Barcelona Trip Report, 4/9-4/12
Thanks so much Quizrah and PBSF!!
Our first evening we had tapas at the La Vinya del Senyor in the Plaza Santa Maria. Great place for people-watching and a wonderful wine list, but I wasn’t blown away by the tapas. The oysters weren’t fresh and the rest of the offerings were run of the mill. That said, definitely come here for a bottle of wine and watch the light change on the cathedral.
Our Mercat on Carre Arago rivaled the Mercat Boqueria in terms of selection. Our mercat was definitely not for tourists; people did not speak English for the most part. We picked up picnic lunch supplies here to take to Tibidabo & Parc Guell. If you’re staying in the L’Eixample area, this is a great place to stock up. Make sure you walk past the chain grocery store to the independent fruit/cheese/meat vendors in the back.
Dinner at Paco Meralgo. Totally didn’t think we’d be able to eat here because our concierge couldn’t get us a reservation. We decided to show up anyway at 8:30 to see if we could get seated. It was completely empty when we arrived (surprising/confusing at first), and they seated us at a high table. Forty-five minutes later, the entire restaurant was packed-both sides and at the bar. Moral of the story = get there early. We ordered with total abandon and our meal only came to 60 euro! Our waiter Roberto definitely gave us at least half a bottle of wine for free and entertained us for hours, never made us feel rushed. We left him a hefty tip and are so grateful for the memories. Dish highlights included: snails (served in their curvy shells! With little skewers!), fried artichokes, delicious little lobsters, regional sausage platter (definitely get this!). Incredible food, great service, classy & comfortable ambiance.
Next day, we showed up for the Fat Tire Bike tour (totally recommend! Our guide was Buddha). At lunch, we stopped at some café on the beach in Barceloneta. I ordered a yummy sandwich, called an Uno (I think?) and some fried potatoes. The food was surprisingly good for an obvious tourist trap. The sangria was cold and potent. Didn’t write down the name of the place, but look for a huge bike rack out front filled with Fat Tire bikes.
La Dama for dinner on Sunday (this was our one reservation of the trip). We both ordered the six course tasting menu. The décor is just incredible – marble, peach walls, fancy ironwork, beautiful carved moldings, antique mirrors, etc. The food was very traditional in both flavors and plating. Standouts included: lobster raspberry and green bean salad, the stuffed morels (my mouth is watering as I type that one), and the roasted leg of lamb (prepared tableside). Our sommelier looked like Peter Lorre (he was so amazing. Totally sized up our budget and tastes. We started with a rose cava, went on to a Grenache blend and finished with a spicy local red) and our waiter had the craziest walleye, and yet it was the best service experience we’d ever had! The Michelin stars are well-deserved.
Tried to go to Cal Pep for lunch on Monday but they were closed! They have limited lunch hours so make sure you check before you go. We settled for one of the tapas places across the plaza (for good but largely unremarkable tapas) and plotted our return to Cal Pep for dinner. We had tickets to a show at the Palau de Musica, so we knew we weren’t going to be able to get back until late.
We decided to keep our eyes peeled for a pastry shop, since we’d read so much about the Spanish sweet tooth. Around tea-time, we stumbled into Caelum in the Gothic quarter. OMGSOAWESOME. The shop specializes in regional sweets made by monasteries/nunneries from around Spain and has two seating areas: one upstairs with great windows for people-watching and one downstairs in an ancient cellar (with what looked like remains of old Roman walls?!). Two cups of perfect coffee and stuffed with sweets, we toddled off to bask in the afternoon sun until showtime. (Fabulous program of Schumann and Mendelssohn performed by a Swiss orchestra. Can you tell what a fabulous time we had??)
We made it to Cal Pep just in time; we were the second to last table sat that night and we saw several other parties turned away. I knew it was very well-known to Western tourists, so I was thrilled to see/hear a good number of locals at the bar. For those who don’t know, there is no menu at Cal Pep. You just tell the stern-looking bald guy whether you prefer fish or meat and he just throws platters full of the most delicious stuff in front of you until you can’t eat anymore. This experience is totally reminiscent of old-school New York joints (think Katz Deli or my local Brooklyn bagel guy…or the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld). “You eat what we give you and YOU LOVE IT.” We did love it. I’m pretty sure we impressed stern bald-guy with the amount of food we put away. We asked for combo fish & meat. We started with tomato bread (of course) and a plate of Iberico ham. Then we had a plateful of just-fried squid and green beans & potatoes. Next came the ham & cheese croquette smeared with some kind of aoli. Then we had a plate of perfectly medium-rare beef with garlic potato coins. Closing with a link of incredible sausage (huge chunks of delicious fat) and more beans. We actually ordered dessert after all that and ended with these chocolate cream biscuit-type things.
This trip was one of the best vacations we’ve ever had, and was undoubtedly the BEST we’d ever had in terms of food. We can’t wait to go back!!
It's funny. I tried to describe the service experience there to someone who'd never been to Spain and I had trouble. The service was deeply considerate, deferential, and yet totally unpretentious (not at all like the fancy restos of NYC). We truly felt like these were old friends leading us through a meal! For unalloyed enjoyment, I think dining in Spain is tops!