May 4th, 2009
Cameo McRoberts –Guest Blogger and Associate Chef at Kathy Casey Food Studios gives us her take on Seattle’s Capital Hill hot spot – Barrio.
When I heard about Barrio, Capitol Hill’s new urban Mexican concept, I will admit I was skeptical. Living in Mexico and five years’ working for Rick Bayless at Frontera Grill and Topolobampo have sharpened my senses as to what makes good Mexican food.
Upon my return to the Northwest my Mexican cravings can only be satiated by Seattle’s obsession with taco trucks. While I can’t resist a paper plate piled with greasy carnitas tacos and an ice-cold jarritos, I love, too, a well-dressed plate of food and a modern approach to Mexican flavors. So to Barrio I say, “Thank you.” Thank you for making your own tortillas from fresh masa and not dry maseca—you can taste the difference. Thank you for taking the time to season your salsas so the flavor of the chilies upstages their impetus for heat.
Thank you for nurturing your bartenders’ creative will to design a drink menu that rivals any in the city, not only by crafting such beautiful drinks but also by constructing a bar that makes you feel like you have box seats to a revue featuring a cross between a mixologist and mad scientist.
And to readers I say, forget the hour wait at your favorite weekend greasy spoon and treat yourself to brunch at Barrio. Its steel-framed windows will soon be cranked open to create patio dining for the whole place.
The restaurant opened for brunch in early April and you can get a table without a wait; you’ll not be disappointed. There isn’t chips-and-salsa on the table, nor will you sway to the beat of a tuba-driven ranchero band sipping blended margaritas; there is plenty of that elsewhere. This is bright and tangy scallop ceviche with a salsa of just-about-ripe mango shredded thin and served, at our waiter’s recommendation, with super-crispy yucca chips.
It is rich brothy pozole served with a perfectly poached egg, turning an already master hangover cure into a heavenly stew of “get back in the game.”
We also tried simple chicken taquitos. The fried tortilla shattered with each bite and the seasoned chicken was a great vehicle for the bright guajillo salsa that accompanied it. Their chilequiles selection changes daily. As necessity is often the mother of wonderful food, chilaquiles traditionally serves as an economical way of filling hungry bellies by stewing day-old tortillas with whatever sauce is at hand and stretching the little meat you might have to make a meal, Barrio’s blended braised beef and a spicy tomatillo salsa perfectly. We also enjoyed a more contemporary take on grilled shrimp with white corn grits with tomatillo gravy, that was rich and creamy but not overly heavy. We finished with housemade churros loaded with cinnamon and sugar and a bittersweet chocolate sauce.
As for cocktails, each one was distinct and well crafted. My only disappointment was my michelada. I like the version with a little Clamato, and theirs was a little heavy on the lime. Death in the Afternoon, Bee’s Knees and Sufferin’ Bastard, while all sounding like a local KEXP playlist, were the kind of cocktails that make you feel smart for ordering. Each one mingles familiar flavors with a few new tastes or liquors. Our server was all too happy to fill us in on a few oddities and share his notes on housemade falernum, and cachaça.
Barrio is more than a “wall of candles” or a Capitol Hill hotspot with a Bellevue/Belltown vibe. Barrio offers a luxurious alternative to taco-truck Mexican and delivers the integrity and commitment to flavor that is the heart and soul of Mexican cuisine. – Cameo McRoberts
Barrio is Located at
1420 12th Avenue
Seattle, WA 98122