BARCELONA DINING REPORT; 2/11 (continued; this is part two)
The first section details dinners at PacoMeralgo and Cal Pep; here is the link:
This was the best meal of our trip thus far and was, in a word: thrilling! A million thanks to those who recommended it here on Chowhound.
Dishes were so complex, and so delicious, that I soon abandoned my quest to note exact descriptions of each course. Please forgive any slight errors. The restaurant is small, with perhaps 10 tables set in a rather stark, white, black and red contemporary dining room.
Two of us opted for one Tasting Menu (half-portions of three menu courses, plus cheese and dessert, an excellent value at 48euro) and one Chef's Daily Menu consisting of normal portions of two courses, plus dessert, 25 euro). We were showered with two amuse gueule and one sherbert as well.
The first amuse was an intensely flavored and delightful cold pea soup with berberecho, ham, and "agua de mar." Second, tallarines de sepia, a sort of fettucine of squid, on a base of slivered green beans, with specks of black truffle, oyster sauce, and a nut viniagrette. Both outstanding.
Service is relaxed and friendly, but competent, and wait staff speak English; there is also a menu in English.
My Tasting Menu began with a smashing and updated version of the classic Pulpo a la Brasa, served here with Romesco. Two hefty chunks of octopus artfully arranged on top of a curlicue of the flame-hued Romesco. Yes!!
My fish course, again from the Tasting Menu, maintained the heights of the previous dishes: San Pedro (San Pietro) in a pool of artichoke puree punctuated with dots of black caviar from the Val Arran in the Pyrenees. The fish wore a shawl of cansallada, a Catalan pork product often described as similar to bacon.
My next dish elevated me to the stratosphere: A cube of tender suckling pig with crackling skin topped with slices of black truffle and served with a sauce of ceps and a mound of "frozen dust of ceps," and a slash of a reduction of milk (!!) One of the best dishes I've enjoyed in Spain this year. Or any year! Actually, one of the best dishes of the past year!
After this, a mint "mojito" sherbert with a touch of rum.
And then: A generous cheese course with a number of selections from Catalunya and the Pyrenees, along with Taleggio and a blue, and a cube of membrillo.
Bread here--three types are offered--is excellent; both Catalan Arbequina oil and Picual from Jean, are offered for dipping.
To close: A light, frothy, semi-liquid confection of passion fruit, dried apricots, and tea
(the seeds of the maracuya provided a wonderful textural component in this swirl of sweet deliciousness)
A simply outstanding dinner and a bargain at 48 euro.
My friend's 3-course meal was also excellent, if less thrilling: The first course after the amuse was a Carpaccio of prawn in a mussel puree, with batons of the Catalan root vegetable, chirivia (pastinaca sativa), or parsnip.
She was given a choice of fish or meat, and chose the latter: Two double lamb rib chops served rare and accompanied by a blueberry sauce. The meat was excellent but the dish was less exciting than the others.
To close the three-course dinner, my friend was given a dessert plate that included a brownie, with panna cotta and two ovals of gelato.
We began our dinner with glasses of cava and continued with a red from Priorat, the esteemed Catalan wine region. Both were chosen by our server.
At 101 euro for two persons, including four glasses of wine and a bottle of water, dinner at Hisop was an incredible value.
I snagged a reservation online two weeks previous to our arrival (an admission that drew the envy of a few food-obsessed locals) to this new venture helmed by Albert Adria and the Iglesias brothers of Rias de Galicia fame.. AA apparently left Inopia in the hands of his partners at that nearby eatery (which is now called Lolita) to put a "low cost branch of El Bulli in Barcelona."
"I don't want to open the best tapas bar in the world, but instead, a tapas bar for the whole world," Adria had been quoted as saying.
Tickets is located in an original threatre and cabaret district of the city, the Parel.lel, hence the theme of the restaurant, with servers dressed up as movie ushers. A top-hatted and coat-tailed emcee at the front door checks reservations and lowers the red velvet rope for the fortunate few.
Tickets is vast, with several food stations and seating at tables or along the various bars which wear a seamless white sheathing reminiscent of Corian. There is at least one vast tv screen for sports events, continuing the entertainment theme.
The real entertainment here, however, is watching the staff compose the concoctions that will end up on your plate! The folded paper menu, emblazoned with the names of the restaurant's sponsors, which include but are not limited to Coco-Cola, Lavazza, Moet & Chandon, and Joselito (sponsor's names also appear on the staff uniform sleeves), contains a long list of plates divided into categories including: El Picoteo, Tapitas del Mar, Los Ibericos Joselito, Tapas del Mar, and Los Xuxis.
We were seated at the bar near the entrance and were attended by an enthusiastic young server. We had ample chance to ask questions of the staff behind the bar who assemble the plates, but do not do any actual cooking there. Guided by Manel, our server, this is what we ate:
Las Aceitunas-S Variedad verdial de Tickets: 7.10 euro. A jar that looked like olives in oil and citrus peels was places before us, but when Manel scooped the olives onto our spoons for eating, we realized that they were not actual olives. We were instructed to eat these in one bit. What followed was an explosion of flavor as the "olive," which was actually composed of some kind of seaweed if I heard correctly, exploded in our mouths, releasing an explosion of complex flavor.
"So this is what molecular gastronomy is about," exclaimed erica!
Next arrived Jamon de Toro: impossibly thin squares of cured ventresca "painted with the fat of Iberian ham," and arrayed on waxed paper. 12.50 euro Exquisite!
Tartare de Tomate served on "pan crujente," or cracker thin squares of bread, was like no other tomato tartare I had ever tried. Simply the essence of tomato, squared!
Equally fabulous was an artichoke-shaped crock filled with artichoke hearts (probably cooked sous vide) and scattered with crunchy and imcredibly flavorful "jamon crujiente" 7.80 euro
Mousse de Ajoblanco de Almendras con uvas y Pedro Jimenez was an impossibly light and frothy take on the cold Andalucian summer soup. Outstanding! 4.80euro
Pipas de Conejo with allioli espumoso was a mound of miniature rabbit ribs, perfectly fried and accompanied by a frothy allioli. 11.50
Coca de panceta adobada. What I thought was a take off on pulpo alla Gallega was, instead, folded slices of Joselito panceta dotted with pimenton, seared with a torch, and served atop pan crujiente. 3.40 euro If you like lard, you will love this luscious mouthful!
Airbaguette de panceta Iberica Joselito brought more panceta, this time wrapped around a hollow mini "baguette" 3.40 euro
My neighbor was kind enough to allow me a healthy taste of her Bacalao con nectar de tomate which was dotted with black olives that are like no black olive I'd ever tasted. This dish went out to many diners and for good reason! 3.40 euro.
With water, two glasses of Torello rose cava, and a scoop of vanilla gelato imbued with ginger and cinammon, the total bill for two was 85 euro. Large appetites would need to sample many more dishes. We heard servers speaking English to other diners, so non-Spanish speakers should not fear!
Albert Adria was in attendance, and working very hard during what was only the second night that Tickets had been open to the public.
The gin bar, Xixbar, around the corner on Rocafort, 19 is a cozy spot,with good music, for a cocktail or wine before or after dinner.
RCC, unless you are a Friend of the Adrias or the Iglesias, I would prepare to wait a very long time for entrance to Tickets. They have online reservations and in the last 2 wks or so, the whole March calendar has been booked. Solid.
As in the style of Inopia, they will save some seats for 'walk-ins'.
Thanks for all the positive comments! I have been getting up early every morning to try to cover the previous night's meal. I am rushing a bit so apologize for errors.
I was determined to sample calcots during this trip. I had been to Barcelona before but always missed the Jan-March season for this much-beloved variety of winter onion, which resemble the leeks that we have back in the US and are sold in large bundles here in the markets. Although there are restaurants in the city that offer calcots, I wanted to try them grilled over a wood fire in a more rustic setting.
So, yesterday about noon, we set off on the FGC train from Placa Catalunya, getting down about 15 minutes later at Peu de Funicular, north of Sarria on the same train line. There is a funicular here that whisks passengers up the steep Vallvidrera hill to the neighborhood that houses the restaurant.
Unfortunately, the person who answered the phone at the restaurant had assured me that it was only 10 minutes from the train stop to the Can Marti. Did she think I was driving?? She also neglected to mention the funicular!
What ensued was a STEEP walk, that so depleted us that after about 20 minutes of panting, I literally planted myself in the narrow road and flagged down a passing workman in a truck and begged him to give us a lift up the hill.
Can Marti sits amidst private houses in what looks like an upscale suburb of BArcelona; request a window seat and the entire city will spread before you. That is, if you have a sunny day, which we did not. It was cold, drizzly, and a bit foggy.
So the view was compromised, but the food? I loved this place! It would not have been more rustic if it had been in the Cerdanya. The restaurant appears to be a small private home, with a glassed-in dining room at the rear and a large brick grill area set into the back of the house. Piles of wood loom everywhere.
The menu is in Catalan, but they do have one in English as well. (But not in Castillian for some reason!)
Set menus are offered (including a calcotada feast for 30 euro that included a parade of grilled meats, wine, etc) but we chose from the a la carte offerings:
Everything was grilled over the open fire.
Artichoke. (6 euro) delicious!
Torrades amb tomaquet. (here they bring you the toasted bread, along with a few small tomatoes and a garlic clove; oil and salt are already on the table; you make your own pa amb tomaquet)
1.10 euro each)
Calcots. A bundle of about a dozen, along with a bowl of piquant romesco for dipping (one ingredient is secret so I could not get the recipe). 8 euro. Incredibly sweet!! I Loved these charred beauties!! Bibs are supplied but prepare to get very messy!
Mongetas, or white beans 2.90 euro. Excellent--with a crunch on the outside that might have come from bread crumbs.
1/4 rabbit 5.50. My friend thought this gamier than those in the US; I liked it; portion is for small eaters, though.
Costelles de xai, or lamb ribs 14.50 euro. Tiny ribs and one other part of the lamb. Tasty, with char.
With water and house red wine, plus two cafes, the total was 45.80 euro for two.
If you are here in calcot season and you want to sample true Catalan food, I would consider this
restaurant an essential stop on an eating tour. The entire trip from downtown takes under an hour. Do not miss the funicular at the train station. Make sure to sit in the second or third car of the train so you do not miss the short platform at Peu de Funicular.
An afternoon I will not soon forget!
Details to follow on Quimet/Quimet and Lolita. When I get a moment to breathe!
QUIMET I QUIMET
This miniscule Poble Sec tapas bar serving cucina del autor has been written up so often that I will add only a few comments, based on our short visit last night.
First of all, this place is tiny! Think the size of a Manhattan living room, and I am not talking about the Dakota here! Picturesque does not begin to describe the surroundings. Every surface from bar to ceiling, and in some places from floor to ceiling, is lined with shelves brimming with every imaginable type of spirits, wines, and vinegars. (My search for E. Lustau 1/24 vinagre de Jerez has ended right here; 11 euro; I had been told earlier in the week that this is no longer in production, so I felt I had scored quite a coup)
By the time we arrived at about 8pm, the place was tightly packed with a mixture of what appeared to be locals, along with a contingent of youthful Americans. The barman, who I assume is the owner, remained unflappable despite the heaving crowd, and accorded us a very warm welcome. We drank two rose cavas. The round of torta del Casar on the bar solved the question of what to sample first. We were given healthy dollops of this Extremaduran cheese, considered among Spain's finest, topped by glazed chestnuts, on rounds of toasted bread. Simple yet masterful. A truly fabulous combination of flavors.
Next and last, was the pork terrine, also served on toast rounds and topped by a tangle of pickled vegetables and a slash of balsamic reduction. After that, the din was just too much for me to bear. Total cost for the two cavas and the two tapas was about 14 euro. All food is cold; choose from the bar or look around and see what your very close neighbors are enjoying. Much in evidence were combinations of smoked fish including salmon, and the canned shellfish for which the country is so famed.
Hi Erica, great reports! We were the ones sitting next to you at Tickets, I don't remember if I told you at the time but I think it was because of some of your earlier posts that we managed to also snag a reservation, which I'm so appreciative of. Anyway, I just wanted to share the pictures from that meal at Tickets (couldn't think of another way to get it over to you). I know we ordered lots of the same things, so thought you might be interested!
Also, I cannot thank this board enough for all the recommendations; we had some amazing meals during our trip to Barcelona, Madrid, San Sebastian, thanks to you guys. In addition to Tickets, we had really great meals at Hisop, Urepel, Bodegan Alejandro, Le Cabrera in addition to tapas / pintxchos hopping in San Se and Madrid (La Latina). I'm just sorting through all the pics (and still recovering from all the food), but reviews and pics will be posted soon.
Erica - we are only in town for three days - I love your description of Can Marti experience - including the opportunity to ride the funicular - however, considering we are two middle- aged, out of shape(very, after this food orgy vaca!) first timers - would you advise this as a shouldn't miss experience? I am concerned about that steep walk. We will be staying off Passeig de gracia (I think!).
Are you planning to try Gresca or Gelonch? I have not been to either but our friends from Paris (one of whom is Spanish and whose mother lives in Barcelona) tried both on a trip there last year and were very impressed. Both of these have gotten very favorable mentions on CH and elsewhere. I'd love to hear your comments if you try them.
rrems: No, we only have a week here, so do not have time. But we did have tasting menu last night at Cinq Sentits. Certainly the best dinner I've ever had in Spain. Only one more day here and I am trying to fit everything in. Therefore have slipped behind on the reporting but will remedy once I get home.
One thing I do not have is a great bakery (bread) near our apartment which is at Ronda Universitat near Balmes, east of Placa Catalunya.
BTW: We discovered the Catalan coco bread on this trip and I will go through withdrawal soon...
Catalan coca recipes are available on the net! When Slatkin mentioned his homemade dessert of the evening, a pineapple coca de vidre, I did a little searching and found this video. Hope it helps you with your "withdrawal" :-P Whose coca did you enjoy the most?
LOLITA TAPERIA (formerly Inopia)
After our two tapas at Quimet i Quimet, described above, we followed Av. Paral.lel for about 20 minutes, passing Tickets and turning right on Calle Tamarit. At Tamarit, #104, Lolita is the new name of the celebrated tapas bar Inopia which shuttered last year causing great dismay. I was assured by several people that the food remains much the same as before the name change, as one of the original partners remains.
A "doorman" in Batman Joker makeup drops a red velvet rope to admit diners here. One bite of the food, however, and all such silliness is forgiven. Since we had snacked at Quimet, we sampled only a couple of dishes but here again, we were very impressed by the quality of the food:
Mini-Burger--Tiny and delectable; a welcome change after all the seafood (4.50euro)
Fried artichokes--the best of the week;meaty and impeccably fried (5.90)
Pineapple with lime Zest and Molasses may not sound like an exciting dessert, right? WRONG!
This was an absolutely smashing combination of flavors! The waiter assured me that they did not concoct the molasses that was drizzled on top of the prettily cut fruit, but that this was something that they,and presumably anyone, could purchase. I fully intend to try, in order to replicate this at home (4.50 euro)
Total with water only: 16.80 euro.
Great report Erica, have followed your posts here on CH and Fodor's for quite some time. I have valued your opinion and followed some of your recs before, so if you had to choose between Hisop and Cinc Sentits which would it be? I am leaning towards Cinc Sentits so far and want to try Gelonch or Gresca to get a feel for the new "bistronomia" movement in Barcelona. We have Paco Merlago on the list and reservations for 41 Degrees. It is going to be so hard to stay within "the budget" with so many great sounding choices. Thanks.
Erica, I copied and pasted your review of TICKETS to my food itinerary for the summer. Really excited now! BTW, you enjoyed several items which we had the great pleasure of tasting at La Alqueria, in the El Bulli Hotel of Seville! I love that jar of olives! As a matter of fact, I even switched my avatar on the other site to the picture of the special spoon and the olive.
This is wonderful news! No need to travel down to Seville and take a 90 min r/t taxi to taste the Best of El Bulli any longer!
For our last night, a Saturday, we elected to return again to the world of Catalan traditional food. I had received a recommendation from a local wine person for this restaurant, located not far from Sants train station and NW of Placa Espana in the Hostafrancs district.
The descent of a flight of steps from the main street, Calle Sants, brings one to a neighborhood of crooked lanes and tiny houses that still bears the resemblance to its village roots. A giant wood-burning grill greets diners at the entrance to the pair of rustic dining rooms; there is also a vine-covered terrace for summer dining.
La Parra is a formerCatalan coaching inn and, together with Tickets, illustrates the vast breath of the food scene in this compelling city, with Tickets, perhaps representing the future and La Parra rooted in the past.
The menu is in Catalan, which bears enough resemblance to Spanish that I could make out much of it, but fortunately, we had the assistance of our waiter from France who also spoke good English. The menu here is an amplified version of the one we encountered at Can Marti a few days before: Grilled meats and vegetables; bread with various toppings from the familiar tomato to butifarra and even fish; traditional dishes cooked in the oven. Meat and fish were much in evidence and there are also many vegetable dishes.
We began with 1 "pa de pages tomat," (1.65) and 1 pan with butifarra negra or blood sausage, arrayed on the toasted bread along with cooked onions. (6 euro).
We continued with an order of calcots (13 euro) which were burned to the crisp. The waiter noticed this and brought us a second platter which were unfortunately equally charred. He explained that since we were eating on the early side, at 9pm, there were flames at the grill instead of the ash that the calcots demand. Maybe they should have been more prepared; we had booked the day before!
The grilled artichokes (2 for 8 euro) were outstanding; I could eat almost the entire choke save a few outer leaves.
For the meat course: Lamb chops (3 for 12 euro): Tiny but tasty, if probably not the finest quality meat.
Roasted goat (cabrit): Three cuts were available and we chose the ribs (18.50 euro). Tasty enough but a far cry from the delectable grilled goat I had devoured in the Piedmont in Italy.
(I apologize in advance for making this comparison)
We drank beer and local house rose. (Sold by the glass, but a new bottle was opened at the table; this was quite good but I did not note the name) After a discussion with the waiter, the charge for the calcots was removed from the bill and we paid 51.45 euro.
Address: Joanot Martorell, 3
How to get there: Metro: L1 Hostafrancs
Opening hours: Tuesday-Friday: 8:30pm-12am Saturday: 2pm-4:30pm and 8:30pm-12am Sunday: 2pm-4:30pm
Telephone(s): 93 332 5134
I will attempt to finish this report with comments on Cinc Sentits and Taperia24 after I return home.
I did manage to find terrific bread at the bakery of Oriol Balaguer in Sarria; we also visited his jewel box of a chocolate shop at Placa Sant Gregori Tamauturg. Chocoholics should make haste to both of these spots run by this former El Bulli pastry chef; the one in Sarria is a bread bakery that also offers chocolates,and the second features chocolates, gorgeous cakes, and a few pastries along with baguettes.
Erica, thanks again for sharing. I hope you get a chance to try MORE traditional Catalan cuisine as it really goes far, far beyond just calcots, bbq, pa amb tomaquet and sausage. I'm looking forward to trying some non-molecular, non-modern stuff this summer in Barcelona. I think there are stews, especially with unusual combinations of protein, that are typical of Catalan traditional. I believe there is also a French historical connection to the food of Catalunya.
I'll be looking for my own copy of "La Teca". In the meantime, I'm reading "Catalan cuisine" by Andew Colman.
Aleta: I certainly hope that I do get that chance. Perhaps the traditional Catalan places are overlooked here in favor of the more contemporary places like many of the ones I visited. I certainly wish that we had had the opportunity to explore more of the Catalan repertoire. We never even had the chance to sample trinxat or escalivada. Or any of the Catalan arroces. After being swept away by Hisop's take on mar i muntanya, it would be interesting to try the original recipes.
There was a great article in Saveur, a number of years ago (more than 5, I think) that featured the female cooks of one of the coastal towns near Barcelona, with many recipes. I will try to find it on my shelves and let you know the date of the issue.
This casual taperia just off Passeig de Gracia and north of Placa Catalunya had been on my radar all week and we finally stopped in for a lunchtime snack at the end of our week in the city. Although we sampled only a miniscule fraction of the menu, even those few dishes were enough to convince me of the talent of the kitchen at this bustling, ferociously popular eatery.
There is a printed menu, but the daily specials are chalked on the blackboards, in Catalan and Spanish.
Patatas bravavs (3.50 euro). Impreccably fried with lashings of alioli and spicy red sauce, these were the best potatoes of our trip. Essential!
Sepionetas a la parilla (16 euro). During two visits to Spain this year so far, I had enjoyed many squid dishes in several regions. These little creatures, lapped with the familiar parsley-flecked sauce, were at the top of the list. Beautiful presentation on the plate. I am craving these as I write this, at 5:40am!
McFoie Burger (8 euro). Sometimes you just crave a burger, right? This one, pressed down on the grill and with foie embedded in the meat grind as well as in the accompanying alioli, satisfied that craving and generated a new hunger that I fear will not be easily quenched. Simply outstanding.
With two bottles of water, the check totalled 31 euro.
Tapac24 remains open "sin interrupcion" from 8am to midnight. Prepare for a packed house and seating either along the bar or at high tables in the small dining area. I would recommend trying to dine at off-peak hours, but even during the crowded lunch rush, service was efficient and welcoming. Perfect for single diners; less good for large groups.
They also have a few outdoor tables.
This will be on my list for the next visit, as will Carles Abellan's more formal Comerc 24.