Dine About Oakland: BarlataMarch 16, 2009
Okay, so I try to avoid back-to-back Dine About Oakland posts, but there are just more new restaurants opening than I can keep up with, so I need to play some catchup. (Recession? Did someone say something about a recession? Not in these parts!)
Anyway, the last two weeks saw the opening of a sea of new Oakland dining and nightlife spots near our house: on Piedmont Avenue, we finally picked up Adesso (by the crew behind Dopo), while in Uptown, Ave and Somar hit the scene. And over in Temescal, Barlata (by Daniel Olivetta of B44) made its debut—and since D. is a huge fan of Catalan food, we had to go check it out for opening weekend. It got a ringing endorsement from our group of four, and most importantly from D., who spent some time living in Barcelona and is consequently picky about his tapas. (He’s very lukewarm on both B44 and César, so finding a place he likes was a big deal!)
Barlata (literally “bar of the can,” named and decorated for the little cans that Spanish sardines and other tasty cured things come in) was still flying under the radar on its first Saturday night, so we were able to get a table for four without a wait. I don’t think this will last too much longer, though, given the crowd that had gathered by the end of the evening. It’s a lower-key place than big sib B44: there’s one large community table, a bar, and several smaller two- and four-tops. The mood overall was pretty casual, and we were comfortable in jeans and sneakers. Par for the course in Temescal, there were still a few small ones floating around when we arrived at 7 pm, and a few folks with strollers poked their heads in to check out the menu too.
D. led the ordering, so we ended up with a smattering of classic tapas with a few veggie options thrown in for a friend who wanted to go fishless (which is trickier than it seems at first glance!) Between the four of us (all light eaters—you’d need more to feed a hungrier crowd) we tasted:
- Patatas bravas (of course!), which were solid if basic (the romesco sauce was especially popular, though);
- House-cured olives—yum!—and bread;
- Tortilla española (Spanish tortilla, also a staple and also solid);
- The cheese plate, which I’d pass on in the future—cheeses were on the mundane side, and even the manchego was so mild that it was almost unidentifiable;
- Brandada de bacalao (salt cod with potato), which was good;
- Vegetarian paella, which was excellent; and
- Lata de piquillos (seafood-stuffed peppers), also excellent.
We topped it all off with a bottle of Spanish wine. The wine list is very reasonably priced and pretty diverse, and there’s beer as well, though they plan to get a full liquor license eventually.
Dessert was the only disappointment. We ordered the arroz con leche (rice pudding), which came as a parfait with strawberry sauce and cream, and the chocolate sandwich, which could best be described as toasted brioche with nutella in a sandwich (though I imagine it was a bit higher-end than that) with a crème anglaise alongside it. They weren’t bad, but certainly didn’t convince me to order dessert there again. Hopefully this is a temporary situation and they’ll get a stellar pastries person in soon who can hook us up with some crema catalana, flan, bread pudding, or some of the tasty Catalan pastries.
Overall, though, it was a great meal—and at $31 a head including a bottle of wine split four ways (but not including tax and tip), it was a bargain for Bay Area tapas! (It would probably also be a great place to get an early evening drink and a snack—though we keep saying that about À Côté, too, and somehow we’re always still there at the end of the night with a huge meal behind us….) Anyway, we’ll definitely be back to Barlata. Already on the wish list: the traditional paella, the mussels, fideuà negre, and the grilled beef. D. also wants to see whether they can add a version of cazuela de bacalao (a salt cod stew with garbanzos and miscellaneous other things baked in a little cazuela, and common at Barcelona tapas places) to the menu someday, too. On their first weekend, service was decent but still a little scattered—we had to flag down another waiter a couple of times when we couldn’t catch the eye of our server, and one dish came out a good ten minutes after we’d finished everything else—we thought they’d forgotten about it, and just when we were going to move on to the dessert menu, it showed up. The staff gets slack for it being one of the first nights on the job, though—the glitches should shake themselves out with time. Chalk up one more good dining spot up for the Temescal!
Update (3/31/09): Stopped in for a quick dinner with a friend who hadn’t tried Barlata yet, so we got to taste a few more dishes. The gazpacho trio is phenomenal. The ceviche, on the other hand, was a bit bizarre—in fact, it seemed like the seafood had all been cooked, which was pretty puzzling! We also tried the grilled steak with chimichurri sauce, but no one was a fan (though the fries that came alongside it were tasty). Wrapped the meal up with the house-cured sardines and the shrimp and citrus salad—both tasty. So, again, a somewhat mixed bag. However, as with our first visit, what was good was excellent, so we plan to stick it out as we learn the secrets of Barlata.