Sangria Jarra

Barcelona, 34 North Central, 314-863-9909

Feb 26, 2003 at 4:00 am
At times, the din in Barcelona sounds like the screams of 1,000 starving bluejays cooped up in a broom closet, all vying for the same (sweet, sweet) worm. It's that tin ceiling, bless its beautiful heart. The cackles and giggles of young urban professionals who populate this relatively new Clayton tapas bar bounce off the ceiling, where they seem to gain momentum and volume that then nail your eardrums with the force of twin Scuds. It's kind of overwhelming and rivals the intensity at the city's most acoustically challenged dining room, Frazer's Traveling Brown Bag.

But what a wonderful problem to have: Noise means crowds, and crowds mean a restaurant is doing something right.

If you were blindfolded, spun until dizzy, doped, stuffed into a trunk and then dumped at one of the dozen or so tables at Barcelona, you'd have no idea whether you were in Clayton or Spain. The tiny space, painted burnt orange and yellow, is charming -- if cramped -- and the seasoned hams that dangle in the kitchen window are the real deal, not plastic, as in some joints. This is as authentic as a tapas joint in Clayton in Missouri in the Midwestern United States can get.

Order the Sangria Jarra -- "jar o' sangria" -- if you're with a date, because it's kind of cool to have a pitcher of sangria on your table. For sixteen bucks, you and your partner will get about three glasses each. As you pour it into big wine glasses, chunks of fruit and ice drop in, all purply-pink and pretty. The fruit floats, but for some mysterious reason it doesn't try sneaking into your mouth as you drink. It's tempting to take a big gulps of sangria. Maybe it's the similarity to fruit punch, or just the chunks of fun, or all the goddamn noise that tempts you to drink instead of sip, as you would a glass of wine But regardless, Mr. Manners is cool with a chug or two.

Bar manager Maziar Nooran plays mad scientist in the basement to create the sangria. He makes 200 liters at a time and ages it in oak barrels, which adds a subtle accent, so subtle we couldn't taste it at all. His recipe -- and there are countless variations -- calls for Rioja wine (from a region in Spain known for its reds), Pacharan sloe liqueur, seasonal fruits (lots of apples in Nooran's version) and spices, the specifics of which, like any proud bartender, Nooran refuses to divulge. Once you've sapped the last precious drop of blood from the glass, the temptation is to grab a spoon and have a little booze-infused fruit cocktail. Resist this temptation; the fruit has turned bitter and is quite unenjoyable as a snack.

Instead, stuff some of the fruit in your ears. It'll muffle the screeching and provide you a fascinating new life experience to boot.