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May 1, 2011 07:25 PM


My husband is taking me back to Spain for my birthday and we are filling our days with nonstop eating.

On my actual birthday we have confirmed a lunch reservation at El Celler de Can Roca.

I was thinking we could have lunch at Can Roca, return to Barcelona for the evening and head to Tickets or 41 for a light dinner and drinks.

Or, we were thinking of heading to Alkimia for a birthday dinner instead.

The last time we were in Spain we ate at Moo, and it was probably our least memorable meal of our this an indication of what we would expect at El Celler de Can Roca?

Are reservations at Tickets/41 too difficult to attain?

Or is Alkimia a better bet?

any insight would be greatly appreciated.


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  1. There is definitely a similarity between Moo and El Celler de Can Roca. El Celler is even more molecular, better execution, better ingredients and better overall experience; it is also one of my favorite restaurant anywhere. It depends on why you did not enjoy your meal at Moo: was it the concept, the execution, the ambience? Is Alkimia a better bet? That would depends on the reasons why you didn't enjoy your meal at Moo; if the reason is primary due to conceptual aspect of the dishes, then chances are good that you won't like El Cellar either. Alkimia is very good and a lot less expensive.

    1. Eb,

      We ate at both El Celler de Can Roca and Alkimia just last summer. They are not really in the same boat, price-wise or style-wise. Alkimia is modern Catalan, excellently excecuted, but without the surprises/disappointments of molecular cuisine. Alkimia is also a few blocks away from the Sagrada Familia, so there's the possibility of having dinner and before/after, strolling by the Sagrada Familia to see the breathtaking complex, illuminated. That would be a memorable, delicious yet convenient evening.

      Another birthday lunch option could be taking the 1hr train along the coast to Sant Pau, in San Pol de Mar. This is the restaurant of Spain's only 3 star Michelin lady chef, Carme Ruscalleda. Her style is modern Catalan, with a few artistic and slightly molecular twists, very feminine and delicate. If the weather is good, have dessert and coffee in her garden by the sea.

      You didn't say when you are going to Spain. If it's in the next 2 months, you may have to wait in line for a very long time to get into Tickets (there are supposed to be a few tables saved for walk-ins). Online reservations may already be full since it's done 90 days in advance. Every night, at around 12 am Barcelona time, a new day's worth of tickets is activated. By the start of work the next day (ie 8 hrs later), most of the tables are reserved. Your best bet is to figure out exactly how many days in advance YOUR date will come up and go online around 1 am Barcelona time to reserve. 41 offers a shorter food menu, more cocktails and also a greater possibility of reserving online.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Aleta

        We did 41 Degrees on our recent trip and it was perfect after eating at Alkimia lunch. Just light "molecular" snacks after the long multi course lunch. It was not packed after 9:30 or so, many empty tables. We had 8:30 res and it was crowded when we got there but emptied out later. Tickets was packed throughout.

      2. Thank you all for you input!

        to answer some of your questions:

        Our dislikes of Moo were based on a few things. We weren't big fans of eating in the hotel setting. Our dessert was amazing and quite memorable. However, my husband did not enjoy his pork belly entree and my entree was ok but did not blow me away. Honestly, I don't even remember the other courses. The insane dessert and the small touches of molecular cooking made the meal interesting but sadly there were few "hits." The wines were delicious.

        When I look back it was really the hotel and my husbands pork that threw the night off. It is not that we hated it per was just that we enjoyed our meals more at other restaurants. To give you some insight into our "likes" our favorite meals during our last trip were at Arzak, Exterbarri, Cinc Sentis, Inopia, El Portal de Echaurren...and plenty of tapas!

        It sounds nice to head out of the city and enjoy a fabulous meal for my birthday and El Celler de Can Roca seams like a wonderful choice...I'm just worried we will have more misses than hits....

        Would we be silly to miss this opportunity to dine there by playing it safe at Alkimia?

        also, Sant Pau was on my list originally but somehow fell through the cracks (thanks for the reminder!) Would it be too cold to enjoy the gardens there in September?

        Now that makes the decision even more confusing..Can Roca, Sant Pau or Alkimia? Guess you can't go wrong.

        we are traveling in September so we have time to plan strategies for reservations at Tickets and 41. Ideally we would like to try both considering we loved Inopia so much so on our last trip that we ate there twice. The dates we would like to go are September 8th or 9th...guessing the books open up around June 10th??? we have to plan our internet strategy from New York. thanks for the tips Aleta

        hmmmm...I wish we had more days to enjoy it all!

        7 Replies
        1. re: eb385

          Though Alkimia is very good, do either El Celler de Can Roca or Sant Pau for your birthday celebration. They are in another category. Both restaurants are beautiful. The food at El Celler is much better than Moo, so is the ambience and service. The main plates in the tasting menu at El Celler have always been stellar and their desserts sensational. And September is definitely warm enough to enjoy the garden at Sant Pau.

          1. re: PBSF

            thank you so much for all your input! You have been extremely helpful...but now I have a new decision to make...Can Roca or Sant Pau...ha ha!

            would you consider the food at Arzak to be more similar to Can Roca or Sant Pau? I ask this because Arzak was my husband's favorite meal and he tends to dislike molecular cooking that goes a little too crazy.

            1. re: eb385

              I dined at Sant Pau for dinner and Cellar con Roca the next day for lunch. Both were superb. However, Cellar con Roca was probably the best meal I have ever eaten. it is a beautiful setting for a lunch and the service is impeccable. One of us had the tasting menu, which was perfect, although the ,if you can imagine, the portions were a little too generous. Two of us ordered a a la carte and shared. The foie gras with artichoke was sublime.
              and nothing like you would have imagined..more like a silky decadent "soup". The lobster parmentier perfect. The amues bouches were outstanding. Sant Pau is a more elegant room that feels more like an evening space. The food was everything we expected form the chef's reputation . I t was a very unique experience.We were lucky to be in Barcelona 2 weeks after Tickets and 41 Degrees opened, so we went to both. To 41 Degrees for interesting cocktails, a few nibbles ..the famous El Bulli "olives" a must. The next night we ate at Tickets and were able to sit at the bar right in front of the kitchen, Watching the execution of the dishes was intense.. The service and food , what can I say, also great. A lot of fun items. They serve a "candy floss" tree for dessert..
              Tough decisions to make!!!!

          2. re: eb385

            I agree with PBSF on his comments above.

            Thanks for the intel on Moo. I usually avoid hotel restaurants too, although in Asia, many hotel restaurants are excellent. Barcelona is such a tourist magnet that almost all the great Spanish chefs have 'satellite' restaurants there. I am curious about them but don't feel like paying the premium when I can eat well outside the hotel.

            If possible, stay overnight in Girona after your meal at Can Roca. It has a beautiful medieval core and you won't have time to see much of it if you are rushing to get back to Barcelona.

            I loved Inopia too and we're going to Arzak and Etxebarri this summer!

            You are right. June 10th is 90 days before September 8th. I would start checking a few days earlier, just to get used to the logic of the reservation website. On New York time, after 6 pm is a good time to see the full array of booking options. Just before I typed this post (9:30 am NYT), I checked and everything was grey, ie no black active dates. People often wonder: Is this thing working? It IS working. Reservations just get snatched up so fast!

            1. re: Aleta

              wow - thanks for the Tickets tips! I checked last night and all the grey dates made me nervous.

              Is it too much to do Tickets one night for dinner and then the next night 41 after a fabulous lunch at Can Roca or Sant Pau? Another option is to hit Taktika Berri? Has anyone been there? Or are we going to be stuffed?

              Sadly because we only have two nights in Barcelona we need to head back, but we are spending more time this trip in San Sebastian and already have plans to head to Akelarre, Mugaritz and back to Arzak (seriously the best meal of our lives!). Oh I can't wait

              I hope you enjoy your meals at Arzak and a road map for Etxebarii. Best purchase of our trip.

              1. re: eb385

                Taktika Berri is one of the best pintxos place in Barcelona though don't try to compare it to those in the Basque; much simpler. Since you'll be in SS, depends on where you've eaten at on your previous visit, you might consider a place more Catalan such as Bar de Pla or El Vasco or Bar Mut for a light eating.
                Though all of Spain's 3 star restaurants are located in San Sebastian and Catalonia, each offers a truly unique experience. Except for Can Fabes, all uses modern techniques to some extend but each reflect the strong personalities of their chef/owners. One might prefer on over the other but if one is interested in highend Spanish cooking, each one is worth a visit. Arzak, Akelarre and either El Celler or Sant Pau are very different; one of the reason why people have such strong opinion on them. Sant Pau's ambience is probably the most intimate and the lighting at night looking out the garden is very special. Her food is like a painting, very vibrant; it has a poetic feel and taste very light. My only dinner there couple years ago was an exceptional experience, though the taste of the food didn't make a strong lasting impression. I think I need to return there. Arzak has much more of a homey feel; one an feel that old family house evolving into a world class restaurant from the dozy overly stuff sofa and chairs in the ground floor bar to the somewhat narrow stair up to their two dining rooms to the offbeat restrooms. It follows through to the all female serving staff though the alcohol/wine are handled by two wonderful gentleman. The food reflects the same, some beautifully plated such as their foie gras and zucchini or the very pedestrian looking chocolate "hamburger' though it tastes wonderful. Can Roca is all designer since they moved into a completely new place three years ago. The big airy room can seem austere but the natural lighting during the day is beautiful. The wine service is computerized and interactive but Josef Roca is one of the most personable sommelier anywhere. The staff is very young and there is certain amount of energy. The food is very molecular, close to El Bulli, but each course is not just a tasting of couple of bites but a fulling realized plate. What Joan Roca does best are foie gras, seafood, deconstruction dishes, some of the best main plates such as smoked tuna, goat, baby lamb, suckling pig, some of the best pigeon; just about all cooked sous-vide. Generally his vegetables are not as successfully, especially those using his smoker.
                Arzak is one of those restaurants that I feel gets better on return visits. The family aspect comes through and one can order selectively rather than just take what is presented in their tasting menu which is good for a first time visit. Senora Espina can help guide you to create your own tasting menu.

                1. re: eb385


                  <<Is it too much to do Tickets one night for dinner and then the next night 41 after a fabulous lunch at Can Roca or Sant Pau?>>

                  My first response was: I’m not sure I’d go to 'the circus of Adria' after the 'opera' of Can Roca or Sant Pau.

                  Then, I checked our notes from last year. It turns out that’s EXACTLY what we did, ha ha! (When one has limited time, one must compromise.) As long as you give yourself plenty of time to enjoy lunch, get on the train and return to Barcelona, you should be fine. Don’t expect to get on a train earlier than 4 pm.

                  As PBSF has already implied, you won't be thrilled by Taktika Berri after visiting San Se. We liked Taktika Berri (went there twice) but it's not on our list for this summer. After the high calibre of places such as La Cuchara de San Telmo, A Fuego Negro and Zeruko, the more traditional pintxo bars away from the Basque country will pale in comparison.

            2. thank you all for the advice.

              so I think we are gonna head to El Celler de Can Roca! I'm super excited.

              Hopefully all will go well and we'll be able to hit up Tickets the night before and 41 after our Can Roca lunch.

              You guys have been so helpful and I can't thank you enough. Sorry to pick your brains...but you seem to be very knowledgeable...are there any tapas bars in Barcelona or pintxos bars in San Sebastian that you think are can't miss?

              also thank you PBSF for the Arzak tips. We are lucky to visit there a second time on this trip and the idea of creating a new personalized tasting menu sounds absolutely delicious!

              3 Replies
              1. re: eb385

                Have fun, eb!
                Re: San Se pintxo bars, I haven't been yet but everyone talks about the 3 that I already named in my post, just above yours: La Cuchara de San Telmo, A Fuego Negro and Zeruko. Also check It has several great pintxos routes.
                Re: tapas in Barcelona. You're going to Tickets and 41! And San Sebastian on top of that! Don't bother too much with tapas in Barcelona; it's not really a Barcelona tradition anyway. They are Catalan.


                1. re: Aleta

                  PBSF has made a good point about Barcelona's bars serving Catalan specialities that are unique to Catalunya. However, some of those items named are NOT exactly things you would find on a tapas bar menu in Barcelona. They sound more like foods that you would find in a traditional Catalan restaurant.

                  If I understand correctly, romesco and allioli are sauces, used to garnish Catalan dishes. Romesco is very popular with calcots, which are seasonal and not served in tapas bars either.

                  Here's the menu from Tapac24.

                2. re: eb385

                  There are certainly better pintxos places in the Spanish Basque and better tapas in Andalusia and Madrid. What makes those in Barcelona worth visiting is that they serve Catalan food: pa amb tomaquet, romesco, allioli, escalivada, coca, esqueixada, qual with fig, creme catalana are just a start. Go to Tapac24, PacoMeralgo, El Vasco d'oro, Bar Mut, Cuidad Comtal, Bar del Pla. One won't find Catalan food in the Spanish Basque.
                  San Sebastian has so many to recommend, besides all those mentioned earlier, Ganbara, Bergara, great anchovies at Bar Txepetxa, La Cepa, Alons Berri.

                3. My wife and I are also planning a trip to Spain. We've looked at both Sant Pau and El Celler and finally opted for Sant Pau. Does anybody here have experience making reservations with them? I tried it through their website, but there is no way to tell that I've done it correctly, and I have yet to receive any sort of confirmation phone call or email. We haven't been able to find any concrete advice about it either (unlike a place like French Laundry where they specify just how many days in advance to call). It also turns out they are on vacation for the first three weeks of May, so I'm not sure if I should just be patient until they return.

                  And for those that have had dinner at Sant Pau: What's the atmosphere like? Should I plan on packing my nicest suit and tie, or is it a little more relaxed?

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: drewlevy

                    You should get a reply from both restaurants in a couple of days. Telephone Can Roca if you don't get a reply in a few days and Sant Paul when they return from their closing. Someone from both restaurant speak English.
                    Like most three star restaurants in Spain, Sant Pau atmosphere is fine-dining but relax. Dressing attire for dinner ranges from casual chic to sports jackets. Your nicest suit and tie would also fit in also but definitely not necessary.