Spanish restaurant BCN Taste & Tradition is ensconced in a sophisticated, Mediterranean-style mansion just off Montrose. Inside, there's a subtle, elegant cream-on-white color scheme. Original art by Spanish artists Picasso and Joan Miro lend brilliant bursts of color here and there.
It wasn't complaint-free, though. BCN is ideally set up for a romantic date night over a sophisticated dinner. At the time, though, the roaring noise levels were quite a dampener on any flaring sparks.
I was surprised afterward to receive an email from co-owner Ignacio Torras. It was a friendly note that agreed that there was a noise problem, but he wanted me to know they were working on it. (Wait, aren't these the days when restaurant owners ban critics and take to social media for some good old reviewer-bashing? We're never going to get a reality show like this.) He also invited me to return and see the changes.
I revisited recently and, indeed, sound-absorbing foam has now been installed. It really does make a difference. Instead of bouncing from floor to wall to ceiling like ping-pong balls, sound waves are caught and softened. It's not a perfect solution but it's much better and diners' conversations are more likely to be constrained to their own table.
There are some other interesting changes, too. While BCN is not yet offering normal lunch service, they've made it available to private groups of 10 or more. A seven to eight course tasting menu is $95 per person. That's sure to be useful for companies wanting to host lunch meetings in a quiet environment.
BCN's spring menu is in-place to hail the arrival of warm weather, and no dish is more vibrant and welcoming than the simple combination of sweet green peas, mint and fresh California artichoke hearts roasted until they're brown and brittle on the tips. There are chunks of Ibérico ham strewn through--a grounding touch of meatiness and salinity.
There are little breaded and deep-fried croquetas de jamón, a traditional bar snack and appetizer throughout Spain. BCN isn't skimping on the ham, either. It's more of that precious Ibérico, which comes from pigs raised on acorns.
It's only one bit of playfulness on display at BCN. Another dish sports a lanky, spiky Norway Lobster that seems to be making its way across black lava rocks. In truth, the bed is of glutinous rice dyed and flavored with deep brown cuttlefish ink.
A heartier plate features three rounds of pork trotter meat atop a chickpea stew. Across the top of each, a spear of asparagus stands guard.
In May, another new and exciting dish will debut--deep red beet foam with cucumber mignonette served in a small, clear domed bowl. It's like a full red rose in bloom captured in a terrarium and has a fresh, earthy flavor to match.
The next time you visit, you'll likely see a tiny bottle of red fluid sitting right next to the regular olive oil. That one is mild olive oil infused with chile de árbol and smoked pimentón de la Vera from Cáceres, Spain. If you want to add a touch more heat to a dish, you're hereby empowered.
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Both Torres and chef Luis Roger are intensely interested in not just being a good restaurant, but a world-class one. It's a tough row to hoe, I think, although the desire, focus on quality ingredients and skill sets are certainly all there.
An intrinsic challenge is the very nature of traditional Spanish food. It's a cuisine that prizes outstanding ingredients. The other components of the dish are supporting actors to the star of the show and it's a stunning dance when it works. Take, for example, their simply prepared seared foie gras, adorned with flake salt, blackberries and cassis, or black currant reduction. What more is needed?
Yet, it's subtle tango. It's not showy ballroom swing and therein lies the inherent difficulty. Probably the biggest challenge in restaurant kitchens is maintaining repeatable processes--"the dreaded consistency." Simplicity in ingredients and subtlety in flavors demand it--plate after plate--and it's a neat trick with a bunch of human beings in the kitchen. As Aldous Huxley said, "Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only completely consistent people are the dead."
As long as BCN retains its vibrant, living spirit and the desire to be at the top of a difficult game, it will continue finding many fans.