I was getting ready to write up this summary of my dinner at Barrio, when this flashed up in my reader. Seriously, this basically outlines my major feeling on the restaurant. Exactly. I suppose that it just means they are very consistent, but now I feel lame posting such a similar report. But ahh, well, I will anyways.
Barrio fills a void that exists in the Seattle restaurant scene. I think what they are doing is unique. A high-endish, Latin inspired menu sets it apart from the myriad of Tapas places that serve the currently trendy Spanish version of small plates. These lean more towards antojitos, little Mexi-style nibbles, and taco truck sized baby tacos. The quality of the food was quite high and tastes were strong, bright and clearly made by a chef with fine-dining experience. The menu impressed me, running the gamut of the various regions of Mexico in search of the best flavor combinations. I don’t normally rush out to be the first to review a place–this was their third night open to the public–but when a restaurant opens on my street…well, I felt I had to go. And was glad I did.
The door to Barrio is imposing, huge and wooden, without the easiest to find of handles. Once inside, the room is designed to intimidate as well. Luckily there is nothing so comforting as an abuelita, a little grandmother, hard at work, visible through the open kitchen. Service, from entering until the minute we left was shaky at best, but only in the way that a restaurant in its first week is. I will not say more about the service, as I have every confidence that it will be fixed with the end of the first week jitters.
We began with a duo of salsas. We could pick from a number of options and I went with the Roasted tomato and habanero because of the spice level and the Smoky ancho chile because my waitress recommended it. They came with plantain chips, yucca chips and corn chips. I found that different chips worked better and worse with the different salsas and I wonder if they wouldn’t do better to pair them. That said the smoky ancho chile was just terrific with the corn chips, though it was overwhelming with the lighter plantain and yucca chips. Those went better with the Roasted tomato and habanero, which I have to mention had some of the most impressive, beautiful, bold and harmonic flavors I’d had in a long time. I was extremely impressed with that salsa.
Next came my personal favorite dish of the night, Beef tartare tostaditas (example of first week jitters? Our food runner couldn’t recall what these were when he delivered them). Basically thick cut beef tartare on tortilla chips, but in reality so much more. The beef was rich and creamy, the chunks were like large corn kernel sized, as oppose to ground beef style. This turned out to be a most pleasing texture in the mouth, and the crunch of the tostaditas (round tortilla chips, as far as I could tell) was an excellent foil for the beef. The radish shaved on top also matched perfectly and, in fact, my only complaint about the dish was that it was far too salty–I think someone tasted the beef on its own and didn’t think about how the salt from the chip would add to the salinity of the dish. Not too big of a problem, as we almost ordered a second order of these, they were so good!
The Shredded Pork taquitos and the duck confit tamal were next up. The taquitos were excellent, though nothing groundbreakingly new or amazing as were the tartare and the salsa. The tamal on the other hand was actually a bit disappointing, not because it was not delicious (it was), but because it lacked the crispiness of a seared confit or the rich gamey flavor. I think the steaming of it, inside the masa and banana leaf, leached out some of the best flavors. So great tamal, but it could have been anything inside there, so it confit seems like an odd choice given the extra labor and expense of using it.
Lastly, we finished up with a single taco. At $4 a pop and smaller than a taco truck taco, it was hard for us to justify ordering more–some of the other dishes seemed to have higher value perception, especially the beef. The taco, though, was incrdibly good. Queso fresco and sauteed wild mushrooms flavored with epazote. I still have a hard time justifying the price tage, but it was quite tasty.
The total, for 5 dishes, 2 beers and one (ridiculously good ’07 Jigsaw Pinot Noir from Oregon) glass of wine was $72 with tax and tip and was just about the perfect amount for a dinner for two reasonably hungry people. We worked hard to order the best value and cheaper dishes, so I’m sure you could run up a higher bill, but this was a pretty good value to me.
Overall it was an extremely pleasant dining experience, the kind that reminds me why it is so much fun to try a new place, to get excited about a type of food that you don’t get all the time around here. I’m fairly confident that with a few tweaks, this is a restaurant that will soon be hard get a seat in.