Hi. Chris Ryan here. Making its debut as a Hudson Valley Restaurant Week participant, hopes were justifiably high for Café Barcel. Since its much-heralded opening in the waning months of 2009, Café Barcel has swiftly amassed a devoted following comprised of locals and regional foodies alike. The buzz surrounding this modern Spanish-inspired bistro has intensified, culminating in the rapid elevation of Timothy Trombley from sous-chef to executive chef just a few months ago.
My companion and I were greeted by the warm smile of a hostess kind enough to check my coat. We were promptly seated at a table nestled against the front window, which proved ideal for people-watching and gave us a panoramic view of the restaurant’s stylish interior. A gracious waiter presented us with a carafe of water and took our drink orders, followed by a basket of rustic, crusty bread together with a housemade butter infused with fresh garlic, sesame and poppy seeds (think: “everything” bagel).
The chef’s take on the everything bagel was whimsical and fun, but our taste buds truly ignited when we were treated to a refreshing amuse bouche: toast points with chimichurri cured salmon topped with homemade spicy hollandaise and chives. They were tiny bursts of serendipitous flavor, and piqued our excitement for our restaurant week experience.
Café Barcel’s restaurant week menu was sprinkled with some signature dishes, and I could not resist what is perhaps the most notable of all – the pan seared mozzarella spiedini accented by a white anchovy and caper sauce. Lightly coated in panko crumbs, the gooey mozzarella married perfectly with the crisp pan-fried sourdough that transcended grilled cheese and prompted me to immediately want more. On a daily basis, if possible.
My companion thoroughly enjoyed her Prince Edward Island mussels roasted with chorizo, hominy and chili pepper.
The mussels were incredibly fresh and, when taken together with the other ingredients, composed a rousing smokiness that stimulated the palate. The chili pepper lent a subtle touch of heat while the texture of the hominy added a smooth finish to complete this delightful little dish.
Based on experiences with certain Manhattan restaurant week menus, portion sizes tend to be substantially less generous than those ordered from regular menus. This is certainly not the case with Café Barcel. Both appetizers could easily be meals in themselves and were the very definition of fine dining value.
For our main courses, the fish option was salmon filet a la plancha. I noticed, however, a chalkboard special of striped seabass a la plancha accompanied by creamy polenta, watercress and green olive confit. The seabass caught my eye, and I asked our accommodating waiter whether it was possible to make a small modification. In mere moments, chef Trombley himself appeared at our table and generously made the accommodation. He also chatted with us for a moment and it was evident that his passion for sustainable, locally-sourced food and inventive culinary techniques merited his ascension to executive chef.
This entrée was sublime, and chef Trombley’s Mediterranean instincts were abundant in every component of the dish. The bass was fresh, lean and sported a mild flavor profile that was the ideal canvass to display the green olive tapenade and the creamy cloud of polenta. Cooked a la plancha, the fish was slightly caramelized that extracted sweet flavor from the filet.
I also sampled morsels of my companion’s char-grilled, chimichurri-marinated marinated hanger steak, which were incredibly tender and replete with grilled goodness. The fries they were served with are reminiscent of what you might find on a boardwalk – dark-hued, salty and crisp throughout.
Abiding by Chef Trombley’s suggestions, we eschewed the infamous bunelos and instead shared bites of authentic tres leches (a fluffy vanilla cake soaked with three types of milk and drizzled with caramel sauce) which was paired with flavorful cinnamon ice cream. We also indulged in a spin on the classic molten chocolate cake, where the warm, gooey chocolate was elevated by delectable butterscotch and rum raisin sauces.
The owners, chef and staff of Café Barcel all deserve accolades for conjuring a Restaurant Week experience that was magical in every sense. It surely represents a milestone for the bistro, and Chef Trombley’s vision has this reviewer excited for the future and continued evolution of this Nyack gem.