the Dutch/Holland/Netherlands/People with Wooden Shoes. Meanwhile, the Basque region is currently throwing a little party called San Fermines, which you might know as the "Running of the Bulls." This weekend our fair city will be hosting our own version of San Fermin, complete with an Encierro on Saturday morning. All this talk making you hungry for tapas? We got you covered.

Tapas restaurants can leave you shaking your head. You go in expecting a meal, nibble at five or six plates of food, walk out $100 poorer, and starving. Granted, a tapas restaurant is not traditionally a place one eats a full meal at. Were you living in Spain, you would know tapas as a snack to eat while drinking your jerez or txakolina.

At Barcelona Tapas, owner Xavier Laurentino, has bridged the gap between the American expectation for a full meal and the traditional Spanish notion of tapas. The menu is enormous, and Laurentino is "constantly tinkering with it."
The most difficult aspect to grasp is knowing how much to order; tapas are not like sushi where you know how many rolls will fill you up. A good rule of thumb is 3-4 tapas per person, which may not seem like enough food but the progression of dishes allows you to slowly fill your tank and realize when you're full.

Start with the tomato breads or canoes, which are both a similar concept to anyone familiar with bruschetta. Both the tomato bread and the canoes, top grilled bread with tasty ingredients from the Iberian peninsula. The difference? The canoes let the toppings speak for themselves, whereas the tomato breads meld the ingredients into something different. An especially flavorful canoe showcases the brilliance of manchego and quince paste. Skip the garlic shrimp and brie in favor of meatier options like beef and pork tenderloin with gouda.

On one visit the tomato breads arrived with toasted bread, cherry tomatoes, garlic cloves and a dish of serrano ham. You are instructed to rub the garlic, then tomato, over the coarse bread and create your own tomato bread. On another visit, the work had been done by the kitchen, which is a necessary justification for the $7-$9 price tag.

The best surprise of the small bread-based tapas may have been the simplest. Laurentino serves his version of Caprese salad with tomato, mozzarella, mint (rather than basil), and a reduction of balsamic vinegar. It tastes of summer, yes, but also better highlights the interplay between sweet tomato and salty mozzarella.

Fried potatoes are excellent in two forms. Thin, crispy patatas fritas arrive alongside a single, charred lamb chop lollipop. The only sauce either need is provided in the form of a garlic laden, creamy allioli. Patatas bravas have a fiery sauce and are delicious on their own. The calamari we differed on. Rene loved the way it's firm flesh tasted of the beach and the sprinkling of smoky paprika, on the other hand Peter thought the chewiness was a bit offputting.

The simple slices of manchego on toast should be skipped, and the ceviche, Caesar salad, and avocado shrimp tropical were forgettable. Listen closely to the day's specials, especially if you hear the words "marinated artichoke heart." This special is prepared exclusively by Laurentino and features an upright heart atop a base of grilled manchego which is then drizzles with aged balsamic vinegar. The much touted roasted piquillo peppers stuffed with salmon mousse were ordered on one visit, but the dish never made it to the table. Oh well, there will definitely be a next time.

Laurentino does an admirable job with his paella. While we are assured of its authenticity from numerous sources, it seems bland compared to jambalaya. This is not a criticism of paella in general or Laurentino's paella in specificity; just an observation that for anyone who has spent a fall afternoon eating jambalaya while waiting for that 7:00pm kickoff in Death Valley, you will find yourself reaching for the hot sauce.

We always get in trouble when we talk about interior decorating, but here it goes. The inside of Barcelona tapas is cool. Laurentino, a former contractor, spent years building and shaping the building himself. As you enter, an ocean blue, mosaic topped bar anchors one half of the anteroom. The door to the kitchen looks as if it was ripped off a Spanish monastery. Exposed beams line the ceiling creating an illusion of dining in an ancient corridor of a castle.

The bar mixes a, excellent not-so-sweet sangria poured into glasses filled with diced apple. The wine list is a medley of Spanish varietals augmented by Italian and California selections; sadly txakolina is nowhere to be found. In this heat, stick with an ice cold Estrella. For dessert you have a choice of flan or creme brulee, the latter served either in the classic French style or spiced up with cinnamon in the Catalan style. Barcelona does not accept credit cards, but there is an ATM machine up front (no fee).

As far as Spanish food is concerned in New Orleans, Barcelona Tapas gets a birdie from us.

¡Viva España!

Barcelona Tapas
720 Dublin
New Orleans, LA 70118
(504) 861-9696

Tuesday - Sunday from 5:30pm - Till


Becky said...

We decided to let the winner of yesterday's game determine where we had dinner, either Madrid or Jaeger Haus. I was pleased with the outcome. I prefer pretty much everything at Madrid over the equivilent at Barcelona Tapas, apart from the gazpacho. Laurentino does something magical with that dish. sopa de ajo at Madrid is really fantastic though.

I feel that Madrid ends up being a better value than Barcelona too, since the portions are larger (of course I get that the point of tapas is to be small, but still I do fall victim to the "spent $100 but still hungry" thing at Barcelona) and Madrid is BYOB.

The Folk Singer said...

GREAT review!!

Faine said...

Glad to hear there's a decent tapas joint in Riverbend. We desperately need more Spanish food near Tulane.