Note: Jesús Núñez has left Barraca and its sister restaurant, Melibea. Alex Ureña has replaced him.
I was a big fan of Gastroarte, chef Jesús Núñez’s avant-garde Spanish restaurant near Lincoln Center. But his work there was too edgy for the neighborhood, and critics found his cooking uneven. Earlier this month, Núñez re-surfaced at Barraca, where he doesn’t challenge diners as much—and if he did, would probably find a more receptive audience.
It’s your typical attractive downtown space, with dark wood tables, bright blue seats, wood pillars, timber beams, and exposed brick. Miraculously, on a Friday evening it was not as loud as such places usually are, even though the 80-seat dining room was nearly full.
The menu fits on one sheet of paper, featuring a dozen tapas ($6–12), a similar number of salads and vegetable dishes ($6–12), cheeses and charcuterie ($12–32), six varieties of paella ($19–27), just a few entrées ($23–30), and four desserts ($7–9).
The paellas take about 25 minutes, and in the meantime the server suggested six tapas to share. I’d say that’s on the high side, unless you’re quite hungry; we ordered four.
The tapas are the chef’s best work: the Croquetas ($9; above left; top); Esparragos (White Asparagus) with anchovies and vegetable vinaigrette ($7; above left; bottom); Albondigas, or meatballs, in a vegetable sauce ($10; above middle); and a spicy Setas Alajillo, a stew of sautéed mushrooms in a garlic sauce with pork sausage ($10; above right).
Paellas are served for a minimum of two people, but the kitchen will prepare different varieties of paella in a large skillet with a cast-iron divider between the two halves. (I’ve seen some photos with the skillet divided in three.)
We tried the Paella Roja de Carabineros (several varieties of shrimp and prawns in a shrimp stock) and the Paella de Tierra (chicken, rabbit, pork belly, pork ribs, string beans and fava beans), $27 and $23 respectively. We found both too salty and greasy, and the rice at the bottom lacked the right crusty crunch. In the Paella de Tierra, the various meats were mostly indistinguishable, aside from the pork belly, which stood out (as it always does).
The Coca de Chocolate ($9; above) was one of the more unusual desserts we’ve had in a while, a crisped tortilla covered in chocolate, topped with berries and cream. We’d certainly order this again.
The wine list is not extensive at this point, but we did well with a 2006 Rioja Riserva for $46. Service was fine, and if only the chef could get the paellas in order, this place would be just about perfect. Still, there is much to enjoy here, and I suspect it will only get better.
Barraca (81 Greenwich Avenue at Bank Street, West Village)
Food: Inventive tapas and paellas, mostly well prepared (especially the former)
Service: Casual and just fine for what it is
Ambiance: Attractive garden-variety West Village casual