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
- 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 history...plus 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!
Here's my full report as promised (all prices exclude tip)...I also have some pics of the food at this site: http://arleneandulysses.smugmug.com/T...
Saturday lunch: Bar Pinotxo - We got to Barcelona around noon, and shortly after had our first meal in Spain at Bar Pinotxo at the Boqueria. We got pretty lucky and got a couple seats right away as another couple was just leaving. I wasn't sure what to order so I just asked the guy for recommendations: got some grilled prawns drizzled in olive oil and a beef-stew type thing (with bones). Both were pretty good but a lot more expensive than we expected (the prawns were 18€!). Had a glass of cava and a beer, which were more reasonable at 3€/2€. It was a bit more than what we thought we would spend at a stand in the boqueria, maybe it was the items we ordered. Food was good but overpriced and a bit overrated, IMO. Total (2 tapas + 2 drinks) = 35€.
Saturday dinner: Inopia - We got there around 7:30 so we didn't need to queue. Started off with croquetas, paletilla ibérica (Iberian ham shoulder?) and ensaladilla rusa (russian salad), which were all great. The russian salad in particular was a nice surprise. It got even better with some fried anchovies marinated in lemon (a special for that night) and patatas bravas (love the combination of their red and garlic sauces). However, the highlight of the meal for me was the Torta Cañarejal cheese...it was just so creamy and runny and flavorful! I'm a cheese lover and have tried many cheeses but this one was truly special and probably one of the best cheeses I've ever had. We finished up with some flan since my hubby wanted something sweet...it was very good but a bit anticlimactic for me after the cheese. We had 3 glasses of wine each, plus a glass of sherry for me and brandy for the hubby at the end. We spent twice as much as we did in Bar Pinotxo but I felt this was a much better value since we got so much food and drink. Total damage (7 tapas + 8 drinks) = 73€.
Saturday "second dinner": Taller de Tapas - It was midnight and I was still so excited to be in Spain that we decided to go out again. I had very fond memories of this bar from a trip five years ago but sadly it wasn't up to snuff (especially after Inopia). The initial plan was to just get some drinks, but we wound up getting more stuff to munch on (hard to believe after our huge dinner but I just wanted to try as much food as I could). The pan con tomate and the pimientos de padron were the only good things (I mean, can't really screw up pimientos de padron), but the chorizo in cider and gambas al ajillo were mediocre and not worth the money or the calories. My hubby really loves gambas al ajillo and it was too bad their version here seemed to use frozen, tiny shrimp and the sauce was lackluster. A bit of a disappointment but I guess my taste has changed a lot in 5 years...should have listened more to these boards instead of nostalgia. At least the whole meal was cheap, even cheaper than our lunch at the Boqueria. Total spent for 4 tapas + 1 bottle of wine = 33€
Sunday lunch: Can Ros - We knew we wanted to have some arroz negro at Barceloneta, so I had Kaiku, Can Majo, and Can Ros on my radar. Can Majo had some recent bad reports so that kinda fell off my list. I was initially planning to go to Kaiku, but we had a bus tour that day and it didn't get to Barceloneta until around 2:45pm. Since Kaiku was only open until 3:30, and Can Ros until 4:30, we decided to go to Can Ros. When we stopped by the restaurant, they asked us if we had a reservation, which we didn't, and said they could accomodate us at 3:30pm. We agreed to that (seemed a good sign that they were full) and just hung out at Barceloneta beach while we waited. For our appetizers, we had some grilled octopus and navajas clams. Both were very good, and it was nice to order seafood items that we haven't had before. For our main course, we had the arros negre which was DIVINE. It didn't have a lot of seafood in it (just some bits of squid) but the rice itself was so flavorful (I'm sure the generous drizzle of good olive oil helped) and the texture was unlike any other paella-type dish I've had before (seemed more "al dente"). The portion looked huge (minimum for 2 people) but we finished every last bit of it. For dessert, we had crema catalana which was a nice way to end the meal (particularly liked the cookies that came with it...in the Philippines we called them "barquillos", not sure if they're called the same in Spain)...coffee was awesome as well. We splurged a bit on wine here and got the 16€ bottle of Albariño instead of the house wine...the wine was great and complimented the meal perfectly. Total for 2 appetizers, arroz for 2, dessert to share, coffee and a bottle of one of their more expensive wines = 77€
Sunday dinner: Cerveceria Catalana - We were initially planning to go to Paco Meralgo and I had Cerveceria Catalana as a backup, since they seemed to be the most recommended for Sunday nights when most restaurants were closed. However, on our way to dinner around 10pm, we saw there was a big party in La Rambla from Barcelona winning their football match over Real Valladolid. My hubby wanted to get tix for that match but couldn't get any, but at least we were able to join in on the party...lots of sports fans (who broke out into song once in a while), fireworks/firecrackers, and general merrymaking. We wound up hanging out with the party in Placa Catalunya for about an hour or so and pushing off our dinner to around 11pm...Cerveceria Catalana seemed like an easier choice since it was open later (until 1:30am) and was right off Rambla Catalunya. We stood around the bar area for a while while we waited for our table, but some spots wound up opening up at the bar so we ate there instead. We started off with some Jamon Jabugo, Idiazabal cheese, and pimientos de padron, all of which were very good. We then had some montaditos (little tapas on top of bread)...the veal which was recommended by one of the bartenders was great and probably the best dish of the night, but the pork loin was also good. We also had a skewer of bacon-wrapped dates and cheese that was just wonderful...I've had bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with cheese before, but here they had balls of cheese alternating w/ the bacon-wrapped date, and everything breaded and fried! So yummy. Also had some calamares which were also good (though nowhere near as spectacular as the bacon dates and the veal). Finished up with dessert, I just had to have some warm chocolate cake, and my hubby got their "Roscon de la Casa" (house cake), a sort of sponge-like cake topped with whipped cram...I'm a big chocolate lover but his dessert was actually much better. Finally had a couple of chupitas(shots) of manzana liquor (had much fondness for this liquor from my previous trip to Barcelona 5 years ago). This was probably the probably the best value (in terms of quantity of food/drink for the price) on our whole trip. Total spent including 9 tapas, 1 bottle of wine, 2 glasses of wine (while we were waiting), and 2 shots (yup, we're gluttons AND lushes) = 72€
Monday lunch: Restaurant Sant Joan - We were visiting Sagrada Familia the same day so we figure it was a good time to check out Sant Joan, which has been widely praised on these boards. At first we had trouble figuring out what to order since they only had the two boards with the menus, one in Spanish up front and in Catalan in the back. My Spanish, while very little, was still alot better than my Catalan (nonexistent), so I wound up mostly looking through the Spanish menu. We had somewhat decided on what to order but thankfully one of the servers spoke some English and helped confirm them for us. We weren't very adventurous this time and I had the pechuga de pollo (grilled chicken) which came with fries and a baked potato, while my husband had the lomo con pimientos (grilled pork loin with roasted red peppers)...both were good but the pork was better. Both dishes were very simply prepared, with a drizzle of good quality olive oil, but at this point I thought it was a welcome respite after our previous huge meals with lots of different foods. We had a bottle of their house red wine (Cariñena...I'm assuming this is the carignane grape?) which was surprisingly served chilled...however, this actually worked really well for our lunch, since it seemed more refreshing and appropriate for a lighter lunch. For dessert, hubby got the flan de coco (he said it was better than the flan at Inopia) and I got the queso con membrillo. It was really nice to get the membrillo and nuts with the cheese, since I usually prefer to eat cheese with all the fixings. Thanks chowhounders for all the recs on this place, it definitely hit the spot for our mood that day. This was also the cheapest restaurant meal we had in all of Spain. Total bill (2 entrees, 2 desserts, and a bottle of wine) = 22€
Monday dinner: Cal Pep - Unlike Inopia, we got lazy and didn't wind up leaving our hotel until later, so there was a line out the door when we got there around 9:45pm. We decided to stick it out (wound up chatting with another American couple from NYC behind us), and were seated at the bar approximately an hour later. They say they're open until 11:30pm but you don't get kicked out at that time, that's just when they cut off the queue and stop accepting any more people. When ordering, we did a combination of looking at what other people are having and asking the server about what he recommended. We thoroughly enjoyed all the seafood, including the bacalao (probably the best I've ever had including previous trips to Spain/Portugal), scallop (served in shell), mixed fried seafood/fish, and clams (had some sort of white wine sauce and ham). We also had some pan con tomate, pimientos de padron (just couldn't get enough of those), and sauteed mushrooms to round up the meal. The bill was actually less than what I expected after reading all the reviews. Total bill (7 tapas + 1 bottle of house white wine) = ~70€
Tuesday lunch: Boqueria - After all the huge meals and rich food, we really wanted to eat light since we had a big dinner at Comerç24 that night. Just had a container of mixed fruit, 2 skewers with chorizo and cheese, a couple bocadillos (one serrano and one chorizo), and shared an alfajor for dessert(cookie with dulce de leche filling). We got everything to go and ate it at a random square off La Rambla. Nothing to write home about, but it was cheap) and fit the bill for a light lunch. Hey, it was our only meal in Barcelona with no alcohol! Total (including 1 bottled water) = ~12€
Tuesday dinner: Comerç24 - This was our last dinner in Barcelona and we wanted it to be special, plus we considered this my birthday dinner even though my birthday was the next day. My husband and I both got the Grand Festival de Tapas. While they offer a wine pairing, it is not the fixed wine pairing that we are used to at other tasting menu restaurants...rather they just keep giving you more wine depending on how quickly you consume them (one pairing can last one or multiple courses depending on your pace). Given that we're big alkies, we probably wound up consuming at least 8-9 different wines (plus a glass each of cava to start)...so glad we don't have to drive in Barcelona! It would take too long for me to list all the dishes (but you can see them in my album linked up top), but the highlights were the following: 4 different olive oils to taste, monkfish with black garlic and sesame (just loved that black garlic sauce), oysters with beet root foam, shrimp ceviche (I *never* eat shrimp but I had to admit this was good and not "shrimpy" at all), tuna tartare with slow-cooked egg in the bottom, some sort of japanese-style soup with flowers (it just smelled wonderful), sashimi "pizza", rabbit rice, sirloin with snow peas and sesame, and of course their cheese course which had 5 different types of cheese (my fave was a soft goaty one). Pretty much all the food we put in our mouth tasted great, but I have to admit their service is a bit lacking, especially compared to other Michelin-starred restaurants I've been to. In the beginning of the dinner, two different people asked us for our wine order, seemed like the staff was not coordinated. Then when they asked us what food we don't eat, I mentioned that my husband does not like chocolate, figuring that *he* would get some sort of substitute dessert. However, I was saddened when I saw every other table getting chocolate desserts except for ours, especially since I love chocolate. There was a lot of waiting then we finally got them to give me the chocolate desserts (I still think I was missing one of them)...not sure if they just skipped the chocolate courses and only gave us the non-chocolate desserts, or maybe they gave us more savory courses? In any case, that further convinced me to *never* ask for substitutions on tasting menus, I think it just confuses the staff, especially if they are not well-trained to begin with. That disappointment aside, it was still a very good meal...I really enjoyed the modern molecular cuisine, there's definitely a lot more creativity and variety in temperature as well as flavor. I also liked the slight asian influence. They just really need to work on their service. Total spent (2 grand festival de tapas + 2 glasses of cava + wine pairings and water) = 310€
Wednesday lunch: More Boqueria goodies - We actually ate this on the AVE train between Barcelona and Madrid. I picked up some Jamon Iberico de Bellota from one of the jamon stands in the boqueria, some mini chorizos, a couple cheeses (whose names I don't recall, I just asked the cheese lady to pick out a couple different ones for me), bread, grapes, and almonds. Bought a split of wine and a can of beer on the train and we were set! Total cost = ~20€
Wednesday dinner: Tapas crawl in La Latina (Temperanillo, Casa Luas, Juana La Loca) - One thing I really liked about the tapas bars here is that they give you a free tapa when you order a drink, something I never saw in Barcelona. Most of the tapas seemed to be different items on top of some bread slices (way bigger than the montaditos from Cerveceria Catalana) We started off at Taberna Temperanillo since I wanted to get a good sample of Spanish wines. We started off with a glass each of rioja and ribero del duero (the ribera was better) and got a freebie tapa of a few slices of chorizo and some mini-breadsticks. We ordered a couple tapas, one was cheese and eggplant, the other was anchovy and tomato, both on bread with a drizzle of olive oil, both of which were pretty good. We had another couple of wines (one from La Mancha and a local Madrid wine) and another free tapa (mini toast with a soft blue cheese). Total bill was around 20€. Next stop was Casa Lucas...again we started with a glass of rioja and a glass of ribera (rioja was better this time), and got a free tapa of chorizo on bread. For our food order, we got the "Mancha" pincho, which was some mixed sauteed vegetables topped with a fried quail's egg and bits of ham, and the "Madrid" pincho which had a scramble of morcilla (blood sausage), onion, and tomato, topped with fried onions...both tapas were great and better than the ones we got at Temperanillo, the Madrid one was probably the best dish of the night. We wound up chatting with a nice Spanish man and his daughter who were sitting next to us at the bar...they were regulars and seem to know the bartenders. After hearing it was my birthday, he got the bartender to comp us a couple more glasses of rioja! :) They even let us try one of their raciones, some sort of creamy rice dish with mushrooms and foie gras...so good and I would have gotten it if I wasn't determined to visit at least 3 bars that night. Total bill was (~17€ since we only had to pay for the 2 drinks and 2 tapas). The local guy also recommended a place for drinks, the terrace at El Viajero which I've never heard of before in these boards. He said go for the drinks and the view, not the food, and we felt like taking a break from eating anyway so we each enjoyed a glass of red wine in their nice terrace to enjoy the view (5€ each but they were huge glasses). Seemed like there were a lot of people there on dates, probably since it had a very romantic ambiance. It wasn't a foodie stop, but we were glad to be able to take a break and just sit and enjoy the view. Final food stop was Juana La Loca...we figured we had enough wine at this point and just got a glass each of their house red wine. We didn't seem to get the free tapas here but were ok with that since the wine was cheap anyway (~2€/glass). Had a couple pinchos, jamon de pato (duck ham, I assume?) and a ravioli topped with bacon (forgot the filling). Both were pretty good but I think we were pretty full at this point...total bill (~15€). Our eating in Madrid was off to a great start! Total damage for tapas crawl (including 6 pinchos and 12 glasses of wine!) = ~62€
Wednesday post-dinner: Chocolateria San Gines - Gluttons that we are, after the big tapas crawl we still had to get some dessert! Wandered into Chocolateria San Gines on our way back to the hotel at almost 2am and had a couple orders of chocolate con churros. My hubby doesn't eat chocolate so he just had churros, so we had way too much chocolate. That was okay though since I just wanted to try it. It wasn't mind-blowing (preferred the hot chocolate I had in Paris), but it hit the spot. Total bill: ~10€.
Thursday lunch: Botin - We visited Palacio Real in the morning, and had reservations at Botin at 2:30pm (booked through thefork.com). I gotta say I was glad that I got reservations, since the place was packed. Since it was a really hot day (Madrid is definitely a lot warmer than Barcelona!) we decided to get a pitcher of sangria instead of wine. Unlike my last trip to Spain (back in my twenties when I was more into partying), this was the only time I ordered sangria in our entire trip...I figure since we were going to a touristy restaurant, this was the place to get a touristy drink ;-). It did hit the spot though and was very refreshing. We started off with a couple orders of gazpacho...they let you pick what stuff to add to the soup, I got everything and got some chunks of cucumber, tomato, green pepper, and bread. The soup was very good and refreshing as well, I was glad to be able to get this traditional dish at Botin (a lot of local-looking people seemed to have gotten it too). For our main course, I got the cochinillo asado (roast suckling pig...how could I not?) and my hubby got the cordero asado (roast lamb) to be different. We both agreed the pig was better , but it was nice to have the variety and the servings are ginormous, so we both had enough of the pig. For dessert, we shared the "Bartolillos de Madrid" (some sort of cream-filled pastry) which was really good but unfortunately we were pretty much about to burst and could not finish it all. Total bill for 2 appetizers, 2 entrees, 1 dessert, pitcher of sangria = 78€
Thursday dinner: Chueca Tapas (Bocaito, La Bardemcilla) - I had initially planned to do another bar crawl, but we were just so full from lunch still that we couldn't eat too much for dinner (hard to believe given my post so far, i know ;)). We started out at Bocaito where we just stood by the long table opposite the bar. We had a couple glasses of cava and a glass of red wine, and had a free tapa of olives to start. We ordered light and just got a couple croquetas and champiñones al ajillo (one of my favorite tapas). The croquetas were good (as good as any others I've had so far in the trip), but the mushrooms were fantastic, with great garlicky flavor and good quality olive oil. The place was really crowded and seemed to be buzzing with locals. We then moved on to La Bardemcilla where we had a platter of manchego cheese and another couple glasses of red wine (on special for 2€/glass!). We sat at a nice window bench full of pillows, and it was great to just sit and chill with our wine and cheese. Again, this place seemed to be filled with locals as well. Total spent at Chueca (3 tapas + 5 glasses of wine) = 33€.
Friday lunch: Picnic at Retiro - I had initially planned to and made reservations at El Mollete, but canceled a couple days before after we figured that it didn't fit with our sightseeing plans...we were going to the Prado and the Reina Sofia on the opposite side of the city. We just wpicked up the following from a deli: ham and cheese sandwich, pasta with cheese, jamon serrano and sundried tomato, a bag of chips and a couple bottles of water, and had an impromptu picnic at Retiro Park. Again, another light meal since I think we were still recovering from the all the huge meals. At least it gave us a chance to have a nice nap in the park before going to the Reina Sofia! Total cost = ~9€.
Friday dinner: El Ventorillo Murciano - I had initially planned a Huertas tapas crawl, but the hubby declared that he was "tired of tapas" and wanted something different and more hearty. Since this restaurant was recommended for authentic paella, I wound up calling them the day before and after much struggling with my spanish was able to secure a reservation for 9pm. The meal started with a tapa of fried zucchini (I think it was free since everyone got it). For our appetizer, we ordered the embotidos a la plancha (an assortment of grilled sausages)...it came with about 3 different kinds of sausages and some fries, great to snack on while we waited for our paella. For our main, we got the "arroz de cunejo y caracoles" (rice with rabbit and tree snails), and it was amazing. I've had rabbit before (tastes like chicken) but not the caracoles and was very surprised at how tasty they were. It seemed like a lot but we polished off the whole thing. I thought it was cool that at places (both in Barcelona at Can Ros and at Madrid at this restaurant) we've had seemingly the most authentic "paellas", but they don't call them paella. Maybe it's similar to how the better California producers use the term "sparkling wine" instead of "california champagne"? For our wine, we had a bottle of their house red, probably the most expensive "house wine" we've had but still quite affordable at 16€. It was a Barahonda Crianza 2004 (Cabernet/Monastrel blend) and was probably one of the best bottles of wine we've had in our entire trip...it easily tasted like a bottle that cost twice as much. We skipped out on dessert since I wanted to get cheese at Casa Gonzales, but they gave us 2 free small glasses of dessert wine and some chocolate-covered almonds, candied walnuts and raisins! Total bill = 71€.
Friday post-dinner: Casa Gonzalez - I really wanted to try some of their cheeses, so I got the 5-cheese sampler platter. It included the following: Manchego Curado, Idiazabal (smoked), A'Fuega de Pitu Blanco Irojo (goat), Azul Picon de Hojas (blue) and Arzua Gallego (the only cheese that was pasteurized). The goat cheese was probably my favorite. We each had a couple glasses of wine, a Jumilla and a Garnacha (Greco Madrid). There was so much cheese that we couldn't quite finish it all so I had them wrap up the rest to eat the next day. Total bill = 22€
Saturday lunch: Mercado de San Miguel - We wanted a light-ish lunch since we were having a big dinner at La Terraza that night, so we decided to check out the Mercado de San Miguel. It wasn't as big as the Boqueria in Barcelona, but it seemed neater and more organized. Unfortunately there was only one place selling jamon so it took us forever to get our Jamon Iberico de Bellota (and cost so much more). We also got some bread and a half bottle of Rioja. They give you glasses so you can eat at some tables in the middle of the market, but it was super-crowded and we really wanted to have a picnic...the lady who sold me our wine was very nice and let me borrow the glasses to take with me (she said it was ok as long as no one sees, so I stuffed them in my purse!). We enjoyed the wine, bread, ham, and our leftover cheese from Casa Gonzales at a small grassy knoll not too far away from the market (near Palacio Real). Afterwards we went back to the market to return the glasses and got some ice cream from one of the other stalls for dessert. Total bill = ~30€
Saturday dinner: La Terraza del Casino de Madrid - This was our biggest splurge meal and our last dinner in Spain. I booked the reservations for it one month in advance through email. Unfortunately they don't open up the terrace until June, but the indoor restaurant still had very good ambiance...I really liked the all-white decor and how far apart the tables were from each other. Jacket is required and we were both dressed up, though it annoyed me that a couple American teenage girls were wearing jeans even though their dad was wearing a jacket (they wouldn't let him take it off though, haha). As far as the food...I thought Comerç24 was "molecular" but this place is over-the-top with the whiz-bang tricks! Not that I minded, I actually thought it was very fun and entertaining, definitely the most creative cuisine I've ever had (wonder if Alinea and WD-50 are similar). Highlights were the following: the frozen "cocktail" made tableside with liquid nitrogen, "bread and butter" with the olive oil "butter" in a tube, pork marrow, mandarin bonbon (liquid inside and explodes in your mouth), liquid ham croquette (similar technique to the bonbon...amazing how much it tastes like jamon croquetas when the liquid bursts in your mouth!), 21st century spanish omelette (their take on tortilla española...caramelized onion sauce, egg foam, potato foam layered in a martini glass with a light drizzle of olive oil on top), scallops and beetroot (looked like a whole beet but made up of beet-flavored sauce, carbonara "egg nest" (a fake egg, complete with runny "yolk" and "pasta"...not sure what it was made of, but it did remind me of carbonara), thyme sorbet (they brought out the liquid nitrogen again!), yogurt and mint oil "cherimoya" (looks exactly like the fruit), chocolate and coffee "donuts". As you can see from all the quotation marks, there was a lot of food that looked like one thing but made up of something entirely different...I wouldn't say it was the best-tasting food I've ever had (the liquid jamon croquetas were up there though), but it is definitely one of my top restaurant experiences ever, as I look at fine dining as a form of entertainment. I do wonder how much of the Ferrán Adrià influence is there, since I saw some silverware with "el bulli" stamped on it...maybe they recycle some of the past El Bulli dishes? Even though I wasn't able to secure reservations to El Bulli, I felt like this was a great "consolation prize" and that it was definitely worth the money. One minor disappointment is that they don't offer wine pairings, but we asked the sommelier for recommendations for a cava and a red: a Freixenet Reserva Real cava (definitely a far cry from those $10 bottles in the supermarket...rivals fine champagnes and probably the best cava I've had), and a 2005 El Puntido Rioja (surprisingly light-bodied, but loads of great flavor). This restaurant is definitely deserving of their 2 Michelin stars. Total cost (2 menu degustacion + 2 bottles of wine + 2 bottles of water) = 376€
Sunday breakfast: La Mallorquina - Since we stayed right off Puerta del Sol, we kept passing by this bakery. I was very intrigued by the ensaimada, since it looks almost exactly like filipino ensaymada, except without the additional butter topping and using powdered sugar instead of granulated sugar. Wound up getting an ensaimada and a napolitano, a custard-filled pastry that is their specialty. Both were super-yummy, I liked the ensaimada better but my hubby preferred the napolitano. What a great ending to eight days of good eats! Total cost = 2€
After adding everything up, we spent ~€1400 on food/drink for our trip...got lucky the exchange rate with the dollar was pretty good so it wound up being ~$1770. We actually spent less than we did at our last trip to NYC (maybe because they don't do crazy wine markups in Europe). Since we don't get to travel to Europe too often, I thought it was definitely worth it. Thank you chowhounders for all the great tips and advice, it was definitely an experience of a lifetime!
Great recap. Casa Lucas was one of my favorites in Madrid, and the couple pinchos you mention were some of my favorites as well, especially the one with morcilla and scrambled egg.
The restaurant at Casino de Madrid is indeed under the supervsion of Ferrán Adrià and I've been told that the menu is something of a "greatest hits" of El Bulli dishes from prior seasons. A friend who has been to both, often, says it is indeed the closest you'll get to El Bulli without actually going there.
Fantastic report, Arlenemae. Thanks for sharing. I'm taking notes....as I always do.
My original plan to visit La Boqueria (and Bar Pinotxo) has been altered by the Festival of Sant Joan. La Boq will be closed. But, given the prices you quoted at Pinotxo, maybe I am not missing too much. For 18 Euros, I could have a chuleton at Taktika Berri. And sit down to enjoy it.
Not too sure about Frodnesor's comment re: Casino de Madrid being the closest you'll get to El Bulli. Some might say that description would better fit the restaurant at El Bulli Hotel in Seville, La Alqueria. Especially next year, when Senyor Adria is spending more time there.
I've been to both La Terraza (at Casino) and El Bulli plus La Alqueria, and El Bulli has an excitement that neither of the others have. Having said that, the 'high-wire' act at El Bulli leads to some bizarre combos, so the meal is uneven.
My ranking is La Alqueria top - it has the consistency, the ambiance, and features the 'Greatest Hits'. Then I'd put El Bulli itself - for the experience, and lastly La Terraza, which seems to be copies of the 'Hits' - but not necessarily reaching the heights.
Having said that - all 3 are in my top 10 'all-time' restaurants/meals, so go to whichever is closest/accessible.
I understand that the chefs at La Terraza are all 'trained' by Ferran Adria - they go on assignment for that training, so indeed it is close.
And, arlenemae (great report) both Alinea and wd-50 ALSO make my top 10. So you'd probably enjoy both. However, wd-50 will cost less than half of Alinea - although the ambiance is a lot 'funkier' so don't expect fine dining like La Terraza. And Alinea is easily the most expensive of the bunch.
Great report. I agree to all your takes. A reliable miniguide right there.
You pointed out an information that may be important for first timers to Barcelona on a budget. The restos in the Boqueria are not cheap even they look cheap. They are in the same price range as, say, a place like Cerveceria Catalana. Not expensive but not cheap as one may expect.
Forget everything else you've read about the "famous" restaurants in Barcelona. RUN, don't walk and make a reservation at GELLONCH www.gelonch.es/ INCREDIBLE food, service, bread, wine, etc., make the the undiscovered treasure now of BCN....HURRY....get there before it get's too famous....and seriously, his tasting menu at 41.50 blows everyone out of the water..You can thank me later!! WOWOWOWO
Thanks Sockster, I've put it down on our itinerary. A little about the chef Robert Gelonch: El Bulli and Gaig alumnus. Reservations made through www.atrapolo.com apparently grant a 10% discount on slower days of the week. I'm not sure how that works though and I'm guessing that it's a discount since I barely read Spanish or Catalan.
Thanks all for the recommendations. After scouring all the responses, other posts on CH, and doing some other research online, below is my tentative itinerary.
I tried to get a good mix of budget/midrange/high-end, touristy/non-touristy, tapas/sit-down, and traditional/modern, but would really appreciate some feedback if there's a must-eat restaurant that I'm missing, or if anything below is not worth my time. Some of the Barcelona restaurants fell on certain days since so many are closed on Sunday and Monday, and I didn't put in breakfast since we plan on staying out late and sleeping in during the mornings.
May 15 (Saturday):
- Arrive in Barcelona at ~12PM
- Lunch: Boqueria market (Bar Pinotxo or Kiosko Universal)
- Dinner: Tapas at Inopia
May 16 (Sunday):
- Lunch: Cheriff or Kaiku (for seafood/rice dishes, walk around beach area) - need a reservation?
- Dinner: Tapas at Paco Meralgo and/or Cerveceria Catalana
May 17 (Monday):
- Lunch: Restaurant Sant Joan (Plan on visiting Sagrada familia the same day)
- Dinner: Tapas at Cal Pep (been wanting to try this place since all my friends seem to love it)
May 18 (Tuesday):
- Lunch: Still undecided, but want to do eat light to make room for my big dinner. Thinking about stopping by Formatgeria La Seu for a cheese tasting, going back to the Boqueria, or trying one of the other tapas places I wanted to try (Quimet & Quimet, Taktika Berri, El Xampanyet)
- Dinner at Comerç24 (Last dinner in Barcelona) - made reservation for 8:30pm
May 19 (Wednesday):
- Lunch: Buy bread/ham/cheese from market to eat on train from Barcelona to Madrid (or any other suggestions for something I can eat to-go?)
- Dinner: Tapas crawl in La Latina (Taberna Tempranillo, Txirimiri, Casa Lucas, Juana La Loca...)
- Midnight (or morning) snack: Chocolateria San Gines for chocolate con churros
May 20 (Thursday):
- Lunch: El Mollete - made reservation for 2pm
- Dinner: Tapas crawl in Plaza Santa Ana/Huertas
May 21 (Friday):
- Lunch: Botin - do I need to make a reservation?
- Dinner: Tapas crawl in Chueca (Bocaito, Casa Carmencita, La Bardemcilla...)
May 22 (Saturday):
- Lunch: Picnic at a park (buy food at Mercado de San Miguel?)
- Dinner: La Terraza del Casino (Last dinner in Madrid) - made reservation for 9:00pm
- Leave Madrid for SFO
Initially, I was planning to go to both Comerc24 and Cinc Sentits, but just settled on one since I wanted to save some of my budget for my high-end dinner in Madrid (La Terraza). It seemed like Comerc24 would suit me better than Cinc Sentits since it looks like I can get more variety of dishes, and would be more lively, while I'll have the more romantic experience at La Terraza. Alas, still no luck convincing the hubby to go to Girona for El Celler de Can Roca (just too far). I'm doing mostly tapas crawls in Madrid for dinner, is 3 in a row overkill and should I try for a sit-down restaurant one of the other days (already doing sit-down on the last day)?
I think el Mollete has changed hands. No "tortilla de Callos" nor "tortilla de chipirones" last time I was there :-( . I asked a question and got a very unprofessional answer. I think I ve also read a bad review on Tripadvisor. I would replace it with the 15 eur menu del dia D'Fabula offers at its grand terrace. I must remind you here that Mollete is a hole in the wall. No terrace!!!!!!!!!!!!
> May 15 (Saturday):
> - Dinner: Tapas at Inopia
Get there early, the wait can be long, even at 7ish (I think 1-2 hrs sometimes). We ended up sitting on the sidewalk since there didn't seem to be anywhere nearby to wait. At the very least the "list" is a big chalkboard so you can monitor progress.
> May 16 (Sunday):
> - Dinner: Tapas at Paco Meralgo and/or Cerveceria Catalana
Definitely make a reservation for Paco Meralgo, as it's popular as a more upscale Sunday dining destination as lots of places are closed Sunday nights. We were lucky enough to be accommodated as walk-ins. It's not a big restaurant.
> May 18 (Tuesday):
> - Lunch: Still undecided, but want to do eat light to make room for my big dinner. Thinking about stopping by Formatgeria La Seu for a cheese tasting, going back to the Boqueria, or trying one of the other tapas places I wanted to try (Quimet & Quimet, Taktika Berri, El Xampanyet)
We actually went back to the Boqueria 3 times since the menu at Bar Pinotxo changed daily. BTW, I don't think Quimet & Quimet is open for dinner.
> - Lunch: Buy bread/ham/cheese from market to eat on train from Barcelona to Madrid (or any other suggestions for something I can eat to-go?)
Way towards the back of La Boqueria (as far away as you can get from Las Ramblas) there's prepackaged meats and cheeses for sale at one of the stands. Bring your own utensils and napkins! Jamon can be oily. :)
> - Dinner: Tapas crawl in La Latina (Taberna Tempranillo, Txirimiri, Casa Lucas, Juana La Loca...)
Taberna Tempranillo, Txirimiri, Casa Lucas all actually have table service if you want to sit. Txirimi's tables go pretty fast though. Tempranillo is much bigger but didn't seem to have as exciting food, at least from the menus they gave us. The bar items were different.
> May 21 (Friday):
> - Lunch: Botin - do I need to make a reservation?
Yes. Although when we tried, our hotel concierge actually shook his head and said "it's very touristy" and we ended up at Casa Lucio instead. They both apparently book pretty far in advance.
> May 22 (Saturday):
> - Lunch: Picnic at a park (buy food at Mercado de San Miguel?)
There are counters/tables where you can eat in the market if you like. I can't recall if they were standing or sitting though. Probably standing.
Thanks so much kathryn for all the tips!
Will definitely take your advice to go to Inopia early...since we are only in Barcelona Sat-Tues, Saturday would be our only day to go there while they're open. You've also convinced me to go back to the Boqueria on Tuesday...I can always try one of the other stands if Pinotxo is busy or has a similar menu. Would be nice to eat somewhere light/cheap too since we have our big splurge dinner that night. I'll try to see if I can get a reservation for Paco Meralgo.
For Madrid, I decided to make a reservation to Botin. The hubby and I decided that since we were already traveling to 2 cities, we thought it might be to exhausting to do any day trips to Toledo or Segovia for suckling pig. I don't mind it being touristy anyway, as long as the food is good.
I highly urge you to do the bar pinxtos for lunch one day. It was maybe the best meal of my trip last year. Incredible. If the line is long....wait! Do some window shopping! It moves pretty fast. I should prepare you though that if you order a lot of food it isnt that cheap, i think i dropped almost a hundred bucks there. We ordered a lot of good stuff.
The other best meal in Barcelona we had was L'Academia. Truly remarkable food and value. Their wine was sensational and cheap too!
I have eaten at Mueso del vino in Madrid every visit (10+/- times) and it never dissapoints!
Get there early during the week because it is packed with businessmen. I follow 'suits and ties' around 2pm to find the best restaurants!
Also, there is a little place in the basement of the basque cultural center that is cheap good food. There is no menu, either eat or don't eat are your choices. t
This is not the expensive restaurant upstairs, just walk to the basement and ask for a table. A little intimidating the first time you go in there, but just do it!
Also, i like Finca de Susana. The chiparones ala plancha are REALLY good. I may have spelled that dish wrong.
Taller de Tapas is a good place for family groups or couples traveling together - relatively conservative, big tables if you need them etc. and decent food. Sagardi is better.
Santa Maria, at the other end of El Born, gets good reviews (El Bulli understudy out on his own). Unfortunately it had discontinued lunch when we were there last fall, so I have no personal experience.
Pirineus, off of Portal de l'Angel near the cathedral, is a reasonably priced place for a good lunch. Largely local crowd and Pyrenees cuisine. I thought the salt cod was wonderful and chatting up neighboring tables resulted in truly generous hospitality, as in, "try our food and wine."
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.
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.
SOMETHING FOR THE NIGHTLIFE
* 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.