Saturday, 29 December 2012

Where to eat in Columbus, OH: Barcelona (the anniversary edition)

On December 28th, Sasha and I celebrated our 3rd wedding anniversary by having dinner out with my parents--whose own wedding anniversary had been celebrated exactly one week earlier. For anyone who doesn't already know the back story, I should note that Sasha and I were also scheduled to get married on the 21st, but then Snowpocalypse buried our dreams of a solstice wedding under nearly two feet of snow. That is really neither here nor there, except for the fact that the winter storm bearing down on Columbus, Ohio, brought uncomfortably familiar conditions for our anniversary celebration.

Fortunately, however, we were still able to make our way to Columbus' Barcelona, a bar and restaurant located in the city's extremely picturesque German Village neighborhood. The establishment bills itself as a "culinary fusion of metropolitan chic and Old World European charm" that is "inspired by seaside sangria and a walk on the Ramblas." To be honest, I'm not precisely sure what that means, but the basic idea is that Barcelona features that most beloved of Spanish culinary traditions--tapas--as well as a "regular" menu that incorporates typical Spanish ingredients.

It's an attractive restaurant decorated in very Mediterranean hues--golds, reds, eggplant purples: the colors of a lingering summer sunset (to be poetic). It is divided into sections by giant wrought-iron filigreed panels that remind me of an antique headboard for a bed, or perhaps something you'd put in your garden to support grapevines. The most eye-catching bits of decor, however, were the massive floor-to-ceiling mirrors; we spent several minutes trying to figure out why they were not hung flush to the wall, but, instead, tilted off at a jaunty angle. I'm sure the arrangement was a psychological trick designed by some clever interior decorator who wanted to help enjoy our food more--or, more likely, encourage us, in some way, to spend more money.

As per usual in an establishment of this caliber, we started off the evening with an amuse bouche:

This consisted of a herby olive paste spread on a piece of focaccia bread and topped with a crushed olive. When I was younger, I loved green olives but hated all others. Now, however, I am a big fan of olives in all their forms (except when they have pits in; I can't stand for my tongue and teeth to come into contact with seedy things of any size larger than a raspberry pip). Sasha and my mom weren't huge fans of the snack, but I enjoyed it quite a bit.

While drinking cocktails and awaiting our first courses, we also munched on almendras Marcona, or roasted Spanish Marcona almonds. They were, as my British friends would say, very "moreish" (and also, for what it's worth, very pretty).

I, of course, began the meal with a salad--specifically, an ensalada de arugula, which came topped with pistachios, dried cranberries, goat cheese, and a maple/Dijon mustard dressing. It was much larger than I was expecting, but also very tasty; the goat cheese, in particular, was excellent--soft, tangy, and an excellent example of why this is my favorite of all cheeses.

My parents both opted for the tapas tasting menu, so their first course was actually a combo plate of their first three dishes--tosta de jamon/chorizo y queso, ensalada mixta con jijona, and ensalada de langosta y camerones. Or, if you'd like to have that in English, toasted baguette with Serrano ham, chorizo, and manchego cheese; mixed green salad with rosemary nougat, walnuts, and cranberry mint dressing; and lobster and shrimp salad with capellini pasta and romesco cream.

(First tapas course--ham in front, salad in middle, lobster in back.)

For my main course, I ordered fried crab cakes, mashed potatoes with paprika (my favorite of all spices), and spinach. It was a very tasty dish, but by this point in the evening I was beginning to develop a migraine and no longer had much of an appetite. In fact, I was becoming very sensitive to light and couldn't do much more than sit around averting my eyes from all sources of illumination; migraines are very rude like that, and don't mind interrupting your anniversary celebration. Fortunately for one or both of my parents, the waitress boxed up my leftovers so they could eat the two crab cakes I left behind.

Sasha ordered the paella Barcelona, which he reported to be good but not quite what he would have liked in a paella. For one thing, it involved quite a lot of peppers, which both of us routinely pick out of our food. At the same time, it lacked Spanish chorizo, which appears to be hard to find in Ohio; instead, it was made with the softer, crumblier Mexican chorizo. The dish was low on saffron and rice, and so was a bit meat-heavy but spice-light. Perhaps most damning was the absence of the much-beloved crusty bit at the bottom of the pan. Thus, while the dish tasted fine, it wasn't the "true" Spanish-style paella that Sasha was craving or expecting. At least it looked nice!

My parents received their second and third tapas courses virtually back-to-back, which I believe must have resulted from a lack of planning in the kitchen. This meant that their later dishes slowly cooled off while they were eating the earlier ones, but they were so impressed by the flavors that I don't think they minded too much. The second plate contained a bowl of sopa de mariscos, or creamy clam and mussel soup with sun-dried tomato garlic oil and a grilled baguette, and esparragos blancos, or grilled white asparagus dressed in sherry vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.

The third and final course--which appeared to be the piece de resistance--included chile relleno fritos (fried poblano peppers stuffed with roasted pork, plus sofrito) and arroz verde (basil risotto with beef meatballs and piquillo peppers). I had been tempted to order an a la carte version of the arroz verde, since I am such a fan of risotto; however, while my parents liked that quite a bit, they both agreed that the chile relleno fritos was the best taste of the evening.

 (Risotto at the top, pepper and beef at the bottom)

I was not interested in dessert, but the others shared the flan de vanilla, which came with a dollop of cream and some fresh berries. I am not that big of a dessert-eater, and I am even less of a flan/custard-eater, so I just admired it from afar while sipping on some mint tea. Sadly, I was so distracted by my head by this point that I forgot to take a picture of this very aesthetically final dish of the evening. However, I did manage to muster a smile when my dad asked our waitress (the very accommodating Mara) to take our picture:

(Four happy customers plus one annoying migraine!)

Even though she was shooting our portrait in low-light conditions with only an iPhone, I think Mara did an excellent job with her photography--but, of course, part of the reason the picture looks nice is that we were all having a good time stuffing ourselves with a tasty repast.

If I have done my math correctly, my parents have been married for exactly 30 years (and one week!) longer than Sasha and I. I'd like to think that in 30 years, Sasha and I will be celebrating our 33rd anniversary in similar fashion--embarking on culinary adventures in a gourmet restaurant in the company of family. Come to think of it, we do an awful lot of that even now, so I guess we're well on our way.

Congratulations and much love to my mom and dad--may we follow in your footsteps. And...bon appetit!


  1. I am so annoyed I always read your reviews at 23.00 hrs GMT and they make me so hungry just before going to bed. It all looks delicious and drives me even harder to really explore American cooking at its best. Just one thing, eggplant purple! aubergine is just such a nicer word and colour.

    Yum! Simon

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  3. Thank you for sharing your words and pictures. Congratulations to you & Sasha as well as your parents.