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