Restaurant Review: Café Barcel
From extravagant entrées to dreamy desserts, Nyack’s Café Barcel offers fine fare with a Spanish accent
Muy bueno: Cuisine with a Spanish flair — including this salmon fillet a la plancha, served with a smoked tomato emulsion — makes a statement in a new Rockland County hot spot
Photographs by Jennifer May
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Nidia Alexander’s dream was to open a restaurant. “It’s something I always wanted to do,” says the former Wall Street portfolio manager, who grew tired of her long commute after her son was born. But only in her dreams could she have imagined that Café Barcel, which opened in a quaint storefront on Nyack’s Main Street last November, would quickly turn out to be such a bustling success.
“My family has always been in the business,” says Alexander, who grew up in New York City. The name of the restaurant, in fact, is a tribute to her forebears. Barcel is short for both Barcelona (the one in Spain) and Barceloneta (in Puerto Rico), which are the hometowns of her grandmother and mother, respectively. And the Latin influence permeates everything from the menu to the drink specials, the artsy atmosphere to the musical acts that play the room every Friday night.
Nyack is on the outer fringes of this magazine’s coverage area. It took my wife and me well over an hour to drive there from our house in Highland (we eschewed the Thruway for the scenic route, snaking down Route 9W through the Heights of northern Rockland County). It was well worth the trip.
Café Barcel’s dining room is bright and open; ceiling fans spin lazily around, setting a casual and faintly Iberian mood. The décor is modern: dark wooden floor and tables, red vinyl booths, clean white walls adorned with art. The restaurant doubles as a gallery, where local artists exhibit their work; a row of paintings of chickens hung behind us, looking, it must be said, very Spanish. (Later, I found out they were painted by Rosie Reilly, the sister of executive chef Kevin Reilly, late of the Water Club and the Union Square Café in New York).
Owner Nidia Alexander and Chef Kevin Reilly
Right as we sat down, the waitress brought us a snack — mozzarella fondue on toasted baguette, one for each of us. This amazingly fresh mozzarella had the consistency of cream cheese. I could have spread it on the baguette with a butter knife. An auspicious beginning to what would be an exquisite meal.
It was high summer when we visited Café Barcel, and they offered up some snazzy cocktails — a ginger mojito, with ginger-infused vodka and mint; an agave negro, a pleasant mixture of fresh blackberries, lemon, mint, and tequila; “Mallorca Dreams,” with fresh blueberries, lemon juice, Tanqueray and Prosecco; and, for the designated drivers, a fresh berry spritzer — but we opted for wine. I highly recommend the Itsas Mendi, a sweet (but not too sweet) white wine from the Basque region of Spain which tasted like it was almost bubbling. When I finished the first glass, I asked for another.
The appetizers came with a flourish, each dish looking like its own miniature art installation. My wife’s soup was served in a big, white, oblong bowl, and my yellow fin tuna tartare, flanked by taro chips half a foot long, was (almost) as attractive to look at as it was to taste. The soup — sweet corn with shrimp and pickled jalapeños — was revelatory. “The perfect blend of sweet and spicy,” my wife said. (She would continue to talk about the soup for the next two days.)
Daily specials are all written in cursive on a giant blackboard on one wall, in rainbow-colored chalk. While not on the main menu, there are several that Café Barcel is already known for, such as the mozzarella speidini with white anchovy and caper sauce, and the shrimp a la plancha with green plantains.
We stuck to the menu, however. My wife had the seared rare tuna with yucca pancake, pea leaves, and carrot-herb sauce, while I went with the salmon fillet a la plancha with sweet corn, mizzuna, fava beans, and smoked tomato emulsion. Although salmon is ubiquitous on restaurant menus, it is difficult to cook. Often, it’s too well done, and a tad dry. Not so here. Each bite of salmon called to mind the best salmon I’ve ever had, which was at lunch at Jean-Jacques in New York. The sides, as well as my wife’s entrée, were equally up to par.