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Ode: The Boquerones at Barcelona Wine Bar

I have this photo of me sitting at a sidewalk table in Sevilla, hovering over a plate of deep-fried anchovies, a cold beer in the foreground. My face is one of pure joy.

When my dad got sick, he would tell me he loved that picture and constantly craved a plate of boquerones. Just before he died, I called and drove all over Sacramento looking for the dish to go — I wanted him to at least be able to take a little bite or two and enjoy the essence of it all. He was flat out in his hospice bed in the living room of the house, thin and fragile and ready to go, but he still found pleasure in talking to me about food. I wanted to find this one last gift for him, but I was never able to deliver. I still think about it.

During that impromptu visit to Sevilla, my friends and I ate boquerones every day — less often the fried kind, because a tapas order of those same anchovies marinated in olive oil and vinegar and topped with parsley and garlic was such a fresh and light delight out in the warm Spanish evenings. We’d eat them straight from the plate with a fork or drape them over the slices of fresh bread that would always be on the table. They were a snack we’d enjoy in the afternoon, or at the start of a boozy night out, or late late late as a boost to keep us going until dawn.

People are always surprised when you mention that Barcelona Wine Bar is part of a chain. With its warm, cozy design, super-friendly staff, and localized ambiance, it feels like a perfect fit on its corner in RiNo. An institution from the moment it opened.

The boquerones are part of Barcelona’s tapas menu — two long columns of Spanish stalwarts that are traditional — and downtown-priced — and nearly the right number of bites. The patatas bravas and house-marinated olives are essential orders.

But if you’re looking for a dish that will take you right back to your little table, set precariously on a cobblestone alley in a bustling Spanish town, mopeds buzzing close, people smoking as they stroll by, your server topping off your glass of vino blanco — it’s the boquerones that’ll transport you.

Served on a rectangular plate in their own vinegar and oil, shiny and stunning like the bathing beauties they are, these anchovies are perfectly balanced in their acidic brightness, flaky texture, and gentle fishy flavor. They’re delicate dreamboats — each bite of these Spanish souvenirs transporting you back to your tippy table. But then you look up, only to realize you’re sitting at a convivial, crowded Denver bar drinking perfect negronis with your best friends, and they’re laughing at you as you return to the present, still savoring every bite.

You grouse a bit about the uneven number of fish served — why five and not six? And you request more bread to sop up some of that oil on the plate.

It’s a perfect summer evening and your pals are chivvying you to knock back the rest of your cocktail while they call in the tab because you have a full night of RiNo carousing ahead.

But you don’t take the bait — you say “shhh” and go back to Spain for another moment — still wishing you could have shared that experience with your pops, who would have been so happy there. You take one last sad look at the empty, oily plate as the bartender whisks it away.

And then you’re up and out — back to the now — hustling down Larimer to find another cocktail, wishing you’d placed a double order of those shimmering delicacies.

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Jan 19, 2023

Here fishy fishy fishy...

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