Yeah, yeah: Walnut Creek. It’s even farther away than Orinda, well past the point where the map contours grow vague and most human settlements are marked by “Here There Be Monsters.” Except this edge city’s decidedly fancy downtown, already a high-end retail district, decided to spend the last year luring a number of notable restaurants. For what it’s worth, the first Dunkin’ Donuts in the chain’s reconquest of Northern California put down stakes here, but if you’re hungering for something more luxe than a Croissan’wich, you got options.
A family-run Catalan restaurant, Telefèric Barcelona, opened its first location outside the Iberian peninsula earlier this year. Serving mostly tapas, with a smattering of brunch options and plenty of sangria, it avoids any watering-down of northeast Spain’s rich, assertive flavors, while keeping things more accessible than, say, Bellota in SoMa — which is a wonderful restaurant, but leans a little more heavily on squid ink and offal.
“Telefèric” sounds like the name of Barcelona’s phone company, but its etymology has a nice resonance with San Francisco. The word telefèric means “cable car” or “gondola” (like a ski-resort type, not like Venetian canals), and originates in the decor at the family’s first restaurant in Sant Cugat, which people referred to not by name but as “the place with the cable car hanging from the ceiling.” The Walnut Creek location has one strung up as well, with two red cars crossing paths on a loop, almost like Trolley from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.
The Pintxo Cart
Just as drinks are always better when served in flights, everything is more fun when it comes off a cart wheeled around the floor. Telefèric’s pintxo cart could almost be mistaken for desserts, because things are so colorful, but everything on there is savory. Get that appetite going with sliced tomato and goat cheese, or some grilled ahi with olives and a bit of avocado.
While we could sing the praises of foie gras for days, it’s what Telefèric does around its goose liver that deserves praise. First, the cracker this generous slab of fat comes on is well-chosen for its sturdiness: Take a bite, and it doesn’t shatter, plus it’s mild enough in flavor not to overshadow the star.
If aliens discover Planet Earth, they’ll probably rank jamón ibérico as humanity’s finest achievement, tied with Machu Picchu. Prosciutto can’t hold a candle to the cured meat from its Spanish cousin, pigs that feed on acorns for extra depth of flavor, and Telefèric’s tray of pork shavings comes with two slices of tomato bread for maximum contrast.
Octopus with Truffled Potatoes
However ubiquitous the eight-armed cephalopods may have become on Bay Area menus, the most common way to prepare octopus owes everything to the fish markets near La Rambla in Barcelona. So let the masters show you how. This long tentacle, faintly resembling a sea horse, is dusted with only a bit of red pepper. Creamy on the outside and never chewy in the center, it sits on a bed of taters that enhance rather than compete with it.
Gin and Tonic
Telefèric Barcelona has three sangrias, the blood-red classic version being the least sweet. But when you want something even drier, go for a fishbowl-size G&T with juniper berries, rosemary, and edible flowers for a garnish. It looks a lot like the one to found at Uptown Oakland Oaxacan restaurant Calavera, only brighter. And the enormous ice “cube” looks like it could have been quarried from a diamond mine.
Telefèric Barcelona, 1500 Mt. Diablo Boulevard, Walnut Creek, 925-300-3826 or telefericbarcelona.com