Come for the tapas, stay for the paella
58 Line Street, Downtown Charleston
Helen and Morty would have come for this paella
By Patrick Graham
When "The Raincoats" episode of Seinfeld appeared on America's televisions in 1994, paella wasn't really on my radar. The reason why it was cemented there after that was because of a certain quote in the script, something that happened some regularity due to the show's brilliance.
"What am I supposed to do with all this paella??!!"
George's mom sounded ridiculous when she complained about her sudden glut in the Spanish seafood stew department, a situation that came about when Jerry's parents blew off a dinner engagement at the Costanzas' house.
More on paella later.
Barsa sits on the corner of Line and King streets, and is unusually free of neighboring buildings, a benefit that is realized in the form of a parking area for its patrons. Big bonus there, given the location. Upon entry, I found myself a Brooklyn Brown Ale from the beer list, and I ordered something called the Pisco Disco from the specialty cocktail list due to the imminent arrival of my wife. This tasty tonic has agave nectar and guava juice shaken, not stirred, and a lovely alternative to the usual pre-nosh margarita. There's a whole page of these.
Barsa created a tapas menu that includes garlic mushrooms, ceviche, and they even took a crack at vichyssoise, but we decided to go for the lamb meatballs. Since I am not a lamb fanatic, I once again deferred to my wife's perceptions. I certainly was interested in the spicy tomato sauce and the cheeses and the grilled bread, but unfortunately, so was she, so the competition was kinda fierce. I felt I owed the presentation an honest go (it was cute in its little casserole dish), and the combination worked as a hearty non-salad appetizer.
As my better half took care of the rest of the meatballs, the steak crostini dish showed up. Steak n' eggs are always welcome on my plate, and the elegance of the presentation made me order up a glass of zinfandel to complement the compound butter and a nutty arugula and sweet red pepper salad. The eggs were that of a quail--otherwise we would be talking about a much larger plate.
Here's where the paella made its appearance. Curiously, there were only three things on the back page of the menu, and there's a reason for that. In my opinion, they needed their own distinctive space. Once again, I deferred to my wife's palate, as paella is one of her very favorite things, and I thought I would ultimately let her give it the thumbs up or thumbs down. As it turns out, she didn't have to. I wanted in.
Being a mixture of many ingredients, this seafood paella had a lot to offer. Mussels, shrimp, mahi, calamari, peppers, cherry tomatoes, onions, and some lovely saffron-laden rice. Lucky for me, the calamari was all mine, and it was like freshly buttered popcorn with a lovely aioli drizzled over the top. I didn't get much of a chance after that, because the rest was just amazing. My dining companion considered it among the best in the city, strong words for a town as well-versed in the fruits of the sea as Charleston. And, oh, by the way, there were two other distinct paella varieties on the back page, namely chicken and chorizo, and a vegetable variety laden with squash, asparagus, tomatoes, peppers, and onions.
All of the other peripheral details came off without a hitch. As it turns out, it was our server's first night on the job at Barsa, and she will be there as long as she wants, in my opinion. The outdoor seating was a bit chilly for April (nobody's going to take the staff to task for that, of course), but the fact that it's there will require a return trip to take part in Sunday brunch (11am).
"What am I supposed to do with all this paella??!!" If it's from Barsa, enjoy it.
- Tags: Barsa Tapas Lounge & Bar