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May 6, 2011 08:58 AM

Advice for May Trip to Madrid, Basque region, and Barcelona

Hello All,

Thank you to the frequent contributors on this board. It has been a big help for planning our trip. If anyone has any advice, opinions, or tips on our itinerary it would be appreciated.
Madrid -
Day 1 (Friday, May 13): Lunch at DiverXo, Dinner is Retiro tapas crawl (Taberna Laredo, Azabel, Estado Puro?)
Day 2: Lunch is flexible (try a gastrobar like Gabinoteca or La Cabrera or Salamanca district), Dinner we are thinking Balzac). Any other restaurants that we should maybe think about?
Day 3: Lunch again is flexible, dinner we made a reservation at Pinera in case we want a sit down dinner. Otherwise, we will do tapas or Dantxari. What is a good time for dinner on a Sunday? We made our reservation for 10PM but I think that maybe too late especially since we are getting up early the next morning.

Day 4: Drive from Madrid to San Sebastian with a stopover in Haro. We plan to drive to Haro, spend some time at a winery or 2, and get a bite to eat. Food options we have for Haro include Las Duelas, tapas bars, or La Cueva de Dona Isabela (outside Haro). Any opinions? For dinner we plan to go to Urepel in San Sebastian.
Day 5: Lunch at Bodegon Alejandro and a SS tapas crawl dinner
Day 6: Lunch at Akelarre and a SS tapas crawl dinner

Day 7: We are driving to Bilbao. Lunch we will do at some tapas bars (any recommendations?) or maybe eat at the Guggenheim. Any dinner recommendations for Bilbao? We were thinking Mina (NYTimes).

Day 8: We fly to Barcelona and eat lunch at the Boqueria Market (Pintxo if possible). Dinner at Cinc Sentits.
Day 9: We are up in the air as to whether to take a day and go to Girona. If we do, we obviously would need a reservation at El Cellar de Can Roca. They haven't returned my email. Not sure how hard it is to get a reservation, especially now. Dinner would be a tapas crawl in Eixample.
Day 10 (Sunday): Lunch in Barceloneta (options are Kaiku, Susquet de L'Amirall, El Vaso de Oro) and do a tapas crawl for dinner in El Born.
Day 11: Lunch is flexible and dinner we are unsure (thinking Windsor from Maribel)
Day 12: Lunch is flexible and dinner we are thinking Sauc. Any comments or other recommendations for great lunches or dinners in Barcelona?

I've tried to put together a good blend of top michelin rated places, solid restaurants with good value, gastropubs, and tapas places. Also tried to mix in avant garde places and traditional. Thanks for any comments or advice. Also, how will the weather/temp be in Madrid, SS/Bilbao, and Barcelona for the month?

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  1. ASL,

    Parts of your itinerary look very similar to mine, ha ha! La Gabinoteca takes reservations for lunch, btw, but not for dinner.

    In Barcelona, for Sunday lunch at Kaiku, make sure to reserve. Sunday is a busy family day down in Barceloneta.

    Re: a tapas crawl in L'Eixample, it would probably be more of a 'tapas commute'. The bars are not so close together along the same street, as they are in San Se, Madrid or Seville. Which places are you planning to crawl? If you are thinking of Paco Meralgo, it's not exactly a drop-in place.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Aleta


      It is my first time to Spain, so I was looking for the tried and true based on what I read! Thanks for the info. I have in my notes to reserve a table in Barceloneta.

      For the tapas in L'Eixample, I have in my notes to visit Taktitka Berri and Tapac 24. Thanks for the tip on Paco Meralgo - I had that on the list as well. Any other suggestions?

      1. re: ASL123

        FIRST, Albert Adria's TICKETS suddenly seems to have available tables. This has been the hottest item in the trendy dining scene since it opened earlier this year. Bookings were being snatched up, 90 days out. yesiloves2travel, another Hound, noticed it today. If you are interested, book online immediately. Hope it's not a malfunction with their booking system. They serve modern and creative tapas as well as some of the Best of El Bulli snacks.

        I enjoyed Taktika Berri too but if you are going to Barcelona AFTER San Sebastian, you won't be impressed by Taktika Berri. It's a traditional Basque pintxos bar.

        Tapac24 is a great idea. Hope you can combine that with a visit to Gaudi's beautiful buildings, Casa Mila and Casa Batllo (walking distance).

        If you are going to Paco Meralgo, La Taverna del Clinic is a few blocks away. It's more raciones (larger than tapas). I liked the morels in creamy foie, the modern patatas bravas, the gambas de Palamos and the grilled whole scorpionfish. Some dishes are expensive.

        If you like cheese, down in Barri Gotic, near metro Jaume I, Formatgeria La Seu is an exellent shop. Katherine McLaughlin does cheese tastings of her artisanal cheeses plus she makes really interesting cheese ice-cream! She also runs Bar Zim next door. You can order local wine by the glass, taste delicious cold cuts and enjoy freshly-made pa amb tomaquet.

        Since you are going to be down near Barceloneta, you might see if Can Paixano is open that day. We were just discussing it in a different thread. Pls look for the thread enttitled, 'Bar with no name'.

        Have a wonderful time! I'm sure other Hounds will give you their favourites too.

    2. Your itinerary sounds wonderful. Another lunch suggestion if you like mushrooms is El Cisne Azul in the Chueca neighborhood. I have been singing it's praises since returning from Spain a couple of weeks ago. If you want more info I can point you to our blog report on it - we actually ate there twice (and we almost NEVER do that).

      Also if you decided to do tapas on day 3 you might consider the La Latina area for something different than your Day 1. Easy to do a crawl there. Sunday afternoon/early evening (that is your day 3) is a HUGE La Latina tapas day because the Rastro market is closeby on Sundays. The places will be hoppin.' We especially like El Tempranillo and a tiny, tiny bar called El 7 de la Cava.

      I agree with Aleta that if you choose to go to Paco Meralgo in Barcelona it would be best to make a reservation. We loved it there.

      We had one of our best meals at Cinc Sentits. Just be certain not to eat too much at Bar Pinotxo earlier that day! Also we had our reservation at 10pm. Next time I would make it at 9. We took it slow and ended up closing up the place around 1am. You need to allow enough time to savor each course.

      And finally, YES, YES, YES - if you are at all interested in the Adria brothers concepts - run to the Tickets website and make your reservation. Also make a reservation at the bar (41 Degrees) for before dinner. One of our most enjoyable evenings. Food was inventive, fun, "El Bulli-like." Atmosphere was energetic and friendly. (It didn't hurt that we sat next to Tony Bourdain at the bar!!)


      7 Replies
      1. re: lindatork

        Tsk, tsk, Linda! Name-dropping and all ! :-P The Adria Bros' operations always attract a lot of celebrities. The night we went to Inopia, we saw a chef from one of the restaurants named above. I think he should have been watching his own stoves on a Friday night! Did Tony behave himself?

        Update on the Tickets website. Apparently, they have modified the booking logic. Now it looks like all the dates within the 90-day window are available but when you try to select one, it turns out it's booked. At least, the program gives you the next opening.

        ASL, if you are keen to try Tickets, they supposedly save seats for walk-ins but the line will be long.

        Cinc Sentits is on my summer list too. I liked Gresca and Alkimia as well.

        1. re: Aleta

          Aleta - Just saw your last post after struggling with the Tickets reservation system. Nothing was available for lunch or dinner. Thanks for your recent suggestions. Cheese and wine - life doesn't get much better. I did read that after SS, tapas in Barcelona might not be as exciting.

          Linda - thanks for your comments as well. Love shrooms! My DiverXo reservation is the result of Mr. Bourdain. I live in NYC and have friends that live in his apartment building. It is not a fabrication - he enjoys his booze.

          1. re: ASL123

            ASL - One more idea for Tickets: I just checked and there are openings available for a couple of your dates at 41 Degrees (the bar associated with Tickets). The bar is really a great place, the special drinks are fantastic and the food is wonderful there. You can definitely do a couple of drinks and "snacks" or you could even make a complete evening from the bar menu. Or . . . you could reserve at 41 Degrees and then try to put your name on the walk-in list for Tickets while you nosh at the bar. Be sure to sit at the bar (instead of the tables) at 41 so you can watch all the action.

            Don't worry about the tapas in Barcelona being second fiddle to SS. To me the pintxos in SS are completely different from tapas in Barcelona/Madrid. You can certainly enjoy them all!

            I hope you write a review of DiverXo. It is on my list as well after seeing Tony's piece on it. He went there again when he was in Spain in April so he must really love it.

            1. re: lindatork

              Linda - given all the great information everyone has provided I will certainly reciprocate and provide reviews on all the places we visited. I was surprised we got the reservation at DiverXo given the recent hype. I didn't want it to be our first place to eat but had to be flexible. We plan our trips around food and wine! We were in France last year and happened to eat at Le Comptoir, which Bourdain visited in the Paris episode. This place treated us the worst in all of France (Paris, Burgundy, and Provence), but the food was delicious and I would go back!

          2. re: Aleta


            I know, I know but I couldn't help myself. It was such an unexpected pleasure to "dine with Tony!" We had spotted him in La Boqueria earlier in the day. He was wandering around with Jose Andreas - not filming. Then at 41 and Tickets they were filming an episode of No Reservations. Can't wait for it to air.

            Yes, he behaved himself. . .

            1. re: lindatork

              Ha ha! what a day you had! My 12yo son was just asking if they were filming at Tickets. I'll tell him "yes". He also wanted to know if you had asked for an autograph! I told him already that you were too cool for that. :-)

              I think he watches too much Food Channel but it's certainly better than some of the North American teen shows. And I hope Senor Andres was taking notes; we were not too impressed by his Washington DC tapas tasting menu.

          3. re: lindatork

            Glad you enjoyed El Cisne Azul--I was just there last night and had a very nice grilled morel/foie gras (colmenillas), chanterelles (rebozuelos), and boletus--this has been a very good mushroom season due to all of the rain. Another place for wild mushroom lovers that is also good is El Imperio on calle Galileo 51.

            One thing about La Latina on Sundays--a lot of places close after (a long) lunch (you may have been there on a day that had a holiday the next day--in which case restaurants would have taken advantage and stayed open later than usual).

          4. If you get a chance to visit Hondarribia (about a 20 min drive from San Sebastian) DO go to "Arroka Berri restaurante) .
            We arrived at about 8:30 and were accommodated but by 9 the place was full. The service, ambiance and food was absolutely outstanding. I ordered a dessert that they were out of and because i didn't choose another one they sent over a plate of cookies and glasses of their special sparkling wine. They truly want your visit to be memorable and ours was in every way!

            6 Replies
            1. re: marigoldr

              I am still tinkering with our list of places to try. In Madrid, we are thinking of swapping out Balzac for Le Cabrera (going for a more fun atmosphere). Does anyone have other suggestions for a fun place that we can get into for this upcoming Saturday? Also, has anyone been to Pinera? I saw that Maribel enjoys it for a Sunday but it seems out of the way. Has anyone been to this place? Maybe Casa Lucas or Lucio.

              For Barcelona - El Cellar De Can Roca finally got back to me and they are fully booked for May. We are going to Cinc Sentits. Is Moo worth going to now? So I think we scrap going to Girona. Are there any amazing restaurants in or around Barcelona to try and make a day trip? We are happy to take a car for part of a day.

              1. re: ASL123

                << Are there any amazing restaurants in or around Barcelona to try and make a day trip?>> There's SANT PAU, which is a very pleasant 1hr train ride along the coast.

                1. re: Aleta


                  I looked at this place as well. I'm sure it is delicious, but the tasting menu on their website doesn't sound amazing to me. Some of the ingredients such as blue fish, cod, chicken for a 146 euro tasting menu fall flat for me. Have you been here? Thanks!

                  1. re: ASL123

                    You may have a hard time booking Sant Pau for May. I was unable to get any available dates for my upcoming trip in September. I booked Can Roca as the alternative and even then had to change the date of my planned meal due to the restaurant being full.

                    You should also look into Can Fabes if you haven't already. About a 40 min train ride from BCN.

                    1. re: ASL123


                      I've been to both El Celler de Can Roca and Sant Pau. I found them as different as their owners. Can Roca is owned by 3 brothers and the restaurant is strong and masculine, as are many of the dishes. Sant Pau is owned by a woman chef and I would describe her place as feminine and light. Oil painting vs watercolour. It depends on what you feel like, I guess. I haven't looked at the online menu recently, although I do have the paper copy you get as as souvenir from the restaurant.

                      Can Fabes is the most expensive of the 3. The owner passed away a few months ago in Singapore.

                      GREAT PICTURES OF TICKETS :

                2. re: marigoldr


                  Your link to Arroka Berri is not working, but I looked it up anyway. Could you elaborate a bit more on your meal? I will be spending the night in Hondarribia and probably going to Bar Gran Sol. Nevertheless, I am curious...

                  Many thanks.