Teleferic Barcelona Shows How Rooftop Dining Can Be Super Classy

Teleferic Barcelona’s rooftop dining patio. (Photo: Courtesy of Thomas Smith)

Parklets have proven wildly popular during the pandemic. They allow people to dine outdoors, cutting their Covid-19 risk while still enjoying the Bay Area’s amazing food scene. As cities begin to roll back authorizations for parklets and other temporary outdoor dining spaces, though, these moves raise a dilemma. Especially with the emergence of the Omicron variant, how can people safely dine outside in cities’ crowded urban cores, where space is always at a premium?

One popular Bay Area restaurant type may provide the answer: rooftop restaurants. With the Bay Area’s mild climate, rooftop bars and restaurants were popular even before the pandemic forced many diners outdoors. As Covid-19 struck, rooftop restaurants found that their expertise in creating full-scale dining experiences outdoors was an extremely valuable capability — as were their often-lavish and well-appointed outdoor spaces, many of which remained open through much of the pandemic.

But just how classy can an outdoor dining experience be, though? Is it really possible to serve awesome, local, artisan food on the exposed top of a multi-story building… in the winter? To find out, I headed to Teleferic Barcelona in Walnut Creek.

The local tapas restaurant is perched atop a three-story building smack dab in the middle of the East Bay city’s space-constrained downtown. It has an indoor dining room, but also an extensive rooftop dining patio. Teleferic was kind enough to provide me with a media tasting, so I could meet their team and give them the chance to prove that dining on a roof at night could actually be fun.

I arrived on a weekday night in November, well after dark. Bay Area temperatures dip into the 40s overnight — not auspicious conditions for a multi-course, multi-hour meal eaten outdoors. When I arrived and was shown to Teleferic’s rooftop dining area, though, I was immediately struck by how different this was from a standard parklet.

Restaurants have done an amazing job making use of the space available to them and giving our streets a creative, festive vibe. But most parklets still feel temporary; they have limited heating, limited coverage, and often jut into busy roads. Especially on a drafty, chilly night, eating in one reminds me more of dining in my family’s sukkah (a temporary hut constructed during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot) than going out for fine dining.

Proper rooftop dining spaces feel totally different. Teleferic Barcelona’s rooftop patio has a permanent metal roof with copious numbers of infrared heaters providing toasty vibes. It also has a full bar and is surrounded by planters with mature plants, and taut plastic sides that let in air but block out the worst of the nighttime winds. Eating there felt cozy — you could definitely still tell you were outside (with all the ventilation benefits that it brings), but it felt like you were eating at a restaurant — not having a very expensive picnic.

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The permanent design of Teleferic’s rooftop patio — as well as its proximity to the restaurant’s kitchen — also allows for practical benefits, like allowing the restaurant to serve the same menu it serves in its main dining room, with the same tables and the same drinks, but in an outdoor space. Teleferic serves Spanish tapas-style food, and its menu is modeled on its sister restaurant in Barcelona, giving it an authentic flair. This is a place where the shrimp are served head-on, their googly eyes staring back at you from your plate, American sensibilities be damned!

My meal began with Iberian oysters. These were served on the half-shell, atop a bed of smooth river rocks from which dry-ice fog slowly poured, falling onto the table and the floor. Chef Oscar Cabezas told me that the dish is meant to evoke the lazily rolling fog above the briny waters of Bodega Bay on California’s Pacific Coast. The connection and the evocation of that place — with all the dreamy, windswept, California Highway 1 coastal spirit it entails— felt perfect to me. This was one of my favorite presentations of any dish I’ve eaten in the Bay Area. (The oysters were tasty, too).

Iberian oysters. (Photo: Courtesy of Thomas Smith)

Next up was Telferic’s Iberian ham. The dish consists of thin slices of Pata Negra ham that have been cured for 38 months. The pigs for this special ham are often fed nothing but chestnuts or acorns after a certain point in their lives, leading to richly-flavored pork. Think prosciutto, but piggier, less fatty, and classier.

Iberian ham. (Photo: Courtesy of Thomas Smith)

Teleferic followed this with crab croquetas. These featured another playful and artistic presentation. The croquetas — little fried balls of crab meat — were served topped by a slice of tuna sashimi, making them look like tiny fried sushi rolls.

Crab croquetas. (Photo: Courtesy of Thomas Smith)

Chef Cabezas then placed these sushi-like fritters on little slices of a re-purposed paper menu, on top of a piece of a sheet of wire cloth nailed into a cross-section of a tree branch. The croquetas were a bit too gooey for my tastes (I was raised on Maryland-style blue crab cakes and that remains the standard for me), but the sashimi topping was a nice addition and again, the presentation was bold and creative. It made the dish feel a bit like something you’d get from a fish and chips shack, with the industrial-style wire and pieces of re-purposed paper — but the wood added in a natural element, too. The balance of casual, industrial vibes and classier ones (the pricey sushi-grade tuna and wood base) mirrored the classiness and rustic combination of the rooftop setting nicely.

The next dish was one of my favorites: Teleferic’s taquitos de tuna. These look a bit like tiny street tacos but made with a fried wonton wrapper which is oily, crunchy, and delicious. Inside is marinated ahi tuna combined with an avocado spread. The combination of Spanish and Japanese flavors really stood out here, and the crunchiness of the wonton shell combined with the cool avocado and salty tuna was wonderful. The dish remains me of a more decadent version of the ahi tuna tacos I love to get at Gott’s Roadside.

Taquitos de tuna. (Photo: Courtesy of Thomas Smith)

I also tried Teleferic’s brussels sprouts, which were yummy, and added at least a bit of vegetable counterpoint to a meat and fish heavy meal.

Brussels sprouts. (Photo: Courtesy of Thomas Smith)

Throughout the meal, I also sampled Teleferic Barcelona’s drinks menu — liberally. I tried both their red wine and white wine sangria, as well as their gothic mojito and Ibiza gin and tonic. (Don’t worry — I didn’t finish all of these. If I had, the end part of this review would have faded into strange, unreadable scribbles, as Teleferic’s drinks are strong). The gin and tonic was beautiful — the drink is infused with silver dust, giving it a radiant glow. I’m a little leary of drinking metal, though, so I only had a couple of sips. The mojito was tasty and also dramatic, served with more dry ice inside, resulting in a bubbling, roiling drink that was still chilly and tasty.

Ibiza gin and tonic. (Photo: Courtesy of Thomas Smith)

The sangrias were the highlight, though. The red wine (Teleferic) sangria features gin, brandy, berries, and a holiday-esque combination of cinnamon and mint. The white wine (Barceloneta) sangria is sweeter and fruitier, with rosemary lemonade, prickly pear juice, and berries thrown in. I liked the red wine one best — it suggested holiday mulled wine but serving it over ice made it extremely drinkable and refreshing, the perfect foil to the meal’s intensely-flavored, sometimes spicy elements.

Red wine sangrias. (Photo: Courtesy of Thomas Smith)

In both cases, though, sipping a glass of sangria felt like the perfect way to festively celebrate Teleferic’s outdoor rooftop setting. If you’d drink cheap sangria at an outdoor picnic, it stands to reason that you’d drink classed-up sangria while dining on a fancy outdoor rooftop patio.

Teleferic’s open kitchen. (Photo: Courtesy of Thomas Smith)

I then moved on to the main dishes. To try out all elements of Teleferic, I also moved indoors to see what the main dining room was like. Teleferic’s indoor space felt more formal, albeit with some playful elements, like a model of Barcelona’s Teleferic cable car which toodles back and forth across the ceiling as guests dine, a large open kitchen, and a bar area with drinks on full display. Both spaces were nice, although I liked the relative casualness of the outdoor patio the best. Even without Covid-19’s influence, I’d still choose to dine outdoors at Teleferic.

Lobster paella. (Photo: Courtesy of Thomas Smith)

For the main dishes, I had Telferic Barcelona’s lobster paella and their Secreto Ibérico. Paella is a staple of Spanish cuisine, and Telferic serves theirs in massive, metal skillets brought to your table still blazing hot and steaming. The lobster paella features Spanish rice, which glazes onto the bottom of the pan in a deliciously crunchy way, as well as a trident formed from a lobster tail and two head-one, massive shrimp. Little chunks of octopus were also strewn throughout the rice, like a crustacean treasure hunt. The lobster was tasty, and the paella was a lot of food — I could easily have eaten this as my whole meal. As it turned out, I brought loads of it home and share the bounty of leftovers with my family.

Iberian pork. (Photo: Courtesy of Thomas Smith)

The Secreto Ibérico featured more Iberian acorn-fed pork, but this time uncured and served in medium-rare slices topped with a green mojo Verde sauce and a heaping mound of seasonal mushrooms. As if all this wasn’t enough, Teleferic then brought out dessert. I had their Nutella churros — little fried nuggets of doughy goodness loaded up with creamy, warm Nutella. I also tried the torrija, a combination of bread-pudding-like French toast, Catalan cream, bananas, and vanilla ice cream. The torrija was fancy and carefully presented, while the churros felt like a delicious take on casual street food.

Nutella churros. (Photo: Courtesy of Thomas Smith)

Again, that combination of classy fine dining and casual vines was present throughout my meal at Teleferic Barcelona. I felt it while sipping fruity chilled sangria, but paired with 38-month-aged, acorn-fed ham. I felt it while eating sushi-like croquetas with sashimi-grade ahi tuna, but served atop a piece of what was basically chicken wire and re-purposed paper. And I felt it most of all in visiting what’s clearly a fine dining restaurant, while still sitting outdoors on a lively, warm, lighted patio overlooking one of my favorite East Bay towns.

Ultimately, that’s the joy of dining on a rooftop patio. You get the casual feel of being outdoors, but if the restaurant does a good job of blending their patio into their overall experience (as Teleferic did), you still get all the creativity, unexpected twists, and expansive flavor pairings of the Bay Area’s fine food scene. Sucking down a briny raw oyster surrounded by swirling steam, you know you’re at a fancy restaurant. Yet at the same time, you can glance to your left and feel the evening breezes waft in, while watching the human drama of some unfortunate visitor jostling for a parking spot far below, or a group of revelers wandering the streets in full-on party mode.

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As the pandemic slogs into its third year and variants continue to emerge, we need every way we can to keep the Bay Area’s restaurants alive and vibrant while keeping our communities safe. Rooftop dining feels like a perfect way to address these duel needs, while also taking maximum advantage of a city’s vertical spaces, and preserving more of its horizontal square footage for absolute essentials like park space and housing. My rooftop dining experience at Teleferic Barcelona felt just as classy and exciting as any other Bay Area fine dining extravaganza, and it was only improved by the semi-outdoor setting. As we keep looking for new ways to move into this next phase of the pandemic, I hope more restaurants will embrace rooftop dining as a wonderful way to make better use of urban spaces, while still delighting diners at the same time.

You can visit Teleferic Barcelona at 1500 Mount Diablo Blvd in Walnut Creek. They also have a newly-opened location in Los Gatos, and a third location in Palo Alto. Go to the Teleferic Barcelona website for reservations.

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times and his writing appears in IEEE Spectrum, SFGate, the Bold Italic and more. Smith holds a degree in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) and Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.

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