One of the first things you discover about Barcelona is that it’s hard to discover. The entrance has no sign, no menu in a window, no clue that there’s a restaurant behind that slatted screen. It helps to know the restaurant faces Temple Street, at the corner of Crown, part of the Omni Hotel building. The door hiding a few feet down from the corner leads you to a very popular New Haven restaurant.
And not just popular here. There are nine Barcelona restaurants: six in Connecticut and three out-of-state – Brookline, Atlanta, and now Washington, D.C., all co-owned by Sasa Mahr-Batuz and Andy Pforzheimer. The New Haven location opened in 2006.
About 70 percent of the menu can be found at all the Barcelona restaurants, tweaked to reflect the locales. The rest is individually chef-driven, usually as daily specials. In New Haven, chef Frank Proto comes from an Italian family, but has interests in North Africa and the Mediterranean, whose cuisines infuse many of the dishes he prepares.
Proto grew up in Elmont, NY, “eating really good food,” he says. “A little bit of the red-sauce Italian, but a lot more of traditional Italian food. My father and uncle made wine, we made our own giant sausages. Food was a big part of everyday life. We’d wake up, have breakfast, and try to figure out what we would have for dinner.”
Proto started in the food business in high school, working in a catering hall. He started his formal restaurant training at Nassau Community College on Long Island, then to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. He cut his teeth at two of Drew Nieporent’s restaurants: Tribeca Grill and Layla. Then he settled in for 15 years, opening and running restaurants for his mentor, restaurateur Joe Fortunato. Eventually, Proto moved his family up to Connecticut and landed at Barcelona.
Proto uses produce and meat from Connecticut farms throughout the year, especially during the summer. “I use a lot of vegetables. If you can make a carrot ‘cool’ and ‘delicious’, as a chef, that’s the height to me. I like that, I enjoy that.”
• Restaurant Website: http://barcelonawinebar.com/newhaven.htm
• The Detes: 155 Temple St., New Haven. 203-848-3000. Monday through Thursday 5 p.m. – 12:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 12 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Sunday 4 p.m. – 12:30 p.m.
• Price Range: Meat and cheese: $6.50 for one, $17.50 for three; tapas $3.50-14; paella or mixed grill for two or more, $24.50 per person, entrees $19-25.
• Style of Food: Spanish with Mediterranean slant
• Favorite dishes: Bacon Tabernaculo, Rib Eye a la Plancha, Grilled Asparagus, Crispy Pork Belly, Lobster Fideos
• Drinks: full bar
• Vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free: yes
• Events: yes
• Catering: yes