December 20, 2008

Barrio as Medieval Dungeon; Bliss to Follow


Open for a couple of weeks now on Capitol Hill's new Dining Row (12th Avenue between Pike and Pine), Barrio is on the ground floor of the recently completed Trace Lofts. Its niche is upscale Latin, part Mexican, part Spanish, part Inquisition. It's a venture by Larry and Tabitha Kurnofsky, the folks who operate the three Purple Wine Bar & Café (locations in Kirkland, Woodinville and downtown Seattle), and more concepts coming (see below), all under a new management company they call Heavy Restaurant Group.

The atmosphere at Barrio owes a lot to the heavy (even over-wrought) wrought-iron decor that Kurofsky pioneered at Purple's original eastside locations. From the moment you swing open Barrio's massive oak doors, you know you're not at Ikea anymore; it feels like you're in a medieval dungeon. The term barrio has come to have a meaning akin to ghetto; it really connotes a neighborhood. (Not, as in southern California, an underprivileged Hispanic enclave. And the word ghetto, for that matter, comes from the slag-heap in Venice where Jews were exiled.) You won't find tar-paper shacks in this nabe, no, señor,. Every element of the decor bespeaks substance and seriousness.

At the Purple Cafe in downtown Seattle, the imposing wine list begins with 14 flights of four wines, dozens of wines by the glass, and continues for 82 pages around the world. But the shortest of shrift is given to Spain. This is remedied at Barrio, where the beverage list features Mexican tequilas and Spanish wines.

Lead barman is Casey Robison, who's in the Murray Stenson-Jamie Boudreau mold of serious cocktail professionals. He uses only blue agave in his cocktails; makes his own sangria, makes his own sangrita (the citrus-based sippers that typically accompany shots of tequila); hand-cracks the ice cubes. You might think he even hand-cracked the ceramic tiles that top the bar.

As at the several Purples, the kitchen at Barrio has been assigned an ambitious menu. Much is justly said in favor of the duck confit tacos, served with a cherry-ancho salsa; no less tasty are the fresh seafood dishes (steamed mussels, crab cakes) and Spanish-style lamb chops and grilled rib-eye steak. Appetizers priced under $10, main courses in the mid-teens, and a separate tapas menu for happy hour.

Now, moving beyond the Capitol Hill Castillo, what's next for Heavy Restaurants? Another Barrio, another Purple and a dessert café, all to open next year in the 43-story Bellevue Towers. The third spot? Ah, if you read the headline, you already know: Bliss.

Barrio, 1420 12th Avenue, 206-588-8105   Barrio Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sangrita.JPG Wall%20at%20Barrio.JPG
Red (tomato-based) and green (lime-based) sangritas; wall of 200 candles at Barrio.

Posted by Ronald Holden at December 20, 2008 11:00 AM | TrackBack

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