Where to Barcelona Wine Bar in Cambridge.
Why For tapas beneath twinkling patio lights, served alongside gin on ice.
The backstory Barcelona Wine Bar is a chain, but it doesn’t feel like one. General manager Jeff Osowski is a 35-year Boston hospitality vet: He was a longtime general manager at Harvest and a well-known server at Grill 23, and he’s a smiley presence in the dining room and out on the busy sidewalk, chatting with guests and fetching drinks. The location can’t be beat: It’s on a gastronomically blessed stretch of Mass Ave. close to Bagelsaurus, Dear Annie, Giulia, Honeycomb Creamery, and the new Moëca.
Despite the fact that Barcelona has branches around the country — along with one in the South End and another in Brookline — Osowski styles this as a neighborhood restaurant, too. He and chef Jose Ochoa add location-specific dishes to the menu, such as a recent braised cabbage with breadcrumbs and corn with yogurt. They also work with a local mushroom forager, an old pal from Osowski’s Harvest days.
He cranks the music, which throbs even out into the street, and strives for a familiar, dinner-party atmosphere. To that end, Osowski picks staff locally, from Cambridge and Somerville, focusing on personality rather than pedigree.
“I’d rather have an individual that’s really fun and likes to make guests feel taken care of,” he says.
Among those guests on a recent visit: a Wikipedia-able MIT professor, couples on dates, a table of dapper Harvard students living large, and a family with a small child. In essence, a cross-section of Cambridge.
What to eat By now, most of us are familiar with tapas, or small plates. You know the drill: Order four or five per person, and share if you so choose. Highlights: crispy patatas bravas slathered with a creamy garlic aioli; a balm-like whipped ricotta swirled with vinegary roasted peppers and tomatoes; sliced chorizo and figs in sticky balsamic syrup; and slivers of scallop crudo brightened with lemon and harissa. A potato tortilla is admirably fluffy and greaseless, with just the right amount of chive sour cream — not too heavy or rich. Same goes for the slab of pork belly served atop a spicy, rust-colored piquillo puree, which is good enough to scoop up with a spoon.
What to drink There are an assortment of gin and tonics mixed with Fever Tree. Pick your botanical poison: elderflower, jasmine, cardamom, bay leaves. Also: mezcal and bee pollen; tequila and nutmeg; sangria; and sherry aplenty. The wine list is extensive, as it should be: Try the well-priced ($13.50 and up) themed trio of half-pours: Acid Trip (acidic wines), a sherry-and-vermouth aperitivo exploration, a “bio-curious” biodynamic sampler, and more.
The takeaway A convivial, thrumming hot spot in a plum corner of Cambridge. The only downside: no reservations, so prepare to loiter on the sidewalk (though a kindly server just might fetch you a drink while you wait).
Barcelona Wine Bar, 1688 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-468-2200, www.barcelonawinebar.com
Kara Baskin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.