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Mar 15, 2010 04:55 PM

Barcelona and Madrid in May - please help narrow down my choices!

My husband and I will be spending 4 days each in Barcelona and Madrid. We are in our early thirties and are looking to eat and drink well in these cities. We would like to have one "splurge" meal in each city, and fill the rest with tapas and reasonably-priced sit-down restaurants.

This probably goes without saying but I already tried (and failed) to get into El Bulli when they first took reservations in January (even before booking my plane/hotel)...*sigh*. However, I am hopeful that I will still eat very well when I get to Spain!

I've been scouring this board as well as other sources (Tripadvisor, NY Times travel guides) and I would appreciate any opinions on the below restaurants as well as some other suggestions on places I must have missed.

My list is a bit smaller since there seems to be a lot more resources and reviews, and these places came up over and over both in articles/reviews and from friends' recommendations:
- Bar Pinotxo (maybe i can go here for lunch?)
- Cal Pep
- Taller de Tapas (More of a backup...I know this place has gotten some flak on these boards, but I do remember having a good time here many years ago...but then I was in Barcelona to party, not eat back in the day)
- Cerveceria Catalana
- Comerç 24 (possible splurge meal)
- Cinq Sentits (possible splurge meal)
- Alkimia (possible splurge meal)
For now I'm thinking either Comerç 24 or Cinq Sentits for my splurge meal, but is Comerç 24 considered a splurge (to me, a splurge meal would be >$100/pp)? One thing I wasn't quite sure about is whether the "Festival" menu at 62,00 € is per person or not...if it's for the table then it may be reasonable enough so I can go to both. Any other must-try places?

I'm having more of a struggle since even here the recommendations seem to be all over the place. The high-end places here seem much more expensive so we will definitely only go to one place, and probably do tapas most of the time
- Txirimiri
- Taberna Temperanillo
- Juana La Loca
- Museo del Vino (seems like this would be a good place for trying out many different Spanish wines, so would probably go more for drinks than food)
- Botin (If only for the I love pig!)
- Combarro (any other seafood restaurants that are more affordable?)
- El Mollete (came highly recommended from NYTimes...authentic?)
- Casa Lucio (just wanted to throw another sit-down place in there)
- Sergi Arola Gastro (possible splurge meal)
- La Terraza del Casino de Madrid (possible splurge meal)
Since we will be there only four days...definitely need some help narrowing down this list. I also wanted to do a tapas crawl so I'm wondering whether I can do more than one place in the evening...are any of these close to each other or have other decent tapas restaurants close by? Is it worth it to book one of those tapas tours or am I better off trying to do it on my own? Also wondering if I'm better off trying more traditional places in Madrid since I would do more modern/molecular gastronomy type places in Barcelona. And where can I get a good paella?

Any tips/advice is highly appreciated!


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  1. La Terraza del Casino is an excellent choice for a splurge meal. We were just there 3/6 for our 3rd visit and haven't been dissapointed yet.

    Botin is one of the very few places in Madrid that is open on Sunday, so if you're going to be there that day of the week save Botin for then. They make pretty good pig, BTW.

    1. Without knowing a bit more, it is difficult to know if your list is a good fit for you or not. Except for one "splurge meal" in each city, what are you looking for: table service? all tapas and pintxos? any traditional places? inexpensive good everyday places that won't bust your budget? what is your budget for other days. If you can be more specific, you'll get some good recommendations. For me, except on rare occasions, I never go to one tapas/pintxos place in particular but to take a lively neighborhood and go to several. This is especially true for Madrid as many are good at a few items.
      For Barcelona: if you want a truly splurge meal, I would get train to El Cellar de Can Roca in the nearby Girona, though it will be more expensive than you budgeted. All the others have been discussed on this board. There many good modern (some more molecular than others) that is would around your budget of $100PP or a little over as long as you are not splurging on the wine. They include Cinc Sentits and Alkimia on your list. Comerc24's "Festival de Tapas" menu is meant for one person. Tax and service is always included.
      There have many good recent posts on Madrid that address your needs. Recnet post have good recommendations for asada and moderate seafood places that you might consider in lieu of Botin and El Combarro which is really a "splurge". Those recommendations come from couple of posters who really know Madrid. Clusters of tapas places are in every neighborhood in central Madrid. Latina, Chueca, Huertas are lively and have some excellent places, including those on your list. You will eat well and able to soak up the atmosphere. There are also a cluster of very good tapas places just east of the Parc de Retiro. I have not been to Sergi Arola Gastro but had a couple of very good dinner at Arola's previous La Broche. Dinner at Gastro or La Terraza will run at least 150E per person with a modest wine.

      4 Replies
      1. re: PBSF

        Thank you for answering. I'm afraid it'll be hard to narrow down since I'm greedy and want to try everything! I would like a mix of tapas and table service (is it better to get one vs the other at lunch or dinner?), of traditional regional cuisine and ultra-modern experimental cuisine(very curious about the molecular gastronomy places).

        For the splurge meal, would like to spend <200€/pp though that can probably be pushed for a real special place (I was willing to break it for El Bulli, and have spent more at some other 3-star michelin places). I really enjoy full tasting menus with wine pairings, as I love variety and to be surprised with every course. I have to admit I was very very tempted by your suggestion of El Cellar de Can Roca, unfortunately my husband vetoed it for being too far (he didn't want to drive an hour away, especially if we get wine, plus we already booked our hotels so we can't stay the night in Girona). He did say we could go to both Comerç 24 and Cinc Sentits as a compromise, since it seems like we can eat at both those places for the price of El Cellar de Can Roca.

        For the rest of my meals in each city, would probably want something more budget-oriented for lunch (<25€/pp) and moderately priced for dinner (<50€/pp), but these are soft limits as well. I'm guessing that Barcelona might be a good place to try places that are more modern and "out there" while Madrid might be good for more traditional places...but then I'm sure there are plenty of exceptions in both cities.

        As far as my taste in food, I enjoy highly decadent foods such as foie gras, pork belly and rich chocolate desserts, but I can also appreciate some very fresh and tasty vegetables. I consider myself a pretty adventurous eater (including random animals/animal parts) so I am pretty much open to anything. I am an avid cheese lover so any recommendations of restaurants with great cheeses would be much appreciated. In particular I would like to eat items that are hard to find and/or expensive in the USA (Jamon Iberico de Bellota costs an arm and a leg here), and would love to try something that I have never tried before, and can only have in Spain.

        My husband and I enjoy wines greatly (living in California, we frequently visit local wine regions) and would love to try some great Spanish wines since the imports we get here are fairly limited in selection. Any local liqueurs and other alcoholic beverages would be good as well.

        Any particular clusters of tapas places in Madrid that are good to try in those neighborhoods you mentioned? I do like the idea of going to more than one place at night so I can try out more restaurants!

        Really appreciate all the tips and advice!

        1. re: arlenemae

          You can't go wrong with your choices of Cinc Sentits and Comerc24; both serves modern (molecular) Catalan food yet vasting different. The food at Cinc Sentits is a bit more conservative and each dish is more fully realized, the dining room small, the ambience is low key with excellent friendly professional service. Comerc24 is larger, livelier, splashy designer chic with a clientele to match yet the food in the long Festival de Tapas menu can be amazing good though there might be a clunker here and there. The service is more casual and less exact. Combine all these, it is a very exciting restaurant. Both places will have foie gras, pork belly, suckling pig, excellent seafood as well as a simple selection of 3 Spanish cheeses with accompaniments in Cinc Sentits' well thought out tasting menu. Tapas and pintxos are everywhere in Barcelona yet it is more difficult, unlike Madrid, to do a crawl. Two areas in the center that have clusters of places together are El Born and parts of the Barri Gotic around Placa del Pi. There are many excellent places in the Eixample but they are so scattered about in the large neighborhood that walking to get to each of them can be trying. Skip most of the places on the Pg de Gracia. I would go down to El Born for the evening and try Sagardi, Euskal Etxea, El Bitxo, El Xampanyet and most of all have a glasses of wine at an outside table at La Vinya de Senyor with some simple tapas; there is another good wine bar on the same Placa Santa Maria that the name escapes me right now. Cal Pep which I am not a fan of is nearby. There are loads of other fusion/eclectic places in that bustling lively neighborhood. Any of the Kioske inside the Boqueria are good for lunch. Because of the location of being right inside of the front door, Bar Pinotxo gets the crowd and the write up. Just as good are El Quim and Universal.
          For Madrid, a few restaurants that I've had good meals are: Arce where Chef Inaki Camba will personalize a tasting menu of innovative Basque food in his down to earth restaurant. Also somewhat traditional is Sacha. Viridiana run by another excellent chef is a little more eclectic though the food is Spanish. For more modern cooking, I had a good meal at Dassa Bassa couple years ago. I though the price of 70E for tasting menu was very fair. I have not eaten at Arola Gastro but had couple of good meals as his old La Broche. I am not sure it is worth the 120 or so Euro for his tasting menu. Combarro is one of a handful of excellent and expensive marisqueria in Madrid. It is a must if you like great seafood. La Paloma and Casa Gallego are more modest and decent. I went to Botin the first time I was in Madrid and thought it was good and fun; maybe I didn't know better. Instead I would go to Asador Imanol or Julian de Tolosa or meat. For suckling pig, maybe Casa Lucio. For tapa crawl, there are clusters of places in almost every neighborhood. Foremost I would head to La Latina where a two block stretch is lined with tapas places and most are good: Toma Jamon, Casa Lucas, Tempranillo, La Posada, El Chotis are just a few. Or go to Chueca where the neighborhood is more eclectic and head for Bocaito, Caesa Carmecita, La Bardemcilla, Cerveceria Santa Barbara, Santander. Between Sol and the Retiro is Huertas where you might try Cerverceria Cervante, Maceira, La Toscana, Casa Alberto, La Costa de Vejer. A little further out around the Retiro (around calle Menorca and calle Dr. Castelo) are some very good places that one will find all locals: Lardo, La Castela, Casa Portal, Negur Etxea are just a few. If you are into designer pastry/dessert, Paco Torreblanca's shop on Juan Bravo 12 is a must.

          1. re: arlenemae

            You might want to revisit the Can Roca decision!
            I went for lunch and caught the train to Girona (make sure you know the return train times as they stop fairly early). By leaving early had time to explore Girona before lunch and then took a cab back to the station. Had the multiple course tasting menu.
            Can Roca is significantly above Cinc Sentits (for me). I'd return in an instant, but found a major issue with the first course at Cinc Sentits (his signature maple syrup 'cocktail') - the maple flavour stayed in my mouth for the next 2-3 courses and destroyed all of those (for me).
            Another, similar in concept option, is to visit San Pau for lunch (also by train).

            In Madrid, note that the hardest 'ticket' is Sergi Arola (reservations for May open Apr 1 (I think, as I had difficulty trying 30 days early, with even 30+ days ahead sold out)) or possibly DiverXo (30 days before the date).
            My trip (at end of April) will not be in time to give you feedback however.

            1. re: estufarian

              This looks trad. but nice - I'm going on the weekend so will let you know!

        2. The original comment has been removed
          1. My squeezed suggestions for Madrid are:

            * RESTAURANTE SOBRINO DE BOTIN (Calle de los Cuchilleros 17). The "cochinillo" (roast suckling pig) is a must for first-timers to Madrid.

            * Tapas crawl # 1. Mark on a map:
            1 - MERCADO DE SAN MIGUEL (close to Plaza Mayor). A few oysters.
            2 - BODEGAS RICLA (Calle de los Cuchilleros 6). Vermut de grifo (vermoutn on tap) + 1 canapé de bacalao (canapé of smoked codfish in olive oil for 2 sharing).
            3 - REVUELTA (Plaza de Puerta Cerrada). Unpretentious small bar. Beer on tap + 1 pincho de bacalao (a chunk of battered codfish for 2 sharing). The house wine is so so.
            4 - TABERNA DE CONSPIRADORES (Calle Cava Baja 7). Glass of red wine from Extremadura + a bit of Torta del Casar cheese.
            5 - MATRITUM (Calle Cava Alta 17). One of the best wine bars in town. Order also a trendy tapa for sharing.
            6 - TXIRIMIRI (Calle del Humilladero 6). Red wine from Rioja or Ribera de Duero + a few Basque-style pintxos.
            7 - TABERNA TEMPRANILLO (Calle Cava Baja 38). Glass of red wine (a large array to choose from) + revuelto de setas (wild mushroom with scrambled egg for 2 sharing).

            * Tapas crawl # 2. Beer on tap or chilled white wine + seafood tapas for sharing.
            1 - FIDE (Calle Ponzano 8). Beer on tap + boquerones en vinagre (fresh anchovies marinated in vinegar) or shellfish (sale by weight).
            2 - LA PINTA (Calle Ponzano 8). Beer on tap + navajas a la plancha (razor clams cooked on a hot griddle)
            3 - BELUGA BAR (Calle Ponzano 36). Chilled white wine from Rueda or Rias Baixas (aka Alvariño) + caviar.
            4 - ALBORAN (Calle Ponzano 39). Chilled white wine + bienmesabe (literally, 'it tastes good to me'. Pickled fish, then fried). Alborán is a great restaurant for Mediterranean seafood.
            5 - EL DOBLE (Calle Ponzano 58). Beer on tap + gambas cocidas (boiled shrimp), mejillones en escabeche (marinated mussels) or pincho de bonito (a chunk of pickled tuna).

            Something trendy: PANDELUJO (Calle Jorge Juan 20).
            Splurge meal: SERGI AROLA GASTRO
            IMHO El Mollete is over-rated.

            * Sidewalk tables in Plaza de Santa Ana (if the weather is fine), then, in nearby, one "mojito" in VIVA MADRID (Calle Fernandez y Gonzalez) or a drink in CARDAMOMO Flamenco bar (Calle Echegaray 15) or live jazz in POPULART (Calle Huertas 22) or CAFÉ CENTRAL (Plaza del Angel).
            * The golden triangle of cocktail bars: COCK (Calle de la Reina 16), excellent coktails, decadent decor. DEL DIEGO (Calle de la Reina 12). Chill out cocktails, and historic CHICOTE (Gran Via 51), Hemingway's favourite cocktail bar in Madrid.

            1. You´ve missed one of Barcelona´s best restaurants. The Butafumeiro is a classic and serves wonderful quality no frills Spanish/Galician food. If you reserve at the bar you are certain to enjoy a great atmosphere. I never tire of going there and always enjoy magnificent seafood plus the best Galician white wine.