I always wanted to be a restaurant critic. Seriously, who wouldn’t love to be paid to eat out and then opine on the experience? I don’t know how to gain a reputation for a good reviewer but I sure am a good eater. Perhaps that's a skill I could add on my ‘Restaurant Reviewer Resume’. But seriously the Hartford Courant food reviews are a joke. I know newspaper budgets are being cut, but that they reviewed Pollo Tropical is just a disgrace. AND this is not the only chain restaurant reviewed! There are additional reviews for dining establishments who serve on their finest disposable plastic. Furthermore, the ‘reviews’ offered tend to be ‘I ate this, she ate that’ but rarely comment on the quality or complexity of the dish, the appearance, the service, the atmosphere or the overall experience of the meals. It's not going to make or break a restaurant. It’s a shame.
I’m not sure I qualify as a foodie. I like to cook because I like to eat. I like to eat out because I get to eat without cooking or worrying about doing the dishes. I love the Food Network, even if I never attempt to make any of the dishes I watch Paula Deen (too much butter and bacon) and Rachel Ray (ok, I have tried and they never take 30 minutes for me), I still love watching. I don’t eat out as often as I wish. Unfortunately my waistline and wallet won’t allow it. BUT, I am going to review restaurants- everywhere I eat and/or drink, whenever I do. I’m going to review it right here. On my blog. Because perhaps when my dream of becoming a Restaurant Critic comes true I can add my blogging under ‘experience’ on my bio.
So here's my first review:
Barcelona Wine Bar West Hartford Center Parking Lot
Barcelona is not an easy place to find. When I say it's in the parking lot, it truly is. And even when you are in the parking lot you have to look for it, the door isn't visible from the lot. But after you turn into the public lot either from La Salle before Penzey's Spice House or from Farmington near The Toy Chest look for the wood fence which is actually the wall of the open air patio for warm weather dining.
When you enter the restaurant you feel as though you stepped into a New York City or San Francisco restaurant. There are some trendy chandeliers that look like they came from Ikea (but really work in the space) and funky wallpaper. The entrance boasts a beautiful hutch with the reservation book and a beautiful big vase of fragrant lilies. The main room has high tables that are half booth/half chaired tables and a bar runs along one wall with big mirrors above the bar for good people watching. There is a patio separated from the main dining room by crisp etched glass. The patio is covered with retractable awnings and furnished with heat lamps. The chairs outside look like some cheap (Ikea again?) plastic retro style but also on the patio are some expensive looking leather living room furniture in the corner. The clientele range from people in jeans and sweatshirts to those in button down shirts and dresses. A bachelorette party arrived as we were leaving. This would be a great place for a big group.
Our waitress greets us with a warm smile and you get the genuine feeling she likes working there. Then she proceeds with one of my pet peeves. She says, "So, have we been to Barcelona before?" I hold in my contempt and smile and say yes. She continues to speak to us using the 'we' pronoun (rather than 'you') the whole night. She helps us order a bottle of wine, a lovely Spanish wine for a steal of $39. And then excitedly tells us they just received a pig from an Oxford farm so if we like pork we should order it tonight because it's nice and fresh. I'm not sure how but she proceeds to tell us about the making of HeadCheese. I consider myself an adventurous eater but eating eyeballs, brains and whatever else makes up the gelatinous (but according to her, heavenly) HeadCheese is not in my future plans tonight. We smile and order some Tapas as appetizers.
We decided to eat main dishes tonight rather than a dinner of tapas per Dave's suggestion. But in the past we've ordered practically all the tapas on the menu. They are delicious. They come out quickly and steaming hot. This night we ordered the Herbed Goat Cheese with Wild Mushrooms in a Balsamic Reduction and the Tortilla (Espanola) as appetizers. The waitress brings some steaming crusty bread to our table, cute in a terra cotta flower pot. She talks a bit more asking, 'So are we (she meant you) here for a special occasion?' We tell her no and she proceeds to pour two glasses of our bottle of wine without offering a taste to make sure it's not corked. This formality of wine ordering is fun and sometimes awkward but still part of dining. Even in a cheapo restaurant, you are offered a taste of wine to make sure the wine isn't corked. You're not tasting it for preference or flavor. You are checking to make sure it doesn't taste or smell like the wet beach or a wet dog. I was shocked that she brushed right over this fantastically formal tradition but I held in my gasp. The wine was delicious, by the way.
After the tapas came, we ordered our main dishes. I was underwhelmed by my main dish options so I settled on the Churrasco (skirt steak, chimichurri sauce and sweet potato fries) and Dave got the Chicken Al Pimientos (Chicken with a white wine cherry peppers sauce). The waitress informed us that the chicken takes about 20 minutes so we decided to choose another tapa to endure the wait, she offered to come back after a few minutes. After flagging down the waitress, we ordered the pork (since it was fresh AND local) tenderloin with butternut squash and apples. Our meals came out in a very quick 20 minutes (before the pork tapa) and smelled delicious. The food was spectacular. The sauces were absolutely perfect. The chicken was moist and the pepper sauce was mopped up with any extra bread we could get our hands on. The skirt steak was cooked to perfection and must have been rubbed with a lovely spice mix before it was cooked (seared maybe?). The chimichurri sauce had a garlic/parsley tang to it which was nice to add to my steak bite in very small doses. The sweet potato fries were addictive although a bit soggy from my sauces pooling in the bottom of my dish. And lets not forget the pork tenderloin tapa. This was amazing. It was really tender and cooked perfectly. Not too pink, but not hard and dry. The butternut/apple mix was sweet enough to top ice cream, but still quite yummy (yes, that's an official restaurant critic term). Eaten together was a carnival in your mouth.
The atmosphere in Barcelona is fun and young. The wallpaper and funky decor gives it a city feel though the strange location helps limit the crowds. The tv in the corner gives the feel of less-than-fancy-schmancy which is nice considering many of the other West Hartford Center restaurants. The staff is wonderful, professional and attractive. This is a great place for a moderate group of people and for an intimate, romantic date. I'd be ideal for a first date too! I give this place 4.5 stars. Strongly recommend