The modern restaurant experience has become about more than just food, as many businesses now attempt to successfully blend a variety of both aesthetic and tangible factors. Food and taste remains the as the key exeperience, but sights and sounds within the establishment have taken on increasing roles.
Bartaco, one of Atlanta’s newest restaurants, succeeds in all three aspects; with a focus on coastal cuisine, Bartaco is an eclectic mix of the modern and traditional foods that uses the canvas of Mexican cuisine to generate an array of dishes differing in taste and type.
The menu boasts such a wide variety of options through which even the pickiest eater could find satisfaction.
The latest expansion into Atlanta by the Barteca Restaurant Group, the same team that
brought in the Barcelona Wine Bar, follows several successful installations throughout Connecticut and New York, and is the fifth of its kind in existence.
Featuring a menu and décor nearly identical to its predecessors, Bartaco is attempting to bring its own unique brand of beach cuisine and casual atmosphere to the South.
“[The Barcelona Wine Bar] has been doing so well. [Atlanta is] just a great food market. This is more beach-inspired and you don’t see that anywhere else in Atlanta,” said Jelyne Helms, General Manager at Bartaco.
Service, décor and atmosphere can never take the place of good food. In this regard, the restaurant is at its prime. As a taco and tapas bar, its menu consists of a list of primarily smaller items, allowing the customer to order a greater variety of options.
The menu features some noteworthy appetizers, such as the shrimp ceviche and of course, guacamole and chips. The ceviche was chilled and packed a spicy lemon-based kick that leaves one hankering for the main course. Guacamole, the reliable standard of contemporary southwestern cuisine, was soft and sweet with a pillow-like texture. Both dishes are a treat and build anticipation for what is yet to come.
The core of the menu is, of
course, the taco. Each taco consists of a corn tortilla, some lettuce and a sauce. One of the best of these is the fried oyster taco. Filled
with crisply coated yet soft oysters, marinated in a tangy sauce, this dish light and delicious.
A bolder, yet equally gratifying alternative, is the boar taco. Loaded with shredded hunks of
chewy and tender meat, this taco caters more to one’s craving for comfort food, even if it lacks the kick found in the oyster taco.
“I think we’re going to get to the [point] where we are more chef-driven with special tacos for each location,” stated Anthony Saunders, Head Chef of Bartaco.
Some of the other exquisite tacos are the falafel and shrimp variants. The falafel taco is reminiscent of a baby-sized Mediterranean wrap and features one large piece of fried chickpea that fortunately lacks the coarseness commonly found in falafel. Instead the chefs manage to keep it to smooth, similar to a sweet potato in texture. The shrimp taco is another standout seafood dish with a crisp bite that just drips in savory juices and flavor.
Not everything can be expected to be perfect though; the mushroom and chicken tacos lean
more toward the disappointing end of the scale. While the mushrooms had an enjoyable fleshy taste, the taco was a bit dry with no real
sauce, cheese or contrasting flavor. This was despite the fact that the menu implies that the taco comes with cheese.
While not explicitly bad, the chicken taco was generic with large chunks of buffalo-style chicken, reminiscent of the kind found in typical chicken wing eateries.
One of the great non-taco highlights of the menu is the quesadilla. Filled to the core, with a sweet, gooey cheese, the dish comes out hot and flavorful. It’s already melting even before it hits your mouth and practically coats your tongue with its sweet and savory taste.
Bartaco’s signature desserts are an unexpected highlight of the menu. The spicy chocolate pudding is one dessert of particular delight. Served in a glass and topped with a foamy white cream, the delicacy is covered in crunchy bits of hazelnut granola.
The chocolate buried inside is
also filled with a smoky spiced flavoring. This amalgamation of ingredients creates a blended warm sweet.
While not quite as intricate, the churros are equally decadent. A cup of rich dark chocolate sauce compliments the fried pastry and provides a fitting end to the meal.
Of course as stated earlier, Bartaco excels at providing more than just an enjoyable culinary experience.
The décor and style of the restaurant was a hybrid between a beach cantina and a modern art gallery. The walls are filled with photographs of landscapes and the interior has an earthy yet trendy atmosphere.
At the center of the restaurant is a bar specializing in beach-style drinks. On one end of the restaurant was an outside dining area, which can put patrons in the coastal mindset (given it’s a sunny day.)
Playing soft pop and blues music, the restaurant is structured just right for casual conversation. Around lunchtime on a typical weekday, the place is snuggly packed, but not too crowded or loud.
Service is speedy, with a waiting staff that seems to know the customer is ready before they do. One simply writes an order on the menu and then holds it up for the server to take; in practice the service was so attentive that the menu is almost taken out of one’s hand as soon as he holds it up. The servers are also attentive and eager to check up on the quality of each customer’s experience. Bartaco also features valet service, a critical component of downtown dining at a time when parking is increasingly scarce.
“[What sets us apart] is the culture of our restaurant. The amount of blood [we put in] and hard work we do. There’s no sandbagging here,” said Sanders.
Bartaco is a quality all-around dining experience that provides something different for Atlantans.