Barcelona. This cosmopolitan city in Northern Spain conjures dreams of beaches on the Mediterranean Sea, spectacular architecture, and perhaps, tango dancing late into the night. So naming a restaurant after this iconic global metropolis creates lofty expectations for an exceptional dining experience. Fortunately, Barcelona Restaurant & Wine Bar does not disappoint.
Reston Town Center has the energetic vibe of a European piazza—always people coming and going, shopping at luxury stores and dining at upscale eateries. Barcelona fits so nicely here—bringing international character to a typically American landscape. Surprisingly, Barcelona is an American invention by two young restauranteurs living in Connecticut. One partner motivated by his love for the food of his Argentinian homeland, while the other left Harvard (temporarily) to study cooking in France. Together, they built a concept restaurant that has expanded to twelve locations—three in the Washington Area—while maintaining their commitment to serving innovative tapas inspired by European and South American heritage cooking.
Servers at Barcelona are polished and friendly, moving stealthily to the steady beat of modern music. The decor is rustic chic, metal and fabric against weathered wood. A line of top shelf spirits line the wall behind the bar. It’s become a popular neighborhood hang out, where workers and residents can catch up with friends, enjoy a romantic date night, or impress their clients.
Barcelona’s general manager John Scott describes how the menu works and ways the restaurant delivers a first class experience at a reasonable price. “When you order our dynamic Spanish tapas, you typically order two to three per person. Some of the best deals are found on our ‘To Share’ menu. For example, the Parrillida comes with a 12-ounce New York strip steak, half a chicken, two sausage links and a pork loin. Everything is Grade A prime quality. Order a Parrillida for two, but four people can enjoy it.”
Barcelona maintains an extensive beverage list, one that puts a creative spin on traditional cocktails. But Scott says wine is where the restaurant shines: “Our wines are concentrated in Spain, but we hit all the major wine-growing regions of the world: France, California, New Zealand; we have more than 400 wines to choose from.” Barcelona offers Amontillado by the glass, a dry sherry so coveted in the 1800’s that an irrational desire for a bottle led to a horrific demise for one of Edgar Allen Poe’s characters in “Cask of Amontillado.” Barcelona’s edgy wine list was developed by wine and spirits director Gretchen Thomas. Certified as a Spanish wine educator from the Wine Academy of Spain, Thomas has created a list of 50 wines by the glass, including cavas and garnachas.
The company hires young trailblazers like Thomas and Reston’s head chef Kevin Lalli. Scott describes Lalli as “in his early thirties, exuberant, who listens really well, and tries to deliver what the guests want rather than just what he wants.” Scott says Lalli has “a zany personality, animated about his food, passionate and directed.”
Indeed, Lalli is a charming character who could talk about food all day. His interest in cooking developed at age four when he started rearranging pots and pans in his mother’s kitchen. “My inspiration is definitely my mom. I cooked with her every night, and when I went to high school, I enrolled in a culinary program. I’ve been cooking ever since,” explains Lalli. “My first job was as a dishwasher. I love food, and I love to cook, although I don’t do it as much anymore. Now, I make up the recipes.” Lalli attended the prestigious Johnson and Wales culinary program in Rhode Island, and eventually trained under Michelin-star winner Christopher Lee at Forge, a renowned restaurant in Miami. Lalli says he talks to Lee almost every day to discuss recipes with his mentor.
Barcelona’s menu changes often—it’s reprinted three times per week—and chef Lalli debuts new ideas on a regular basis. Most recently, his “Short Rib Train” featured three versions of short ribs—grilled, smoked and glazed with red wine. The next day it was “Legs for Days” showcasing Leg of Lamb Pintxo, Duck Confit Migas and Glazed Drumsticks. Having tried the Duck Confit Migas, I can attest to the creative melange of ingredients here—pickled onion, slices of orange, green and red peppers, shredded duck topped with a local farm egg sunnyside up. Creamy paired with crunch, brightened with sour citrus and smoky meat—a unique and memorable dish.
You might start your meal with the Ensalada Mixta, satiated by the freshness of baby romaine and heirloom tomatoes grown at a Pennsylvania farm. From the charcuterie menu, I sampled the subtle saltiness of the Jamon Serrano paired with an exquisite chunk of 6-month aged Manchego. My favorite dish was the Charred Pulpo from the tapas menu. It featured a gently roasted octopus arm, tentacles intact, served with a crackly carmelized saffron risotto rice, piquillo peppers and green olives.
Another standout on the “To Share” menu is the Instagram-worthy Paella Mariscos. The colorful dish is served in a cast iron paella pan, the creamy saffron rice erupting with head-on prawns, clams, mussels and baby squid. It’s too pretty to eat, but too flavorful not to dive right in. And no matter how full you are, please save room for the Churros. These sugary batons of fried dough can stand alone, but they come with an irresistable bowl of bittersweet chocolate sauce for dunking.
The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner, as well as an abbreviated meal service extending until 2 am. Like it’s colorful namesake in Southern Spain, Barcelona Restaurant & Wine Bar is a gracious place to celebrate life’s simple pleasures—good food, great wine and the warmth of community.
AUTHOR: Renee Sklarew researches and writes about the DMV’s restaurants and attractions. She is co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Washington DC and is currently working on 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Washington DC. Contact her at email@example.com