With new depth lent by rich earthy browns, fabric accents, and gleaming metallic sculptures created by artist Sean Ahern, the expansive room is now bound by leather banquettes and a handsome central bar pulsing with the rhythmic beat of tango on most evenings. Under the watchful eye of the matador and flamenco dancer swirling from lofty canvases above, guests enjoy an interesting mix of brews, wines, and cocktails, as well as the easy-to-pair selection of appetizing small plates and one choice entrée—seafood paella—inspired by traditional Spanish cuisine. These unique offerings have quickly made Barsa one of the most popular spots in town for an early light dinner or late-night graze.
The promise of the paella and a yen for ethnic diversity prompted a recent visit to this Upper King Street favorite, where we quickly noticed every seat at the bar was taken and the food was flowing as freely as the cocktails. Thirst-quenching chilled sangria roja was refreshing with notes of citrus and cinnamon spicing the tempranillo and brandy blend. It also cooled the highly seasoned, classic Catalonian romesco dip of roasted red peppers, almonds, garlic, and olive oil. It was pleasantly spicy, as we’d expected, though non-traditionally served with a beautiful bouquet of expertly grilled cauliflower and asparagus, steamed carrots, and celery. An instant favorite, this starter was followed by savory drunken goat fondue flavored with white wine with plenty of grilled pumpernickel, French bread, and vegetables for dipping—an excellent choice on a brisk day. Other delicious quick bites from past visits have included the Barsa house blend of Spanish olives and sweet garlic, dates with Serrano ham and Manchego cheese, spicy lamb meatballs, and deftly fried calamari with pleasant citrus aioli.
Progressing to our next interlude, we enjoyed a peppery Cline “Cashmere” mourvèdre and grenache blend with well-seasoned, fried heirloom patatas bravas paired with lemony garlic aioli (our favorite) and mild tomato sauce (which could have been a little spicier). The potatoes made excellent companions for the tender steak crostini, four pieces of which were topped with delicate over-easy quail eggs finished with green-olive hollandaise and arugula pimiento salad.
Finally, we celebrated the evening with the pièce de résistance, seafood paella—a splendid single serving presented in a two-handled paella pan. Saffron-flavored, traditional Calasparra rice mounded with a colorful array of flaky scamp grouper, mussels, and shrimp was classically seasoned with mellow sofrito sauce and the added chorizo we requested. One serving was more than we could finish, however, and we looked forward to next-day samplings of this glorious treat. The crisp, full-bodied verdejo recommended by our extremely knowledgeable server, Walt, was an ideal accompaniment for the paella. The house-made crema Catalan, an orange-kissed, creamy yet lighter version of crème brûlée, ended the evening on a sweet note.
At the young age of 23, chef Cole Poolaw commands respect for his proficient delivery of an intricate menu requiring balance, authenticity, and diversity of ingredients. We found his preparations to be attractive, satisfying, and well executed and also appreciated his occasional presence in the dining room to briefly visit with guests. In addition to the regular menu, Barsa expands daily offerings with a Monday food and beverage night honoring industry employees, reduced prices for wines by the bottle on Wednesday, and Thursday-night sangria specials.
58 Line St., (843) 577-5393,
Monday-Friday, 5 p.m.–2 a.m.; Saturday, 6 p.m.–2 a.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.–3 p.m. (brunch) & 5 p.m.–1 a.m.
Average plate: $7