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Jul 31, 2010 03:12 PM

A few days in Barcelona - a report

So after our two weeks in Portugal, Barcelona hit us like a sledgehammer. So much going on! Everywhere! All night long! It was amazing.

First night we decided to do a mini tapas-hop in the Born/Barrio Gotic area, where we were staying. First stop: Xampanyet. Crowded to the rafters, but we squeezed ourselves in and got a spot in the corner of the bar. Drank their unlabelled cava which was delicious and ate miscellaneous stuff - we just pointed at things on the bar or on someone else's plate if it looked good. Absolutely loved the mayhem and the anchovies were fantastic. I have no idea how our bill was totalled up when we left because even we had no idea what we'd eaten. From there we walked half a block to Euskal Extea (spelling?) which was also crowded but a very different vibe. Just grabbed pinxtos or montaditos or the occasional thing that walked through the room on a platter and washed it down with whatever wine was being poured. By that time we didn't care anymore and it was just all fun. I have no idea what I ate, but it was mostly good I think.

The next day we walked over to the Santa Catarina market to pick up lunchy things. Actually, having now been to both the Boqueria and the Santa Catarina, I would say that the S.C. was much better for actually shopping. There is enough good stuff there without the crowds of tour groups and teenagers wandering around taking pictures. Not that I didn't take pictures, but the Boqueria is just a mob scene. So for shopping - Santa Catarina is great. We picked up some fantastic manchego and another cheese coated in herbs, some fabulous jamon and fruits and vegs. Also a couple of cocas at the bakery - one that was like a pizza and the other one with pine nuts. Skipped lunch that day because we had reservations at Cinc Sentits for dinner.

So we arrive at Cinc Sentits at 8:30 - the only time they could accommodate us. The restaurant was weirdly empty for the first half hour. Which does make me wonder why they couldn't take us at 9 instead of 8:30 but whatever. We had reserved for the 6 course Essencia menu. Although the tasting menu doesn't come with wine pairings, I asked for wine suggestions to go with the meal. My friend doesn't eat meat or shellfish, so there was some difference between our two dishes, but they were very good about accommodating us. I'm sorry to report that I didn't take specific notes about each dish, and so can't comment (or at this point even remember) everything we ate. The dishes were refined, very beautifully presented and delicious. I know there was something with cuttlefish meatballs which were amazingly un-cuttlefishy, and there was another dish with salt cod. One dessert was absolutely beautiful - looking like a sunny-side-up egg in a spoon, but it was I think some kind of citrusy thing. Really all the food was wonderful. I did, however, find the service a bit odd. I ordered a glass of wine to start - it was a robust Rioja of some sort, I think - and then I asked my server to send over the sommelier because I'd like to order another glass of wine (for my next course). He comes over and immediately pours another glass of the same wine without asking me if that's what I wanted. I was an idiot - I should have said I wanted a different wine but I didn't and, instead, was a bit annoyed. It was stupid of me, but I do think he should have realized that I wanted to pair the food with more appropriate wine and he should have asked before pouring. Oh well - a small detail. It was a lovely dinner - but if I ever get back there I'll order the longer Sensacions menu because many of the dishes going by our table looked fabulous and we weren't getting them. Sigh.

Next day was Sunday so we took a picnic with us on the train to Figueres to see the Dali museum. Great trip - amazing museum! That evening, being Sunday, our choices were limited so we ended up at Delfine. I know this place gets recommended on this board but our experience was pretty awful. We gave our orders - I decided to get some shrimp a la plancha and my friend ordered some kind of fish with white beans and spinach (I think). Half an hour goes by and the server comes out to inform me that there's no shrimp. Really? How come it took so long to tell me? Anyway, then I decide to order the paella instead, which takes 20 minutes but at that point who cares? My friend's dish comes out and the beans are chick peas, not white beans. The server tries to convince her that THOSE are white beans. We disagree. He goes back and comes out with a small bowl of white beans - he says otherwise the dish is identical. It was weird and awkward. THEN out comes my paella and really, it was horrible. I don't think it was supposed to be arroz negro but that's what it looked like but it just tasted salty and there was no saffron and the shellfish were dried out and old. It was just bad. We went to pay and found that they charge extra for sitting outside (I can't remember how much - 4 euros?). At that point we just paid and left.

The next day we went first to get some stuff to bring home from La Ribera - a fantastic shop on Placa Comercial (right around the corner from Delfine...). Picked up saffron, smoked paprika, and some other stuff for myself and gifts. Great prices - seems to be a chiefly restaurant clientele, so no fancy packaging.

Dinner that night was supposed to be another tapas crawl. But we ended up waiting too long at Cal Pep which I know gets quite a bad rap here on the board but we had a fantastic meal. Pimentons, fried artichokes, spinach with chick peas, some hake fish which was delicious and perfectly cooked, tomato bread of course and cava. A great dinner. We couldn't eat anything else - not even ice cream.

It was a great intro to Barcelona but now I just have to go back and pick up the stuff we missed. Oh well - another trip.

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  1. Wonderful report. You have hit all my faves, from euskal Etxea to Cal Pep to the Ribera grocery store to the Santa Caterina market. And your report really lets the fantastic chaos that is the old town's tapas scene come across.
    Delfin sounds like a horror story. Glad I escaped it especially when I always stayed practically next door to it every time I went to Barcelona.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Parigi

      You managed to go to some really nice places in so little time! I´m about due for another visit to Cap Pep as it´s been three years at least since my last visit. I never have the strength to brave the wait anymore.

      I agree about Santa Caterina market, it´s been very poshed up and makes for more civilised shopping although there are complaints about the highering of prices. the Boqueria may be cheaper but I always feel they´re trying to rip me off.

      I´m really surpised by your experience in Delfin, I went last week with five friends and we had a fantastic meal. We had some baked sea bream plus assorted bits and pieces (steamed shellfish with wine and chilli, wild mushroom croquettes, cure dried tuna etc.) . I think you must have had very bad luck with your waiter. This restaurant is very much on the new resident foodie map of Barcelona and for good reason. By the way, paella always takes at least 20-30 minutes to cook (unless you´re having a microwaved version!) so that criticism seems a little harsh. Also, I love the paella at Delfin, it is dark and flavoursome in the true Catalan (not Valencian) style.

      1. re: bettybop

        The reason we went to Delfin was that we'd heard it was good and, of course, open on Sunday. I agree - most of what went wrong was because of our server. He was clearly either overwhelmed or inept. But in truth, I found the paella really poor. I know it takes 20 minutes (at a minimum) and my impatience about that was due to the fact that we'd already been sitting for over half an hour before he came out to tell me that my original selection wasn't available. Remember - we're talking Barcelona dining time here, so by this time it was probably around 10:30 or 11 and we'd been to Figueres and back that day, so we were hungry and tired. Well anyway, it was really a one-off. I wouldn't be in a hurry to go back to Delfine with so many other wonderful food choices in Barcelona, but I would agree to give it another shot if I absolutely had to.

        As for the rest of the visit - I was so blown away with Barcelona that I'd go back in half a heartbeat if I had the chance. It came as an add-on to our Portugal trip, which was wonderful in a whole different way. But next time we'll stay much longer.