This week, Maya and I visited Tapas Barcelona, a wonderful, somewhat upscale restaurant focused on, unsurprisingly, tapas, or small tasting plates, perfect for the indecisive among you. We were joined by former NBN politics editor and current Daily staff writer Kalen Luciano.
Soft lighting, gentle music and a pleasant murmur of conversation greeted us as we stepped through the doors into Tapas Barcelona. But what really stood out was the wave of smells, the wide variety of sauces and spices mixing into one incredible, unidentifiable savory aroma.
The restaurant was not crowded, so the friendly waitstaff seated us not long after we walked in.
The meal consisted of four courses. Well, really 3.5. The first course was multiple baskets of complimentary bread. The other courses were Tapas Frias/Ensaladas, Tapas Calientes, and dessert. We each gave the dish a rating out of ten. At the end of each course, we each picked our favorite dish. Finally, at the end of the whole meal, we each picked our favorite dish from the entire meal. So let’s dive in to the wonderful world of tapas.
Tapas Frias (Cold Tapas)
Tortilla Española ($4.95)
Our first (real) dish was a Spanish potato and onion omelette with a roasted garlic sauce. This slightly breaks the course’s theme of cold dishes, but they put this in the Tapas Frias section of the menu, so take it up with the restaurant, not us. Anyways, this classic Spanish dish on its own was nice and homey, if a little basic. But, when combined with the roasted garlic sauce, it reached another level. The creaminess of the sauce combined perfectly with that of the potatoes, and the onion provided a balancing sharp flavor and a satisfying crunch. This really reminded me of Southern comfort food: one bite will remind you why everyone has liked it for so long.
Salmon Ahumado ($7.95) (Smoked Salmon)
Maya: 8.5/10; Fred: 9/10, Kalen: 8/10, and he doesn’t even like salmon
Fred’s favorite dish of the Tapas Frias course and the whole meal
Alright, we’re back on track with the cold dishes here. This was smoked salmon topped with capers, bits of hard-boiled egg, onions, and horseradish, with small pieces of toasted bread to put it all on. There were a lot of pretty strong flavors here, but everything was perfectly balanced and blended together wonderful. I mean, sure the salmon tasted fine on it’s own, but the true essence of the dish comes from the saltiness of the capers, the tartness of the onion, the crunch of the bread, the kick of the horseradish, and the flavor of the egg all dancing around in your mouth to the solid backing track of the salmon. In short, if things are served on top of each other, it probably means that they make each other taste better.
Ensalada De Espinacas ($6.95) (Spinach Salad)
Maya: 9.2/10; Fred: 8/10; Kalen: 9/10
Maya and Kalen’s favorite dish of the Tapas Frias course
A fairly simple salad with spinach, pears, goat cheese, pecans, and a pear citrus dressing. Real talk, I’m not much of a salad person. Usually my opinion on salads can be boiled down to that bit in Parks in Rec where Ron Swanson says he won’t eat a salad because he’s not a rabbit. But this salad. This salad even won me over. The dressing was wonderfully sweet and tangy at the same time, and the creamy goat cheese helped balance that out. The bits of pear and pecan scattered throughout gave bites a nice rewarding crunch. And the base was spinach, which means you’re getting strong like Popeye by eating it.
Tapas Calientas (Hot Tapas)
Croquetas del Dia ($5.95)
Maya: 9.7/10; Fred: 9.5/10; Kalen: 9/10
Maya, Fred, and Kalen’s favorite dish of the Tapas Calientes course
Maya and Kalen’s favorite dish of the whole meal
This is kind of a hollow review because the dish changes every day, but if you’re there when the these fried rolls of potatoes are filled with spinach and mushroom, absolutely get them. They were truly an experience. They were perfectly fried, and the interior was beautifully creamy. But just when you thought they couldn’t get any better, you dipped them in truly the best aioli sauce I’ve ever had; it was simultaneously zesty and creamy. The croquetas perfectly mixed with the aioli and just...oh my God. I could talk about these little pieces of heaven for the length of a Dostoyevsky novel, so I’ll just say if you’re ever at Tapas Barcelona, get the croquetas.
Queso de Cabra con Tomate (Goat Cheese with Tomato)
Maya: 8.7/10; Fred: 8.2/10; Kalen: 8/10
This kinda reminded me of a weird combination of fondue and chips and queso. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just crazy. Anyways, this was baked goat cheese in tomato sauce with garlic bread to dip. It was all very rich and flavorful and creamy. I mean, it’s warm goat cheese with a creamy tomato sauce. ‘Nuff said.
Mejillone Plancha ($7.95) (Grilled Mussels in an Iron Skillet)
Maya: 7/10; Fred: 7.5/10; Kalen: 7/10
Ok, this was one of the best presentations of the night. Let’s be clear, everything was gorgeous, but this was alive. It was served on an iron skillet up on stilts. Everything was sizzling. Then the waiter squeezed a lemon onto the skillet and it sizzled even louder. It was all very satisfying. The food itself was simply grilled mussels with lemon juice. The mussels were perfectly cooked. The lemon gave it a nice bite. It was exceedingly simple yet pleasing. Maybe I was won over by the presentation more than anything.
Farfalle con Pollo, Setas, y Tomates ($6.95) (Pasta with Chicken, Mushrooms, and Tomato)
Maya: 7.5/10; Fred: 7/10; Kalen: 7/10
This was probably the most underwhelming dish of the night. It was still delicious; this just didn’t really impress any of us. It was bowtie pasta with chicken, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, and a tomato cream. It was all cooked very well. The sauce was very rich. I mean it was just… just... a pasta dish. Simple, but pleasing.
Bizcocho Borracho ($6.95) (Drunk Pastry)
Well, here we are. The final course. Dessert. And it was... odd. The dessert itself was vaguely tiramisu-like. It was espresso-soaked ladyfingers layered with mascarpone cheese. And we were expecting to be all in for that. What we did not know when we ordered was that it was also soaked in amaretto. There was what tasted and smelled like a pool of amaretto on the plate. The top few layers of the dessert were solid. The ladyfingers were very light, the bitterness of the espresso was balanced perfectly by the mascarpone, and the amaretto gave it a nice bite. However, toward the bottom, the amaretto overpowered everything else. Kalen said he felt like he was “taking a shot with each bite.” We’re still unclear as to whether this was a good thing or not.
To wrap it all up, Tapas Barcelona is a solid bet, no matter what you get. Whether you want traditional pasta dishes, comforting fried food, or an entire standard drink disguised as a dessert, you can be sure whatever you get will be delicious. Plus, if you’re of the indecisive disposition, the plates are small and meant to be shared. This makes Tapas Barcelona one of the few restaurants where asking “Do you wanna share this?” is not only allowed, it’s encouraged. It’s totally acceptable for everyone to taste every dish on the table. (But only your table.) Tapas Barcelona is a wonderful restaurant for any situation, from family dinners to dates to dinners by yourself where you don’t want to feel bad about ordering several things so you reassuring yourself by repeating, “But they’re small plates.” Maybe that’s just me. Regardless, I guarantee you will love Tapas Barcelona. And you can trust me. A person you may or may not have met.