Friday, October 9, 2009

Barcelona, Pitman

As you may know, Pitman has never been much of a culinary destination. In fact I don't think it's ever been much of a destination at all, for anything. Nor would I say it's the kind of place where people base themselves for convenient access to other towns (or Philadelphia). I'd characterize it more as a place for people who are quietly confident about the superiority of their town and lifestyle despite the lack of evidence. Here, check out these old postcards. Most of the buildings and views are intact today, which is cool! I digress. My point was that Pitman has never had fine dining, just Italian restaurants and some other bits 'n' bobs. At Barcelona, Your Host Mark Nascimento aims to change all that, and seems to be succeeding, which is terrific.

Mark seems to be a succesful veteran of the South Jersey restaurant scene, and Barcelona is his latest project. He's taken over the building next to the Borough Hall and police station, adjacent to the bakery. You'll remember that this used to be split and have an office supply store, a kindergarten, or some other things on various sides depending on the year, but has been empty and for sale for some time. He actually mentioned that he visited the town for the first time and signed a deal on the property without even realizing what other attractions existed (like the beautifully-renovated Broadway Theater). That's the spirit, isn't it? I interpret this as confidence that the restaurant would attract enough people from the greater South Jersey area, regardless of whether a small town like Pitman could support the concept and price level that Mark wanted to go for. That's great.

I also love the atmosphere in the place (minus the noise level, which Mark is trying to fix). The clean, relaxed, dim setting wouldn't be out of place in a city, although a bit of greenery or some divisions in the big room would help. The other customers also seem to be into it - every table featuring a bottle of wine (or three, in some cases). I even spotted a pair of decanters on a shelf in the back and asked to dust one off and use it.

These spreads (olive on the right, I think butter in the middle, I think tomato on the left) were nice. Lauren warmed up the bread after we asked her to do so.

Being a prisoner of the multi-course world, I got three entrees (UK: mains). The first was Flaming Pig (not its real name), an 8X1-inch chorizo that was lightly flamed tableside in, I kid you not, a pig-shaped ceramic dish (you can least see the flame in the picture!). Drama has come to Pitman, and not just on stage in the theater.

The sausage itself was an interesting take on chorizo, at least to me. It was very chunky, both the meat and fat, which meant that it didn't mix to a sausage consistency and the meat pieces were a little dry. The flavor was strong and good, however, and the inclusion of mustard introduced the 'pan-European' theme. (Barcelona is actually advertised as a European Bistro, not a Spanish Restaurant.)

Have you noticed the odd lighting? It was too dark to take decent pictures, but Dad had his penlight and helpfully provided some overhead fill light. Plus it was his birthday! Yay Dad!

I also had these stuffed peppers, which were quite Spanish to me and probably my favorite thing. The innards were something like 'Marinara mix', just a jumble of seafood. Considering that the version I had in Spain included canned tuna, this could be considered a step up! No extra lighting on this picture, which is why the peppers look like lumps of mud.

I also had this special, sweet potato gnocchi in pumpkin cream sauce. They were about as heavy as the description sounds, and a little sweet.

Dad had this tilapia. I don't know from the sauce, but it included a bunch of mashed potatoes and also some nice julienne vegetables. Very American in aspect, don't you think? I'm kind of enjoying the spotlighting now...

And Mom had this lamb. Good heavens, this was a lot of meat; it wasn't cheap, but the quantity justified the price. 4 double-bone chops with roughly-chopped nut crust, cradling another pile of mashed potatoes. The meat was good, a little underdone for my tastes. This is where I realized that I was in a different type of restaurant, and ordering more than one dish is pretty difficult if you get a main...I couldn't finish all three starters, and I thought beforehand that I was getting right back into American-eating mode.

 Not finishing some of the starters made me feel like it was OK to eat a dessert, and this Key Lime pie was enjoyable. Light, not too tart, not too sweet (some would say 'balanced'), I don't care if it was made or bought, I liked it.

Everyone's real friendly in a homey, American way (including Mark!) - service by Lauren, Lauren and Lisa was good (Mercedes wasn't there, much to everyone's disappointment). If you live in the area, I think you should take a bottle of wine and check it out!

Pitman: South Jersey hotspot?

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