Barcelona trip report, May 2011
My sweetheart and I just spent a week in Barcelona, with a two-day trip to Madrid in the middle.
It was partially a preliminary recon mission to see if Barcelona might be someplace we'd like to live in the future. So we ate at the types of places we might frequent on an everyday basis. We stayed in Barrio Gracia to start and then in Eixample.
Here are the high-, middle-, and low-lights of our trip:
TAPAS 24: http://www.tapac24.com/tapac24/english/index.html
Our first impression was not so nice: a waiter scolded us for asking if we could sit at a vacant table outside (didn't know there was a big line inside)...but once we got seated, yum, yum, yum. Their bikini sandwich was one of the sexier things I've ever eaten: gooey mozzarella, a thin slice of salty ham, sultry truffle, and a delicately crispy crust. Ooh baby. Then more gastronomic sensuality: burrata with pesto. Yum. Followed by grilled baby squid, Iberian ham cut with a hand-powered slicer, pan con tomate, and chicharones (?). Some dishes were better than others, but all were at the very least yummy.
BAR PINOTXO: http://www.barcelona.com/barcelona_directory/restaurants/tapas/pinotxo
We went here on the recommendation of a friend from Donostia/SS. I see now that it's been written up in Time Out and many other publications. There was a double ring of people around the bar, many of them retired American tourists. The guys behind the counter were very cute, with a kind of a punk rock vibe. And they seemed weary of their own success, but still polite. I loved their food. I had a phenomenal plate of chickpeas. The texture was really buttery, softer and smoother than any I've eaten before. The dressing was pretty well reduced (maybe onions, tomatoes, olive oil, fresh herbs...but not too acid). Then a really zingy skewer of very fresh venison, and a wonderful braised chicken in white wine. And fresh bread. Mmm.
RESTAURANTE ENVALIRA: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187497-d997583-Reviews-Restaurante_Envalira-Barcelona_Catalonia.html
The atmosphere reminded me of eating at a restaurant in the American West (maybe in Idaho near the Grand Tetons or at the El Tovar Lodge at the Grand Canyon). A bunch of sturdy, no-nonsense tables in a large room. Not much decoration. No non-sense staff with an ironic sense of humor (I called cabrito "cabroncito" blush). I didn't know that they specialized in rice dishes, so I just ordered what appealed to us: fried artichokes, padrones peppers, chuletitas de cabrito. Everything was prepared beautifully and simply. The artichokes were small, delicate, and crispy (not a tough bit anywhere, not oily). The peppers were emerald green with a slight crust of salt. And the chuletitas were very fresh with the most delicious fat I've ever tasted. I told my sweetheart last night there's no way I could ever be a vegetarian after trying baby goat! (It seems so wrong, but man...
CIUTAT COMTAL: http://www.gayot.com/travel/citytrips/barcelona.html
I liked the waiter behind the counter in the formal white uniform singing along to Madonna and goochy-goo-ing one of the other waiters. Very tender grilled octopus, a nice stuffed red pepper (no need for the melted cheese on top), and a reasonable "lasagne" with all sorts of mellow gooey cheeses. Something about the place was a little pretentious (the signage, the flowers, the crowd?). The vibe was a bit of a turnoff, but the food was decent. Worth going back at off hours.
My partner liked this place a whole lot more than I did. The atmosphere was bear-bones without a whole lot of charm. Dark red napkins, wood tables, no music. The waitress was quite sweet, but a bit over-selling the food. We had tuna tartar with mustard and some sort of sticky sauce, suckling pig with pear, pork cheek with passionfruit and daikon (the best dish), cannelloni with morels, goat cheese on toast, and veal tartar with three sauces (kind of icky). For dessert: poached pear with coffee (?) mouse and yogurt ice cream (something like that). Overall some good flavors, but unappealing color presentation and a lot of goopy textures.
BARCELONA TASTE TOUR: http://thebarcelonataste.com/
A really lovely guide took us to four small restaurants in the Barrio Gotic and gave us the scoop on eating in Barcelona from the perspective of a happy expat. We stopped at Formatgeria La Seu, Cala del Vermut, Baserri Taberna, and Bodega La Palma. We tasted one sheep cheese at Formatgeria that was memorable, a plate of pan-fried chorizo at Cala... that was worth going back for, a good beef pinxo at Baserri, and found the atmosphere at Bodega to be pleasant. But overall we felt the food was not better than what we might get in an ordinary night out in San Francisco, and for the cost of the tour (72 E per head), we expected something extraordinary. She sent us some good recommendations afterward, which was very nice. I wish them well.
RESTAURANTE GOLIARD: http://www.bcnrestaurantes.com/barcelona.asp?restaurante=goliard
A great value lunch: 12.6 E for three courses. A sweet waitress who kept repeating the specials so I could translate them for my sweetheart. Speedy service. A pleasant atmosphere. Some of the food was very nice in an everyday sort of way: a nicely broiled cod with paprika and olive oil, good fresh pineapple, a generously rum-soaked tiramisu, decent pork cheeks. But the rice with mushrooms I got as a starter...I wouldn't have bothered to eat in my own kitchen if I were hungry, and the tuna salad with mayonnaise was kind of a bummer.
PACO MERALGO: http://www.pacomeralgo.com/ing/home.html
Eh? Why is this place famous? The spicy potatoes with mayo (they have a different name) were goopy and oily and not crispy enough. They didn't come together as a dish. The baby squid were soggy-oily with an unappetizing presentation. The veal chunks with black pepper were no better than what we get at an expat rip-off joint here in Hong Kong, and the squash blossoms, cookies with muscatel, and chocolate truffles were simply good, but not great. The one thing I really enjoyed was the hazelnut ice cream, which was not too fatty and not too sweet. Quite refreshing. But overall the cooking execution here was very weak given how talked up this place is.
LA TABERNA DEL CURA: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant...
We were (literally) sick and tired when we arrived, so we punted and went to this place recommended by our hotel. Mediocre food and they served us pan com tomate we didn't ask for and then charged it to our bill. The next table over (a Spanish couple) also complained about how they'd been charged for a full bottle of wine when they'd ordered a half.
Sadly, we had to cancel our dinner at Espai Sucre, which was the one fancy-pants meal we had planned. We were really looking forward to it and hope to go on our next visit.
Also worth mentioning was Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid, which was super elegant and fun. But that's another trip report...
Thanks to all the CHers who recommended places to us. We really enjoyed ourselves and look forward to going back.
Well, I don't think Paco Meralgo was a ever touted here as a destination restaurant. It's just a good, tourist friendly Sunday night option. I think the tourist friendliness is their biggest selling point. Otherwise, it's a better than average upscale tapas bar. It think the reason it comes up a lot on this board is because people are always asking about Sunday night options.
Personally, I would rather go to El Vaso de Oro on a Sunday night, but not everyone likes the more "authentic" tapas bar atmosphere of the place.
As for the food at Paco Meralgo, I've had some outstanding dishes there, and some that were just ok. I never had a single bad dish. Maybe it's the way I order. Maybe I just don't know from good food. Who knows?
I also have to beg to differ with the OP re: Paco Meralgo. We really enjoyed our meal here--everything was delicious--yes, simple, but wonderfully prepared--and we really loved the atmosphere and friendly service (and it was far from all tourists--we saw plenty of locals there.) Reasonably priced, to boot. In fact, perhaps oddly, when my mind drifts back to our meals in Barcelona this was one of my favorites and the one place I fantasize going back to...we would have definitely returned a second time if we had gone earlier in our trip (we went, naturally, on a Sunday evening and were leaving Tuesday.)
I'd say the closest comparison in style would be Tapac 24 --which we did go to twice for lunch, the 2nd time mainly out of convenience--it was there and open and we were starved. It was ok, but the service was surly and rushed and we didn't feel the food was anything special--except for their Patatas Bravas which were amazing the first time and the best of our trip (not as good the 2nd time because they weren't as hot and crispy.) Also were underwhelmed by the Bikini sandwich which is so much touted.
But Paco Meralgo will probably be our first stop on our next trip.
I'm overdue for my full dining report and hopefully will get to it this weekend :)