Ham, bread, olive oil, and tomatoes
Shrimp and mushroom "ravioli"
A simple and refreshing salad
Pasta made with panache
A rich meat filling
Pork that lacked a little something
No need to drink a boring gin & tonic
A G&T to satisfy any palate
A "sponge cake" too cute for its own good?
You will like this
Spain means a lot to me. The food, the people, the wine, the geography. I’ve spent a good deal of time there and worked in a kitchen in San Sebastián for a short while in 2012. If one loves flavor and grace, España is your place.
I cannot fly to Barcelona on a weekly basis, however, so I often cook some dishes that take me to Spain. I use saffron and mussels and beef and mushrooms, among other items. I also order dishes in restaurants that transport me to the country (though they often leave me somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, in need of more authenticity).
Last night I ate some good morcilla, and I recently enjoyed an evening at BCN Taste & Tradition, a restaurant that confidently occupies a place in Houston’s fine-dining sector. (I first ate at BCN during its soft opening and was impressed.) The chef is Spanish, as is Ignacio Torras, the owner, and both gentlemen know the flavors of their homeland. BCN’s kitchen does those flavors — and the nation’s culinary creativity — justice.
Here’s a fine example of those qualities that is on BCN’s menu now: “Patatas bravas BCN” potatoes, spicy oil and aioli (nuestras patatas braves). It embodies flavor and technique and the experimentation and whimsy of Luis Roger, the aforementioned chef. The dish is a staple in Spain and is found on virtually all menus, no matter the region. They can be very good, but like a hamburger or pizza, they are often neglected and abused. Roger uses potatoes but transforms the dish (he did a stint at El Bulli, after all) into something familiar but starkly different, though it’s still, thankfully, abundantly satisfying. He is serving post-Franco patatas bravas.
The dish is visually pleasing, and it’s delicious. The potato cylinders stand upright on the plate, filled with a piquant and rich aioli. A few microgreens are placed strategically, and a constellation of ground red pepper anchors the whole. Use a fork and pick up a single potato. It is the perfect size for one bite, and that bite is a wonder. The potato will sate your primal need for starch, and you’ll be thinking patatas bravas, but the spicy oil and the aioli lift the flavors into another universe. Playful yet honest, this item was served as an amuse-bouche and proved so popular with diners that Roger was forced to put the dish on the menu. It was a great part of our journey that evening, which progressed with efficiency, consisting of (mostly) hits.
A small cube of compressed watermelon served on a spoon stimulated our palates, while the pan con tomato (that stupendously simple dish of bread, olive oil and tomatoes, served here with jamón Ibérico) provided a nutty richness. A shrimp and mushroom course missed the mark for me — the duxelles was fine, but the consistency and mouthfeel of the “ravioli” disappointed — and the suckling pig lacked a desired tenderness and depth, but those were the exceptions.
Grandma’s canelón pasta (think meat-filled cannelloni bathed in a well-done béchamel) was comforting and kissed the elegant side of rustic, while the bacalao (with a roasted bell pepper sauce, fingerling potatoes, and cherry tomatoes) could have been flown in from the Basque country. The desserts received mixed reviews; my dining companion admired the “Orange Sponge Cake” (Falso bizcocho de naranja con sorbete de limón y sopa de naranja sanguine) — it’s a dish that veers toward the molecular gastronomy category and has nothing to do with a traditional sponge cake, hence the quotation marks on the menu — but I found it too light, though I did like the blood orange soup in which it was served. The chocolate molten cake, on the other hand, was just right; it was slightly decadent and possessed the proper note of sweetness.
BCN is a hit in Houston and has found its way well. The service is professional, and the beverage program is deep. (Don’t neglect to order one of the restaurant’s gin and tonics, perhaps the elderflower version.) The diverse world of Spanish wines is well represented here, including a 2010 Loidana for $80 and a 2010 Shaya Old Vines for $62— and the food is solid and sometimes spectacular.
Does it reach the everyday excellence you’ll find at Akelaŕe or Arzak? No, not yet, but not much in Houston does. You will spend money here, and you will more than likely be happy that you did so, realizing that an evening at BCN is less expensive than airfare to Barcelona.