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May 15, 2010 08:28 PM

Dining report: Barcelona and Madrid

My prefatory comment, as noted in our earlier posting, is that my wife and I are senior citizens; that fact of life limits our energy and appetites, not our enthusiasm. That said, here are our observations (and factoids):

Re Barcelona: 1) We had lunch at Carballiera. I had the specialty of the house, Pulpo Gallego; my wife had Almejas Marinera. We split an ensalada fresca, split a half bottle of white wine, and had two coffees. All straight-forward and done to perfection. Cost: E65. An elegant restaurant which displays an elegant assortment of the seafood available inside the front door. Our reaction: go.

2) We had lunch at Fonda Gaig. We started with two crocqettas. Divine .Next we had a wonderful insalata fresca. For mains, I had their famous canelones; my wife had absolutrly perfect scallops a la plancha with artichokes. We also had a bottle of wine, split a crema catalunya, and had two coffees. Having seen on-line photos of the canelones, I was a little apprehensive that the dish would be too rich and too heavy. Wrong! Cost: E83. Our reaction: run, don't walk.

3) We had "breakfast" at Pinotxo at the Bocqeria. We both had "scrambled eggs" with shrimp and greens, and two glasses of wine. Cost: E 28. Our reaction: Have the buffet at your hotel or go to Kiosco Universal (Quim was not open). Our eyes were betrayed by the apparent "charm" of Pinotxo. Food was only so-so.

4) We had dinner at Cal Pep. Our appetite was diminished by a previous stop for elegant pinxtos at Euskal Extea, where we had five "items" (one free) and two cavas each. Our reaction: don't miss. Cost E16. At Cal Pep we had gambas a la plancha, garbanzos with cuttlefish (chipperones not available). peppers, and artichokes. Also two glasses each of white wine. Cost: E50. Our reaction: Cal Pep is a master at frying. The peppers and artichokes were very good, as was the frito mixto (which our "neighbors" shared in exchange for some of our peppers and artichokes). The gambas were a touch over-cooked and the garbanzos and cuttlefish was bland. Our reaction: Cal Pep is a "happeniing" that draws tourists like a magnet. Better food is available and easier to access in Barcelona; but, they do know how to fry.

Re Madrid, we had two objectives: paella and suckling lamb. The first objective led us to El Ventorilllo Murciano. There we had the most expensive paella mariscara they offer, shared a wonderful, and unique, ensalada murciano, and a bottle of wine. The house provided a perfect amuse bouche of lightly-fried zucchine and a post-meal of dessert wine, compliments of the house. Cost: E85. A lovely restaurant in a very local setting, not far from the Prado and Reina Sofia. Our reaction: run, don't walk. Reservations should be made.

As for the lamb, our intention was to go to Asador Tierra Aranda in Salamanca, much recommended on this site, but the ravages of age, exacerbated by a taxing day of museum crawling, led us to Asador del Aranda, also noted on this site, which was less than 10 meters from our excellent hotel, the Preciados. There we had a plate of lovely jamon, compliments of the house, shared a very fresh salad, shared a quarto of lamb, two coffees, and after dinner drinks on the house. Cost: E68. If you have ever enjoyed more mature lamb roasted on a spit, by all means try the suckling lamb. Wonderful! We leave the choice of asadors to your judgment, but cast a vote for Asador del Aranda.

Finally, a couple of side comments re Barcelona: Some time ago, a commenter mentioned Jabal, a spice vendor at Calle Princessa,38, around the corner from the Museo Picasso. Don't miss it! Even if you don't want to buy some saffron, at 1/5 the price charged in the U.S,, stop by anyway. The smell of spices is worth the visit. Spanish paprikas in bins! Wow! Shops like this take you back in time. How soon will they disappear? Second, I believe it was PBSF who noted sandwiches at Can Conesa at the Jaume 1 subway stop. It appeared to us to have been replaced by a bakery/confectionary named La Colmena. If so, it is a worthy successor. Great little sandwiches for E2.

Thanks again to those who recommended the restaurants and shops we enjoyed. Viva Espana!

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    1. Thanks for a great report. I've always felt guilty about having been to Barcelona 4 or 5 times and still never having gotten to Cal Pep. Just hate line-standing. Guilt gone.

      2 Replies
      1. re: JmVikmanis

        Thanks for sharing! I'm glad you had a wonderful meal at Fonda Gaig. We're going to Barcelona this summer and I made a reservation several months ago (yes, very Type A personality, I know). Fonda Gaig is near our hotel and it sounds like the perfect meal after a transatlantic flight without food (my son refuses to eat on the airplane).

        A question about the Asador. You didn't make it to the Asador Tierra Aranda in Salamanca but instead went to El Asador de Aranda in Madrid. I believe the one you went to - El Asador de Aranda - also has locations in Barcelona. Does anyone know if Asador Tierra Aranda has locations in Barcelona too? All these asadors have me a bit confused.

        1. re: JmVikmanis

          There are so many good places to eat in Barcelona, missing Cal Pep is definitely no big deal; overpriced and over-salted though the quality of the ingredient is quite good. And like you, nothing is worst than standing behind diners eyeing for their seats.

        2. Thank you for a wonderful detail report. You ate well.

          1 Reply
          1. re: PBSF

            PBSF: I thank you for the guidance you have offered in many postings. I only wish that we had the opportunity to try more of your suggestions. Mar de la Ribera was next on my list.

          2. Thanks for a great report. I think I sent this reply earlier thanking you and asking you if you are also Sernoff. Who knows why it was removed.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Parigi

              Parigi: sernoff and lsernoff are one and the same. Happy to note that your comments about Cal Pep were entirely correct. They served us what we requested and wished us a pleasant farewell when we were finished.
              There were plenty of customers waiting to occupy our seats at the bar.

              1. re: lsernoff

                Glad you had a good time in Madrid - thanks for the report!

            2. RE: Jabal-be aware that this is a wholesale vendor. Go smell the spices, drool over the big barrels of cep and pignoles but they only sell in kilo quantities.

              14 Replies
              1. re: AGM_Cape_Cod

                You are right that they sell most spices in kilo quantities. But they sell saffron in as little as 5 gram quantity (for about E12). Haven't yet tried the saffron, so I can't comment on quality.

                1. re: lsernoff

                  There is another beautiful old shop near the Santa Maria del Mar call Gaspert. Stocked dried fruit, dried bean, honey, coffee, spices, etc.

                  1. re: PBSF

                    You mean Giesbert, behind the church.
                    Another good saffron source in the Born is from La Ribera, on Plaça Comercial 11, which has excellment tins too.
                    In fact I got saffron from both places. It was the same stuff but cost less at La Ribera.
                    I love both stores.

                    1. re: Parigi

                      Parigi, was the saffron the same quality? What were the prices like?

                      1. re: Parigi

                        Sorry for the spelling error, it is Gispert, behind the church. They have great packaging for gifts. Even the smallest purchase of dried fruit comes with wrap and a nice old Gispert card. I agree with La Ribera ,has lots of well-priced product including canned seafood, some cheeses, beans, rice. Bought home lots of Olasagasti bonito del norte on my last trp. They cater to mostly food service; and next to it is a great store for bacala.

                        1. re: PBSF

                          Back to saffron for a moment, please. If it's the same quality, will it be more reasonable at small shops (like La Ribera, Casa Gispert) or at the food market, like La Boqueria?

                          Link for Gispert:

                          1. re: Aleta

                            Since I keep receiving saffron as gifts, I have never priced saffron in Barcelona. Sorry I can't be much help on that.

                              1. re: AGM_Cape_Cod

                                A little saffron goes a long way and like any spice, goes stale rather quickly. Couple of grams will last me a year. I don't use it often, mostly on rice and some soupy seafood dishes.

                            1. re: Aleta

                              "Back to saffron for a moment, please."
                              Aleta, you make me laugh so. You get so focused with food…
                              Yes it was the same quality. Hell, it was the same brand. The price at La Ribera was something like 1/2 or even 1/3 of Giesbert.
                              Check out both stores. I love the Ribera, but you can't get the fancy jams and lovely packaging of Giesbert there.
                              Sorriest I don't remember the exact prices, but it was a good buy. Yes it makes for great gifts too.
                              I don't remember how prices compare between the Boqueria and La Ribera. I only remember that we were looking for saffron for cooking, and did look everywhere, including the Boqueria and Santa Caterina and the food section nof the Cortes Ingles. Found the Ribera saffron to be the best and cheapest.

                              1. re: Parigi

                                Glad to amuse you, Parigi :-) Yes, I do tend to focus intensely on whatever interests me. And thanks for the info on saffron, one of my favourite herbs. I had it last year in a macaron with apricot. Very nice.

                                1. re: Aleta

                                  Don't worry, Aleta! I'm not laughing at you!!! :-) ;-)

                                  1. re: SmokinActuary

                                    Smokin, I almost believed you there for a moment....:-)