Life is full of rejection, and the last thing anyone needs is for the food on their plate to make them feel self-conscious. The unmarked doors to Barcelona Wine Bar seem to lead into the inner sanctums of some unapologetically snobbish New York City nightclub, whose exclusivity is marked only by its anonymity. Half-expecting to run into Miranda and Carrie from “Sex and the City,” diners might wonder whether their food would come parading out of the kitchen with the same airs as a string of haughty supermodels from an episode of “Project Runway.” Like an audience member at New York’s Fashion Week, I eagerly awaited the opportunity to scorn the slightest misstep. But, the only misstep of the evening was my own as I stumbled awkwardly out of the restaurant in a blissful stupor.
Barcelona Wine Bar is a Spanish tapas restaurant, so ordering five or six of these small plates for two people is recommended, as it gives patrons the chance to taste some of everything the restaurant has to offer. Opened in December 2006, Barcelona New Haven is the newest of five locations by owner Sasa Mahr-Batuz. Though the menu is fairly standardized at all five of Mahr-Batuz’s restaurants, Executive Chef Pedro Garzon and his staff prepare a list of special items that change on a regular basis, so dining at Barcelona never gets old.
Customers can enjoy a fabulous five-course selection of Spanish tapas and dessert for well under $50. The restaurant’s atmosphere is fun, friendly and inviting — perfect for sitting back and catching up on weekly gossip with friends over a bottle of luxurious Spanish wine. Casual dress is entirely acceptable, and diners will never have to worry about feeling out of place in jeans and a shirt.
This is not to say that the food and atmosphere at Barcelona aren’t trendy and sophisticated. If it’s any indication, the dramatic dining room contains an open stone fireplace for diners to gather around and a sweeping bar — perfect for viewing the action in the kitchen while enjoying an after-dinner cocktail and scoping out hot waiters. But fashionable food need not be fussy food, and at Barcelona one can feel relaxed and totally classy at the same time.
Don’t be deceived by the unassuming nakedness of appetizers like homemade pita chips with chickpea puree or roasted garlic bulbs with olive oil — both dishes dress up the house-baked bread in seductive simplicity. Loaves of the restaurant’s rustic house bread arrive warm out of the oven, and it’s some of the best bread you’ll ever find at a restaurant. Equally alluring is the potato tortilla with chive creme fraiche, which alternates layers of egg and tender slices of potato to provide a textural sophistication that’s intensely more gratifying than your classic Sunday morning frittata.
For heartier fare, try lamb chops seasoned with kosher salt, served over a bed of bitter microgreens; wild shrimp paired with roasted garlic and just a touch of sherry (the sauce is perfect for sopping up with extra bread); and duck confit prepared in a flavorful consomme of wild morels. All of these dishes exude refinement and lavishness of flavor but maintain modesty in appearances. The food at Barcelona is a lot like that stunningly gorgeous girl you see at the dining hall — you know, the one who makes even a pair of sweats and a hoodie look ridiculously good.
The food is posh but not pretentious – the way good food should be. Whether you’re dressing to the nines or just a four or five, you can always feel sexy dining at Barcelona Wine Bar. Take that, Heidi Klum.