Eggs estrellados

Tiptoeing up the driveway at 4210 Roseland St., my dinner companions and I smile at the soft lighting in the windows of the converted 1920 Craftsman bungalow, watching it bounce off the smartly dressed waiters and the stucco porch and terra-cotta–tiled roof. We stop in admiration a moment, feeling pangs of longing for the cozy, hearth-ish interior. The scene recalls nothing so much as the opening of Howards End (Merchant-Ivory version), if Vanessa Redgrave had sought not solace but Spanish haute cuisine. Having eaten in our share of bungalows-cum-restaurants over the years, the four of us cross the threshold in expectation of an evening of simple, soulful fare, and hours of gentle conversation about nothing much.

That we have utterly misread the place will come as neither surprise nor disappointment to the many fans of BCN Taste & Tradition, whose allegiance has made reservations hard to come by at this Montrose hot spot. Perhaps the most popular restaurant to ever be named for an airport code (Barcelona), and certainly the fanciest to ever abut a Richmond Ave. car wash, Ignacio Torras’s 54-seat eatery positively vibrates with nervous and noisy excitement. 

It always seems to be rush hour at BCN, the narrow passageways between tables clotted with unidentified but elegantly dressed quality-control types, along with friendly but self-conscious waiters—they greet diners like they’re being captured on hidden camera—and untold numbers of small men wielding tongs. These last appear to exist solely to ensure that no bread plate at BCN is ever empty for more than five seconds—no mean feat as each crusty tranche is irresistible—and are almost obsessively efficient in this regard.

It's always rush hour at BCN.

There’s nothing quite like the tension provoked by a restaurant that’s trying too hard, and no antidote to such tension like a stiff drink. Happily, BCN has its share, most notably a gin-and-tonic selection that is rapidly acquiring legendary status in Neartown. As our waiter makes for the bar, excusing himself past other waiters, high-society types, and the like, we peruse the creative if pricey menu which—oh, sorry, one moment. Yes, we’ll have more bread.

As I say, the menu positively reeks with variety in appetizers like a cream soup of Catalonian scallions, eggs estrellados, mussels with leek sauce, and a salad of watermelon and burrata cheese. With one exception, we find that all sound better than they taste, scoring somewhere between bland and mildly interesting on the flavor scale. The eggs, however, sit atop a glorious pile of potatoes and onions and Iberico ham, the closest thing to Spanish comfort food that—wait. More bread? Sure.

Of the main courses, the best is the least Spanish of the bunch—a rib-eye steak cooked to mouthwatering perfection and served with first-rate french fries and red peppers with pine nut oil. Almost as good are—what? Yeah, go ahead. Almost as good are the breaded and sweet baby lamb chops, which stand on end surrounded by roasted vegetables coated in a delicious sauce of unknown provenance. 

The grilled salmon isn’t nearly as interesting as the bed of blue cheese and wild rice it’s served atop, but is at least a decent dish, unlike the poached cod, which—do you still have to ask?—has to be sent back to the kitchen for further cooking. The desserts too elicit a split decision. There is a chocolate cake “in two textures,” neither of which is particularly impressive, and another concoction of phyllo dough and crème brûlée. Given a somewhat unhandsome presentation, this second dessert comes as a wonderful surprise, although one would think that by this point in the evening we’d have learned that appearances could be deceiving. 

As we leave BCN, turning one last time to peer at the bungalow at 4210, we feel pangs again, this time of opportunities missed, as well as money missed, the restaurant having left a not inconsiderable dent in our wallet. But we leave hopeful too—for some reason—and confident that with time, the goings-on inside the house will come to pair better with its quietly extraordinary exterior. “Only connect!” we think, channeling E.M. Forster yet again as we walk down Roseland St. and into the night.

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