263 E. Whittier St. Columbus, OH 43206 (614) 443-3699
There’s something about driving through German Village’s rescued brick streets, strewn with rehabbed brick houses that gives a dining experience a bit of cache before it even starts. Roll through our city’s history and into it’s present. Let the valet do the parking, sidle up to Barcelona’s copper topped bar and order a martini with pomegranate in it. That alone places you in the “now”. Sip it while you note how well the modern, curvy ironwork and boldly colored stools mingle so well with the same history you have just driven through. Hundred-year-old brick, when exposed, tends to seep a historical perspective all over contemporary figure studies, Chihulyesque glasswork and even track lighting. In return, the artwork and lighting draw gazes that may have otherwise only been cast at cocktails and cohorts towards the old-timey mortar work. It’s a symbiotic rivalry between then and now that automatically gives the room at Barcelona an energy that actually helps make pomegranate martinis taste good.
Dawdle at the bar for a while. Maybe even start with an appetizer there. Barcelona has a tapas platter that resembles the melted gothic Cathedral in the restaurant’s namesake city. Flatbread plunged into chickpea hummus provide crunchy and haphazard spires with which to scoop up fresh mozzarella, jamon serano, spiced olives and, of course, the hummus into which they were plunged to begin. A cool, acidic and clean Spanish white, like a Garnacha Blanca, Rioja Blanco or Albarino will cut through all the oils from the olives and the ham, to leave the palate anxious for subsequent courses and their liquid counterparts.
After the tapas and the first bottle of white would be a very suitable juncture at which to venture further into the contempo-historical dining room. The tables share the patina of the copper bar and everywhere you turn, history-brick reminds you again of how cool it is that German Village has been restored, rather than leveled. Plus, the service is fuller and the conversation more fulfilling and less labored at a table. After relaxing for a few seconds, get a salad order in and pick a medium bodied red to go with it. The Spanish reds immediately jump out as the most-likely candidates, and Tempranillo is a great grape with salad dressing, so Toro Crianza and Rioja should be frontrunners – especially at their pricepoint. A full two-thirds of the salads at Barcelona have pungent cheeses, like Gorgonzola and Roquefort on them, and the substantial tannin and burnt leather from the Tempranillo hold up very well. The other third of the salads have noodles – Asian noodles. Surprisingly, the earthy florals of the same Tempranillo do really well with the chewy, peanutty pasta.
Conventional wisdom may present a compelling argument for getting another bottle of medium red with the entrees, since the Paella absolutely has to be one of them, but consider that the Braised Colorado Lamb shank really ought to be on the roster of main courses and a more retro-post-modern case can be made for a huge blend, like a Meritage or Super-Tuscan. Ferarri Carrano has a Tuscan style blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet and Malbec called Siena that has the juicy backbone to stand up to already-wine-soaked gamey meat, like a lamb shank, but doesn’t linger too long on the palate. The subtle saffrony seafood in the Paella does get its time to shine, after the ripe juice washes the smoky chorizo out of the picture. If there is going to be more than one bottle on the table for the entrees, the implied sweetness of a German Kabinett Riesling or the huge oaky butter of a domestic chardonnay might offer some interesting contrast with the pan-oceanic flavors in the Paella. Plus, then someone can get the grilled Mahi-mahi without confounding their palate. Actually, the aforementioned big juicy blend might be an interesting counterpart to the roasted peppers and the Tobasco vinaigrette that Barcelona pairs with the savory, juicy and tender whitefish.
Barcelona may be the perfect venue to choose the wine first and then base entrée decisions on that. The wine list is deep, offering selections from around the world that cover most imaginable characteristics that one might imagine one wants in a wine. And, the menu is just about as multifarious. There are Rhones and new-world, single-varietal Malbecs to perfectly compliment dishes like cassoulet. The bone-dry Italians are on Barcelona’s list in spades, and they go great with arrabiata and anything bacon-wrapped. In fact, the possible combinations of food and appropriate wines are so multitudinous that there isn’t close to enough room to discuss them all (however cursorily) here. Ultimately, Barcelona’s menu and wine list should be viewed as a resource that we can use to experiment with the pairing of wine and food. One visit can be the standard big-cab-with-steak experience, while subsequent ones can be more adventurous, maybe finding a white with lamb or a huge, tannic red with cod fritters. The possibilities truly are endless.
The meal, however, should not be. It must have an end. Otherwise, when would dessert come? And, you must have dessert. It is the perfect time to finish off the last little bit from all of the bottles that have made it through the entrée course, and Barcelona always offers a variety of sweets that will make that finishing-off as memorable as the body of the meal was. If, for some reason, all of the wine was finished off before the end of the entrees (or even, just before the desserts made it to the table), there is no need to fret, because Barcelona has a well-stocked bar that can provide a cognac, Sambucca or some other type of digestif. Actually, it is probably a good idea to have something like that at the end of the meal, even if there were still a few sips of wine left, because after dinner drinks mandate a few more moments’ repose. That gives our physiology a chance to get busy before we get up and venture out, back through history to wherever it is we call home.