Ole. Ole. Ole. Thursday nights at Casa Barcelona they make the rafters sing with live Spanish music.
Chef Eduardo Riviezzi Cohen is proud of his outpost of Iberian cuisine deep in the heart of Bloor West Village, though he insists he's just an employee and that the real boss is his wife Nivia. After tasting one of the "must have" items at the top of the menu, "Our Nivias Sauce," a coarse blend of olives, herbs and garlic, I'd agree with him. Between them, they've come up with a fantastic menu
of over 120 tapas. Ask for a dish of Nivias sauce, green Spanish olives stuffed with anchovy or salmon and a basket of bread and settle in to read the menu. These small dishes that range in price from $5 - $9 are the way to go here. Add a bottle of red wine from Uruguay, Chili or Spain and you'll be clapping your hands and stamping your feet.
You will see some dishes that probably don't exist elsewhere in the city. Bison tongue vinaigrette for example, the chef's best tripe, casseroles of musk ox, caribou, venison or green snails, veal kidneys in Amontillado sauce-but I'll let the kitchen prove itself with more familiar items before I go out on a limb. And in several ways, they do.
Glazed terra cotta earthenware dishes are like the authentic chotchkes we always bring back from Spain and never use. Here, they're the house crockery, and come filled with five shrimp, Catalunian style, still sizzling from the grill and plump with flavour; a three grilled fish combination that offers three, two-bite morsels of fish; crunchy salt cod fritters with a garlicky mayo called alioli sauce, tiny fresh clams aswim in saffron and sherry sauce are gussied up with chopped bacon. Beef tenderloin is seared with onion and served in garlicky, olive oil jus. Each dish is steaming hot, right from the stove.
Just as an aside, the bottle of olive oil on the table obviously comes from Spain, because in that country, like in few others, each bottle is stamped with a "best before" date. You won't find a stale dated bottle of olive oil on the shelves anywhere in Spain-no one would buy it. Our bottle is fresh, it's best before date is 09 /05 /2004, and its flavour is fruity and peppery.
The restaurant itself is warm and cozy with high-backed booths for privacy, and walls chock a block with Spanish objets d art that include taxidermy in the form of a black bulls head, horns and all.
Eduardo tells us that he has the largest representation of Spanish wines in North America and invites us to his blue tiled cellar to see what is his pride and joy. Twice a month he holds wine tastings and food, each featuring wines from a different region. For example, February 26 wine features are Solo Riojas Reservas and one unknown wine, as well as "drink from La Bota Y El Porron." All this with dinner, $85.00. This chef is a gregarious friendly man and loves to share his experience with others. To that end, he offers "cook with the chef" once a month on Saturdays for $50., for a maximum of ten people.
Eduardo returns to Spain three times a year to refresh his palate no doubt, taste some wines and to see what's new. But, he insists he doesn't cook Spanish style.
Don't look for traditional Spanish oven-baked paella from this kitchen. According to Chef Eduardo, "you wouldn't eat it." Instead, his paella is composed of separately cooked ingredients and served in a metal paella pan. This is the one disappointment here. Rice has a close kin-ship with Uncle Ben's, chicken breast might be happier cut into a salad, and the vegetables are slivered as for Asian stir fry rather than the chunks we like in Spanish paella. The result is that the flavors are pale and wan. Canadianized.
There is nothing to benchmark these desserts against: fried milk is a custardy square, and a fig slice is a heavy fruity slab. You would have had to grow up with it and acquire the taste. What I'd prefer is a Canadianization of the desserts and Spanish authenticity given to the Paella.