Twenty-two years ago, Soledad Urabayen introduced the people of Barcelona to art of the pincho,(a two-bite bar snack native to the Basque country of Northern Spain) when she opened the restaurant RONDES (now Telefèric Sant Cugat) in the village of Sant Cugat, 20 miles outside of Barcelona's city center. At least this is the story told by her son Xavi Padrosa, who has recently opened a restaurant of his own in the similarly small suburb of Walnut Creek. Teleféric Barcelona (which might more accurately be called Teleféric Walnut Creek) is the third restaurant of its kind and the first to open in the United States.
Named for the toy teleferic (an overhead cable car) that ran across the entrance of the Padrosa family's original restaurant, the eating establishment is known for its large menu of tapas and pintxos, both of which you'll find in the Walnut Creek location, along with a replica toy teleferic transversing the ceiling of the dining room.
Eating at Telefèric is an experience that is as much about the entertainment as it is about the food. Sure, the menu features some interesting and authentic Spanish offerings (including homemade croquettes, albondigas, and embutidos espanoles), but where the restaurant really shines is in its novelty. Pinxtos are served from a rolling cart that comes around the restaurant dim sum style. The small bites range from a hunk of Spanish tortilla on crostini to a duck-liver mousse that gets far more hype than it warrants. Try to catch the cart when it's fresh from the kitchen to ensure that hot dishes are still, well, hot.
Periodically diners will hear celebratory bell ringing and shouts of “paella,” indicating that another batch of the traditional seafood and rice dish has finished settling and is ready to be served. Similar to the pinxtos, large pans of paella are wheeled on a cart, and served table-side. The dish is homey with hearty spices, though my scoop of seafood was left cooking a little too long.
That Telefèric management consulted with Michael Iglesias (of Calavera) is most evident in their cocktail menu, which features a Mojito Dalí topped with an airy strawberry “fairy cloud” and a vodka-based Alchemist dusted with gold and poured over an ice-sphere of blood orange juice. There's a bit of a “to do” with drinks like The Spanish Merchant, a potpourri of flowers, cardamom and flecks of fennel and ginger brought out in large wine glass and topped with tonic right at your table.
As for entrees, Telefèric proudly boasts its “Secreto,” a secret cut of meat (typically less than one pound) taken from behind the shoulder of the heritage breed black-footed Ibérico pig. Grilled and served with a delicious Chimchurri, the pork was fatty and flavorful, an interesting exploration, but probably not where I'd choose to spend my money. I'd much rather steer you in the direction of the pulpo trufado, think chunks of octopus, grilled yet tender and served with a truffled potato cream I could have eaten by the bowl. Notable runner-up was the sambas al ajillo, large tender prawns sautéed with garlic and a spicy aromatic sofrito.
On the whole, the experience was worth the trip out east. There may be no sky-gliding teleferic to get you there, but if you sip enough sangria you may just sail home.
Telefèric Barcelona, 1500 Mount Diablo Blvd., Walnut Creek, 925-300-3826.