[FULL DISCLOSURE: the folks at bartaco kindly invited us to a recent press dinner as fans of its sister restaurant Barcelona Wine Bar (and in particular the Barcelona cookbook). This is not a review as much as a recounting of the experience from both of our perspectives.]
Elizabeth: Living in New York introduced me to the traditional taqueria via La Esquina in SoHo and a local spot that is a favorite takeout option on Friday evenings. More importantly, living here has introduced me to exotic tacos made with offal such as tripe and tongue. Those have become my absolute favorite to eat, so when the invite to bartaco came into our inbox, I immediately went to see if the menu boasted any unique tacos. Seeing tongue and veal cheeks among the options, I knew I wanted to give them a try. It’s the real test of a taqueria: if they make their offal tacos well, you know you’ve found a quality spot.
I met Michael in Port Chester after work two Thursdays ago* and we hoofed it over to the restaurant. We may have gotten a little lost in the dark, but eventually, we made it chilled but otherwise unscathed. We were quickly greeted, coats were divested, and two traditional bartaco margaritas were offered to us.
As our circulation returned to our feet, we took in the scene. Intended to resemble a weather-worn beach shack with its distressed white-painted walls, the designers did not disappoint. My first impression of bartaco was how pleasant this place would be in the actual summertime with the windows open and the breeze wafting in from the water. The blue and white motif carried throughout the room; even the waitstaff were all bedecked in blue and white gingham shirts.
As we chatted with a few people, we snacked on their guacamole ( and sipped on our drinks. The guac was, as expected, very tasty, though perhaps a bit difficult to elegantly scoop due to the chunks of avocado. Then again, that simply could have been me diving in with a smidge too much gusto.
The margaritas were neither too strong nor too sweet. Later we learned that all of the citrus juices are squeezed to order, ensuring that every drink you get is the freshest possible. Our waiter offered to get us something “special” for our next round–he didn’t say what it would be, but only that it would contain tequila. The drink that appeared when we sat down for the tequila tasting was incredibly smooth–something akin to a tequila-laced sidecar–but I still don’t know what was in that glass. But that’s part of the fun, right?
Our dining companions were mainly local writers, including one who years ago wrote for Penthouse. The beverage director walked us through a brief Tequila 101 lesson as we tasted a delicious Blanco (unaged silver tequila), a Reposado (“rested” tequila that is stored in oak barrels but not aged very long) and finally an Anejo that had delicious notes similar to bourbon. Immediately following the tasting, the food appeared on our tables: gorditas, a simple salad that was highly refreshing…and then the tacos.
Michael: What I recall most vividly about our night at bartaco was the hospitality. Sitting at a large table being served plate after plate of food, talking and sharing food with strangers, toasting and chatting all reminded me of a vast, idealized family dinner. The openers were fantastic, but apparently, my purview is commenting upon tacos, and so let’s get to it.
We began with large dishes of Thai shrimp and Baja fish tacos. I’m not a huge fan of shrimp tacos, but these were delightful, full of flavor and heft. The fish tacos were also tasty, but certainly no different than others I’ve had or even made. The next round had chorizo as well as roasted pork tacos. The former was what you’d expect, diced chorizo in a tortilla while the latter were by far my favorite offering of the entire evening. The pork was so savory, so juicy, and so satisfying that I felt a real compulsion to buy a picnic shoulder of my own and roast it the very next day. After eating that taco, gorging on fistfuls of pig without the social stigmas attached to doing so in the presence of strangers was all I wanted. The last set consisted of veal cheek and beef tongue, both being excellent but also what any denizen of an awesome, authentic taqueria would expect. They definitely reminded me of my favorite taqueria on Amsterdam. The only low point of the dinner course was a tray of tamales served between the 2nd and 3rd group of tacos. I’m not a fan in general, but these were a bit plain and forgettable, and they didn’t really fit in with the progression of food we were served. Still, the food was tasty and chill, just like the drinks and the atmosphere. As I said, I will probably try my hand at the pork tacos soon, so stay tuned.
Elizabeth: Michael may have enjoyed the pork tacos, but I was emphatically in favor of the veal cheek version. Flavorful but not gamey, if you were given this to eat without any sort of description of what it was you’d have no idea that you were eating offal.
None of the tacos are substantial because they are meant to be ordered as you want them, and ideally, you order a nice assortment. Instead of flagging down a waiter, you’re giving menus to indicate the quantities of each item you’d like. You then signal to your server using a notification card that you’d like to order food, rinsing and repeating as needed during your meal. This means you could easily spend a whole evening with a group of friends sampling food and sipping on cocktails and wine, well into the wee hours as bartaco is open until 4AM. The ambiance absolutely encourages that, from the wooden benches made much more comfortable with plump pillows to the overall much more relaxed and air that the staff hopes to convey. Where Barcelona is a bit more glamorous and formal, bartaco is casual, and a little rumpled–and from what we’ve seen, the teams at both restaurants are rather flawless in both of these executions.
Once you get your bearings**, bartaco is surprisingly convenient to get to from the Port Chester Metro-North train station, making it an ideal place to get a taste of summer no matter what the calendar reads. Considering that it has snowed at least once a week so far in this young year, something tells me that we’ll be going back soon for that purpose.
*M, pobrecito, was forced to wait outside for 40 minutes because my train from Stamford was slow and the Port Chester station was closed. At 6 o’clock! What gives?
**Easier to do so when it’s not dark and snowy, admittedly.