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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Barcito: a place to be seen, not heard

Posted By on 03.01.12 at 03:26 PM

Pintxos at Barcito
Ryan Poli's tapas restaurant Tavernita and its bar, Barcito, get at least one element of Spanish and Latin American culture right: the diminutive. Adding -ito or -ita to the end of a word in Spanish is almost absurdly common. "Quieres un tecito?," I've been asked at a friend's house. "El aguita esta calentita!" OK, it could be a small cup of tea (though it never is), but how can water or heat be small? It's a casual, often affectionate way of talking that rarely has anything to do with the size of what's being discussed.

Neither Tavernita (which my colleague Mike Sula reviews in this week's Reader) nor Barcito is particularly small. Casual? More or less—while that's how they officially describe the bar's dress code, the space is sleek and a bit upscale in feeling, and most of the patrons look pretty respectable. More than respectable, in fact: Barcito appears to be yet another haven for the city's beautiful people. It's a place to see and be seen—though not heard, apparently. The music was so loud that the bartender had to come around the bar to take our orders, and the one time he didn't we ended up with olives instead of almonds. Even sitting close together, conversation was difficult.

Barcito's food menu is almost entirely different from Tavernita's—and judging from Sula's review, that's a good thing. While he criticizes many of the Tavernita dishes for being overdone, the snacks at Barcito are smaller, simpler, and more successful. A variety of pintxos ranges from $2 to $5, the best among them being an incredibly tender pork belly bocadillo (little sandwich) with apple jam and pickled red onion. It's the priciest of the options, but the least expensive of the toasts—artichoke with hummuslike ground chickpeas and salty Mahon cheese, grilled vegetables with velvety goat cheese and almond romesco—are almost equally enjoyable. A chorizo-like cured sausage with a fried quail egg was another favorite. Marcona almonds with espelette chile were mildly spicy and, at $3 for a generous handful, one of the better deals on the menu.

Iberico ham, the highly prized and pricey cured ham made from acorn-fed black Iberian pigs, makes several appearances on the menu but was undetectable in the bland croquetas. It's used to better effect on one of the toasts, slivers of rosemary-crusted iberico lardo topping the bread for a pleasantly salty, fatty bite.

Cider seems likely to be the next big thing in town, and Barcito offers four: two from Spain and two from France, served from what Sula describes as "bonglike glass decanters to stimulate the carbonation and bouquet" (I didn't get to see them). Our waiter recommended the light, pleasant Spanish Trabanco, noting that he didn't like the stronger flavors of the Isastegi Sagardo, but I preferred the latter's sour funkiness to the relative sweetness of the Trabanco—though both are much less sweet than most of the ciders available in this country.

I've read that the two inviolable rules of true pintxos bars are that you have to eat standing up and that nothing should be consumed in more than two bites. You can stand at Barcito, but there are also stools available; eating any of the pintxos in only two bites would be feat, though. But I'm more concerned with the noise level than the arbitrary rulings of some unnamed deity. Despite enjoying nearly everything I ate and drank here, I'd still pick Small Bar over Barcito any day.

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