Dali, Back to Your Drawing Board

La Barraca needs to rediscover its roots.

Jorge Luis Fernandez calls himself "The Dali of the Kitchen." The comparison makes sense, because Fernandez, the chef at La Barraca in Hollywood, is a dead ringer for Salvador Dali in his middle years, before the publicity-mad surrealist went nuts with the mustache wax and took to signing blank canvasses. The real Dali was an egomaniac frequently known to pitch a tizzy, jumping up and down like an apoplectic brat if people ignored him; he was as greedy for attention as he was for moolah. His pal André Breton once scrambled the letters of Dali's name to spell Avida Dollars.

But Dali was a genius too. So when Fernandez draws the comparison, he sets the bar high.

I'd been all atwitter to get over to La Barraca since one of the owners sent New Times a letter protesting our choice for Best Tapas Bar in 2006. George Beza implied that we didn't know our tapas from our tuchis. "We would like to invite any food critic from New Times to come and experience for himself our true flair and originality," the letter said. So I was looking forward to eating crow along with many little plates of Serrano ham, Spanish sausages, grilled octopus, and warm goat cheese. If we'd completely missed the boat, ignorantly misleading the tapas-starved public of Broward and Palm Beach, I figured it was my solemn duty to set the record straight. As it was, critics at other papers had been gushing over Fernandez's food for years; he'd received "best" awards all over the place. Even a 3-year-old review in New Times had waxed ecstatic over the virtues of the original, much smaller, La Barraca in Plantation — particularly when Fernandez refused to serve our critic paella del monte because he had only frozen rabbit on hand — and he was such a stickler for cooking his game absolutely fresh! With sinking heart, I perused Barraca's press: I was going to have to swallow my pride and squeeze my ever-expanding bulk into the old hairshirt: Evidently, I was due to take some licks.

Joe Rocco

Location Info

Map

La Barraca Tapas Bar & Cafe

115 S. 20th Ave.
Hollywood, FL 33020

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Hollywood

Details

Lunch Tuesday through Friday 11 a.m. till 2:30 p.m. Dinner Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday 5:30 till 10 p.m., till 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Live shows Thursday through Saturday. Call 954-925-0050.
115 S. 20th Ave., Hollywood

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And 200 people can't be wrong, right? La Barraca holds that many raucous revelers in its new location; they turn the place into Bedlam on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. By the time the Flamenco show starts at 9, the place is jammed with every variety of tapas-muncher imaginable. Show up for an early supper at 7 and the rooms are so empty they echo. But you'll have a ringside seat when the party people show up an hour later: extended families, gaggles of teens, toddlers with parents, moony dates, birthday parties, singles drinking at the bar. Sixty-five percent of the diners appeared Latin the night we went, and about 50 percent were drop-dead gorgeous, which should have been a good sign. By the time the Flamenco show got started, La Barraca was so full of high-test octane that it could have chugged a couple of blocks on its own steam. Fernandez, in his white chef's jacket, hair flying, was prancing around the noisy room, rolling his eyes and whipping up the crowd like a mad conductor at an orchestral climax, the maestro in his element. I only wish he'd turned all that wild energy on his kitchen.

The menu at La Barraca looks terrific. There's a gigantic selection of hot tapas: baked goat cheese with herbs, brandied lamb chops, warm Spanish sausage, chicken breast in sherry. You can have scallops with almonds and saffron, or cuttlefish in garlicky olive oil "essence." Prawns, crab cakes, sea bass, octopus, mussels, calamari — you're in good shape if you like seafood. As for the cold tapas, there's a traditional tortilla española, white anchovies cured in vinegar, Manchego cheese, Serrano ham. Each little dish is priced from $7.75 to $9.75 (a plate of olives is a bargain at $4.50).

These prices are fairly reasonable when you consider that they include the show. We ordered one hot and one cold tapas plate each and put in our request for the paella del monte; all the paellas need 40 minutes' advance notice.

La Barraca has a warm vibe, although the tables are crammed so close, you're virtually in your neighbor's lap. The walls are umber; bottles of Spanish wine, bags of Calasparra rice, and musical instruments decorate the center divide between the bar and the main room. The staff is lovely; practically the entire house stopped by our table at least once to say hi, make a mild joke, be charming. We were teased, jollied, paid attention to. We felt loved.

But true love is in the details, isn't it? And the details at La Barraca could use fine-tuning. Oh hell, let's just call the fight right now — the details need a complete overhaul. First off, the bread is terrible. If you took a ream of photocopy paper, ground it into fine flour, soaked it in pond water, and threw it into the oven, you might end up with a better loaf of bread, particularly if you slathered it with sweet, fresh butter. But the only thing available to spread on the bread-like substance at La Barraca is a small tub of half-rancid, over-refrigerated herb butter. I have a bad feeling about this butter. The flavor of it makes me imagine things that couldn't possibly be so.

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