Barceloneta, Miami Beach, FL

IMG_0002I had been trying to go here for a while. The last attempt I was rerouted to the sister restaurant, Pubbelly. It was a great experience (and where I first heard about la Guajira from the nice Colombiana bartender, nice and Colombian being redundant), but not on the same “wow” level as Barceloneta.

In case it isn’t already clear from the rest of the blog, I’m a Spanish food fanatic. As in, the kind of fatty that spends an entire summer eating and drinking his way through the country. There are many excellent spots along the Eastern and Western seaboards of the United States serving wonderful, and sometimes faithful, versions of many of my favorite dishes from Galicia, Castilla, Catalonia, Andalucia, and beyond. But only at Barceloneta have I been transported completely. A truly transcendent experience. I kept looking around the dining area wondering if the young models, rich yachters, and SoBe scenesters truly had a grasp on what they were undertaking with this menu. They couldn’t possibly – too skinny, the lot of ‘em.

I don’t tend to outline every dish here, but am making an exception this time. But first, and to out myself completely, the captain of the kitchen is Juliana Gonzalez, a cousin of one of my closest friends. For me, that means I would have gone here no matter what, and even returned if it was at least serviceable. However, I would not have become an evangelist for the place, which is what I consider myself now: a convert. I passed by initially to finally grab a tapa or two so I could report back to my buddy in DC that I had finally made it. I told the bartender to let Juliana know that her cousin’s friend stopped in and was surprised when she pulled herself free from the line to say hello. Puerto Ricans: classy, kind, and all about family – why was I surprised?

IMG_0004Things kicked off mightily when Gabriel, the Mallorcan bartender, made the best gin-tonic I’d had since leaving Barcelona this July. I ordered the pulpo grillada (grilled octopus tentacle) and boquerones. For the boquerones, I requested the slight modification of no truffle (the allergy isn’t just from my wallet, people). Both were exquisite iterations – the boquerones came with some type of salty gel, olive oil, parsley, and many blessings, and the pulpo with shaved fennel and a fine aioli. Juliana then sent me an order of croquetas de jamon iberico that, I must say, were the best I’ve ever had. Whoever she has manning the fry station could not possibly be making enough money – a perfect shell of light crispiness that just barely resists the fork, creamy and hot in the center. Amazing balls. Yes, I said that.

IMG_0005The esqueixada gets its own paragraph. The traditional Catalan dish esqueixada is sometimes compared to ceviche or a salad in that it consists of fish, vegetables, oil, and an acidic fruit marinade. For her version Juliana substitutes the magnificent, if somewhat a hidden South Florida gem of a fish, wahoo for the traditional salt cod. The results are stunning. As good as the dish sounds to a ceviche fanatic such as myself, it tastes even better. At the end, I requested bread to sop up the last of the oil and juices left on the plate. I may have licked the plate too – I can’t say for sure because my brain and taste buds were in another world-level state of nirvana and joy.

Do yourself a favor the next time you are in Miami and go to Barceloneta. Order the esqueixada and anything else that strikes your fancy. If you are missing Barcelona or Spanish food in general, it’s a cheaper trip to South Beach than across the Atlantic and you run a very good chance of getting a better meal.

Address: Barceloneta, 1400 20th St, Miami Beach, FL 33139

Langhe DOC Rosso 2013 – Piedmont, Italy

IMG_3880Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, Barbera, Freisa, Pinot Noir, and Albarossa. Violet and mineral notes on the nose with just a hint of autumn mustiness. Fresh cherry, plum, and florals attack the palate on the front end, rounding quickly with brief tannins and a longer greenish mineral finish. This is a bright, acidic red just right for the onset of spring. I would call it light bodied, if not for some stubborn tannins on the backend that provide some depth and backbone. With toast and goat cheese, it’s stellar and I could not imagine a better foil. I picked this one up at Calvert Woodley for $16 on Mark’s recommendation. Verdict: Everyday Red.

  • Rating: Everyday Red
  • Name: Langhe DOC Rosso 2013
  • Winery: G.D. Vajra
  • Region: Piedmont
  • Country: Italy
  • Varietals: Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, and Barbera blended with small quantities of Albarossa, Freisa and Pinot Noir
  • Price: $16
  • Where to Buy: Calvert Woodley, 4339 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008

 

Bula 2013 – Montsant, Spain

IMG_3786Mazuelo, Garnacha, and Syrah. A powerful iteration of the Montsant DO. It comes on strong with bursting black fruit, currant, rose petals, and leather flavors and a full mouthfeel. The tannins are slighter than most Catalan wines, but present enough to provide some structure. Strawberry and flint notes on the nose are subtle, with everything stretching out into a nice, warm peppery finish. This is a great Everyday Red at $13-16 at your local Whole Foods.

  • Rating: Everyday Red
  • Name: Bula 2013
  • Winery: Aviva Vino
  • Region: Montsant
  • Country: Spain
  • Varietals: Mazuelo, Garnacha, and Syrah
  • Price: $13-$16
  • Where to Buy: Whole Foods, Washington D.C.

Lyric 2012 Pinot Noir – Santa Barbara, CA

img_8557I’m not a fan of the California wine makers who try to make every red grape they produce into an in-your-face, high alchohol, meaty, power-hungry Cabernet Sauvignon. And I find it particularly off-putting when they do this to Pinot Noir, which is such a delicate varietal.

That being noted, this Pinot from Etude is perhaps the one exception. First things first, do not buy this wine if you are hoping to drink what is supposed to be a Pinot Noir. It is much more full-bodied and lucious than a Pinot, but it stops before over-reaching into Cabernet territory. It has a spicy earthiness that tastes more like a Zinfandel to me, but maintains its softness like a Pinot should.

I am quite partial to the wines of Santa Barbara, so I’m not surprised that this Pinot in disguise hits the mark for me. Overall verdict = impressive.

  • Rating: Impressive
  • Name: Lyric 2012 Pinot Noir
  • Winery: Etude
  • Region: Santa Barbara 
  • Country: USA
  • Varietals: Pinot Noir
  • Price: $14-$20
  • Where to Buy: N/A

L’Esquisse, Paris, France

By Guest Contributor and all around food, drink, and travel pal, Linda French

L’Esquisse sits at the bottom of the butte of Montmartre, 2 sets of stairs below the Lamarck-Coulaincourt metro stop, on a small residential side street. It’s owned by two friends – Thomas runs the front of the house and his friend makes the food. The menu is on a large standing chalkboard that Thomas will bring over after seating you and lean it up against whatever wall is closest to you. The place is small enough that only one table can see the menu at a time.

I found L’Esquisse in August of 2014 when I was staying at a hotel just down the street. My aunt and I were traipsing back from the ballet, looking for a late night snack and a glass of wine. Thomas welcomed us into L’Esquisse, which we quickly learned had opened only a month before. We asked Thomas for a glass of wine and he started asking questions. “White or red?” I was in the mood for white. “Are you looking for something particular or are you open to trying something . . . interesting?”

I, of course, opted for interesting. (Editor’s note: really, is there any other way to answer that question?) I remember very clearly my first whiff of that glass of wine. It smelled like mellow burnt toast. The toast rapidly morphed into something else that I don’t exactly remember. Instead I have a memory of the sensation of tasting that wine – I remember looking at my aunt in wonder and thrusting the glass at her saying, “just smell this!” I was taking huge unladylike sniffs in shock at how the smell kept changing. I also ordered an oeuf aux champignons, which was a poached egg cradled in a dense mushroom foam. And then I saw figs, mint, and Parmesan marshmallows on the dessert menu and had to have it.

I returned in August of 2015. I was traveling with my husband and insistent on going back to L’Esquisse. Thomas greeted us and paused – “wait, you were here right after we opened . . . with your mom?” I texted my aunt after dinner to let her know Thomas remembered us. This time I knew exactly what to do. I confidently asked Thomas to pair wine with our dinner.

I should have taken pictures of the labels, but I have a thing about using my phone during meals and I foolishly let that hold me back. Eventually I gave in and snapped the label of this one particular bottle that Thomas described at length. Something about how they harvested the grapes after this huge storm and found that the flavors had intensified in this odd way. I also remember being shocked at how articulate he was in English. It’s hard enough to describe wine in your native tongue. Then again, it’s clear he’s obsessed. Thomas told us he bought as many bottles of that vintage as he could, but that there were only a few he could get his hands on.

The oeuf aux champignons was, thankfully, still on the menu. Again, I don’t have a factual memory of the rest of that dinner, just a memory of the feeling of being that level of delighted where I was bouncing in my chair, almost vibrating in ecstasy.

Address: L’Esquisse, 151 bis, Rue Marcadet, 75018 Paris, France