For Russ’ birthday dinner celebration (other than the porterhouse steak feast enjoyed at home a few days prior), we took a quick trip to Barcelona—no, not in Spain, but the Barcelona Wine Bar nestled among the destination restaurants on Philly’s hottest food strip. Located on a triangular corner on East Passyunk Ave, it’s a very hip dining spot with an industrial, eclectic décor vibe that includes a dressmaker’s dummy in a glass case.
It’s a raw, fun space with cinder block walls and concrete floors. I read that some of the lights were recovered out of a warehouse and some are actually chicken feeders! There’s a “jigsaw puzzle” wall made of wood slabs with spaces between them which breaks up the large room, loosely dividing the dining area from a big white marble U-shaped bar lined with high stools.
After following the crazy directions given by the car GPS system, we were thrilled when we found a parking spot just a few short steps from the front entrance. It had been raining on and off all day, and the humidity was through the roof so we opted to dine inside as opposed to their spacious outdoor patio—which BTW, was packed by the time we departed a few hours later.
Thank goodness we’d snuck a peek at their extensive wine list ahead of time, because it is pages and pages long (over 450 bottles strong) and would’ve taken forever to make a decision if we’d come in unknowingly. As one of the largest Spanish wine programs in the US, they offer an extensive selection from Spain and South America, and Russ had narrowed it down to several, finally deciding on the Azul Temperanillo.
As you know, I rarely eat bread but when the basket arrived with thick, still-warm-from-the-oven crusty slices and a pour of really good extra virgin olive oil, I knew I’d have to sample it. WOW, what a perfect start! Now to make some savory selections…
Starters were from the Charcuterie & Cheese menu with a selection of three for only $17.50. Our choices included Idiazábal, a smoked raw sheep’s milk cheese from the Basque Country served with a small dollop of quince paste which perfectly paired with the nutty and robust flavors. The Valdeón was a tangy and spicy goat and cow’s milk blue cheese from the Castilla-León region and made a perfect counterpoint to the mound of paper-thin slices of Segovia-raised Jamón Serrano, a dry-cured Spanish ham, and an all-time favorite for Russ.
Of the more than 30 different Tapas listed, we selected five with a variety of vegetables and meats, some priced as low as $4.50 per plate. (There are also vegetarian and vegan options.) We asked our waitress Randi to bring out the dishes slowly starting with our choices of two veggie tapas, the very tasty Piquillo Peppers in a garlic confit with thyme, and the Champiñones, succulent mushrooms marinated in garlic and scallions.
Next up were the Albondigas, a quintet of delicious spiced meatballs bathed in a ham-tomato sauce. The last arrivals were the Patatas Bravas wedges plated with wooden spears into a salsa brava and yummy garlic aioli; and four perfectly round and delicately fried Jamón & Manchego Croquettes lined up over a swath of that same garlic aioli. These were almost a little too rich for my taste.
When Randi came back to check on us, she saw one potato wedge left and refused to clear the plate until Russ popped it in his mouth. By this time I couldn’t eat another bite, but Russ felt compelled to finish his birthday celebration with a sweet treat and landed on the Crema Catalan Flan and a cup of Café Con Leché. BTW, in case you’re not in a tapas mood, the menu includes several Ensaladas, a few meat entrees and a handful of Paellas to share.
As we were leaving, Russ received a token for his birthday and we also got another at our departure for having filled out the short survey when we got our tab. One was for a complimentary drink and another for a free tapa. Aw shucks, I guess we’ll have to make another short trip to Barcelona soon…