Filler Tequila Central

Downtown's Barrio Grill Has Great Food And Even Better Margaritas.
By Rebecca Cook

IF YOU FREQUENTED the former South Sixth Avenue home of the B&B Café, be prepared for a jolt when you visit Barrio Grill, the newest tenant of the site.

Chow Barrio Grill has transformed this space into a more upscale experience, complete with cushioned booths, tableside service, and a slick mirrored back bar where many a downtown professional gathers at day's end to unwind.

There may be some cognitive dissonance in a shift from deli to art deco, but it's a delicious disorientation.

Barrio Grill offers a Southwest fusion menu that pays special tribute to the chile pepper. From poblanos to habeneros to chipotles, the pungent pods often take center stage.

One meal began with a dish called the Perfect Pepper ($5), a roasted poblano chile barely breaded and stuffed with a spicy chile-studded jack cheese and garlic, with a piquant salsa fresca on the side.

The gentle heat imparted by the various chiles in both pepper and salsa was tempered by the slightly sweet flavor of the tender poblano.

Another satisfying beginning at Barrio Grill is the tortilla soup ($4.50), a rich chile-imbued stock with shredded Jack cheese, freshly-fried corn tortilla strips, tomatoes, cilantro, avocado and small wedges of fresh lime.

A spinach-citrus salad ($5.50), consisting of a mountain of fresh spinach leaves, orange and grapefruit slices, walnuts and roasted pine nuts, was a definite standout. The salad was further enhanced by the addition of a cilantro-lime dressing, which contributed a tangy sweetness to the whole.

Sandwiches run the gamut from burgers to fish tacos, and always include a choice of spicy fries or the house salad.

Image I selected the grilled sirloin steak sandwich ($6.75) one noonday, a thin slab of beef topped with sautéed shiitake mushrooms and sliced onions served atop slices of homestyle bread. In contrast to everything else I sampled at Barrio Grill, this sandwich was just okay--the steak was apparently too thin to be cooked to the specified medium-rare and as a result, the flavor suffered substantially.

Dinner is an elegant and dimly-lit affair at Barrio Grill, where the tables are bathed in the faint glow of small candles.

An entree of grilled salmon fillet ($12) with a soy-apple cider glaze pleased mightily, the salty-sweet glaze a congenial accent to the dish.

Barrio Grill's polenta ($11) is nothing short of spectacular--a large square of Italian cornbread pudding generously stuffed with goat cheese, fresh spinach and sun-dried tomatoes--bathed by an ocean of the house marinara, a sauce thick with chopped tomatoes and sweet onions. The provocative blend of flavors, particularly the contrast of sharp cheese with zippy-sweet marinara sauce, is both intriguing and satisfying. Served with an assortment of grilled vegetables, this dish is a vegetarian delight.

Desserts are not numerous at Barrio Grill, but they're nevertheless impressive. A square of the carrot cake, served with a thick lemon-orange glaze, proved sweet, moist and delicious. The java cake consisted of layers of a mocha torte infused with rich buttercream filling and the whole topped with dark chocolate frosting. Insulin shock could result if you ingest this all by yourself.

A lighter dessert was the zabaglione, an ethereal, sweet Italian custard made with a splash of Chardonnay and poured into a goblet along with fresh, ripe strawberries. Able to appease a sweet tooth without overload, this is a dessert to treasure.

Food considerations aside, Barrio Grill also tempts with one of the largest selections of tequila in town, with the most elite currently being a Cuervo house reserve that sells for $10 a shot. Perhaps not coincidentally, Barrio Grill also makes one of the pueblo's finest margaritas, using a homemade sweet-sour blend as the mixer.

Service can be a little goofy at times--our waiter, although charmingly enthusiastic about his work, kept forgetting little things and frequently had to be reminded about our requests--but was still within the bounds of acceptable.

Barrio Grill is sure to become a favorite on the downtown dining scene. Between the classy surroundings, the consistently good food and a myriad of tequilas, it can't miss.

Barrio Grill. 135 S. Sixth Ave. 629-0191. Open Monday through Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday Closed Sundays. Full bar. V, MC, AMEX, Checks. Menu items $4-$12.50. TW

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