Summer in New England can be rough for a Southern California native. Okay, every season in New England can be rough for a Southern California native. Autumn is beautiful and definitely the best, but even it has chilly grey rains. Then there’s the face-mangling allergies of spring, and the long freezing darkness of winter. And summer brings oppressive soupy heat. The other day, I was out for a walk, and it was so muggy that it rained and that made no discernible difference to my dampness. Blugh!
Yet something kept me trudging on that long, sticky walk. It was the promise of a beautiful oasis of small plates and air conditioning at Barcelona Wine Bar in Boston’s South End. After about ten minutes in one of their comfortable chairs, sipping ice-cold water and smelling lovely things wafting out of the kitchen, I forgot about the sauna outside and ended up truly excited about summer and its incredible bounty of produce. Here’s the rundown.
Patatas bravas: Hard to go wrong with fried potatoes, right? Plus they came with tasty tomato sauce and garlic aioli to dredge them in. Another tapas staple, pretty well-rendered.
Dessert! I know, it’s weird to put it up here before you’ve read about all the other food, but it fell squarely in “good” for me. We shared two things, the churros y chocolate and the dulce de leche-filled crepes. Both desserts were much larger than we expected given the price ($7-8) in comparison with the rest of the menu. The churros were hot and fresh, very airy-light. In contrast, the crepes were a little tough, difficult to cut with a fork – but there was a LOT of dulce de leche inside, so it’s hard to be too disappointed. Also, a kind staff member brought us a complimentary bowl of raspberry sauce for the crepes, which was a great touch.
Crispy sugar snap peas (pictured with romaine, below): First, this dish was listed as accompanied by bagna cauda, a delicious garlic and anchovy dipping sauce, but I saw no sign of the sauce. To be fair, this is probably on me as a diner – I didn’t ask after it. It’s also possible that they withheld the sauce if it contained an allergen that we asked the server to avoid. Regardless, un-sauced, this was sort of plain. Also, I didn’t realize from the menu that “crispy” in this case meant battered and deep-fried, which is maybe something I also should have thought of, but didn’t.
Grilled asparagus: It’s hard to go wrong with fried egg on grilled asparagus. However, this version came topped with cardamom breadcrumbs, which I didn’t enjoy. The cardamom was strong, and the crumbs were also a bit too salty. I brushed them mostly off and focused on the asparagus and egg.
The menu featured a number of summer specials, including this panzanella of grilled nectarines, mint, lavender, and balsamic vinegar. My dining companion deemed this the best dish of the meal, but I wasn’t a huge fan. To me, the balsamic vinegar soaked too much into the bread cubes, forming soggy acid pockets that overwhelmed the delicate nectarine and herbs. But she loved it, so I’m glad we got it!
The Great (according to me)
Grilled baby red romaine. Another summertime special, which I never would have thought to order. Lettuce usually isn’t my thing. Luckily it caught the eye of my companion, and I’m always game to try something new. This turned out to be one of my favorite dishes. The lettuce was smoky from the grill, yet also not at all bitter (perhaps due to the cooking) and retaining a nice fresh crunch. On top, a very gingery vinaigrette set it off nicely, along with some slices of pickled jalapeño. My only quibble is that the jalapeño was not listed on the menu – while I liked it, they should definitely mention it, as that might really change some folks’ reactions.
Mustard-crusted bluefish: Our waiter talked up this summertime special, and rightly so. A nice piece of fish, perfectly cooked to be moist and flaky with good flavor from the mustard. The salad underneath, raw shaved zucchini and summer squash with almonds, was perfectly refreshing and tart, a pleasant contrast to the meaty fish.
Our waiter: Last on the great list is our waiter, Scribs (hope I’m spelling his name right). I felt a kindred spirit between us, especially when we both said at the same exact time, and in the same bro-tone, “Summer is the best!” He was relaxed, entertaining, and gave good advice. I can’t promise that you’ll have Scribs to help you out if you go to Barcelona, but I do think you’ll have a nice time.
Barcelona Wine Bar
525 Tremont St, Boston, MA 02116
(several other locations)