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May 26, 2010 12:12 PM

Looking for San Sebastian & Barcelona Suggestions

We are making our third trip to Spain in a few months and I'm working on the dining agenda. Recaps of our last trip are here ->

(There are also several threads scattered on this board).

This time around, we will have four days in San Sebastian, and a total of three days in Barcelona (with a side trip to Roses - which, I will admit, is about as obnoxiously unsubtle as those Harvard grads who say they went to school "in Cambridge").

We have already booked a dinner at Arzak (2nd visit) and a lunch at Etxebarri (1st visit). We will spend at least one evening doing a pintxos crawl, so I am looking to plan 1, possibly 2, other dinners in SS (pintxos crawl may follow lunch at Etxebarri). I'm thinking one more traditional dinner and, possibly, one more contemporary dinner. For the latter, I am leaning strongly toward Mugaritz assuming it has reopened by September. We did Akelare on our last trip, and though I enjoyed it, I'd sooner try something else than go back.

For the SS phase of our trip, I would welcome:
- Someone trying to talk me into Martin Beresategui (or somewhere else) instead of Mugaritz for another contemporary dinner; or not.
- Suggestions for a more traditional Basque meal. In the mix: Elkano; Zuberoa; Fagollaga; Bodegon Alejandro (?) Don't see these places mentioned much (or at all) on this board.
- Suggestions for new & good pintxos in SS. For what it's worth, I loved Aloña Berri, and also really enjoyed Casa Senra and Bar Bergara. I was not as impressed with Cuchara de San Telmo as others appear to be, though perhaps I ordered poorly.

As for Barcelona, we don't have any reservations yet. Though none were disappointing, I have yet to have a truly knock-your-socks off meal in BCN. Prior visits have included Dos Palillos, Moo, Paco Meralgo, Roig Robi, Cuines Sta. Caterina, and others I sadly no longer recall.

Considering some of the "bistronomic" type places - Gresca, Cinc Sentits, Semproniana. Have never been to Cal Pep, fearing it to be something of a tourist trap (though perhaps that fear is misplaced). Inopia is also on my list, as is Tapac 24. Anyone have any recent insights on Koy Shunka? Also need to factor into the mix that one of our nights in BCN is a Monday, which limits the options.

Help me find a knock-out meal in Barcelona?

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  1. Hi there,

    I just moved to Barcelona a few months ago from Madrid- I'll ask around and find out where the locals think is best and report back... One place I've been really wanting to try is Carme Ruscalleda's restaurant Sant Pau in San Pol de Mar (you can get there in a short time on the train from Barcelona). It is supposed to be excellent. Also, Can Fabes...

    1. "Fagollaga; Bodegon Alejandro (?) Don't see these places mentioned much (or at all) on this board."

      Is Fagollaga the same as Fagoaga? Am huge fan. Go for it.
      I also had a very nice meal at Bodegon Alejandro. It is a good restful kind of meal between two starred pigouts.

      "Suggestions for new & good pintxos in SS."

      Astelena, Ganbara, Tamboril, San Telmo (do give it another chance). All in the old town.
      The following thread has good ideas re where to go and what to order:
      What stood out in my memory was: pulpo with cabbage + foie + croquetas with beef cheek in San Telmo, chipis and frog legs at Astelana, pimiento relleno in Tamboril.

      "Have never been to Cal Pep, fearing it to be something of a tourist trap (though perhaps that fear is misplaced)."

      That fear is misplaced. Last time we were there, we sat between a French couple and a Spanish family. We ended up sharing all our food. Uproarious fun.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Parigi

        "Is Fagollaga the same as Fagoaga?" Here's what I know:

        Seems Cal Pep may be in consideration for Monday dinner in Barcelona, as their website indicates they're open Monday.

        I have been thinking about taking a day (and night) in Girona on the way to Roses which would make Sant Pau, Can Fabes and Celler de Can Roca even more geographically desirable.

        1. re: Frodnesor

          "Seems Cal Pep may be in consideration for Monday dinner"

          To avoid queuing, arrive shortly before 8pm for dinner, or shortly before 1pm for lunch.

          Yes absolutely do Girona.

          1. re: Parigi

            Update - at Cal Pep arrive at about 7;15 - they now open at 7:30 (at least they did when we were there on a Monday in April). People arriving at 7:30 had to wait until the first 'turnover'.
            Also, reservations are already being taken at Mugaritz.

            And both Gresca and Sant Pau recently entered my top 10 meals of all time (knocking out Etxeberri).

            1. re: estufarian

              "Update - at Cal Pep arrive at about 7;15 - they now open at 7:30 (at least they did when we were there on a Monday in April)."

              Thanx for this update. 7:15 ? For Barcelonians, that's like gothic-geezer early-bird hour ! Often I see people finishing their lunch at around 5 something.

      2. I was just in Barcelona last week (full report still to come) and I thoroughly enjoyed all my meals at Inopia, Cerveceria Catalana, and Cal Pep so I would recommend any of those three. Inopia is closed on Mondays though. If you show up early, you shouldn't have trouble getting a table (we easily got one around 7:45pm at Inopia), but if you come in at the usual Spanish dining hours it will be tough. We went to Cal Pep around 9:50pm and got seated close to 11pm...I thought it was definitely worth the wait though, especially if you like seafood...highly recommend their bacalao!

        1. For a more traditional Basque meal, I strongly recommend Casa Nicolasa: alubias, chipirones, kokotxas, merluza Goierri, txangurro, cheese from Idiazábal…

          2 Replies
          1. re: JuanDoe

            Re: Koy Shunka.

            I too was wondering about this place but remain undecided (if you searched on CH, you would have found only this post:

            There's a 60 Euro tasting menu and perhaps you've read the NY Times review. I love Japanese food (from 4 years living in Japan) - both traditional as well as evolved - but as you have mentioned in your Miami blog, North Americans seem to be ahead of the game when it comes to their experience with Japanese cuisine. And in Miami, I would wager to guess that you have restaurants that combine super-fresh seafood, Japanese technique and the flavours of Cuba. (if yes, pls do recommend one becuz one day I hope to spend some time in Miami!). So what it boils down to is this: is the Koy Shunka experience something you can find in your hometown and for less than 60 Euros?

            Pictures of the tasting menu:

            Link to the restaurant website:

            1. re: Aleta

              My 12 year old daughter asked if we were going to have sushi in Barcelona and I told her it is unlikely because from what I have read Sushi is not one of fortes and that we can get better for less in NYC.

              That being said if we happen to find ourselves dining at Cuines de Santa Caterina I think I will let her get a couple of rolls! :-)

          2. I have not found any restaurant in Barcelona that has delivered a 'knock-out' meal, not at the level of of Aklelare, Arzak, etc. What I've enjoyed are many good to excellent meals in more modest places such as Sauc, Cinc Sentits, Hisop, Gresca. These are not money is no-object 3 star-places that can knock your sock off but are scaled down modest restaurants. The cooking has a high standard and the cost is less than half of what would pay at any of the 3 star Michelin. Right now, I don't think the highly regarded Abac or Drolma are at it's best. From my limited experience, hotels restaurant that have attracted high profile chefs such as Moo, Arola, Lassarte are just shadow of their flapship places. And if one wishes 3 star, the area around Barcelona has those. And there is Hispania, rustic yet with cooking and ingredients that can match any.
            Although not a knock-out meal, I had an excellent diner at La Dama last year. The cooking is traditional Catalan and the ingredients are excellent. This type of restaurant is rare as many of the high-end traditional Catalan such as Ca I'sidre (I include Botafumeiro though it is seafood) are tired and seems to be stuck in time. This is a reason the recently opened Fonda Gaig is so welcoming. Not knock out but good traditional Catalan cooking combined with a lively fun ambience.
            I distinguish 'tourist trap' from restaurants that attracts a lot of tourists. Tourist traps are places that attract visitors because of location and/or name sake and have no regard to the quality of the cooking. Many good restaurants attract a high percentage of tourists yet deliver excellent food. Most nights, a very high percentage diners at Cinc Sentits will be visitors but by no mean it is a 'tourist trap". Cal Pep is not a tourist trap because the food is good (a little overpriced) though there will be people eating there for other reasons. Probably the famous restaurant in Roses falls into this latter category.

            4 Replies
            1. re: PBSF

              I need to decide between Sauc and cinc sentits. Which would you chose and why?


              1. re: refilms

                Sauc is probably my favorite modern Catalan restaurant in Barcelona. The cooking is has an earthy element and depth of flavor that many restaurants of this type lacked. The food is complex without ever appearing so and the ingredients is always excellent. Since I have eaten there more than half a dozen times, I have developed a certain rapport with the staff which always make the meal more enjoyable. Also, I was big fan of Abac where the owner chef/owner used to cooked at.
                Cinc Sentits is a safer bet. The cooking is very consistent and there is rarely a conceptual problem with any of the courses. By offering only two tasting menus, there is a greater control in the kitchen. The service is very accommodating and polish. I've only eaten at Cinc Sentits twice. The primary reason that I don't return more often is that I find the ambience very bland and too low key. This is really a personal preference. If it is my first trip to Barcelona, I would probably choose Cinc Sentits.

                1. re: PBSF

                  I chose Cinc Sentits on my first trip and, unlike most reviewers here, found it a disappointment.
                  The 'famed' maple syrup 'shooter' was the problem for me! The taste was much heavier than the maple syrup I usually consume, and the flavour lingered in the mouth for 2 (at least) more courses, spoiling these for me as well.
                  But they spoke excellent English - which may make visitors seem more comfortable.

                  1. re: estufarian

                    Like you, I have not enjoyed their signature "maple syrup egg shooter" on both of my dinners. I found it too sweet as a beginning to a meal. The rest were very good: the foie gras, the arroz, langoustine, pork belly, to the cheeses/their accompaniments and simple desserts. Though my two dinners were more than a year apart, there was a basic similarity to the main ingredients and courses though the preparations were different. It's been more then two years and I have heard from friends that their cooking have gotten better and more refined.