it’s too early to write a review about barrio. so i’ll simply share my impressions of a meal on its one-week anniversary, keeping in mind that it represents only one moment in the restaurant’s life (like any review, really) and knowing that i’ll go back.
with the inspection you give the room upon arrival, you might guess that this is a project by the owners of purple café (it is), but the similarities don’t beat you over the head. the room is lofty, expansive, sleek, and shadowy. two hundred candles (busser-lit each night) create a flickering wall in the middle of the room and soften the black paint that surrounds. like at purple, the bar is the focal point and sitting there, in the eye of the vastness, makes you feel more grounded.
perhaps because of the height of the ceilings and the distance between walls, the food is surprisingly petite and down-to-earth. no region of mexican cuisine is off limits when it comes to the menu, but barrio’s northwest location is also taken into consideration (reference wild salmon ceviche).
start with chips and salsa – you’ll want the salsa to accompany everything that follows. our selections – grape tomato, ancho chili, and tomatillo – were distinctly different and charming in their own ways (fresh tomato, deep smoke, roasted vegetal, but none were spicy.
a dish of salt and pile of lime wedges came early in the meal and was especially appreciated with the guacamole ($7). the avocados were ripe and just mashed but void of the salt and citrus that would enhance their best features.
sikil pak, an ancient mayan dish made of puréed, toasted pumpkin seeds ($6) is nutty and a bit perplexing, texturally similar to almond butter and quite satisfying on a tortilla chip.
ceviches and crudos garner an entire section of menu and picking out just one is a pain. we ultimately settled for the ahi tuna crudo ($12), nearly naked atop just ripe avocados, save for a touch of orange and tamarind. fish and avocado shared a texture – slippery, but with substance – neatly offset by a few sesame seeds.
hearts of romaine salad ($9) was simple and balanced and inhaled by our table without comment. tart orange segments, toasted hazelnuts, and translucent shavings of queso añejo complimented the watery romaine like tiffany solitaires above a little black dress.
the tamale ($8), pre-removed from its plantain leaves, was lusciously moist, just a touch sweet. the schmear of dark chipotle salsa was just the right earthy and animally compliment to the duck confit filling. had i been served this tamale at la carta de oaxaca, it would have fit right in.
there are tacos. your server is not kidding if she tells you they’re not especially sharable – they’re three bites, filled with golden raisins, bbq prawns, house-made chorizo, toasted sesame seeds, or flank steak (not necessarily all at once). the tiny tortillas are delicate and fresh, full of all the characteristics that make “house-made” a desirable quality. my companions raved about their (different) tacos, but i wasn’t left with a distinct impression after i swallowed my spice rubbed, grilled albacore and cabbage ($5). it was the guacamole effect again, and a kick – acid, heat, salt, heavier citrus vinaigrette – was needed somewhere in equation.
i admit, i didn’t glance at the wine list, as the cocktails diverted my attention. naturally, there’s a tequila and rum focus (piña coladas, caipirinhas) woven with classics like a corpse reviver #2 and moscow mule. needless to say, however, the margarita seemed the most appropriate choice. its barrio twist was the triple sec stand in, damiana orange liqueur. made on the baja peninsula from the damiana shrub, it gives the drink not only citrus, but intriguing floral and herbal notes.
the churros were sublime, the dulce de leche crème brûlée decadent and well-crafted. i ate the salty pepita brittle off the chocolate mole cake and we left the rest of it in order to focus on the churros and crème brûlée.
a happy moment – the bill for four of us, including well over ten dishes and nine margaritas was a tad under $200.
we crossed the street to la spiga for a nightcap. after absorbing some good natured ribbing from owner and schmoozer pietro, “you ate there and not here?”, i asked him what he thought about the competition he could see out his window. he shrugged and said, “we’ve been going there after work.”