Out host, Rayna Verbek oversees the operation while cheerful waitresses deliver courses and refill our champagne often. Del Torro works his magic in the kitchen, but is also chatting up guests who wander towards the back of the (secret) establishment. He's calm and charismatic and wants to get to know you. He is vegan himself and therefore particularly fond of catering to special menu and diet requests in advance. My dinner guest and friend DeMane (who is vegan and has been for quite sometime) at one point during the meal looked at me and said "you can't get a vegan dinner like this in Boston, I'd have to go to New York for a meal this good." (All photos pictured are of my meal, which was not vegan.)An elevated crostini and cheese course kicks things off. Where one bite consists of sharp blue cheese meets juicy cantaloupe meets a swipe of roasted red pepper hummus over a soft slice of bread, another is a sautéed zucchini draped over a spoonful of quinoa and a hunk of blueberry goat cheese. There was also an eggplant and onion relish topped with a slice of manchego. The pairings were unexpected and the results truly harmonious. Overflowing with crisp greens and homemade croutons dressed with restraint, a ceasar salad is delivered for course number two. I wasn't tallying up major points for creativity, but still, this was a solid, straightforward dish as we moved towards more complex flavors.
What appeared next, a bowl of sweet peas studded with sesame seeds, fresh mint and bathing in cilantro oil, was sensational.
The piece de resistance, a perfectly poached egg topped with sauteed green onions, drenched the peas in its runny yolk. This course sparked lots of conversation and elicited a kind of euphoria among our table, and the table next to us (and presumably everyone around us) as we diligently scraped our bowls clean. The entree showcases a gorgeous and generous portion of marinated medium rare skirt steak accompanied by a fingerling potato here, a sunchoke there, flanked by a bed of braised escarole over a chimichuri sauce, and deep fried maitake mushrooms. This plate was interesting and dynamic, I felt the chefs personal and unique interpretation of the ingredients really shined through.
A chocolate pot de creme for dessert is another revelation, where the rich yet fluffy custard is enhanced with lemon confit, a butterscotch topping, sourdough croutons and fresh thyme. The ingredients strike an enchanting balance of sweet, sour and savory, ending the meal on a high note.
Suspense, surprise, incredible food, and a serious amount of champagne (it's Dom Perignon, by the way) are a glimpse of what you can expect when dining at Barrio. Enjoying the moments of intrigue leading up the reveal, from the location to the next course, are all a part of the experience.
I received complimentary tickets to this dinner, however, was not required to write a review. If you are interested in attending a Barrio Pop Up, go here or here for more information on how to obtain tickets. And for some additional perspectives on this dinner, read my lovely dining companions blog posts here and here.