Tapas and Table Envy - at Barcelona

 When several friends from several states tell you a place has good food and you're going to love it, it's likely they are on to something. Which is how I ended up in barcelona - during a recent visit to German Village, in Columbus, Ohio.

Confused? Don't be. German Village contributes to the gastronomic import of Columbus in ways other than hot pretzels and sauerkraut balls - particularly if you look past the obvious tourist attractions and seek out the locals' faves. As if oompah bands and sausage wielding waiters in lederhosen weren't doing enough to stimulate the local economy, there are actually quite a few hip eateries and food related businesses in this barely-suburban enclave.

Barcelona is among the most popular of these, having captured the interest of Columbus diners since 1996, when it shook off the old bier stube decor and reinvented the space that once held GV mainstay Diebel's.

On their website, Barcelona bills itself as "a culinary fusion of metropolitan chic and Old World European charm." The room buzzes with an elegant city vibe, and the fresh decor does balance nicely with the traditional warm brick walls, tin ceilings and wide plank floors.

By all accounts the award winning extensive patio is an oasis of calm and greenery, but on the night of my visit the greenery had given way to ice and snow, and the patio was battened down for the winter.

That didn't stop our hosts from seating us there, however. They wrapped the entire thing in a plastic bubble, blew in some heat from a noisily humming pump, and filled the place with diners.

A helpful bartender alerted me to the half-price bar happy hour from 5-7, so I had a charming cocktail and soaked in the ambiance indoors while I waited for my friends.

Once they arrived, we were whisked out to the patio and seated in an out of the way back corner, (in - big shock, patio furniture) where we could peer in at the diners in the cozy and grand private dining room. The effect was slightly less glamorous than the pics of that lovely patio in summer would have suggested. Granted, these accommodations weren't ideal for our party of five, but we soldiered on, endeavoring to enjoy light conversation over the honing of that heat pump.

Single Cheese selection - 6
Salads and a cheese plate were considered. I ordered one of the cheese selections, and was surprised at how little six dollars bought me - a spartan arrangement of an index finger-sized strip of rather ordinary cheese, two thinly sliced rounds of what could have been yesterday's toasted baguette, and a lovely square of quince paste, or was it fig? Can't recall, sorry. None of the romance that I associate with tapas was present on this plate.

Tomates Y Mozzarella - 7
Our dear friend the motion picture historian casually noted that one could procure all six of the chefs current cheese selections at Trader Joe's. I laughed, taking down a mental note not to order the cheese plate here again.

Salads were lovely though, and appropriately dressed for the evening. Oven roasted tomato slices joined soft, fresh mozzarella cheese and field greens in a honey balsamic reduction with smoked paprika sea salt.

Ensalada Verde Con Higos - 7

Having spent the afternoon sampling pastries at a nearby shop, Barcelona's Spanish inspired small plates held my interest more than the larger entree offerings.

Grilled Foie Gras Tapas
I was thrilled with my selection of the the Ensalada Verde Con Higos - spiced marcona almonds adorning a plate of field greens with dried fig and soft goat cheese in a bacon vinaigrette, and this perfectly grilled Foie Gras - accompanied by a garnet red precise brunoise of roasted beets and an herbal garnish of some sort - I confess I can't recall - pea shoots, or water cress?

Paella Barcelona - 27 (plus lobster)
It seems as good a time as any to mention that the menu changes weekly, and although some entrees stay on for the season, this foie gras is not currently featured. If it is back when you go, treat yourself.

Our resident epicure and patroness of the arts had her heart set on revisiting the Paella, a signature dish at Barcelona (although this one looked to me to be very unevenly cooked - a criticism I had heard earlier that day from a local chef when mentioning our impending visit to Barcelona). They added a lobster tail at her request for an additional cost - so would-be diners, take note.

Pollo al Ajillo - 22
Style guru Kiki ordered the Pollo al Ajillo, a pan-seared chicken breast with garlic, olives, onions, potatoes, roasted pepper and gorgonzola.

She enjoyed the dish but felt it didn't quite live up to the memory of the first time she tasted it. Possibly the lighting in our plastic bubble wasn't as conducive to romancing the plate. Or possibly the buzz about Barcelona is somewhat true - inconsistencies have seeped in and diluted the initial excellence of the place. That can happen over time. Passions cool, chefs come and go. I can't say, as this was my first visit, but there did seem to be some rough edges to the experience which I wasn't expecting, given the rave reviews from my friends.

Vieiras - 25
The mayor's wife (a hoot in her own right and one hell of a fun dinner companion) enjoyed a large plate of Vieiras - a concoction of pan seared sea scallops, bacon, mushroom, baby lima beans, dates, chili flake and cream.

I'm skeptical of ordering seafood in landlocked towns, and my concerns were heightened when this steaming plate landed on the table next to me. The scent of the dish didn't do much to qualm my fears, but our friend seemed to enjoy it. I was offered a taste and asked to help identify the flavor components. Avoiding the scallops and limas (not my favorite bean) I sussed out the chili flake and cream, and the waitress informed us that the sweetness, which quite permeated the sauce, came from dates. All in all, it wasn't a bad dish, I just don't know that I could eat a whole plate of it. It seemed to cry out for some rice, or better yet, grits... (OK, polenta).

Our desserts were the kind you sip in a glass, so no pics there, but Barcelona does serve some lovely sounding desserts, if you have room for them after your meal. So there you have it. The best part of the evening was spending it with good friends old and new, and the bit where they FINALLY turned off that annoying heat pump and fired up the space heaters instead. We actually cheered.

If you're going to Barcelona and want to sit outside, wait until the patio is back in bloom. If I return, it will be on a Monday night when they feature a half price tapas menu. I could really go for some jamon and manchego and a glass of sherry right about now.

Barcelona on Urbanspoon

263 E Whittier St
Columbus, OH 43206

(614) 443-3699

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