25 May Barcelona Wine Bar
In search of what I left behind…
When I left Illinois, I left behind one of the biggest inspirations of my life, a restaurant in a town just west of where I grew up. Global Gourmet was and is one of, if not the best restaurants one can find in Southern Illinois. I have been to restaurants all across the states and have never found anything like it. A perfect mix of ambience, class (and some sass), music, food, and drink, it finds a place on my lifetime culinary adventure list as one of the few true “five-star experiences”.
Ever since then, I’ve been in search of a vintage downtown building with high tin ceilings, with dark lighting of varying gold, amber, and rouge hues, with beautiful women (and a few handsome men) serving up potent, crafted cocktails with matter-of-fact speed and finesse alongside a unique and always changing international selection of tapas-style plates, salads, entrees, and desserts. It was the neighborhood charm, the regular crowd, and the always extant camaraderie that gave the place life and the joie de vivre, or joy of life that I so love.
In a city with nearly 700,000 residents, finding that same kind of small-town charm and familiarity may be a little difficult, but in most regards Barcelona is a fine substitute.
From the outside, Barcelona has one of the most cozy patios I’ve seen in Nashville; lush green boxwoods, grasses, and bushes surround a sizable area with wood tables and seating. As you enter, your eyes are taken on a trip through several decades – exposed brick and industrial framework from years gone by, accent walls of hollow blocks with a 60’s / 70’s feel to give space and dimension to the room, and modern stone / wood surfaces for getting down to business.
The menu is presented on a large, folded 11×17 or so sheet of paper – food on one side, spirits, wine, and beer on the other. Navigating the menu of exotic tapas selections, somewhat sparse on descriptions will require the assistance of a friendly server.
Be forewarned, when they get busy, they get very busy, and unless you know exactly what you want, your experience may suffer a little. For the first time, pick an off-peak day and hour to visit and ask for a full and immersive introduction to the world of tapas.
The idea of tapas are 1) small plates, 2) designed to be ordered en masse, 3) passed around and shared. While the roots and origins of it are hard to find a conclusive answer on, it’s generally understood that the idea traces its origins roughly back to 16th century Spain. It’s a fun way to experience a wide variety of foods. Depending on who you ask or where you research, you’ll find a lot of different interpretations as the the origin.
In my mind it’s not so much about finding three to five dishes that pair well, as it is finding several unique and contrasting dishes that push your boundaries and open you up to new tastes and flavors. To me, this is one of the best culinary experiences you can have.
On my first visited I sampled the broccolini, lamb ribs, jamon serrano, and manchego. The broccolini was acceptable, but didn’t match what the menu described. Two very small chunks of pork (bacon I presume), and a very sparse amount of seasoning did more for the eyes than the taste buds. Being left in long, semi-tender stalks, it was also somewhat hard to cut or fold into bite-size portions. I’m writing it off as a one-in-a-hundred miss.
Broccolini, similar to broccoli but actually a hybrid of broccoli and kai-lan, has a much milder flavor than broccoli, and a sweetness similar to asparagus. Worth another try, cooked a bit less, and with slightly more seasoning.
Along with the broccolini, I ordered the lamb ribs. It’s my understanding that although several items may be ordered together, they may come out at entirely separate times to ensure freshness, due to the varying amount of time each dish takes to prepare. I received the broccolini, had time to finish it, and had a few minutes before the next dish arrived.
The lamb ribs were something I should’ve done a little more research on, not knowing that they are mostly (like 60-90%) fat. The orange and almond seasoning / sauce they were coated with was nice, but lacked the intensity and authentic flavor I would’ve expected; something that my server agreed with.
Jamon Serrano and Manchego
By this time I was striking out pretty hard. Feeling a little less adventurous and hoping the third time would be the charm, I decided to opt for some charcuterie-style selections to finish off the Tempranillo I ordered.
A customer just down from me had ordered something that looked similar to prosciutto – after inquiring, I found out this was jamon serrano, very similar to prosciutto but cured with much less salt, and aged for three months instead of one month.
At the suggestion of my server, I paired their most popular manchego cheese with it, a dry, firm, goat cheese with a mild nutty, buttery flavor. I also tasted several white wines, and settled (quite happily) on an Albariño, which paired with the gentle textures of flavors of my third round beautifully. The preserves served alongside the meat and cheese made for a phenomenal trio and, spread on top of the cheese practically turns it into dessert.
Barcelona Wine Bar
- Ambience - 10/1010/10
- Menu Selection - 9.7/109.7/10
- Food Quality - 9/109/10
- Preparation - 7.5/107.5/10
- Service - 8.6/108.6/10
With all of the necessary building blocks for a knockout experience, all that Barcelona has to do is stack them up. Rome wasn't built in one day, and neither was Barcelona; some opportunities still exist, but it's totally on my top 10 list for Nashville.
…and the wine!
True to its name, Barcelona is made up not just of tapas, but wine, and lots of it. While I didn’t take time to sample a whole bunch of varietals and vintages, what I had was excellent. I was at the slight disadvantage of being waited on by a newer (but extremely friendly) staff member at a very busy time for them, so I didn’t feel like I got the chance to really explore or be advised by their collective expertise; I’m sure this time was an exception, and not the norm.
To me, Barcelona gets a solid 9 out of 10 stars – not necessarily earned right yet, but expected for certain. While my visit was at a less than ideal time, I see all the proper things in place for a truly world-class experience under the right circumstances. Places like this, unlike BBQ joints for instance, have a prerogative to not just thrill the customer, but also help educate and advise them in understanding and becoming familiar with new cuisine, and new ways of presenting it, i.e., tapas style. With such a huge menu, and discriminating palates frequenting places like this, I can imagine that the job of the server is all the more intense than someplace that only changes its menu perhaps once or twice a year. A well-trained and seasoned server probably has over time picked up all the knowledge necessary to nearly cook the dish themselves. If anything, I sense opportunity for training, and attention to the customer, and applaud the staff and owners for a fantastic effort thus far.
I’m looking forward to visiting again, bringing some visitors, and having a deeper discussion about Barcelona and all it has to offer. For now, hats off to executive chef Andy Hayes, who have given myself and all of Nashville a place to truly enjoy and indulge ourselves.
Have you been somewhere you’re absolutely in love with? Do you enjoy eating, drinking, and discovering new spots? I’m always open to new ideas, restaurants, bars, and other related things. My goal is to bring interesting, dynamic, local options to the blog. Have an idea? Let’s chat! Contact me and let me know your ideas.