Food & Friends
It’s true that food and friends feed the soul, and when the two are combined it’s a magical feeling. That’s why we feel so honored when we are invited into someone’s home for a meal that they have thoughtfully and lovingly prepared for us. Honored is exactly how we’d describe walking into Barcelona Bistro Bar, located in the heart of Jeffersontown, Kentucky. This hidden gem, set just off Taylorsville Road across from the Police Department, is the only authentic Spanish restaurant in the Louisville Metro area.
The Chef’s Message
We recently sat down with owner and chef Alba Clementson, as she shared the fascinating details of her life. Instantly drawn to her beautiful Spanish accent and gorgeous smile, we were captivated by her infectious energy and passion for life. She began by pointing to the message that greets her guests, handwritten on a black chalkboard as you enter the restaurant: “My house is your home. Come in and relax, talk, enjoy, and live in the moment.” Barcelona Bistro Bar was designed to be a place where time has no purpose other than slowing down so you can enjoy yourself.
A Taste of Home
Barcelona’s menu offers all of Alba’s favorite childhood dishes–her mother’s recipes. Alba told us that 90% of mothers cook in Spain. Every menu item is made from scratch and served fresh daily. Alba starts each morning shopping local markets and carefully handpicking the ingredients she’ll be cooking, which is important to the quality of a dish. Her mother taught Alba how to choose only the freshest ingredients–like with fish, “Look at the eyes. If you see that the eyes are grey, it is not fresh.” A lot of flavors in her dishes come from the vegetables themselves, and she adds a bit of olive oil, cayenne pepper, rosemary, chile, parsley, thyme, garlic, cloves, and salt and pepper to season. “A bit of soja herb, just a touch but not too much,” she said. “The food is not spicy but very flavorful.” Alba makes different sauces for all of her dishes as well.
Alba wants her restaurant to feel like a home because, to her, “it is my home.” Its decor is a reflection of Alba’s personality and style and is designed to look and feel like her home in Spain. The outside, denim blue and trimmed in strawberry, is reminiscent of the sea. When you walk through the doors, you are greeted by the warmth of the lighting and the calming colors. The charm shines through in its Spanish decor and the bar has a fun, beachy vibe to it.
Alba grew up in Barcelona and the Island of Menorca, one of Spain’s Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea. In her childhood, Alba remembers her house was always filled with guests. Her father, famous Spanish actor Isidro Sola, known for his work on Chance Sees Fun (1958), The Womanizer (1964) and Guest Authors, would often host his fellow actors, directors, and advertisers and treat them to his wife’s delicious cooking. Absorbing her mother’s energy, Alba quickly learned how to cook and serve guests too.
For twenty years, Alba followed in her father’s footsteps, enjoying a successful career as an actress in Spain, dubbing primarily in Spanish and Catalan to actresses such as Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Julianne Moore, and Lisa Kudrow. But fate had other plans: a chance meeting and love at first sight.
As Fate Would Have It
As Alba tells her story, on her last night in New York City after attending an intensive film workshop, she saw a handsome stranger dressed in a suit and tie sitting across from her in the same bistro. “I saw him and I knew that I was going to marry him,” she said. Mark Clementson, the handsome stranger, was enjoying his last evening in the Big Apple as well, wrapping up a business trip with his company, which was ringing the bell at the Nasdaq. They were two souls drawn together by fate on their last night in the city.
From that moment on, they took great measures to be together. With Alba living in Barcelona and Mark in Charlotte, NC, they traded off monthly trips across the pond to see one another.
A few months into their courtship, Alba, smitten, wanted to give Mark a party like he’d never had before and introduce him to her friends as her boyfriend. It was Thanksgiving time, and, knowing nothing of the American holiday, Alba turned to Google. She researched what’s included in a Thanksgiving dinner: turkey, apple pie,cranberry sauce, green bean casserole. Since turkeys are not a staple for the Spanish diet, Alba had to hunt down a farm that raised them and ended up paying $100 each for two. She invited 50 of her closest friends and hired a band of musicians. Since Mark loves country music, she asked the band to learn some country songs for him. That’s where Alba thinks she sealed the deal.
They went out together that afternoon, and when they came back Mark was surprised with the lively party. They celebrated from 1:00 pm to 1:00 am. That party was in November, and in December Mark whisked her away to go skiing in the mountains, where he asked Alba to marry him.
After several years of commuting back and forth between continents, Alba and Mark eventually settled in Louisville, KY, where Alba decided to share her love of home and cooking with all of us.
A Culinary Experience
After falling in love with Alba’s electric personality, her passion for life, and her amazing storytelling (she’s definitely an actress–animated and expressive), we just knew we’d love her food. When we came back that evening, the place was filled with people: young couples, families, groups of friends all enjoying one another’s company. The only phone visible, other than guests choosing their dinner selections, was my own, used strictly to take pictures. The room was filled with laughter and conversation. Everyone around us was enjoying their food, their drinks, and their experience.
We started our meal off with drinks. Ted ordered a red wine and I had the White Sangria. The Sangria was light and mildly fruitful–delicious, with the perfect amount of sweetness and garnished with a slice of lemon and cherry. As an appetizer, we ordered the Olives, which included a variety of olives and slices of red pepper lightly tossed in olive oil and seasoning. Ted made sure to eat them all.
For dinner, Ted ordered the Garlic Shrimp, served in a bubbling dish of olive oil and garlic with a little spice from the chili pepper. I ordered the Super Crispy Fried Chicken: thin slices of chicken fried to golden perfection, juicy and delicious, served with a side of tartar sauce. We shared the crispy potatoes with double dressing (Patatas Bravas), chunks of potato crisped and covered in a delicious garlic aioli and brava sauce–Spain’s most popular tapa. For dessert, we indulged ourselves with deep fried beignets with pecan ice cream and glazed hazelnuts, the perfect way to top off our delicious meal.
We raved about our meal so much that our son and daughter-in-law, Mitchell and Aimi, just had to try it when they came into town from Baltimore this week. Enjoying their first date together since Aimi gave birth to our grandson, Yoshi, earlier this year, they ordered one of Alba’s signature dishes, the Paella “Surf & Turf.” With traditional Spanish rice cooked in a wide, shallow skillet with chicken, pork, shrimp, mussels, clams, and octopus, it’s served in an 18-inch plate. Hard to believe it, but they ate the entire thing, with a pitcher of Red Sangria and beignets for dessert. Aimi said it was so good that she was still satisfied the next day.
Made with Love
Spending time caring for our beautiful grandson this week, taking full advantage of being his Mimi and Poppo, has been our greatest gift of love. It is truly heaven, which is why Alba’s message to her guests is so perfectly crafted: it reminds us to take time out to enjoy life.
Meeting Alba was both fascinating and enlightening, so if you are looking to share a meal with friends, make sure to carve out plenty of time to enjoy the flavors of Spain that Alba has so lovingly prepared for you. This is not the place for a quick bite to eat;, it’s a place to luxuriate with friends over Alba’s made-from-scratch slow-cooked recipes. You’ll likely see her husband, Mark (the tall handsome man), rushing about helping to bus tables, serve, and seat guests, as well as Alba herself. You’ll recognize her instantly, not only because of her beauty but also her energy and spirit. She’ll likely stop by your table, so be sure and tell her that the Bluegrass Travelers sent you. Injoi! Enjoy!