The downtown Stamford fun quotient rose dramatically with the early-summer addition of a Fairfield County stalwart -- Barcelona Wine Bar and Restaurant. Having enjoyed many festive, delicious meals (and pitchers of sangria) over the years at Barcelona in both SONO and Greenwich, I wondered if the new Stamford location would compare favorably, or if the restaurant’s sixth outlet would start to feel too much like a chain.
I needn’t have worried. Barcelona in Stamford has a bustling urban bistro vibe all its own, and its energy and warmth spill out onto lower Summer Street thanks to a large, open sidewalk dining area. Handwritten chalkboard menus, warm wood floors and well-trained staff will make this the perfect setting for comfortable eating all year round.
I arrived with my party of four on a gorgeously warm summer Monday night (now some time ago), and was happy to find the restaurant nearly full. As we had suffered through the dreariest spring in memory, we were all anxious to dine al fresco. I gave my first name to the friendly host, and we settled in at the enormous, comfortable bar for drinks, charcuteria and tapas. Most memorable of our starters was the Spinach-Chickpea Casserole served with homemade pita chips. The cumin and garlic were distinguishable yet not overpowering, and it was a perfect counterpoint to the mildly sweet white sangria I was thoroughly enjoying.
Time passed quickly, and the four of us were equally impressed with our bartender’s engaging banter and drink-mixing skills. (Check out some recipes and video for a few signature Barcelona cocktails.) After about 45 minutes, however, the host approached us and admitted he had accidentally given away our table. All was not lost – far from it. He promised us the next available table and quite generously took care of our entire bar bill. Now that is customer service. Finally, to ensure that the rest of our meal was perfectly executed (or perhaps this is a standard touch), he personally brought our waiter over to us who then shook all of our hands and escorted us to the perfect corner table on the patio.
Next came the task of deciding for real from among Barcelona’s 30-plus small plates and generous selection of entrees. Our knowledgeable waiter proved invaluable in describing the textures, spiciness, portion size, or provenance of a particular ingredient for any dish we inquired about. Who doesn’t enjoy expressing joy and admiration for a salty, smoky, buttery Spanish ham?
We sampled a wide variety of what Barcelona has to offer. Cauliflower and Fennel Gratinata was an absolute standout, bubbling with crispy breadcrumbs and cheese. I don’t think there was an oozing drip left. Nor did we leave even a bite of the Chorizo with Sweet and Sour Figs with a balsamic-sherry glaze, a perfect pairing for those who enjoy savory with sweet. Seafood is also treated with respect, and our Gambas al Ajillo (garlic shrimp) and Calamari a la Plancha were prepared just right, with none of the cloying overuse of garlic that so often plagues these types of dish and can detract from the pure flavor of the seafood. Fortunately, our waiter was generous with bread so no sauce went un-sopped.
I am fairly certain that it is written in the U.S. Constitution that those who dine at Spanish restaurants must order paella. We complied and Barcelona’s paella delivered. I couldn’t get enough of the broth-moistened saffron rice. The brininess from the seafood and the richness from the chicken and chorizo gave this dish amazing flavor.
Despite long-running success in other locations, it was still impressive that this restaurant operation was running so smoothly (reservation mishap not withstanding) only a few weeks after its opening. I will undoubtedly return to Barcelona in Stamford to work my way through their appealing list of cocktails, interesting, well-balanced dishes, and to enjoy their vibrant, casual surroundings.
Barcelona has multiple locations:
Stamford 222 Summer St. 203.348.4800
Norwalk 63.65 N. Main St. 203.899.0088
Greenwich 18 West Putnam Ave. 203.983.6400
Fairfield 4180 Black Rock Tnpk. 203.255.0800
New Haven 155 Temple St. In the Omni New Haven Hotel 203.848.3000
West Hartford 971 Farmington Ave. 860.218.2100