A cold steady rain fell all day. The calendar said we were well past the ides of March headed to the first day of Spring, but the rain, pushed by bitter, gusty arctic winds, was forecast to finish as snow overnight.
Tired of the never-ending winter, Marsha and I craved some warm-climate cuisine from Spain or Italy. We couldn’t travel there, but could pretend for a couple hours.
Fortunately, that’s not hard to do. Reservations at Barcelona Wine Bar on West Avenue in Norwalk’s Waypoint immediately lifted our spirits, even as the rain teamed. Fearing that one dinner might not do it, a table was booked for a few nights later to enjoy the wood-fired Italian fare at Oak and Almond. Both Mediterranean locales were the tonic we sought.
Tapas is the draw at Barcelona. Driving to dinner, we both named our favorite — chorizo with sweet and sour figs ($8.50) — a staple of the menu since they opened. But it’s just one among the twenty-nine enticing offerings.
It’s easy to overdo it (and we did), but all our plates were emptied. Who could resist mushrooms a la plancha with an egg yolk ($11.50) or grilled brook trout with chermoula (10.50) — a cumin-cilantro pesto-style vinaigrette? Jamón & manchego croquetas (6.50) with their silky texture and cheesy flavor were lifted by a garlic aioli. Grilled hanger steak (11.50), well-charred but rare had a stripe of truffle vinaigrette down the plate.
Salads fit very much into the tapas theme. Yellow and green pole beans (8.50) were dressed with chopped almonds and mustard vinaigrette. Glowing chunks of roasted golden beets (8.50) were finished with beet tahini and sheep’s cheese. Even the mixed green salad (8.00) was a distinctive arrangement of little gem lettuce leaves and a variety of Spanish olives.
Someone at Barcelona is an expert wine picker. Billed as a wine bar, the restaurant’s list of reds and whites is divided into helpful categories of Light, Medium, and Full.
Choose a category and put your faith in the wine list. Pick something from Spain that you’ve likely never heard of and maybe (like me) can’t pronounce. You won’t be disappointed. Most of the numerous choices are available by the glass.
A fragrant and floral white — Xarel-lo, Pinord, Diorama from the Penedes (9.50) — was a winner. Marsha’s red, Trepat Blend, Negre de Folis, Conca de Barbera (9.50), was a full-flavored many-layered wine with lively fruit, elegant structure, and an old-world touch of bitterness that was perfect with the hearty tapas.
Service is friendly, offering help navigating through the menu and wine list. High ceilings, well-spaced tables, and plenty of anti-covid measures made us comfortable. The rustic-chic decor and dramatically lit space includes large photo murals, a marble topped bar, and an open kitchen.
On the first day of Spring, the sun came out and the thermometer reached above 60, if only for a few hours. A big improvement, but still not enough. I’m afraid I won’t be satisfied until we’ve had enough warmth to melt the lump of snow that stubbornly lingers in the driveway.
Still craving some Mediterranean ambiance, we kept our Sunday booking at Oak and Almond.
There it was on the menu — Spring in a bowl: fresh peas, asparagus, and cherry tomatoes tossed with orecchiette pasta (18.00). A bottle of fresh, fruity Montepulciano (half price on Sunday nights) added to the pleasure. That, plus rising temperatures and a cloudless sky, made me think I was just over a hill from the blue waters of the Med.
The glow of the wood-burning grill and oven, plus the gleaming copper pots in the open kitchen are charming in any season. The pressed tin ceiling and dark wood floors are cozy. Artful chalk drawings tell the story of the restaurant and menu.
Seafood mixed grill (38), the daily special, included salmon, shrimp, and tuna with a seasonal fresh-pea risotto. Farm greens (12) to start came with a generous chunk of ripe avocado. Tender, perfectly-cooked pork and ricotta meatballs (11) were dressed with a spicy “fresh-tasting” and well-spiced tomato sauce.
Service by Ramone was easy and casual, but obviously based on the bedrock of experience and professionalism.
Both restaurants were diligent in their social-distancing policies and cleaning regimens. Staff expressed cautious optimism that with the coming of warmer weather, easing of restrictions, and increased immunity the worst was over.
Like us, they’re eager for Spring.
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Frank Whitman can be reached at NotBreadAloneFW@gmail.com.