This is an amazing story any way you slice it.
Restaurateurs Elan and Brett Emerson closed their San Francisco eatery Contigo and opened the tapas-driven Barceloneta in Santa Cruz a mere year before having to shut down. Since then, they’ve fed firefighters and those made homeless by wildfires, and three days a week they offer a small but glorious menu for takeout as well as keeping up with corporate catering gigs.
While I can’t wait for the full menu to return, I was blown away by the stunning carryout meal we had last week. Plump slabs of short ribs braised in sweet Pedro Ximenez sherry and red wine arrived in a deep oval to-go container filled with succulent beef on a cushion of pureed potato and celery root, with a potent green horseradish sauce on the side ($22). The accompanying wine reduction was delicious on the root veggies and spooned over the succulent beef—beef that might have done honor to an old world kitchen presided over by a very savvy culinary grandma.
I couldn’t resist Barceloneta’s signature Ibiza Hippie Salad which, for a mere $14, provides a thrilling bounty of shredded kale tossed with preserved lemons, chickpeas so light and crunchy they might as well be infant pistachios. Kale has never been this exciting. Cubes of yams inflected with black mustard seeds and Urfa pepper added sweet spice, and the delightful freekeh “pasta” underlay the entire delicious concoction. Sunflower seeds too, hence the “hippie” in the salad’s name. Something wonderful in the way of a vinegreta made with liquified carrots and ginger, plus some unidentifiable but definitely not Anglican top note of seasoning added depth when applied to the amazing kale. Bay leaves? God this food is incredible! Pickled onions doing something tangy on top of everything.
The salad is nothing short of a revelation of spices and ingredients that flirt with the Canary Islands and Morocco. Ibiza, that high-life, laid-back island off the coast of Spain, is a beach-lover’s paradise. Mine too, if these flavors are any indication.
Cured Spanish serrano ham sliced paper thin and utterly incredible ($15) was part of our order. We sampled a few slices during dinner, along with the cheeses we like to have at the end of our meals, and saved the rest for lunch the next day. Needing the sort of comfort that only a creamy dessert can supply (under the heading of “self care”) we also shared outrageous salted caramel ice cream with the texture of X-rated gelato ($5.50/half pint). Sin at the dinner table; nothing less. A gorgeous, rich, creamy creation that matched even my memories of Barceloneta’s wicked vanilla soft ice cream with olive oil.
Lucky us that the Emersons decided to ply their culinary skills and generosity in our town. Every time you patronize a worthy restaurant right now you’re investing in more life for their business. Take nothing for granted!
Barceloneta, 1541 Pacific Ave., Suite B, Santa Cruz. Thursday-Saturday, 4-8pm. 831-900-5222, eatbarceloneta.square.site.
Farmers Market Update
While the Felton and Scotts Valley Farmers’ Markets are now closed for the season (they’ll be back in May 2021), fans of our top local organic produce, pastries, specialty foods, and other purveyors can take comfort in the winter offerings of the Downtown, Westside and Live Oak Farmers’ Markets staying open all year-round. Now’s the time to check out the pop-up stylings of Full Steam Dumplings, the pies of Beckmann’s Bakery, and the fresh pastas and sausages from Home Away.
See your friends and neighbors at a safe but friendly distance, and keep all your favorite farmers going through this weird moment in history. Visit santacruzfarmersmarket.org for more information.