Barcelona is already a success—far be it from me to claim otherwise. I recently waited an hour and 20 minutes for a table at this Connecticut-based tapas chain. On a Monday.
What’s the attraction? Start with a patio warmed by a fireplace—a comfy roost on a winter’s night and a magnet for the young and fashionable. Inside, the space is dark and modishly rustic, with soft lights that make the young and fashionable look even better. The wine list is deep with good Spanish reds. And the prices are lower than at most of the competition up and down 14th Street.
But if you’re coming to do more than nibble on meats and cheese, drink wine, and look good, then you’re asking too much of the place. The tapas are often clunkily rendered—sometimes too oily (I could have sautéed some chicken breasts with the excess from my mushrooms a la plancha), sometimes undersalted (a flat patatas bravas), sometimes oversalted, sometimes too rich—and nearly always making you pine for better versions at Estadio down the street or at any of three Jaleos.
Small plates come in for criticism from many restaurant goers these days. It’s not the format that’s the problem; it’s halfhearted places like this, where the dishes aren’t clever or careful or exciting . . . just small.
This article appears in the March 2014 issue of Washingtonian.