22 November 2008

A light dinner at Barrio Tequila Bar in Minneapolis

I have to admit that I’m not a chef groupie. I don’t usually try a new restaurant because of the chef. So when people started talking about this new place that chef Tim McKee had opened on the Nicollet Mall, I didn’t pay much attention.

On the other hand, I started hearing this really fantastic vibe for Barrio Tequila Bar. There was a great Star Tribune review. And my wife (who does pay more attention to chefs than I do) also heard some great things. It seemed like the consensus was that this place would be worth visiting. I even went so far as to recommend it to a co-worker based on the hype. (After her visit, she reported that it was good.)

So the Saturday after Halloween, we decided to try it. I did worry a little bit. Even if the place was good, would it be disappointing compared to my heightened expectations? Nope.

In a word, Barrio is fantastic. The food is great. The drinks are great. The décor is fun. The service was friendly and helpful. And it’s a bargain besides. That all adds up to a great value in my book!

As you might infer from the name, tequila is the star of the bar. The menu lists more than 100 varieties. Prices for a shot range from $4 to $95. I like tequila, and so does my wife. But it’s not something that we drink often. So when confronted with such an overwhelming variety, it’s hard to decide. One suggestion to Barrio – put together some flights of three or four different kinds. I might have ordered that.

Instead, we both had cocktails. Barrio has a nice selection of specialty cocktails as well as traditional drinks, a nice selection of wine by the glass, and a respectable line-up of beer by the bottle and on tap.

All of the so-called ‘small’ plates are $7.50. Take a look at the pictures. Not so small, are they? The range of choices is impressive. We had three:

We started with the diver scallop ceviche. The citrus-cured scallops were accompanied with pieces of grapefruit and blood orange along with avocado. There also was a small handful of fried tortilla strips on the plate. It was an excellent, refreshing, flavorful dish to eat with our cocktails.

Next we ordered the black bean and chicken tostada and the mushroom quesadilla. The tostada had two generous mounds of chicken and beans topped with mango-habanera salsa and shredded romaine. The quesadilla was filled with mushrooms and topped with shredded romaine, very thinly sliced radishes and a cream sauce that had a hint of peppery heat.

Finally, we ordered the fish (mahi-mahi) taco, only $4, if you can believe that. The delicately fried fish was served open faced on two tortillas and a bed of citrus-cucumber pico de gallo.

I continue to rave about Barrio and now can give my personal testimonial. And just today, I saw an ad in Minnesota Monthly for Tim McKee’s other restaurants. They include La Belle Vie where we had a fantastic New Years dinner with friends in 2006 and Solera, a creative tapas restaurant just a few blocks away. Both of those places were truly memorable. I guess this Tim McKee guy must be pretty good.

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