Friday, July 3, 2009

Barrio Tapas, Columbus OH

Finished with breakfast and my friends returning home to lay their little one down for a nap I next decided to browse the shops of High Street and check out the pre-gallery hop settings at the galleries. Full but not stuffed I spent a few hours browsing before my family arrived in town for our lunch reservations at Columbus’s newest dining hot spot – Barrio tapas. Housed in the previous site of the original Wendy’s I’d heard mixed reviews of Barrio but browsing the online menu I figured it was with a shot. A fan of the small-plates “create your own tasting menu” style of Tapas and having had a great experience at Jose Andres’ Bazaar in LA I must admit I went into Barrio with tempered expectations.

Arriving midway into the lunch service I was first shocked by the scarcity of patrons – one table in the entire restaurant was seated – with three people. Collecting on our reservations I asked to sit outside after checking out the open kitchen and stylish d├ęcor – lets face it, I don’t get the opportunity to dine al fresco often. Seated at a small table with relatively uncomfortable chairs our waitress Sarah handed us menus and left us time to decide. Despite hearing of a good bread service from one review, no bread was ever received. Returning first to take drink orders and later to take orders it was clear that Sarah was new – potentially new to serving in general – as she botched the description of multiple dishes, forgot one part of the order, and reached across my face (literally) three times to fill my water glass. While I’ll admit that the setup with her unable to walk out the front door was somewhat to blame, no apology for any of the gaffs was ever offered.

Having placed our orders and watching the people wander Downtown Columbus it was only a short while before dishes began to arrive – the first course consisting of my dates, my mother’s chicken tacos, and my aunt’s cheese…and ironically not my sister’s avocado salad (the forgotten dish.)

Beginning with the dates – pretty average I must say. Described as Bacon Wrapped Dates with cabrales cheese and rioja reduction the predominant taste was certainly the sweetness of the dates coupled with the savory bacon – unfortunately the cheese was entirely underwhelming and may as well have not been present. Having made a dish similar for thanksgiving with brie and brown sugar I definitely preferred my own creation which yielded 18 dates for $10 as opposed to 3 for $7.

Next up – my mother’s chicken tacos which were…well…chicken tacos. Featuring somewhat dry and bland chicken plus lime, cabbage, jalapeno, and red onion I will say the portion was above average but the flavor as a whole was entirely boring and more reminiscent of taco bell than anything that costs $8.

The final appetizer, my aunt’s Caramelized Provolone Cheese with tomato, olive, and grill bread was another “blah” dish – to the extent that my aunt was pushing it on other people to finish. Oily cheese, bland tomatoes, and somewhat overpowering olives lent to a dish that was largely rubbery on service and only became moreso as it cooled – like the tacos, nothing innovative.
Disappointed by the first round of foods and equally so by the service I held out hope that the later dishes would be more impressive – thankfully my optimism was rewarded. Coming two at a time our next courses arrived one after another and nearly overflowed the small table – except for my sister’s avocado salad which was once again forgotten until requested.

Beginning with my two choices – the first entitled Scallop and Serrano Ham with mango sherry vinaigrette, cilantro puree and the second Grilled Octopus with bottle rocket greens, mango, jicama. Clearly being in the middle of Ohio I did not expect the seafood to be straight from the ocean, but thankfully to my surprise both dishes featured fish that although frozen retained a great deal of texture and did not suffer from the process. Beginning with the Scallop I was impressed by the manner in which the slightly overcooked muscle’s butteriness was contrasted by the salty ham and spicy cilantro while the sweet mango sauce managed to pull everything together in a very cohesive manner. In similar fashion, and perhaps even more impressively, I was dazzled by the freshness of the perfectly crisped octopus and the manner in which its supple flesh contrasted with the crispy rocket and jicama/mango slaw. Two very well done dishes that I’d rank amongst the better seafood preps in Columbus.

Not as big an eater as myself (or so she thought) my mother opted for the Ancho Roasted Pork Wrap with rice and peas, greens, avocado, sherry mango vinaigrette, queso fresco – and received a mammoth burrito for $9 plus a side of chips. Tasty pork that was well seared but unfortunately not evenly spread throughout the tortilla was quite pleasant while the rice/pea admixture was additionally quite good. Reusing an ingredient from my scallop and ham dish I must say I didn’t appreciate the vinaigrette as much in this dish. Good and a great portion for $9 – but not much different from what one can get at Chipotle or La Bamba.

For my aunt two items were selected – the Almendra Crab and Almond Empanada with goat cheese, corn, pico, avocado puree and the Fried Potatos with sherry vinegar aioli, garlic, herbs. First we’ll start with the potatoes – they were French fries – no more and no less. The aioli was good, but don’t try and oversell fries for $6 by using a big name. The second dish, the Empanadas, were actually quite excellent and possibly the best dish ordered outside of my own. Like a crab Rangoon with notable hints of almond paste accenting the creamy goat cheese these small fritters were lightly touched in a frying pan and the crisp shell with soft interior was splendid.

The final pair of dishes, ordered by my sister, featured one of the larger lunch plates and the salad which was forgotten twice prior by our server. Like the “potatoes,” the Avocado Salad with cilantro, lemon, jalapeno, pico, crisp tortillas was another misnomer – it was both literally and figuratively guacamole – nothing more. While I admit it was a good guacamole, for the price it wasn’t worth the hassle. The second dish, the $17 Pepita Crusted Tuna with braised plantains, cilantro puree, mango chutney was worth the effort. While clearly frozen tuna, the rare prep didn’t suffer much from the freezing process and the texture of the fish was quite good. Beyond the fish, however, the plantain/potato pure beneath the tuna was actually the highlight of the dish with its notable sweetness well balanced by the mango (again) and cilantro.

Finishing up we were brought our (admittedly modest at $25/pp) check without the offer of dessert – and without so much as an apology about the twice skipped salad. Paying the bill our server stopped by and wished us a good night and we were off. All told I can’t really say I’d recommend Barrio and I’ll likely never return – there is simply better food, service, and atmosphere in Columbus. That said, I will admit that the seafood preps are worth checking out and that perhaps with some refinement (there are fruits besides mango and purees outside of cilantro) the menu could shine. With places such as Handke’s closing and Rosendales “dumbing down” the experience perhaps I should just be happy that some new non-chain options are taking a chance on Cow Town.


caitlin said...

sounds like a pretty mediocre dining experience. but still impressive that they pulled off a good octopus dish!

uhockey said...

Agreed - I'd say it is the only worthwhile octopus dish in Ohio that I've found.