Hot & juicy

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Barrio is Spanish for neighborhood. Obviously the highly promising and brand-spanking-new Downtown destination restaurant that bears the Barrio name has taken its title to heart. Because this newest tapas shop on the block has gone country to country to borrow a cup of recipes from various Spanish-speaking communities. The results make stimulating multi-culti neighbors.

So European-style paella and South American-style ceviche perch next to each other and transnational ingredients piggyback into hybridized dishes on the welcome wagon that is Barrio's lengthy menu. Based on the hot and cold running tapas I recently tried there, that social experiment is a rousing success.

First a few words about Barrio's sexy look, because it's certainly distinct in Columbus. In fact, Barrio has so transformed its ex-Wendy's space that not a single trace of that double-making place is left.

Now there are two white-brick stories of dark rooms punctuated with windows onto Downtown. Overhead they have disconnected planks of reclaimed wood that break up the enclosed space and disrupt the feeling of a low ceiling. While Barrio's standard wooden tables are nothing extraordinary, a long, Amish-made communal table in the swanky bar area definitely stands out, as does a large-scale red and black painting of a couple dancing the tango.

Barrio has lunch and dinner plates, but I fast-forwarded right to the heart of its menu - the tapas. And from that list, the Trio of Ceviche ($17) was the most impressive. A huge three-chambered, canoe-shaped platter docked up and brought: crunchy, peppery chopped and chilled shrimp; ruby jewels of wonderful tuna fragrant with lime, sriracha and basil; plus lively scallop bits made perkier by grapefruit and mint.

The ceviche was served with a big and terrific chayote slaw that had salted and sugared wispy plantain strips jutting out of it plus - in true Peruvian style - a side bowl of popcorn to neutralize and cleanse your palate.

A crunchy, nutty and romesco-sauced Quinoa Salad with Almonds ($6) was another winner, as were great garlicky and golden brown fries ($6) - that bulging bowl came with a sweet and creamy sherry aioli dipping sauce.

While I liked the Angry Clams ($9) and their salty and spicy tomato broth, the smallish serving was hard to share. Also hard to share - but only because they were so delicious - were the little Lamb Rib Chops ($12). A tender and succulent trio came perfectly grilled, glazed with a sweet rioja wine reduction and was heaped above a complementing pile of pinto beans.

For dessert, my table reveled in rich and satisfying bundles of warm bacon wrapped around oozing and creamy Cabrales (Spanish blue cheese) and dates ($8 for three) - with $5 long-stemmed glasses of tawny port wine, of course.

All in all, Barrio - which is operated by the Due Amici people - delivered big on bold and brash flavors, friendly and casual service and a great vibe. Hell, I can't wait to go back.

Barrio Restaurant

185 N. High St., Downtown