The food truck frenzy continues apace: this weekend saw the launch of the Barcelona On the Go truck at Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa. When I arrived at 3:30, the line was about twelve people long; when I got to the front, the line had grown to about twenty, and when I left at about 5:00, people were having to leave space for the liquor store's patrons to leave. Clearly a popular opening.
The menu is in English and Spanish; this seemed odd (most Barcelonins are immensely proud of their Catalan language and it is required by the Generalitat de Catalunya that every restaurant in the province be printed primarily in Catalan) until I learned that Esteban Nocito, the proprietor, is not Catalan but Argentine, which explains the flatiron steak with chimichurri.
Regardless their bona fides--Argentina is arguably the most European country in the Americas--their menu is a list of tapas and dishes that would not be out of place in a Barcelona bar.
There were three people in black shirts taking orders and cooking, and a few "ambassadors" standing around distributing menus (I never got one) and introducing the concept. It took nearly thirty minutes to get ten people through the line; it would have been better to press one of the "ambassadors" into service taking orders, allowing two people to cook and one to expedite.
As I waited, I noticed the OCHCA's inspection sticker on the passenger side of the front windshield. Passed. What was that about mobile trucks being unsanitary and dubious? If it's good enough for OC's notoriously anal-retentive food police, doubters, it should be good enough for anyone.
The orange flan was available for the taking on the shelves, so it was dessert first. The flan itself was excellent; eggy, creamy, with the perfect caramelly brown disc on top. The custard was not strongly (if at all) orange-flavored; the orange in the dish seems to have come from the candied orange peel on top, which was excellent. Orange peel can be tough, especially in large pieces, but this candied to nearly crunchy. Add some of the orange peel directly into the flan and this is a winner; I've had flans at sit-down restaurants that couldn't hold a candle to this. At $3, it's a steal.
The remainder of the food took a very, very long time to show up; I was five pours through an eight-wine tasting in the basement of Hi-Time before it showed up. Heads turned jealously--who was this man who managed to get food delivered to the bar?--and the questions began.
The feeling from most people was that the line was too impossible to brave. Most sighed wistfully after the croquetas. I think if they'd been prepared for the crowds, they could have fed most of the (full) wine tasting area; they all seemed up for it.
Apologies were offered for the tortilla's temperature; apparently it came off first and sat. It seemed like they were anticipating a complaint, but it wasn't a problem at all. Ttortilla española (truita de patates in Catalan) is almost always served at room temperature. It was quite good, eggy and with potatoes that managed to be tender and have a little snap at the same time. It would have been better with a little dish of allioli or mayonnaise as a sauce.
Manchego and ham croquettes ($5) were quite good; very cheesy-tasting, and the ham was definitely in evidence. The mesclun salad was a nice accompaniment; the sharp dressing cut through the potatoes in the croquettes. The only minor complaint is that they were a little bit charred on one side. This actually lent a nice smoky flavor to it but there was a small textural mismatch. This is another dish that would benefit from a small dish of allioli or mayonnaise. Potatoes and allioli are a great combination.
The paella came with chicken and seafood, in this case shrimp and squid. The rice was nicely tinted and flavored with saffron, separated and quite obviously cooked in a wide, flat dish as tradition dictates. The squid was cooked just to done; I had feared rubbery rings when I looked inside, but they obviously had added it at just the right time. A tiny squeeze of lemon was all the rice needed. The only thing missing was the flavor of the sarments (vine clippings) that are traditionally burned for the fuel.
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On the debit side, the chicken was underseasoned, and the shrimp was not deveined. While you get what you get with shell-on (though headless) shrimp, it would have been better to clip and clean the shrimp; it lent an unpleasant off-texture and off-flavor to the shrimp. The paella was squirted with what looked like romesco; it had little flavor and was an odd choice for an otherwise by-the-books dish. Barcelona On The Go's paella isn't going to challenge the paella at La Española anytime soon, but minus the odd sauce, it was quite good and better than expected for being from a mobile truck. One small carp on the value: the portion also could be a bit bigger for $9, given that Black Sheep Bistro sells a paella at least five times the size for $30.
I wasn't able to sample the flatiron steak, but I saw a portion of it as I walked back to my car; it looked and smelled outstanding.
The food is surprisingly tasty; there's no reason tapas shouldn't be sold from a truck, and I'm glad to have Barcelona On the Go as part of the burgeoning OC mobile food trend. They just need to speed up: have one person taking orders, and get the food out in five minutes, not forty. They ought to consider continuing a partnership with Hi-Time and other wine merchants with on-sale licenses, and perhaps showing up at the Bruery; the whole point of tapas is that they're a snack to go along with alcohol.
The Barcelona On the Go truck is based in Orange County. Follow them on Twitter at http://twitter.com/brcelonaonthego, call 949-939-6798 or see their website. Visa, MasterCard, Discover accepted.