Barraca and Melibea are adjacent, well designed restaurants that share a Spanish focus but beyond that, appear completely different. Barraca is old world and casual while Melibea is contemporary and downtown. They have the same owner, chef, bathrooms and in fact, the same kitchen, yet from the street one could never tell. I recently enjoyed two dinners; one each at these new restaurants. Barraca opened less than a year ago and Melibea is about a month old.
Jesus Nuñez is the chef, who hails from Spain with an impressive resume of restaurants before opening Gastroarte on the Upper West Side. Despite encountering trouble with the name, it was one of the more interesting restaurants on the Upper West Side. Working with Hector Sanz, who also owns Rayuela and Macondo on the Lower East Side, they have now collaborated on the corner of Greenwich Avenue and Bank Street.
Barraca is very attractive with a very graphic menu that goes on to explain paella. The menu is primarily tapas or small plates and paella. Small plate portions are large and designed to share and can easily turn into a main plate. The Croques- tas with Chicken and Oyster Mushrooms were large, crisp and tender, and richly flavored with both mushrooms and chicken. We also had the Braised Short Ribs that were combined with carrots and fava beans in a creative and engaging way making for a very robust dish. Cordero Moruno or a Moroccan lamb had an interesting combination of components but was a little handicapped by too much saltiness. Paella is well explained by the Paella Manifesto on the menu and is available for a minimum portion for two people. It is offered in six variations of which five of them can be shared on Paella pans. We had the Mariscos and De Tierra, seafood and meat respectively. They were both generous but the seafood lacked slightly in depth of flavor and may have struggled based on baking it in the “attached” pan to the meat paella. Crème Catalan was in a crème brulee style and was very satisfying. Our waiter, a very accommodating Russian man, went out of his way to represent the restaurant and was very genuine in our service.
Melibea was hopping on a recent Saturday night and although a more spacious style of seating, it was loud with a larger bar scene that kept going. The menu is varied with contemporary creative choices that take in flavors from around the Mediterranean, including a good bit of Morocco. It starts with small plates to share and the two that I tasted were a Creamy Stuffed Mozzarella and Baba Ghanoush, both were well presented and engaging, offering promise for future courses. Gazpacho that includes shrimp, salmon roe and ham, is a cold soup that visually and flavor-wise worked. A salmon and scallop carpaccio, served with tapenade and almond ice cream, visually completely worked yet the almond ice cream was slightly too sweet to dovetail for me with the raw fish. A Lamb Tajine was beautifully served; an interesting combination of flavors, maybe the lamb was a tad bit dry but the yogurt, couscous, and vegetables all contributed to a very pleasant dish. Side dishes are vegetables served at room temperature dressed up that include a cauliflower that received raves at the next table and the person with whom I dined, wanted a plainer warm vegetable which the kitchen provided. Dessert is also a varied assortment; we went for the Chocolate tour de force which is called Chocolatissimo, a Final Expression and it delivered.
Both restaurants are very attractively designed, provide attentive service, and presented carefully prepared real food. There are milder price points at Barraca, with small plates about $10 and paella about $20, with Melibea closer to $15 for the smaller plates and $30 for the main courses. Yes I wish they could be a bit quieter and there is some tweaking food-wise that could happen with time, but they are nice additions to the neighborhood and add a new and an old take on Spanish cuisine that is not easily found amongst the Mediterranean sea of Italian restaurant that abound.
Barraca 81 Greenwich Ave (at Bank Street) 212 462 0080 www.barracanyc.com
Melibea 2 Bank Street (at Greenwich Avenue) (212) 463-0090 www.melibeanyc.com