Third time’s the charm

Real restaurant reviewers, as opposed to dilettante bloggers, always try a place two or three times before writing it up.  For a change, that’s  what I’m doing with Barbacoa in Orinda.

Situated behind the Orinda Theater in Theater Square, I had seen this new restaurant being built, and was anxious to try it.  Too anxious, it turned out, because we first ate here when they had been open only 12 days, and weren’t really ready.  After that meal, I sent a note to the manager, and he made sure to reply and ask us to return as his guest for another shot.

The second trip was much better, but you can’t really ethically write about a free meal, so I had to wait until tonight, when Gail and I went back just because we wanted to.  I’m pretty glad we did.

The heated outdoor terrace

Barbacoa is a beautifully designed establishment, with a full bar, a dining room indoors and the outdoor terrace, fully equipped with heaters to take the chill off the evening air.  The decor is Mexican, natch: bright, colorful and upbeat. I wish the music wasn’t so loud, but I guess that’s what people want.  The lighting indoors is more atmospheric than illuminating–I don’t have any food photos because it was just too darned dark.

And that darkness confuses me, because this is the kind of place to bring the kids (or grandkids) for dinner.  Indeed, the joint was full of them.  I’d think you’d want more light for the little perishers to see and color and play, but I”m not a restaurant designer.

On to the food.  It’s good.  Not your standard Mexican combination plate, either.  The food here is cooked on a wood fired grill, as the name might suggest.  They offer 7 different kinds of taco, and I had 5 of them.  Their tacos are small, and all but one are served on little, soft, corn tortillas.  The chicken taco is in a fried shell.  If you order the house special “barbacoa” taco, beware of the habañero salsa–this stuff is made from the exceedingly hot peppers soaked in kerosene then set on fire.  Well, that’s what it seem like to me.  Gail ate it and kept smiling, but she’s tougher than I am.

Gail had the pork tamale, and pronounced it excellent.

The hit of the menu is a side dish–the corn and zucchini pudding.    This stuff is like dessert in the middle of the meal, with all the self-righteous virtue of eating your veggies as a bonus.

Our server was excellent: very well trained, willing, swift, smooth and capable.

Prices are reasonable.  Orinda is the high rent district and the people are looking for good, not cheap.  You can get cheaper Mexican plenty of places.  You come here for really good Mexican in a high class atmosphere.

It’s been a bit of a journey getting to this point, but I’m glad I did.  The management here is clearly intent on providing you with a good experience, and have the good sense to listen to their customer and respond.  They won me back after a poor first impression.  When you go remember I did the hard part for you.

Barbacoa on Urbanspoon


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