I have finally returned from the Gulf Coast (or more correctly, I returned a few days ago and I finally ran out of places to blog about), and now I am back to the task at hand: vegetarian dining in and around Ohio. Next on the block: Barrio.
Barrio is the next step in the 317-year plan to rebuild Downtown Columbus. Someday, my children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children will be able to enjoy the fruits of this rebuilding effort. For now, I get to enjoy the new ballpark and Barrio.
Barrio is a modern tapas place with a Pan-Latin focus as opposed to being an eatery that takes a classic Spanish approach to small plates. Menu choices come from Europe and South, Meso- and North American nations (as well as a few stops elsewhere on the globe).
The interior is small and modern. The walls are black and metallic with pieces of dark wood throughout. Service is capable if unexceptional. The place has opened recently, so perhaps they need a chance to iron out some kinks.
The offerings at Barrio fit into one of two categories: modern takes on old classics, or flashy fixings rooted in Latin tradition. Some of the traditional offerings with a new spin include the Spanish cheese plate and the avocado salad. Some of the new items rooted in tradition include vegetable ceviche, fennel and grapefruit salad, and caramelized provolone cheese.
The marinated olives were excellent. There were Gaeta olives, Cerignola olives and a tiny black olive that I was unable to name. The olives were marinated in spaces ranging from fennel to paprika to cayenne pepper, and bathed in a stream of olive oil offset with parmesan cheese and Marcona almonds. While the flavors were great, the small black olives with pits were tedious to eat. I might recommend to the kitchen something with a little more olive and a little less pit for the next selection.
The vegetable ceviche was absolutely divine. It was served in a three portion dish with popcorn, jicama, hearts of palm, onion, carrots, squash and plantains in an ahi cream sauce. The flavor was citrusy and fresh. At first, I didn't understand the popcorn. Then I tasted it with the spicy citrus cream sauce and I was converted.
The caramelized provolone cheese in tomato and olive oil with grill bread was reminiscent of saganaki, although the flavors were more Italian than Hellenic or Iberian. The seasoned cheese is scooped up by crunchy pieces of bread.
The papas fritas were very tasty. They are pretty much exactly what the menu says they are: garlic and herbed French fried potatoes with a sherry vinegar aioli. They are a great comfort food. They portion of aioli is small, and I might have preferred the fries with a little more spice on them, but all in all, they are a satisfying choice.
The quinoa salad in romesco sauce is a great preparation of this wonderful vegetable. Although many are unfamiliar with this South American staple, the grain-like Quinoa has been a part of the South American diet for more than 6,000 years. Barrio's preparation of quinoa is made with micro greens, almonds and romesco sauce, a classic topping prepared with olive oil, tomatoes, garlic and hot peppers. The synthesis of the earthy, spicy and sweet flavors makes this dish shine.
Whenever I am in a tapas place, I would much rather order a bunch of small plates than a starter and a main course. However, for those diners more rooted in tradition, there is also a mixed vegetable entree on the menu.
The beverage lists are fun and reflect the modern sensibilities of the restaurant. Although small, the beer selections are very nice. There are some very nice wines on the list, although Barrio has some time to go before it will be in the pantheon of Columbus' best wine destinations. The rum punch cocktail was far better than the margarita.
Initially, I was worried that Barrio would be poaching business away from Barcelona. However, after trying both, I'll have to say that there is definitely a distiction between the approach of the two places. Hopefully Columbus and its appetite for different styles of tapas is enough to keep both places as fat and happy as the clientele.