Spanish cuisine
Dining Reviews

Santa Cruz Restaurant Scene Returns as Barceloneta Bounces Back

Why we love tapas and Taco Tuesday

Brett Emerson, owner and chef at Barceloneta, shows off his freshly prepared vegetable paella. PHOTO: TARMO HANNULA

What a pleasure it is to see our restaurants opening their doors again, tentatively—careful to acknowledge social distancing room at the bar—but with confidence.

In downtown Santa Cruz, the summertime attitude of Barceloneta is back, welcoming locals and visitors into its spacious tiled interior with beach blanket pillows on long banquettes. Our meal last week was distinguished by a splendid summer cocktail—the house Barceloneta Spritz—which arrived in a huge balloon filled with a thick orange slice, ice cubes and a sprig of fresh baby thyme. Sparkling Cava and a splash of Bonanto Aperitivo worked their magic—fresh, tangy, and refreshing, the sort of cocktail you could sip all day long. It arrived with a tiny plate of pickled vegetables, of which the cauliflower florets were outstanding ($3). Barceloneta’s revised dinner menu offers a brilliant array of dishes to thrill the needs and tastebuds of vegans and gluten-free folks alike. Indeed the entire menu favors a meat-free sensibility, though you’ll find a few dishes offering pork ribs, wood-grilled chicken, and of course the famous jamon Serrano. A Spring Mercat Salad ($12), plate of maitake and trumpet mushrooms ($13), and a steaming bowl of gambas al ajillo ($18) were exactly what we had in mind—to the chagrin of our waitress, who insisted that paella was the most popular dish. Our orders came out rapidly—all at once.

The buoyant salad of pale greens—snap peas, romaine and mint—was tossed with crunchy pepitas and tart feta all dressed in an outstanding sumac vinagreta. I shouldn’t have been surprised at the perfection of this huge salad, which we both shared throughout our meal. After all, Barceloneta’s Ibiza Hippie Salad is one of the best ideas in local dining. The sliced peas in their pods added sweet crunch to the crisp romaine, and the GF za’atar croutons were another welcome texture. The gluten-free croutons were embedded with a complex blend of salts and seeds. But it was the sumac dressing, inflected by a dice of lemon zest, that had us enthralled. Our small entrees continued to show off the seasoning style of the kitchen. A bowl of fat prawns arrived glistening in garlic, olive oil, parsley with dried chiles staining each bite with their heat. Delicious! Very garlicky! Long fingers of wood-grilled baguettes sat atop the plump shrimps. The depth of sherry bathed this fine dish. In our other entrée, the mushrooms had been arranged into an aromatic circle around a perfect crisp fried egg. Pureed parsley and garlic infused the sensuous combination of egg yolk oozing (with help from my fork) over the mushrooms. An earthy timeless blend of flavors. For dessert, we shared a creamy wedge of Basque Cheesecake ($8). The sweetness of the dessert made the perfect close to palates saturated with garlic and spices. Barceloneta, with its spacious interior and interactive food-sharing menu, makes a persuasive invitation to summer visitors. And I’d go back tomorrow for another one of those generous spritz cocktails. Barceloneta, indoor dining and carryout. Thurs-Sat 1541 B Pacific Ave., SC 831.900.5222. eatbarceloneta.com.

TRUCK IN STYLE

Give praise for well-stocked food trucks, many of which are cruising to a spacious outdoor area just up the Valley. For example, on Taco Tuesday, June 15 from 5-8pm, you’ll enjoy a wraparound array of great taco stylings up at Scotts Valley’s Skypark (361 Kings Village Rd). And on Food Truck Friday, June 25, same deal, 5-8pm up at Skypark, plus live music by the Paperback Ryders and a beer and wine garden. Time to get out of the house!

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