Noshing around the world

Barcelona Tapas Bar offers eclectic, if mediocre, grazing

Barcelona's service was downright peculiar at times, though friendly and perky overall. At one point our server yanked the menu from my hands after I ordered wine (a reserva Rioja) and suggested I look on with my companion to determine our tapas selections. I tried to come up with a reasonable explanation for what could easily be construed as boorish behavior. (A menu shortage perhaps? No, the place had barely three tables filled.) But I came up empty. The server later returned to our table with two wine glasses containing a taste of red wine in each and an unopened bottle of Taurino Notarpanaro, a light Italian red. "This isn't the Rioja," I said. "We don't have any Riojas," he returned. "Is this OK instead?" Forget for a moment that a tapas bar without Riojas (there were three on the menu) borders on sacrilege. What kind of a way is this to suggest a substitution? It reminded me of a recent visit to Sevy's when an order of fresh Maine lobster in angel hair pasta was delivered instead on a bed of spaghetti. As the server set it down in front of us, she quipped: "We're out of angel hair. Is this OK?" Is this "don't inform the customer of an outage, just give him what we want and hope it sticks" technique a new customer-service twist?

Despite some of these warts, Barcelona is a pleasant, romantic space with hushed amber lighting, dark wood tables, textured walls, plush velour-like seating, a handsome stone and wood bar, and some interesting decor mounted on the walls including candles, a crossbow, a shield, and a mace. Suspended in mid-air by chains in front of the mirrored back bar is a huge double-edged sword. A symbolic representation of the dining experience, perhaps?

Owner Mehran Rafiian, who designed the menu as well the restaurant, says he's trying to create an 18th-century/medieval look. Together with his partner, Judy Ray--a former Memphis, Tennessee, bartender--Rafiian launched Barcelona some eight months after he dissolved his end of the partnership in Cafe Izmir, where he also created the menu. Rafiian says he's harbored the ambition to create a "multicultural" tapas bar for years, and when the former Grinder's Coffeehouse space on Greenville Avenue opened up, he jumped at it. Now he plans to launch a Barcelona sibling in downtown San Francisco. But before he opens to hyper-fussy Bay Area grazers, he might want to do some tapas tightening--or they just might put him out to pasture.

Editor's note: Because of a production error, last week's review of The Grape Escape did not run in its entirety. The full review follows.

My first official introduction to wine took place outdoors on a frigid Friday night in the dead of winter. It was my freshman year at Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin, a small town on the shores of Lake Superior. I was about to embark on the Northland death march, a sort of collegiate recreational hike that began at one end of the strip in town where all the bars were located, and ended at the last bar at the other end. In between we...well, the details escape me, but it sticks in my mind as one of the fondest memories of my college days.

To kick off the march, my friends and I unscrewed and toasted a couple of bottles of MD 20/20, a delightfully fruity, potent wine from Mogen David. I never quite understood where that name came from, but I remember my first swallow tasted like a dose of cough syrup spiked with WD 40. I figured they must have just inverted the "W" and split the 40 into two equal parts and got the name that way.

While I was impressed with the MD (or "Mad Dog," as it is more commonly known) and its fragrant nose and forward complexity--at least compared to Pabst Blue Ribbon--I was by no means ready to make wine my beverage of choice, because, for one thing, it was hard to find in kegs.

Then I heard that this eccentric guy in our dorm (he had two 100-gallon saltwater tropical fish tanks in his room) was regularly hosting wine and cheese parties a couple of times a week. His mother would send him a few petite chateaus and generic Burgundies on a regular basis, and he'd make a cheese platter and start calling people. I must admit, I thought this a bit too refined for my Bud 'n brats sensibilities--until I stopped by one evening. As he slipped a glass of red wine in my hand and offered me cheese and toast points, I noticed that his guests--sipping wine around his fish tanks, on his bed, and reclining on the floor--were all women. It was at precisely this moment that I developed a passion for wine.

Many of us have been introduced to wine under similarly inelegant circumstances--we kind of stumble onto the stuff. Few Americans grow up with wine on the table like folks do in Mediterranean countries, and it takes an ulterior motive (or perhaps a 60 Minutes broadcast) to get us to really try it.

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