For the ambitious and hungry adventurer in D.C., Barcelona Restaurant and Wine Bar on 14th Street offers a bold taste of Spain. Although it is a chain with locations in Connecticut, Georgia and Massachusetts, this elegant dining establishment feels far from commercialized. The constantly changing menu and daring combinations of tastes make for a night of spontaneity.
Barcelona is most famously known for its tapas — small Spanish dishes designed for sharing. Unfortunately, tapas also lead to a hefty bill. The small plates, priced from $5 to $14, can quickly add up, especially for larger parties. Students looking to find a spot for their next group birthday dinner should search elsewhere. For an upscale meal when the parents are in town or a special date-night, however, this is the perfect venue.
Before entering, restaurant-goers must first pass the outdoor dining area, complete with an inviting stone fireplace and charming table setup. Hearty laughter harmonized with the sound of D.C. nighttime traffic, providing a lively, urban soundtrack. It was immediately evident that this restaurant offers something for all dining parties. There is a quieter section for intimate two-person table settings as well as an open dining area for larger groups.
As we sat down, we were served fresh, doughy bread presented in a modern tin pail, accompanied by olive oil available for purchase online and at the restaurant for $18, an offer difficult to refuse after just one taste. The Spanish menu, although sometimes difficult to decipher, attests to the cultural authenticity of the options. Because the unfamiliar dishes often intimidate diners, servers are well-versed in the ingredients and are eager to offer suggestions.
Three dishes composed our first round of tapas: the Patatas Bravas ($6.50), the Crispy Brussel Sprouts ($7.50) and the Chicken and Jamon Croquettas ($6.50). The potatoes arrived covered in a creamy garlic aioli; the brussel sprouts paired surprisingly well with the pickled red onion garnish. My favorite dish of the round was the croquettas, fried balls of chicken and ham, featuring a cheesy, soft center. The portion, however, provided only four, which was fairly disappointing.
Now only partially satisfied, we reopened the menu for another order. The second round brought the Blistered Shishito Peppers ($6), the Grilled Morcilla Sausage ($7.50) and the Hanger Steak ($11.50). Shishito peppers are a Barcelona classic, cooked with the restaurant’s signature olive oil and fresh sea salt.
Offering a moderate amount of spice without being overwhelming, they are a zesty finger food to pair with a more principal dish of meat or fish. The consistency of the morcilla sausage was surprising — a slightly chewy casing covered a savory interior. The butternut squash puree, however, was a lovely complement on the plate. The hanger steak was exquisitely cooked, lightly coated in a truffle vinaigrette and worth the lofty price.
Inherent to tapas are multiple rounds of orders and a parade of dishes that vary in their preparation times. Thus, this dining style requires that the service be highly personalized and attentive to each party. This, unfortunately, is where Barcelona fell short.
The plates were not distributed by our personal waitress, but by kitchen staff who served all of the tables. As a result, food delivery was confusing and hectic. Our first three tapas were mistakenly delivered to a neighboring table once, but twice. On top of this, by the time we received all three dishes in our second round, the peppers were cold.
In response to the staff’s repeated mistakes with our tapas, the manager of the restaurant personally approached our table to apologize and offered us the entire dinner on the house. This generous gesture signaled that the mistake was uncommon, and although precise service would have been preferred, we were impressed by the professional response.
We completed our dinner with a large order of sweet cinnamon churros ($7), matched with a spicy chocolate sauce. The plate of churros was adorned with scraps of spare Barcelona menus, and, upon inquiring, we were informed that the menu is consistently being adjusted. The tapas, larger entrees and drink options change regularly, ensuring that each meal served at the restaurant is unique.
Tapas dining allows for unusual yet delicious combinations of various Spanish foods. You invent creative combinations and come to embrace a self-crafted, innovative blend of tastes.
Although the unfamiliar menu may deter the picky eater who desires something simple, daring to try unexpected flavors simply seems a part of the deal, and a key element of the Barcelona experience.