Pubbellys sizeable paunch already has a hold on South Beach, with its sushi, steak, tacos, tapas, Italian and gastropub restaurants consistently packing them in.
But can a Pubbelly concept play off the beach? An hourlong wait at the no-reservations Barceloneta in South Miami on a recent Saturday night says Yes.
The smells of sizzling garlic and gambas that greet your entrance, and the sips of cava and Spanish draft beer that temper that extended wait, send immediate signals of comfort: This is where you want to eat tonight, and where youll be talking about tomorrow.
No-reservations annoyances aside we were quoted 30 minutes for a table Barceloneta excels at delivering a tapas experience thats equal parts classic and modern. Theres sangria and high-quality cured meats for those seeking the former, shrimp with chocolate and a salad named for Spanish avant-garde chef Ferran Adria for those with a hankering for the latter.
Nosh on some charcuterie for a snack, but a heartier appetizer is the chorizo flatbread: four squares of hauntingly smoky spiced pork topped with creamy burrata to cut the spice and peppery arugula to keep things bright. Garnished with tiny slivers of garlic chips, it highlights a selection of tostas that, like the rest of Barcelonetas menu, are ideal to share with tablemates.
Chef and co-owner Juliana Gonzalez opened Barcelonetas Sunset Drive outpost in January, about a year and a half into the original locations successful run on 20th Street in Miami Beach, aka Pubbelly Row.
The two menus are identical, starting with Spanish market selections like fresh, simply grilled snapper, octopus and skirt steak. Garlicky aioli is a tangy complement to seafood hot off the plancha, while a roasted-pepper romesco matches up with meat.
Tapas like cod fritters go head-to-head with the best Ive tasted in Spain and elsewhere. Theyre creamy, crispy, piping hot and have a distinct lemony kick. I wished the spicy tomato sauce thats the signature of good patatas bravas had more heat, and a drenching of it rendered our fried potato cubes soggy by the time they hit the table.
Gonzalez gets to flex her culinary muscles more in Barcelonetas bistro plates. Although, sometimes, less is more. Octopus, for example, plays a starring role when you order a tender, meaty tentacle from the grill. But slices of octopus get lost under a salty blanket of potato cream (the menu kindly calls it foam) and chorizo oil in pulpo a feira.
A more-successful marriage of ingredients comes in the Barceloneta salad. Fresh frisee provides a foundation for Gonzalez to layer on shaved Manchego cheese, Serrano ham and sweet little wheatberries, all dressed with top-shelf balsamic vinegar and a little truffle oil.
Like its South Beach sibling, the newer Barceloneta fills up quickly on weekend nights. The placement of the host stand and bar immediately inside the front door creates somewhat of a logjam as people wait for a table. Still, service is efficient, and plates come out quickly once you order.
If youre less into a scene and more into the food, go for a weekend brunch. Youll get the same menu, with a few eggy additions, and the same attention to quality. Case in point: Gonzalez was in the kitchen, and running dishes out to tables, on a Sunday afternoon.
Her baked eggs flamenco is ridiculously good: crisp nibs of fried squid atop two soft-baked eggs in a cast-iron dish. Equally impressive is her elevation of humble shrimp tacos by garnishing them with a light, zippy avocado mousse, crunchy red cabbage and baby cilantro with coriander seeds that popped with citrus freshness.
Spanish wines by the glass and bottle represent a number of the countrys top growing regions and varietals, and a gin-and-tonic program should keep cocktail drinkers happy. A word of caution: The gazpacho bloody mary is the fiery-orange color of Buffalo hot sauce. If you can get over that, and the fact that it tastes pretty much like that patatas bravas sauce, youre in for a fun ride.
Good food and fun seem to be the magic formula thats worked so well for the Pubbelly crew in Miami Beach. With Barceloneta, theyve managed to replicate that recipe in another South Florida locale. Heres hoping its not the last Pubbelly concept we see beyond the Beach.
Miami Herald critics dine anonymously at the newspapers expense.