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Jan 30, 2011 09:38 AM

1 great meal Barcelona

Hello All,

We are SF Bay Area chowers. We are going to spain later this week starting in barcelona. We would like to do (at least) one very nice meal in Barcelona while the rest will probably be less expensive. We eat just about everything, but what we really want is food that we can't get in the states - which I imagine is most food out there.

Some other basic questions:
(1) what is the dress codes for restaurants? In the bay area you can go to a nice place in jeans, but i've also lived in NYC where you can't.

(2) If we eat at 8pm (which is even latish for us) will we will be the only ones in the restaurant? I definitely find half of the food experience is being around others.

(3) I gather most nice places are closed on Sundays and Mondays. Are there basic good places open on those days (i.e. tapas bars)? What is the best bet for travellers to do those days.

(4) How necessary are reservations? At nice places? At more everyday places?

Thank you all as always,


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  1. I would do a search on Barcelona on this board as there are tons of earlier posts on dining in Barcelona, from high-end modern and traditional restaurants, simpler everyday spots, as well as informal tapas/pintxos places. The dining scene in Barcelona vibrant, vast and varied with loads of excellent restaurants, therefore, picking out 1 great meal is impossible. If you can be more specific of your choices, you'll probably get some good feedback. I can't speak for NYC but the food and dining in Barcelona is nothing like anything one gets in SF Bay Area. It is true Catalan and not California/Spanish.
    1) Dress code, locals are very dressy but not formal. Nice pair of jeans are perfectly acceptable. One rarely see suit and tie in the evenings except a formal business gathering. There is no Per Se, Daniel type of formality in Barcelona. Style is more toward "dressy" SF Bay Area (leaving out the dressy Mission) than NYC.
    2) Very very few sit down restaurant will open before 9pm for dinner. Restaurants such as Cinc Sentits which gets a large share of visitors (this is not a comment on the merit of the restaurant) will start to fill up starting at 9pm while those that mainly attract locals will be dead until around 10pm. No problem for tapas or pintxos places at 8pm.
    3) Though most high-end places are closed Sundays, some Mondays, there is always a few that are opened. There is a very recent thread with good recommendations for Sunday. Sunday midday meal is very popular in Barcelonetta for locals. Some good tapas and pintxos places are open Sunday nights. Mondays are no problem.
    4) Reservations are absolutely necessary for most high-end places as they are fairly small and you will get the table for the entire lunch or dinner service. If there is a specific restaurant that is a "must" for you, reserve NOW (phone rather than email) as your time in Barcelona of "later this week" is approaching fast. For everyday places, some will take reservations but it is always easy to get a table if one arrives 15 minutes before the crowds, around 12:45 for midday or right before 9pm for dinner. Most tapas and especially pintxos places do not take reservations as they are standup/counter stool types of places.
    Hope the above help.

    7 Replies
    1. re: PBSF

      PBSF thank you for the great information. I guess when I say great meal, I mean something that would be on the lines of a French Laundry - extravagant but worth it. Cuisine we are open, but I would say that I don't go to Spain to eat French food unless its a twist on French food unique to the area (if that makes sense).

      I know obviously doing something like that last minute is challenging (this trip is a bit of a last minute trip)? Reading through the board their don't seem to be a shortage of worthy places, so where do you think is realistic to get into (given that contacting from US is a bit of a challenge).



      1. re: bennyscuba

        For anything similar to the French Laundry, you will have to go out of Barcelona to the Michelin 3 star Can Fabes, Sant Pau or El Cellar de Can Roca. These three restaurants are distinctly different from each other and if you are interested, there are many earlier posts on this board to read. Still, don't compare them to the French Laundry as they are distinctly Catalan with their own personalities. And I am sure we can agree that TFL has it own extravagant personality, reflection of Thomas Keller. The three restaurants are easily reach by train or car but if one doesn't drive, then lunch is the only option.
        Within Barcelona, the focus is more on smaller chef own restaurants; shorter menu, less formal service and less trapping. The food has more of an experimental edge. And the cost of a meal will be about one third that of The French Laundry. Recently, there have been trend for big name chefs to open second branches in Barcelona. Moo of the Roca brothers from El Cellar, Moments is Carme Ruscalleda of Sant Pau, Lasarte is the Basque Chef Martin Berasategui's outpost and so on. These restaurants strive to replicate the cooking of their 3 star establishment; opinions differ on how successful they are.
        For first time visitors, I would recommend:
        Modern Catalan restaurant: Cinc Sentits, Gaig, Hisop; somewhat more molecular: Comerc24, Alkimia; even more molecular if you can't get to Girona is Roca brothers" Moo. These restaurants are somewhat established and have a consistency that there is a very good chance of getting an excellent meal.
        Updated traditional is the excellent La Dama; Colibri and Fonda Gaig are less expensive (NOT cheap). Tapas and pintxos are too numerous to recommend, depending where one is; lots are clutter closely together in El Born/Ribera, a few atmospheric ones in the Gotic; lots of newer and excellent ones in the Eixample; the fun locals in Sarria and Gracia. Just depends on where one wants to be.
        My general advice is enjoy what Barcelona has to offer: excellent small chef own modern Catalan restaurants; a few excellent traditional places; some very inexpensive everyday down home cooking and the tapas and pintxos places. It is a wonderful city to enjoy on its own.

        1. re: PBSF

          Thanx - Cinc Sentits looks really nice and I'm intrigued by Moo. From what I've read Mol Gast seems much more advanced than what we have in SF.

          No I don't think it ever really makes sense to compare restaurants in that way - each course and meal is so personal. I more meant, on that level of well thought tasting menus, that focus on tasting what's local.

          One more "culture" question. How common is it to do a big meal for lunch. For example, Cinc Sentis recommends booking for lunch if you can't get dinner. Typically I would shy away from that, but I'm guessing if people don't eat dinner till late, a big lunch is pretty common...


          1. re: bennyscuba

            Because Barcelona is a bustling working city, the tradition of long lunches are getting more and more rare. Many will still eat a full sit down midday meal in more modest places; many of these restaurants will offer a simple three course menu del dia for around 12euro, frequently a good deal but limited choices. Others will gather at tapas and pintxos places for an informal lunch. One will find most high end places less busy during the midday. This does not mean that the food or service will be any less. If one is in Barcelona for a short visit, especially if it is first time, it is a difficult decision to spend 2 or 3 hours for lunch or use that time for sightseeing. On the contrary, if one has a difficult time with the late eating schedule, then a main meal at lunch and smaller tapas/pintxos dinner is a good way to go.
            Weekend is when many families go for their big midday meal; Barcelonetta is popular for these as well as restaurants outside of Barcelona. In fact, Saturday and Sunday lunches are some of the most difficult reservations to obtain for the nearby Michelin 3 star restaurants.
            Spain and particularly Barcelona/Catalonia is where molecular gastronomy is known for. Except for Can Fabes, all of the current Michelin 3 star in Spain practice some form of it. If that is what you are interested in, I would reserve an afternoon and train to Girona (a beautiful medieval city) and have lunch El Celler de Can Roca. Moo would be a fall back. Comerc24 is also very good plus it is lively and fun.
            Molecular cooking is not much part of the dining scene in the SF Bay Area. Daniel Patterson and his Coi is probably the only one that is doing anything worthwhile. Manresa is terrific but I wouldn't classify it as 'molecular'. There are a few others dabbling in it but nothing very memorable.
            Unless you are visiting San Sebastian, Madrid or Andalusia, don't pass up on tapas/ pintxos eating in Barcelona. They can be just as rewarding as any high end places.

            1. re: PBSF

              Thanks for all the insight - you definitely learn a lot about a culture by how they eat!

              I agree, it's hard to spend 3 hrs eating when there's a beautiful city to visit...

              Our trip is actually pretty flexible so if we fall in love BCN we may spend a few extra days there so Girona could be a good side trip.

              Coi is def the main game in town. We can't even say if we are into MG as it doesn't really exist - as you say. Campton Place seemed to be doing some of it a few years ago but they've had so much change it's hard to say what they're doing now. Though I do have to say, I'm quite happy, SF has evolved out of the California Cusine funk the city seemed to be in a few years ago. Only so many times you can eat a perfectly seared piece of fish with steamed veggies - particularly when I can make the same thing at home!

          2. re: PBSF

            So I've been able to get some reservations to a few of the places on your list and was curious on your thoughts. I was able to get a lunch reservation at Cinc Sentits on Saturday (1:45pm). A dinner at Hisop on Saturday night (9pm) and a dinner at Moo on Monday (9pm). I also had a dinner at Con Gracia on Saturday but will cancel. I did contact Gaig about Saturday.

            Does lunch at Cinc Sentitis and then dinner at Hisop (or Gaig) seem like over kill? Is it going to be a very heavy lunch? Also will it be a 2-3 hr meal - don't love the idea of killing so much tourist time. Or is the meal "just" worth. If Gaig comes through which is better? I wasn't able to find Gaig's menu. Moo we're excited about for the Gastro aspect. I figure the rest of the time we will spend checking out Tapas bars...

            Ok, now time to start researching food in Sevilla & Granada!



            1. re: bennyscuba

              I would not try to squeeze too much: any two long sit down meals a day is too much regardless of the restaurant. Beside impossible on the stomach, you'll be spending 5 to 6 hours holed up inside tied to a chair in a modern dining room. Gaig is on a bit higher level than Hisop; better experience overall in terms of consistency but also more expensive. The Gaig family have been in the restaurant business for generations and Carles Gaig cooking is extremely well thought out and refined. Hisop is simpler, newer and somewhat more experimental. Cinc Sentits cooking is very good and consistent but I find the dining room very bland. Restaurants like Gaig, Cinc Sentits, Alkimia, Hisop, etc are on the same general level that I would not arrange my schedule for any single one and I wouldn't waste much energy debating one over the others. If you are interested in the Roca brothers' cooking, definitely go to Moo. Then pick the others that fit your schedule. Lunch at Cinc Sentits, I would skip and spend my afternoon sightseeing at Parc Guell or the Montjuic, etc.
              Barcelona has gotten a reputation for it's modern Catalan cooking. Catalan cooking is unique with a long tradition and Barcelona still has some good traditional restaurants and many good everyday places. If it was my first visit, I would mix it up a bit. Get out of the Eixample where all your choices are located and go down to El Born for an evening and hop around the tapas and pintxos bars and enjoy the street life. Or go down to Barcelonetta for Saturday/Sunday lunch and enjoy the rice dishes (rice and fideua are Catalan) or seafood at Kaiku, El Suquet, L'Eix al Moll or go down scale at Can Mano or La Cova Fumado. In Barcelonetta, just avoid all the places on the Pg de Joan Borbo. This is where you will see the local families enjoying a day out. Barcelona is not all about high-end molecular cooking; just hitting Cinc Sentits, Gaig, Moo, Can Gracia is like coming to SF and just going to Range, Commonwealth, Maverick and Bar Tartine. I would mix it up some.

      2. I love cal pep - this is not so formal since you sit at a bar, so maybe checkout passadis del pep

        7 Replies
        1. re: joshekg

          Had a fantastic meal at Comerc 24 Saturday night - can't go on about it enough as everything was just excellent - will post a bit more on another general Barcelona thread, but would definitely recommend it.

          1. re: joshekg

            Follow PBSF's advice and you won't make any mistakes. If you want traditional Catalan follow those recommendations; if you want molecular follow those.

            On our trip to Barcelona last spring we went to Fonda Gaig on his recommendation and loved the food, ambience and service. Went, inexorably, to Cal Pep despite PBSF's lukewarm comments and were unimpressed (though several of his fried items were quite good).

            We had all our major meals as late lunches and had tapas in the evening. That routine worked well for us. Lunch or dinner, I recommend making reservations at quality dining destinations.

            1. re: lsernoff

              We were also completely unimpressed by Cal Pep - the croquettes were pretty good but the rest average, and pricey.

              1. re: lsernoff

                Sorry to hear about Cal Pep. It's been ≈ 3 years since I was last in BCN so maybe it has gone downhill.

                1. re: joshekg

                  In term of food and service, Cal Pep hasn't change much in years; some people love it while others are more blase.

                  1. re: PBSF

                    I think, as I mentioned on another post, we were comparing it to the excellent tapas we had in Seville a few months ago - far superior than Cal Pep.

                    1. re: pj26

                      Tapas eating in Seville is on another level; difficult to compare.