When Barrio invited me to come to lunch with B, for free, I paused and then wrote them a quick letter saying I would go but I wouldn’t guarantee anything written and if I did I didn’t promise to be nice, etc, etc. Then I went to brunch. I kind of hoped it would be bad and I could brush off the whole experience and never think about it again. But it wasn’t. It was quite good and fit a very specific niche that B and I need in our lunch world.
We walked in the heavy doors at about 9:59 for a 10am reservation (B had biking to do). “We don’t open until 10″ a hostess told us, rather bluntly. I think I must have looked somewhat confused because she continued “You guys are here too early. If you want you can sit there and wait” Aw jeez, I thought, thinking bat to the mediocre service at my dinner visit, which I had chalked up to first week jitters. It wasn’t ghastly, but she did make us feel like shitheels for being one minute early for a reservation. So punctual, in fact, that by the time I looked at my cell phone when this conversation ended, it was 10:01.
Luckily everyone else at Barrio seemed to have learned something since I was last there, as a second hostess swooped in a minute later, apologizing for them being a little behind and cheerfully seating us at one of the heavy wood tables. Before I even had time to adjust the giant chairs (very difficult to move around), our extremely good and very friendly server arrived bearing water and offering coffee. Ah, yes, this is what brunch is about.
Once B ordered his coffee and me my Barrio Michelada, we turned to our menus. The michelada was good, spicy and fresh tasting, like bloody mary light. I liked it. I mean, if I’m going to be drinking at 10am, this is an excellent option. The menu had antojitos (small bites) and then full meal options, as well as a few sides and kids’ meals. We each chose a side dish, an antojito and a meal so that we could check out the variety (remember, it was free!). The best idea we had in the whole meal was ordering my side of fresh fruit to come out first thing. Why? Because when they brought out my bowl of perfectly sized chunks of watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew, they also brought out a hot sauce, lime and salt plate that I think might have been to go with B’s tortitas, but which, when applied to the fruit was not only just what I wanted at 10am, or maybe always, and also reminded me of the street fruit in Latin America, sold with chili, salt and lime on it.
Next up were our antojitos: I had the sea scallop ceviche and B the pozole made from pork cheeks. The pozole had great flavor, the meat could have been a little more tender and it could have used a bit more hominy, but really, I’m being picky. It was good pozole and I think the full portion (he had the half) would have been an awesome little hangover cure–hot, spice, meaty, amazing. Speaking of hangover cures when I lived in Ecuador there was a ceviche stand on my way to work called “Saca la Resaca” translation: take out the hangover. Yup, ceviche, and in peru, the tiger’s milk byproduct of making ceviche, is widely considered a hangover cure. These sea scallops may have been a little too mild to saca my resaca, but they were tasty, basically just pure scallop sweetness. This dish, unlike the pozole, I think would have been a bit small for a whole meal.
After a short break for digestion, our ‘entrees’ came out. B had the trio of tortitas and a side of the chorizo bacon, which I heard was fabulous. It wasn’t. I don’t know the exact reason, but it tasted metallic, like perhaps they hadn’t rendered enough of the fat out, or something. We couldn’t get past that enough to really get a ton of chorizo flavoring. Putting that aside, we dug into the tortitas, little mini breakfast tortas, or sandwiches. The first, chorizo and scrambled egg, was very one note and we both agreed was the least good. The other two were quite good. B preferred the pork with almonds and raisins and while I don’t remember what was on the chicken one, I liked it. Cabbage and something.
And then there was my Chipotle cured Salmon tostada. It was awesome. As soon as the waiter described it as ‘our take on bagels with cream cheese and lox’ I knew I would like it. I didn’t get a ton of chipotle flavor on the salmon, but it was atop a salad with pickled onions, deep fried capers (how cool!) and queso fresco, all in a fried tortilla bowl. It was a little embarrassing when I tried to get pieces of the tostada off and things went flying across the room, but the flavors were all there and I really liked the whole thing.
So back to what I said about this filling a niche that B and I really wanted. I won’t eat traditional breakfast food out. It’s a long story and involves a certain 2 year stint at a certain large Seattle restaurant group, where I loved my job but was not the biggest fan of the food. Meanwhile, we sometime host people, like, say B’s brother, who don’t understand the draw of dim sum or driving to Greenwood for barbacoa. This bridges that gap. We can go and order good food, eat our tasty tacos for breakfast, order up some chilaquiles, and whoever wants bacon and eggs can have those. And did I mention it’s like 5 blocks from my house? Excellent.