Dali, Back to Your Drawing Board

La Barraca needs to rediscover its roots.

Such is your introduction to the fare at this highly acclaimed Spanish restaurant, and I only wish I could tell you that things go uphill from there. I wish I could shrug and say, "Well, so what about the bread?" But at a tapas bar, where you'll have a lot of garlicky olive oil and saffron sauce to mop up, the bread does matter. Of course, a brilliant round of tapas would make one forget all about the bread, but no brilliant round was in our future. We had a tortilla española ($7.75) that had the same mealy, long-refrigerated flavor as the butter, one of the blandest, most unappetizing egg and potato tarts I've ever put in my mouth. I couldn't eat more than two bites. My partner had scallops in saffron with almonds ($9.95), a creamy sauce over prefrozen scallops, at least a few of which, in their thin, perfect circles, looked like those fake scallops restructured from other seafood. If not, they might as well have been; the whole dish emitted a mildly sulfurous flavor. Those scallops should have been seared anyway before being plunked down in their sauce. A cold plate of shiny silver pickled anchovies ($7.75) with parsley and garlic was slightly more interesting — a tangy, preserved flavor to wake the taste buds that would have been yummy with... some good bread. We both liked the cuttlefish ($9.75) tossed in garlic and olive oil "essence," although that last bit about the essence is just marketing — it was plain old olive oil. The cuttlefish was tender and had absorbed flavors of lemon and oil and parsley, although it too would have been improved by being grilled.

By this time, we were starting to feel that maybe Chef Jorge Luis Fernandez not only didn't love us but that he didn't much like us at all. And I was feeling pretty trepidatious about the paella del monte. The classic Valencian rice dish is made with snails, chicken, and rabbit. In the old country, it's slow-cooked over a wood fire so the rice absorbs all the lovely flavors of the meat, snails, and vegetables — usually green and lima beans. La Barraca adds red and green peppers, peas, and artichoke hearts, which would probably cause a major brawl if you tried it in Valencia. A great paella is as intensely flavored as a risotto but lacks risotto's creaminess because it's traditionally made with the short-grained Calasparra rice of the region (unbelievably, you pay $3 extra for this rice at La Barraca). Calasparra rice is highly dehydrated, so it sucks up flavor, and during long cooking, it forms a delicious, dark, caramelized crust on the bottom of the paella pan.

Oh, what a sad pan of paella arrived at our table. The chicken parts were impossible to identify — I think there was a piece of wing and maybe an upper back, or a couple of thighs that were virtually meat-free. We found only one tiny, desiccated piece of rabbit. As for the snails, they were horrendous things that in retrospect I wish I hadn't eaten — pitch black and mushy, although they did hint at the flavor of sweet paprika. The only genuinely tasty morsel on my plate was the artichoke, a completely nontraditional addition. There was no delicious crust. I pushed my food around, miserable, vowing to go home and make my own Valenciana to elide the memory.

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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Honestly, I'm not sure a restaurant serving 200 people over three hours should even attempt paella. It's a delicate procedure, fraught with perils. On the other hand, any restaurant ought to be able to turn out a decent piece of chocolate cake ($6). But here too, Fernandez is flummoxed. Our torta de chocolate lacked the faintest whisper of chocolate flavoring. It had apparently been made with Crisco (or the same "butter" we'd had with our "bread").

Enough with the theatrics! I was ready to take Jorge Fernandez, still tap-dancing and schmoozing around the room, by his waxed mustache and lead him forcibly back to the kitchen.

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