Barcelona + La Alqueria, Sant Pau, El Celler de Can Roca
We're starting our trip in a few weeks. Thanks again to everyone who has contributed to the creation of our "food map", especially PBSF, Parigi, Estufarian and SmokinActuary. I've promised to follow up with a report that attempts to do justice to all the hours I've spent researching ;-) This here is my template for the report since we'll be in China after Spain and my Internet access there may be unreliable.
If you feel "full" or overwhelmed just by reading this, don't worry! Make yourself a glass of mint tea or click on a different post. We do a lot of walking, swimming, hiking, sightseeing and scuba diving when we're not eating, so there really is a healthy balance!
Arrive in Barna. Lunch at Fonda Gaig
+ (walking off the calories...)
Dinner at Paco Meralgo
Hiking in Montserrat
Dinner at Inopia
Lunch at Vineria San Telmo
(flamenco & sightseeing)
Late (and light) dinner at Modesto
(lots of sightseeing)
Lunch at Eslava
Dinner at La Alqueria
THURSDAY: Back to Barna
Snacks at La Boqueria
Visit Barri Gotic & El Born (buy saffron!)
Snack at Bilbao Berria (see the cathedral)
Dinner at Gelonch
Lunch at Alkimia
(walk off lunch at Parc Guell)
Dinner at El Vell Sarria (let's see if I can have only the arroz and share an appetizer)
(walk around P. de Gracia, see the Modernista landmarks, food shopping)
Lunch at Taktika Berri
(more walking, more shopping etc.)
Dinner at Gresca
(Santa Maria del Mar, Carrer de Montcada)
Snack at Euskal Etxea
Lunch at Kaiku
(beach, aquarium etc.)
Light (and early) dinner at El Vaso de Oro & La Bombeta
Snack at Quimet & Quimet
(say hi to Chris Columbus and check out Las Ramblas)
Lunch at Cuatro
Lunch at Sant Pau
Lunch at El Celler de Can Roca
We haven't even left yet and already, there are changes. In case anyone is in the planning stage of their trip, maybe this info will help them.
Monday plans: INOPIA is closed, so we need to re-schedule. Frodnesor, thanks again for saving me from a terrible fate - hiking all day, keeping a ravenous pre-teen at bay and treking over to the wilderness of Inopia, only to find their beautiful roll shutter down. Current plans for Monday are Quimet y Quimet, possibly followed by pizza nearby at Bella Napoli (Margarit 14). These are choices of convenience since we'll be in the Placa de Espanya area.
Re: new addition of LA TAVERNA DEL CLINIC (M: Hospital Clinic). Pretty excited about this place. Located in L'Eixample, it's open on Mondays and it's described as modern Catalan with an Asian twist. The chef did his stage with Santi Santamaria (Can Fabes). Specialities include: creamy morels with foie; a sticky oxtail stew made with Priorat wine; octopus 'igloo'; shiso leaves in a tuna-belly salad. From the menu, it looks a bit expensive. Hopefully the portion size is closer to raciones than to tapas.
El Vell Sarria: lunch instead of dinner, due to holiday of Sant Joan. This will give us a chance to see more of the area and visit the bakery, Foix de Sarria, as well as the Mercado de Sarria.
FONDA GAIG was our first lunch in Barcelona. We were exhausted and starved from the transatlantic flight (Son doesn’t eat and I don’t sleep), it was the perfect place to get some good food in a comfortable setting. We were the first customers at 1:30 pm. 15 minutes later, the whole restaurant had filled up. Fascinating place to observe Sunday family life for the well-heeled of Barcelona: either 3 generations getting together for a meal (grandfather in dress shirt, slacks, leather shoes; grandmother equally stylish in blouse, skirt and pearls; 30something children and very well-dressed grandchildren) or doting grandparents and a very lucky grandchild. We enjoyed: sweetbread fritters, codfish fritters, meat-filled canelones, estofat de toro (bull’s tail stew?) and wild mushrooms a la plancha.
PACO MERALGO for dinner. After flamenco at La Tablao de Carmen on Montjuic, we arrived almost 30 minutes late so we lost our reservation. They offered us some places at the bar. Even better! A great view of the fresh offerings of the day. The taste and sensation of their gazpacho, served ice-cold, will stay with me for many years to come. It was the feeling of being offered a frosty cold beer as you barbeque your meat (and your face) in front of a hot summer grill. We enjoyed the cheese-stuffed zucchini blossoms, grilled wild mushrooms, bikini iberic (ham-and-cheese sandwich), pa amb tomaquet and razor clams a la plancha (“It’s alive!” my son exclaimed as the razor clam retracted back into its shell in protest to being removed from its bed of ice.) The food was good, but not stunning. If I lived in the neighbourhood, I would eat there on Sunday nights or whenever I felt too lazy to travel far for a meal. If I was visiting Barcelona and NOT staying in L'Eixample, I wouldn’t bother to travel all the way to eat here.
QUIMET I QUIMET It opens in the evening at 7 pm. We secured a little tabletop from which we were able to watch the action and taste a variety of montaditos (a heap of good tidbits on bread). The proprietor is a gracious and efficient host. No matter how busy he gets, he always finds time to greet his new arrivals and thank his departing guests. Although there is a menu on the wall, it doesn’t seem to be used. Just catch his attention, tell him what you like (seafood, dried fish roe, pate, cheese, vegetarian, etc.) and he will create something for you. If you see something that looks good on someone else’s plate, just point to it and he’ll make one for you. Most people already know about the creative montaditos, excellent wine selection, great canned seafood and Quimet beer but does anyone know what kids drink here? MOST, a grape juice bottled in Tarragona. It tastes like sweet, freshly-squeezed grapes. Aromatic and addictive. We bought a 1 litre bottle to go for less than 3 Euros. Our original plan was to have a few montaditos at Q i Q and then go for pizza around the corner at Villa Napoli. We ate so much here that we never made it to pizza. ;-) We loved: smoked salmon on thick yogurt with drizzles of balsamic vinegar and honey; prawn and caviar on roasted red bell pepper with soft cheese; fish liver and dried fish roe; the cheese plate; a plate of canned seafood. Prices for the montaditos are approx. 2.50 Euros.
Arroz at EL VELL SARRIA. We running behind so we took a taxi. The reservation was made through www.atrapalo.com, a Spanish website so I was curious to see if everything would go smoothly. It did. In fact, as we entered this rustic restaurant located north of Barcelona proper in Sarria, at least 2 of the waiters came up and greeted us by our reservation name. It was more out of curiosity than of friendliness, we discovered. I don’t think El Vell Sarria gets too many foreign visitors; it seemed very much a locals’ spot and we were again able to observe multi-generational families at lunch One family meal was so animated that a member knocked over a glass of red wine all over her white blouse. Yikes! That’s why I never wear white, especially when traveling. We ordered some codfish fritters, a salad and the Arroz Mar i Muntanya, which contained pork ribs, mushrooms, langoustines, mussels and squid in dark, wet and delicious rice. The restaurant is within walking distance from Tomo Gelato (interesting revolving gelato case), Foix de Sarria bakery (everything looked delish, especially the fruit tarts with tiny wild strawberries) and the Mercado de Sarria (home of the bacala shop mentioned by SmokinActuary).
Dinner at LA TAVERNA DEL CLINIC. It was yet another restaurant situated around the metro Hospital Clinic area (along with Paco Meralgo and Fonda Gaig). Interesting plates of raciones (bigger than usual tapas size) but not cheap. Very stylish food in an unassuming little boite, chef/owner formerly trained at El Celler de Can Fabes in Sant Celoni. Loved: modern patates bravas, gambas de Palamos a la plancha, morel mushrooms in a creamy foie gras sauce, grilled scorpion fish a la plancha. Didn’t like: sashimi-grade tuna belly marinated too long in soy sauce and sprinkled with coarse salt.
ALKIMIA. Although they have a smaller menu del dia and a la carte is also an option, we like to have our biggest meal at lunchtime, so we chose the 58 Euro tasting menu. I reserved it directly with the restaurant by email and requested a nut-free menu for my son. Everything went smoothly and the service was both professional and friendly. Although Alkimia has a Michelin star, they are not snobby or pretentious. We walked in, wearing very casual clothes with running shoes that had seen better days. And a big shopping bag. They welcomed us graciously and stowed away the shopping bag. They even invited my son to tour the kitchen and meet the kitchen team. Apart from personally thanking them for an excellent meal, I think he was trying to gobble a 2nd portion of the lamb cooked sous-vide :-)
Our meal at Alkimia was excellent in presentation, preparation and taste. I loved the chicken canelones with an almond cream sauce (better than the canelones at Fonda Gaig). Son couldn’t have almonds so the kitchen made him tortelloni stuffed with stewed oxtail.
Over to El Born and the very interesting provisions shop, LA RIBERA, for Spanish saffron. This is the only place in Barcelona where they really made me feel bad for not speaking enough Spanish or Catalan! It took almost 10 minutes for the storekeepers to figure out that I was asking for saffron (they keep it in the cashier’s cage). When I went to pay, it turned out that the cashier was the only employee who admittedly spoke English. Son wondered why they didn’t enlist his help in the first place. My answer: “Because they didn’t feel like it”. It’s an old-fashioned store with all-male employees. They do things the way it’s been done for years. And if you don’t like it, you can shop elsewhere and pay more. ;-) Right, Parigi?
Another place with “attitude” was INOPIA. Although we loved the food (especially the Bomba de l’Eixample - meat-filled potato puffs, light as a feather and freshly prepared), we didn’t enjoy the wait. We stood around for 90 minutes, waiting for our name to be called. A record for us. It was a Friday and we arrived at 7:30 pm. We had a fun chat with a couple visiting from Vancouver. At 8:30 pm, the waiting list was closed for the night and people were actually turned away. Some stood outside of the bar, in utter disbelief. They had been prepared for The Long Wait but not The Final Rejection. Hopefully things will improve when the new restaurant opens up around Christmas. It will be a project of both Adria brothers, located near Metro Entenca. While eating, we noticed a celebrity diner sitting nearby (and snogging with a young brunette thing). It was the chef/owner of Comerc24 and Tapas24. On a Friday night! If anyone wonders why Comerc24 is inconsistent, perhaps this is partial explanation: The boss is not in the house. (P.S. Since I wrote this, more news has been published about LOLITA, which will open in Inopia’s place in September. Combination restaurant and cocktail bar, serving some old favourites and drinks.)
TAKTIKA BERRI. This Basque restaurant in L’Eixample is known to have good pintxos and Basque food but no website or email address. Tables are hard to come by, especially in the new non-smoking room. Thanks to Ruth Truchado of the AC Diplomatic, we had a reservation a month in advance. We loved: the various pintxos (which were similar to the ones at the Basque cultural centre, Euskal Extea, but 50 Euro cents cheaper per piece), the grilled hake with fried garlic chips, the chuleta de buey (beef steak sourced from French Basque country) and the various egg-based dishes. I had a refreshing glass of txocali. The enormous chuleta was 18 Euros and the most delicious steak I’d ever tasted in my life! We enjoyed our food so much that we returned for a “last lunch in Barcelona”. Unfortunately, on the second visit, although the welcome was much warmer, the steak was a bad cut with too much gristle. It was served so blue that it had to be sent back. Of course, when it came back to our table, it was overcooked and impossible to eat. Was it just bad luck? We’ll have to wait until next trip to Barcelona to find out.
We had planned to go food shopping at COLMADO QUILEZ but it was closed (for lunch?) and CACAO SAMPAKA (Albert Adria’s other pet project). Had a delicious horxata at Cacao while son had orange juice with vanilla ice cream. Bought some nice chocolates to give to myself ;-) Not too impressed by the pretentious model-type young attendants in the café. The salesperson in the chocolate store seemed more responsive.
Before dinner, we had planned to buy jamon at JAMONISIMO. I emailed them in advance to confirm their hours of business but when we arrived at the store on Provenca, it was closed! We ended up buying our jamon at La Boqueria. I’ve heard of Jamonisimo’s inconsistent hours before and I would advise anyone planning to shop there to call and make sure they are open. There is nothing much to see near the store in L’Eixample. (P.S. I noticed recently on Chowhound that another poster had trouble shopping there too, although she did manage to eat at the restaurant. I didn’t realize that the shop and restaurant were at different locations.)
GRESCA for dinner. We ordered the 50 Euro tasting menu and enjoyed everything except the 2 fish offerings. Perhaps I just don’t like monkfish. The technique and creativity at Gresca was impressive. Imagine a coconut dessert that looks like half of a cracked-open mini coconut shell. No big deal, except that the mini coconut shell is not really a shell. It's completely edible and gorgeous! Or the "scroll" of raspberry sherbet served on a black slab of stone. Or the transparent "blanket" of iberico ham fat, keeping a bed of mushrooms cozy and warm. Or their signature dish of egg white souffle with a runny egg yolk centre. Son hates runny egg yolks so I was expecting him to send the dish my way but the whole thing together was so delicious that he finished it with bread and declared it “SOPtastic". We both loved the pigeon dish. Most likely squab (which is young pigeon), it appeared raw in texture but NOT in taste. I thought it might have been prepared sous-vide (Estufarian concurs). Molecular gastronomy that is so wild that you don't have a clue what's going on - that's NOT what you'll get at Gresca. Here stuff makes sense, looks fun and whimsical, tastes great (mostly). We noticed people ordering either the tasting menu or a menu of 4 dishes (larger portions) – either were the same price. On our next trip to Barcelona (!), we plan to order the 4 dish menu.
EL VASO DE ORO for some tapas. Normally this narrow bar counter is packed but at 12 noon, we were the first ones in. We had some foie a la plancha, solomillo (beef cubes), morcilla (blood sausage) and pimientos del padron (fried green peppers) along with their house beer. We figured out how to tell which green pepper is going to be spicy. We noticed that there were 2 shapes of bell peppers on the dish: round, like miniature bell peppers, and pointed. The ROUND ones set our mouths on fire!
If you are planning to eat at El Vaso de Oro and you don’t speak Spanish, DON’T call them on the telephone and ask questions. While we were there, an English speaker called to ask for hours of operation (and maybe reservations – big faux pas). The waiters took turns with the phone, saying they didn’t speak English, that there was too much noise to hear the questions clearly and then banged the receiver on the counter before hanging up! The caller didn’t give up! He called back immediately and got a second dose of the same treatment while the other waiters laughed. Son wanted me to offer to speak to the caller but that would have ruined the waiters’ fun. At another Barceloneta eatery, I noticed a sign that vaguely said, “We don’t speak English but we’ve got balls”. ?? I don’t really speak Spanish either and sometimes I think I’ve got balls too. ;-) In Barcelona, a smile, a few words of Spanish/Catalan, some French and a lot of patience will serve you well.
On to Basque pintxos at EUSKAL EXTEA, near the Picasso Museum. Son was intimidated at first by the crowd but once he figured out how things worked here, he dove in, only re-materializing when he had secured some delicious tidbit. He was given a plate, helped himself to platters on the counters and stationed himself near the kitchen door from which servers carrying trays of hot food appeared. In typical boy fashion, he must have tasted every kind of sausage offered. I preferred the seafood or cheese items. On another occasion, we tried pintxos at ORIO EUSKAL TABERNA, carrer de Ferran 38. It serves the same pintxos as Euskal Extea plus raw oysters and some other high-end items. They have lots of tables with stools so it’s NOT standing-area only. Part of the Sagardi restaurant group,the pintxos were about 10 Euro cents more than Euskal Extea.
Arroz at KAIKU. We booked online through www.atrapalo.com and again, the reservation worked well. (BTW, you have to set up a user’s account in Spanish and input an address with a Spanish postal code. I used the code for our hotel in Barcelona.) Kaiku is only open for lunch and I saw them turn away several groups who hadn’t reserved. There is an indoor restaurant but the outdoor terrace with its partial view of the ocean is more pleasant. We had a salad, deep fried sea urchin fritters and the chef’s special smoked rice (like paella). Very delicious and not as expensive as the line of tourist-trap restaurants along P. de Joan de Borbo.
LA BOMBETA. We waited for 15 minutes for a table. Although they are known for their mashed potato puffs, we had been spoiled by the Bomba de l’Eixample at Inopia. At La Bombeta, the bombas are displayed on the bar counter and I think they are re-heated by microwave when you order. No further comment
Out-of-town restaurant reports – work in progress.
Much to agree on.
Sorriest you did not get much help in the Ribera store. The store is indeed très old school.
My Spanish is of the yo-Tarzan-tu-Jane variety, but I guess we chanced upon very helpful staff there.
I have been going to Spain for many years, and remember Barcelona in the days when no one, but no one, spoke English. That was actually not long ago. But like you, we tried to speak some Spanish and some Catalan, - accent on the try, - with some desperate French thrown in, and people have been very nice and helpful to us.
O I do notice that the communication between store staff and patrons can seem very terse to us cultural outsiders. Typically, no greetings take place, not even an hola. The staff gives an imperceptible nod, and the patron who has just walked in goes right into ordering. -- I have accepted that none of this is rude. It's just, just another way.
And I wish your son's adventure in Euskal Etxea had been made into reality tv !
Aleta, I have been wondering what had happened to you. You must have been the best planner-researcher ever. I want to hear more !
Thanks very much, Parigi. We were inspired by you. And Son says he would like very much to have a reality TV show in which he gets to eat! (when he's not watching basketball or Nat'l Geographic, he's tuned into Food Network Canada)
I would have reported back earlier but we were in Beijing and Shanghai. Some good eats there but not at the Expo!
I just asked him what his #1 meal was. He says "La Alqueria". Expensive child.
Sounds fun......but I am going to be in Barcelona, next week followed by Granada and Sevilla. THen Morocco for a week.
No Madrid on this trip.
The places I have booked already for Barcelona are Doble Zer00 , Espai Sucre and Comerc 24.
No places booked yet for Sevilla, Granada, Fez, Marrakech or Casablanca.
Any ideas oR suggestions besides the above is greatly appreciated.
We have a flexible budget and are foodies from Chicago.