BARCELONA DINING REPORT--2/22 PacoMeralgo
Here is a brief report of our first dinner in Barcelona. We have a rental apartment for one week, near Placa Universitat, and I hope to continue this thread as the week progresses.
We booked ahead at this modern tapas bar/restaurant on a corner in the Eixample for an early dinner on Sunday, the day of arrival (from Valencia). We arrived slightly after 8pm to find four (Asian) diners already seated at the bar. Contrary to what I had feared, however, the place eventually filled up with a mostly local crowd, but for the first half hour or so, we had the place almost to ourselves. I do not mind this, as servers have more time to explain dishes and to chat.
Service was friendly; serving staff speak at least some English and there is even an English menu. We took two seats at the bar with a view of the partially open kitchen. (Cooks here are Filipino, BTW). There are also about a dozen or so tables.
I am afraid that we had a rather unbalanced meal, heavy on the starch, as we ordered dishes that appealed without attempting any kind of sensible progression of courses. Prices are for half raciones, and portions are fairly small.
Pan con Tomate. Excellent version here of this Catalan favorite--toasted bread rubbed with tomato and garlic and topped with olive oil. Almost every diner had a plate of this.
Viruta de Alcachofas (4.70) Fried artichokes. Cut thick enough to allow some meatiness, these were sublime and highly recommended.
Navajas a la Plancha (9.40) After experiencing the celestial heights of the navajas at Madrid's Taberna Laredo, I am afraid that I will search in vain for anything that measures up. These razor clams were fresh and simply prepared, but without that touch of browning from the grill, they fell short of the grail for me.
Patatas Bravas (5.80). Excellent with sauce that packed a spicy kick. Could have used a bit more salt, and a bit more browning. (Some of the other dishes were also a tad undersalted, in my opinion)
Bomba (2.35). Giant mound of ?? (mashed potato?) with the same spicy brava sauce.
Croquetas de Pescado y Marisco (1.45 piece) Well fried and tasty
Chipirones a la Malaguena (11.50). Delicate in size and delicately fried, these baby squid were delicious and stack up very well against the countless versions of this dish I have had in the past month or two.
Montadito de Madagascar (about 1.50). Dessert. This was toasted bread topped with melted chocolate, olive oil, and fleur de sel. Decadent.
With our parade of dishes, we drank an excellent cava, from chardonnay and pinot noir whose name (beings with "R") I do not recall; it is one of two cavas available by the glass and appears at the top of the wine list.
Next time I would sample some of the meat dishes, and the foie, which looked excellent. Also tempting were the carpaccio of tuna that was enjoyed by my neighbor!
The bill totalled 46 euro for two persons. Friendly place. Excellent food. I would not trek across the city to go there, though.
Erica, I think what you meant to say was "non-local" or "tourist". Lots of Asians are traveling these days and many of them really know their food! It's The Age of The Traveling Asians! Even the vendors at the ancient Khan al-Khalili bazaar in Cairo now speak Japanese and Chinese!
Diverxo, one of the hottest restaurants in Madrid, specializes in Spanish-Asian fusion. I was watching a No Reservations episode on it and the sauce that was featured? XO sauce. I eat that at home all the time. I can even make it. If you see Asians in a place, it's not always a bad thing. After all, they don't usually eat in McDonald's. :-P
Parigi and I will forgive you if you promise to buy the next round of cavas! (just joking). I'm originally from Hong Kong, but I've lived in Paris, Tokyo, the USA and Canada.
Thanks for your understanding. I feel kind of jerky for my comment above.
Anyway, I should mention one place we visited this morning: La Ribera at Placa Commercial, 11:
This old-fashioned store is amazing! It reminded me of DiPalo in New York, with such kind and helpful staff including the owner and his son, who tends the register.
Although I did not check prices assiduously, they seem to be excellent. Examples: Ortiz Ventresca (red box; 110 gr): 5 euro; Cabo de Pena berberechos: 4.70 euro. They sell one-gram glass jars of saffron, with a red seal, from La Mancha, for 3.90 euro. Tax of 8% is additional.
Lovely example of the type of family-owned and family-run shops that are fast becoming a memory in many places.
Favorite taste of the day: Sendra black-peppercorn-studded dry salchichon from Vic. Well worth seeking out!
Saffron that comes in packages or jars is dated. Having said that, I have kept sealed jars and packages (there is usually a plastic container inside the cardboard packaging) in the freezer for a couple of years past the expiry date (I tend to overbuy in Spain), with little or no loss of flavor. I would counsel to be cautious of the origin of the saffron..I like to look for the La Mancha D.O. product, and only buy the threads, never the powdered form. I did notice that the price seemed to have risen at Corte Ingles in the past year or so, but since you are headed to Barcelona, your best bet is almost surely La Ribera in Born, which is worth a visit for anyone interested in food, apart from its having great prices.
Parigi: Start chilling those bottles! Are you here this week?
My last visit to Barcelona was about 11 years ago. Before I left, I was shopping in a grocery store in New York City--Fairway--and I ran into one of the store's managers, who had just returned from Barcelona. I asked his advice on where to eat (this was before I discovered Chowhound) and he told me: "I have two words for you: Cal Pep."
I ate quite a few meals at Cal Pep on that trip and was swept away by both the frenzied but congenial atmosphere and the food. So it was with trepidation that I took the walk last night, arriving about 7pm, a half hour before opening time, to be assured of getting a seat when the place opened at 7:30pm. By the time the restaurant opened, there were about 6 others waiting. All of these people were, naturally, tourists. (Descriptions of these tourists shall not be noted here!!)
We were shown to seats at the end of the bar, towards the rear dining room. I was sad to see that Owner Pep Manubens not only looked much older (I seem to remember reading that he had been quite ill a few years back) but that he now supervised the cooking rather than tend the stove himself.
There is no menu at Cal Pep; servers will ask if you want them to prepare a tasting of various tapas. My advice here is to choose your own, as we did.
The dish I remembered so glowingly from my last trip had been the tallerines, or tiny clams as big as my fingernail. These are prepared with wine, olive oil, a small amount of garlic, and parsley. A standard preparation, perhaps, but the results are stellar and I could have happily eaten 5 orders of these little creatures. Last night we opted to do a tasting of three types of mollusks: tallerines, berberechos, and another type of clam that the staff called simply "almejas;" I think these are properly known here as "cloisses."
Tallerines (10.55 euro). Stellar. Essential. Lick-the-shells good. Favorite dish of the night, and of the week so far.
Berberechos (12.70) Similar sauce but with pimenton instead of parsley. Excellent.
Again, a simple preparation that let the product shine.
Almejas/Cloisses (a bit larger than tallerines) Again, a simple sauce with bits of ham added. I preferred the tallerines but these were very good.
Pa amb Tomaquet (here it was called Pa de Coca, but it did have a faint whisper of tomato) (at 3.15 euro, the price seems quite high for this toasted bread staple of Catalunya)
Botifarra (signature Catalan) sausage with port glaze served with small white beans; quite tasty but I wished their had been more than a bare drizzle of the sweet glaze. (11.90)
Dessert: Very good Crema Catalana with a prounounced aroma of smoke, which I liked.
With four glasses of house cava, and one small water, the bill totalled 69.98 euro.
The restaurant looked the same as I had remembered, and my the time we left about
9:30, every seat was taken and there were hopeful diners waiting behind many of the bar seats. The crowd was a mix of foreigners and Spaniards and we were fortunate enough to be seated neat to an amiable restaurant guy from Melbourne who kindly allowed us to taste (well, I ate most of them) his order of pimientos de Padron. He told us that these Gaician green peppers are now grown in Australia, and I have seen them in NYC farmer's markets. If you have not tried them, Cal Pep does a commendable version that I recommend trying.
All in all, a very good dinner; simple food done well. Many diners were enjoying mixed fish fries and the fried artichokes, as they are reputed to be fry masters here. I suspect, though, that the same food might perhaps be available at other simple market-driven spots around the city where one need not endure the ritual of arriving at 7pm to be assured of a seat. (There is a cozy stone-walled dining room at the rear of the bar that accepts bookings)
I totally agree with your conclusion.
"We arrived slightly after 8pm to find four (Asian) diners already seated at the bar. Contrary to what I had feared, however, the place eventually filled up with a mostly local crowd"
Last time I went, I also noticed that the restaurant seems to have been discovered by Asians. But there's no reason to be so crestfallen about it, is there? I am Asian. Should I hide my face at Paco Meralgo? And where else? :-)