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Barcelona Solo Trip Report (long)

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Cat123 Apr 25, 2010 11:28 AM

I’m just back from a slightly longer than expected trip to Barcelona. It was extended due to the volcano so I got to try more than a few of the restos recommended here (thanks to all!). I should mention that I went to all of these as a solo diner and generally found Barcelona to be a very easy place to travel and eat alone. A summary follows:

Cal Pep – went here for lunch on a Saturday, arriving at about 12:45pm as they open at 1:15. There was a long line when the doors opened and the spots at the bar filled quickly. I was about in line so no issue getting a seat and paired up with another single diner and we tried a variety of dishes, including tortilla, sea bass, sautéed small green peppers with olive oil, pan amb tomaquet and deep fried artichokes. There is no menu and we were asked what we felt like eating, but we felt absolutely no pressure to eat/try anything and everything. A great lunch overall – with a beer the bill for one was about 30 euros, so not the cheapest lunch but definitely one of the best. Nice vibe – lots of interaction between the diners and the cooks. Had the local beer but red/white wine is available by the glass. Very popular so expect a line if you’re not there at opening.

Inopia – I tried to go here twice – once at about 9:30pm, when they were packed and it was too long a wait to get a table so I left, and the second time just after they opened at 7:15pm. I should mention that it is a bit off the beaten path and depending on where you come from the area you have to walk through is not the most comfortable for a single woman if you go after dark. Thus, the earlier dinner felt more comfortable. The second time got me a seat at the almost full bar and some great food. I had a tomato and tuna belly salad, chicken croquette, the “bomb” (a meat filled croquette with tomato sauce and mayo), patates bravas, and two pintxo type items – one with smoked salmon and lemon confit, and another with tuna and a Dijon topping. All was excellent, particularly the pintxos, except maybe the bravas which were not really seasoned and were served doused in ketchup and mayo. They have a short list of wines by the glass and a longer list by the bottle. Overall the best tapas place I visited. They take names and give you an estimate though, so you can go elsewhere for a drink while you wait. 30 euros for a big dinner (but no dessert) with 2 glasses of wine.

Cinc Sentits – Couldn’t get in here for dinner so had lunch, which is the same menu as at dinner. Only 3 tables were filled on a Thursday at 1:30pm. Very small place – only 11 tables and very subdued atmosphere but very elegant. Had the 7 course Sensacions tasting menu – all was amazing. 69 euros I think for the meal and 30 for matched wines. Staff was lovely and dining alone was fine – sat on the banquette and saw the rest of the room. Menu included mixed tapas of olives, almonds and cracker to start and then the signature syrup and salt shooter (which I really liked); baby clams with gelee, asparagus and lemon compte, foie gras "coca" with balsamic-glazed leeks, burnt-sugar shell, chives; spring peas with five herb ice cream, mint powder (my absolute favourite dish – it tasted like spring!); wild mediterranean red mullet served papillote style with fresh vegetable "samfaina" and lemon thyme; iberian suckling pig with apple in two textures; a Spanish blue cheese; and 2 desserts – a lemon one with yuzu foam that also included something that acted like lime pop rocks and a chocolate one that was served with olive oil ice cream and macadamias – unbelievable and I wish I could transport this restaurant back to my home city. Loved everything – great flavour combinations, excellent seasoning. Wines were all unique and well matched, coming with appropriate explanations from the sommelier. Very warm service.

Comerc 24 – This meal was the big disappointment of an otherwise fantastic eating trip. I had reserved a bar seat and arrived at 9:30pm. I selected the (ostensibly – more on that later) 7 course Festival tasting menu (68 euros) and then proceeded to eat a variety of courses that had virtually no taste at all, despite including pretty top notch ingredients. Throughout the meal the flavour combinations just seemed to defeat each other (an amuse bouche of monkfish with black sesame and garlic - really???), and I really found service to be lacking both warmth and attention. When I said I’d like some wine I was handed a wine list with only bottles. Finally, 15 minutes later, the sommelier came by and asked what I would like. I asked whether they had anything by the glass and was then given a completely different wine list listing lots of choices by the glass. Finally I got something to drink. Over the course of the dinner I had two nice whites and a red, but the glasses were small, I would note. Courses included sardines with orange and wasabi (ok but I don’t really like sardines); tuna tartar (but in a very heavy dressing and it seemed to be lacking freshness); consommé with duck egg and truffle and parmesan beads that exploded in your mouth (not bad and the exploding parmesan was kind of neat); artichoke with cod and spinach (tasted like nothing); seabass with rosemary and garlic vinaigrette (again, no flavour and no apparent rosemary); and a dish of thinly sliced beef sirloin with snow peas and sesame soy dressing – not bad but desperately needed salt. One desert tapas course was served that included 6 tiny desserts. One was in a shot glass and I kept asking what was in it only to be told it was “Natural Nestea”. It was some sort of green matcha drink with something else at the bottom but tasted disgusting. The others were pretty good – an olive oil and chocolate dessert (excellent but didn’t quite mach the one at Cinc Sentits, a yogurt with fruit, a shortbread cookie, a nougat (yummy, actually), and more black sesame in the form of a kind of cookie. If you are counting courses you may note that I didn’t get 7. I noticed this as well when I got the bill and a card listing my menu. The course I missed was listed as duck rice with foie, which annoyed me as those are some of my favourite things and I had seen the couple next to me eating it and thought they had received it as a bonus course. When I brought the miss to the staff’s attention there was a bit of an interrogation (was I sure I hadn’t had it?) and then the maitre d (first time I saw him all night) reprimanded my server in front of me. It didn’t help that my server insisted I had received the course. They offered me another chocolate course (interestingly, not the course I missed!) which I declined. They voluntarily took 10 euros off the bill and I paid and left. Overall, I found the service to be really unfriendly and the staff just didn’t seem that interested in me and the food really lacked flavour and included many repeating flavour combinations (who knew sesame was so versatile?). I should mention that the resto wasn’t really that busy. Total bill was 95 euros (after the 10 euro deduction) which I felt was money wasted.

Cerveceria Catalana – went here twice as it was close to my hotel and open on Sundays. A larger place with both bar and table seating and is very popular. Atmopshere is a bit “corporate” but the food is generally good. Lots of fresh seafood options and once you place a request dishes are made to order. Over a couple of visits I had a lovely plate of grilled prawns, some smoked salmon pintxos, croquettes, bravas and tortilla, as well as Russian salad and crab salad. They have a nice rose as well as a good Lan Rioja by the glass. An easy place to grab a bite.

Paco Meralgo – very very popular place but I managed to get a seat right away as a single diner. Sat at the bar and the server behind it brought me some pan amb tomaquet, croquettes and recommended a cuttlefish meatball which was huge and very tasty. Nice selection of wines by the glass. Hopping atmosphere.

Taller de Tapas – I went to the Barri Gotic outlet of this small chain for a late dinner – it wasn’t too busy. As usual, sat at the bar and tried a variety of items (bravas, croquette, tortilla and a really excellent eggplant and zucchini dish with idiazabal cheese). Had a very nice rioja by the glass. Not much atmosphere or personality here but the food was serviceable.

Txapela Euskal Taberna – Probably the most touristy place I went to, located on the Passeig de Gracia. They served all pintxos, most of which were set out on the bar so you could look at them before you order. They also have placemats that have photos of all the items on them to make it easier to order. The menus don’t have English translations but do have the price per item and a description in Spanish. I tried about 4 items If you are just getting started it would be a good place to dive in to pintxos. Nothing stood out but nothing was bad either. Service was efficient but not warm. 7 euros for a light lunch with water.

Bar Pinotxo – had my last lunch here and waited about 5 mins to snag a stool – fantastic atmosphere and lots of single diners. The energetic man behind the counter first asked what I felt like eating and then brought me some beautiful clams (simply cooked in olive oil – so fresh), the chickpeas (savory and almost sweet) and a creamy caramel Catalan dessert. Washed down with a glass of white wine and then a cava to finish. Fun fun fun – great service and lots of smiles from the staff.

Bocatta - not a resto per se - just Spanish fast food, but they have a "Serra" combo which is a baguette with cured ham and olive oil that is really decent and vastly surpasses anything McD's can offer for 5 euros including fries and a drink.

Overall it was a great trip – lots of good eating and not too many difficulties getting it despite the fact that I speak no Spanish. Most places had English menus and everyone went out of their way to try and get me what I wanted. As a single diner, I found the bar/counter seating ideal to experience the food and city without feeling awkward, so I generally chose this option whenever it was available (Cinc Sentits being the only one that didn’t).

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    JMS72 RE: Cat123 Apr 25, 2010 11:44 PM

    Thanks for the report. I'm going on a solo trip to Spain, and will be flying to Barcelona tomorrow. I was wondering what it would be like as a single diner, so your post was timely for me!

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      eb385 RE: Cat123 Apr 26, 2010 11:44 AM

      Thanks for all the detailed info!! My husband and I are going to Barcelona in May and I now have a better idea of definite places to hit up

      so far we have plans for Paco Meralgo, Inopia and Cal Pep (if we can get seats - thanks for the tips!), Alkimia, Bar Pinotxo...

      I have a reservation at Comerc 24 but I now think I want to try something else...perhaps Moo, Dos Cielos, Hoffmann, Hisop, Sauc, Gaig....? Any thoughts??

      I'm also trying to get a reservation at Cinc Sentits and after reading your review I definitely am going to try my best to get in.

      thanks again

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        elbodans RE: Cat123 Apr 27, 2010 11:58 AM

        wow--thanks for this! i'll be in barcelona this summer--also solo--and food is at least a third of the reason i'm going. i eat alone in restaurants all the time but i do so in the US--and i don' t speak spanish (ok, not very well, anyway) so was a bit concerned about the whole dining experience. your post was very reassuring, and i'm going to add some of those restaurants to my list of 'stop in if i see them' places. again--thanks!

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