Over the years, downtown West Hartford has become one of my family’s favorite places to frequent when we want to enjoy a nice meal together or with visiting guests. We initially only ventured to West Hartford to eat at The Cheesecake Factory in Blue Back Square, a shopping and dining development downtown. However, we branched out to the rest of the city as more restaurants and stores started cropping up. Now when we visit, the downtown is bustling with a combination of families, friends taking on the town and couples out on dates, representing the diversity of establishments in West Hartford.
Some of my family’s favorite restaurants to visit in downtown West Hartford are bartaco, Mecha and Union Kitchen. Although we’re aware of its popularity, my family and I have never dined at Barcelona Wine Bar, which is nestled right behind bartaco. However, that changed last Saturday when a group of us visited the trendy tapas bar for dinner. Although the restaurant had not initially stood out to me compared to other choices in West Hartford, I enjoyed Barcelona’s ambiance, menu selection and drinks, and would definitely consider visiting again with a group of friends.
I’m surprised it took us this long to dine at Barcelona, considering tapas-style eating seems right up my family’s alley. A few of us have different tastes from one another and we like trying a lot of different options, but we know we probably wouldn’t be able to realistically order everything we want. Tapas — small plates or servings — certainly solve that dilemma.
One of the tests of a restaurant’s quality is the free bread or chips they offer diners. Barcelona’s free bread is some of the best I’ve ever had at a restaurant — a freshly baked loaf with a hearty crust and a fluffy, airy interior, coarsely sliced. The loaf’s rustic quality and piping hot temperature point to the quality, as well as care put into the bread offers not just something to fill people up with. Although I wish they served the accompanying olive oil with some seasonings and herbs, the sourdough-like flavor of the bread and the nuttiness of the olive oil were still flavorful enough.
On to the tapas: right off the bat, our party of five prattled off a list of options that had caught our eyes. We eventually were able to narrow our selection down to eggplant caponata ($5); patatas bravas with salsa brava and garlic aioli ($7.50); mahi a la plancha with salsa verde ($13.50), gambas (shrimp) al ajillo ($9.50) with Guindilla pepper, olive oil and garlic; seared sea scallops ($16.50) with aji amarillo; jamón and manchego croquetas with garlic aioli ($6.50); and spiced beef empanadas ($7) with red pepper sauce. Some of the tapas portions were a bit smaller for their price than I expected, like the mahi — one medium fillet, the shrimp — six small pieces, and the scallops — three pieces. However, considering these were all the seafood, the more expensive price was to be expected.
One of the standouts was the mahi, which was tender, fresh and herby. The rest of my party similarly pointed the fish out as one of their favorites. The potatoes were creamy and comforting, and the croquetas were perfectly fried and cheesy. We also enjoyed the eggplant, which was well-complemented by the red pepper. The empanadas were a reasonable size, with a nice pastry and flavorful filling. I would say that the shrimp were somewhat disappointing, though.
As expected with my family, they also gravitated towards the “large plates” part of the menu, especially to the paella, a traditional Valencian dish made with saffron rice and seafood or meat. We always have classic seafood paella at our Christmas parties, so you could say we’re fans. I will note that the three paella options at Barcelona are definitely pricey, but that’s an expectation with the luxurious dish. A half order is $16, $24.50 or $27; a full is $32, $49 or $54; and a double is $64, $98 or $108. Paella verduras, the vegetarian option, is made with kabocha squash, green beans and Brussels sprouts. Paella salvaje is made with chicken, pork belly and chorizo. Paella mariscos is made with mussels, littleneck clams, prawns and calamari. Parillada Barcelona, which certainly seems like the restaurant’s speciality, is made with NY strip steak, chicken, pork loin and Gaucho sausage. My family ordered full portions of the paella salvaje and paella mariscos, which both were hearty and flavorful with a good balance of rice and meat. The seafood seemed like quality pieces. The calamari wasn’t rubbery like I fear sometimes, the shrimp were tender enough to easily tear from their tails and the mussels were similarly easy to tear from their shells. However, both paellas were pretty salty, enough for me to dock them a point.
We also ordered the steak paillard ($14.50) with pepper vinaigrette and frites, as well as the shaved Brussels sprouts ($8.50) with chili flake and garlic, but they must have forgotten to put them in with the rest of our order. However, they still quickly made the dishes for us, boxed them up and took them off the check. I’m glad they decided to give us the tapas, since I tried them when I got home and thought they were some of the tastiest I had that night. Yet, I still thought it was a bit strange they were originally left out of our order.
Our waitress was very attentive at the beginning of our meal, checking in on us multiple times even before our food started arriving. Once the crowd picked up around 9:30 p.m., she wasn’t able to attend to us as much, which was understandable.
Our table ordered a fruity pitcher of the red sangria with elderflower, citrus-infused dark rum and guava nectar, which was one of the sweetest sangrias I’ve had, but in a good way. We finished off our meal with flan Catalán ($6.50), Basque burnt cheesecake ($8) with cherries, plum sorbet ($7.50) and chocolate indulgence ($9), a rich chocolate lava cake served with coconut Mounds ice cream and raspberry reduction. Although lava cake is a bit basic, Barcelona’s was perfectly melty and indulgent. All of the desserts were pretty delicious overall.
Barcelona Wine Bar’s lively atmosphere, trendy interior, menu selection and the actual taste of the food make it a solid dining option in West Hartford. Although there was no one thing that particularly stood out to me that I feel overly compelled to return for, the overall collection of all of the tasty tapas, the well-crafted drinks and ease of trying a lot of different things make Barcelona a recommended restaurant.