In search of my culinary Dulcinea, I heard there was a new "cocinero" in the town. So, instead of hopping on a faithful nag, I got in my fickle Mini Cooper and headed to the Greenwich Barcelona for the culinary offerings of new head-chef, Michael Lucente. Chef Michael comes to Barcelona after 10 years of experience, starting as a graduate from the Culinary Institute of America. He has been Sous Chef at BLT Steak in Westchester and Napa in Stamford and head chef at La Promenade des Anglais in New York. He had the exciting opportunity to Sous Chef on Iron Chef America in April of last year and joined Barcelona Greenwich in November. Greenwich, you're in luck. And so are Barcelona patrons everywhere as the revamping of Barcelona's signature menu is making tapas-cravers everywhere muy feliz.
The new menu at the Greenwich locale (as well as other Barcelona's on the east coast) was created by culinary director, Adam Halberg and features an expansion of the PAELLA and MIXED GRILL offerings as well as a refreshed look at the more than 30 tapas dishes on offer. (Don't worry, though, if you are still craving the LOBSTER RISOTTO or the CHICKPEA PUREE. Though both were chopped from the menu, Chef Michael will happily prepare either for you, as long as the ingredients are in the casa.) But the latest and greatest for your enjoyment is really Chef Michael's expertise. He's the real deal and this is how he showed us his magic:
Chef presented the table with some delectable hams, imported, naturally, from Espana. Ok, he didn't cure them himself but he did a great job selecting and presenting them. The SERRANO was delicate and cured to perfection, not too salty and a little bit sweet. The special treat was the PATA NEGRA (translated as black hoof). This ham comes from the Iberico pig, allowed to roam freely in pasture and oak groves up until slaughtering time when its diet is restricted to olives or acorns only. The result is a heavily marbled ham with a smooth, ultra rich flavor. Served with a crusty loaf, delicioso.
Other appetizers included wonderful GRILLED HANGAR STEAK served with a rich and savory black truffle vinaigrette. Succulent and rich but not too heavy on the sauce, this tapas dish was exquisite due to the hangar steak's texture which juxtaposed perfectly with the silky jus in which it was blanketed. The perfect accompaniment came in the way of WHIPPED SHEEP'S CHEESE garnished with pistachios and PIMENTON, a Spanish Paprika which adds just the right smokey - not sweet or spicy - flavor to a cheese that could be overpowering otherwise.
The CAPONATA was also worthy of note. This eggplant salad is made extraordinary by Chef Michael with his addition of chili flakes and plenty of basil. The chili seems to bring out the dense and smoky flavor of the eggplant that can sometimes be masked by too heavy a sweet and sour sauce. More crusty bread. Sigh...
Next to the table came BRAISED BABY SEPIA served with almonds and coriander. SEPIA (not to be confused with pulpo which is octopus or calamari, which is squid) is marinated cuttle fish and though it is similar to the others, SEPIA is distinguished by its slightly thicker body, snow white (and NOT sepia) color and tender, subtle flavor. It was delish, braised in a delicate, white wine emulsion. There was also a CITRUS FLUKE- which came ceviche-style with plenty of cilantro and cherry peppers. And for a special treat we were offered SWEET MAINE SHRIMP, head and all. The short season of this winter bounty added to the fleeting enjoyment of every sweet, delicate bite. Equisito.
Other dishes of note included the LENTILS stewed in pork stock and also the SPICY LAMB RAGU. But my favorite, by far, was the BLACK TRUFFLE and POTATO, whipped with egg yolks and prepared like a frothy zabaglione. Light and airy in consistency yet rich with flavor, this was, for me, a culinary dream come true. And though Don Quixote never could have his Dulcinea, my taste buds found theirs in this superior concoction. Sorry, Don Q., with Chef Michael at the helm in Greenwich, no one will agree that "Hunger is the best sauce in the world." Just get to Barcelona and you will see. Gracias, senor.
Barcelona Greenwich18 W Putnam Ave Greenwich, CT 06830 (203) 983-6400