Great Times, Good Tacos

patio

When Greenwich residents are asked about an exciting dining destination, most will mention Bartaco, a bright and cheerful restaurant located on the New York side of the Byram River. The former lobster shack is particularly appealing in the early evening, when the setting sun lights the outdoor patio area and seeps into the main dining space, giving the whitewashed walls a warm yellow hue.

At Bartaco, the wait staff is young, eager, thoughtful, and pleasant. On a recent Saturday night around 9 p.m., I was told the wait for a party of seven would be nearly two hours. Oh. While we waited for an outside table, a passing-by waitress took our drink and snack orders (though they were out of salsa that night), noticing we had little to no chance of getting a bartender’s attention. Then, to my surprise, we were seated within 50 minutes.

Service here is always friendly, usually outstanding, and one time above the call of duty. I speak now of one waitress who did all she could to accommodate two kosher-observing friends and one college buddy who was freezing but too proud to admit it.

This friend decided to wear a short-sleeve polo shirt on a 55-degree May evening. Noticing his discomfort, one dinner guest suggested he borrow a jacket. Another recommended scooting closer to the outdoor heater. Fortunately for him, our attentive server overheard the conversation and, before she took our order, brought him a blanket.

As for the food, among the main menu selection is a list of “not tacos”—small plates that include tamales and salads. A juicy half chicken is available too. Even better, in fact much better, are the tacos, which the restaurant describes as “familiar” and “unusual.” The “familiar” baja fish tacos—a tasty fried cod—are about as good as any you’ll find in the greater New York area. My only complaint is that the tortilla shells are thin and lack flavor. Every time I went, I hoped to taste a hint of corn. My wish never came true. Still, what’s wrapped inside the tortillas usually doesn’t disappoint. The sesame ribeye taco is bold and poignant. Even the wild boar version is prepared perfectly.

These same ingredients, though most successful in the tacos, also translate well in some of the restaurant’s rice bowls. The pork belly topped above a nice portion of sticky rice is so juicy, warm, and succulent that it shares the texture of a pan-seared foie gras.

Those who do not eat meat or fish may not fare well at Bartaco. The three vegetarian tacos—falafel, cauliflower, and portobello—are ordinary at best. A cucumber salad, served in a wooden bowl about the size of a bisected bocce ball, however, is surprisingly delectable. One picky carnivore didn’t want to try it. I insisted. He ate it and loved it, as he should have. It’s spicy, fresh, and gratifying.

One side to skip at Bartaco is the “not to be missed” grilled corn, which on all three of my visits was bland and tasted as if it was boiled, not grilled. “Yes, it’s grilled,” I was assured. Yet nowhere was the familiar char to be found on the corn, replaced instead by a hailstorm of lumpy cotija cheese that stuck to a smeared, carmine-colored sauce. Each small cob looked as if it had been given a hickey by a woman wearing chipotle lipstick but lacked any of the flavor or passion that comes with such a kiss.

Desserts could be better, though you’d be remiss to skip the churros—large, oven-hot, doughy sticks that burst with cinnamon flavor. My once shivering friend, now wrapped in his blanket, almost forgot that he ordered them. When they arrived he ate them with pleasure. Then, even though the temperature had dropped and many people were still sipping their drinks, in no hurry to leave, he decided he no longer needed the blanket for warmth.