The Washington Post

Barcelona Wine Bar’s a buzzy place to be

Part of a mini-chain that originated in Connecticut, Barcelona Wine Bar & Restaurant opened on 14th Street NW and was instantly mobbed. (Evy Mages/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Just when you think there’s not another free foot of space for a commercial stove on 14th Street NW, Barcelona Wine Bar & Restaurant squeezes into its block with one of the most attractive designs yet: a front patio made lush with greenery and a fire pit.

Of course the restaurant was mobbed by the young and restless the night it opened.

The concept comes to the District via Connecticut, where owners Sasa Mahr-Batuz and Andy Pforzheimer introduced the chainlette in 1996. It grew into six branches in the state and one each in Brookline, Mass., and Atlanta. From Barcelona’s bar come nearly 40 mostly Spanish wines, poured by both the taste and the glass.

“Are you familiar with tapas?” an earnest server asks my party. We try not to laugh; small plates have trickled down to the menu at Olive Garden, after all, and we’re grazing in the hottest Zip code for dining in town.

Barcelona’s dozens of choices run from traditional flavors to more contemporary combinations. Our table is quickly crowded with lackluster bread; a homey casserole of spinach and chickpeas pulsing with cumin; flaky beef empanadas that trump their ketchuplike red pepper sauce; and garlicky shrimp that are decent but not so good you’re compelled to compete for the last one.

I’ll have to get back to you on the paella, which comes in three styles (one meatless) that I have yet to try and must be ordered for two or more at $24.50 per person.

The scene at Barcelona Wine Bar & Restaurant, outfitted with floor-to-ceiling windows and warmed up inside with custom walnut tables and chairs, is hot, hot, hot. Among the many clever design accents is a peekaboo wall of interlocking clay tiles that allows patrons in the rear dining room to see through to the exhibition kitchen.

The small plates, on the other hand, are nothing to stir concern among the city’s leading practitioners, among them Estadio, Jaleo and Boqueria.

My fall forecast: Washington is going to storm Barcelona.

1622 14th St. NW. 202-588-5500. Tapas, $3.50 to $14.

Weaned on a beige buffet a la “Fargo” in Minnesota, Tom Sietsema is the food critic for The Washington Post. This is his second tour of duty at the Post. Sietsema got his first taste in the ‘80s, when he was hired by his predecessor to answer phones, write some, and test the bulk of the Food section’s recipes. That’s how he learned to clean squid, bake colonial cakes and distinguish between nutmeg and mace.
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