If in Barcelona
it is well well worth your while to venture out to the tiny town of Avinyonet.
My apologies for the long post, but I really want to share how fantastic this restaurant is. Consider it a thank you for all the excellent Barcelona recommendations I've found here.
Recently, as part of a cava-tasting day trip to the Penedes (the home of cava, outside of Barcelona), two friends and I made our way to the small village of Avinyonet. After a wee bit of excitement and misdirection (see below for *detailed* instructions; thanks, lovely constructions workers, for lifting our small egg-shaped car out of the abyss) en route, we arrived to find Raimondo, the owner/chef, getting ready to close up for the afternoon siesta. He very graciously welcomed us in, and he just as graciously offered to explain the (very reasonable) Catalan _menu del dia_. Since we were the only people there, one of us asked him to make us whatever he felt like. (I had found the restaurant through several glowing reviews on Trip Advisor, and I felt slightly bad about showing up relatively late. Even for a Spanish lunch.)
That was an *excellent* idea. Raimondo treated us to, basically, one of his evening tasting menus, accompanied by a private history of Catalan cooking and the producers involved in the local food movement. All of his dishes are based on 13th century Catalan cook books, using the best possible produce-- and only produce that would have been available in 13th century Catalunya. This means that some of the iconic dishes of Catalan food-- pan amb tomaquet, for example-- aren't part of the menu, because tomatoes-- along with corn, sweet peppers, and chocolate-- are indigenous to North and South America. Very briefly shown to students in cooking schools, facsimiles of these cookbooks are the basis of modern Catalan cuisine, but they don't get much attention otherwise. Raimondo has excavated them and adapted them to contemporary tastes. (The food nerd in me was in heaven.)
He also guided us to an excellent bottle of Pardas Xarel.lo 2007), from a wine list comprised entirely of Catalan wines. Xarel.lo is one of the three grapes that combine to make cava.
Raimondo and his sister share kitchen duty, and they are both clearly guided by a dedication to Catalan cooking and a passion for delicious food. He was so excited to tell us about how and why he cooked the way he does, and he eagerly answered all my questions (while my friends patiently observed my geekery).
-An amuse bouche of bruschetta topped with hummus.
-Appetizer of herb-filled flat bread with a saffron dipping sauce. The dipping sauce was slightly foamy and tangy (like a loose creme fraiche), and it very nicely complemented the salty freshness of the bread.
-Appetizer of "shrimp popsicle": four shrimp nestled into two circles, perfectly grilled with an amazing (amazing) soy and arugula-oil dipping sauce. Seriously, at one point Raimondo wanted to take the sauce away because he thought I was "finished." I may have growled at him.
-Pickled partridge salad: incredibly tender and moist shreds of partridge with mixed greens.
-Cod: The perfectly cooked (ginormous) cod on a bed of softly stewed vegetables (eggplant, onions, ?), with a creamy, slightly sweet almond milk sauce. Raimondo mentioned that this was one of the dishes he had tweaked a bit from the 13th century recipe to accommodate contemporary palates, which are not as comfortable combining savory and sweet.
-Suckling pig: A mound of suckling pig contained by its robe of <em>jamon</em>, over a chutney of onions and apples. Let me pause to say, the portions were not "tasting" portions.
-Dessert: "chocolate" cake with whipped marscapone. Except made with carob. Um, I take back every mean or skeptical thing I ever said about vegan cookies (although I do doubt they could be this delicious). The carob yielded a not-too-sweet, slightly fruity flavor-- the kind of flavor I associate with fancy dark chocolate bars-- but it was pleasantly (relatively) light after such a generous meal.
This was an amazing meal, and I encourage anyone close to Barcelona to make the trip.
1. Get to Avinyonet in whatever way you can It's a small town on the N-340 between Vilafranca del Penedes and Cantallops.
2. If you are coming from the west (Vilafranca), turn right onto Carrer del Doctor Joaquim Parellada. If you're coming from the east, turn left onto Carrer del Progres, and then turn left onto Carrer del Doctor Joaquim Parellada.
3. Turn right onto Carretera del Gunyoles/BV-2412. This might be the time to mention that roads aren't always clearly marked. Have faith and keep going.
4. Continue through Placa Anselm Clave (this is not a Barcelona plaza; it is a slightly wider stretch of very narrow road).
5. Kinda sorta veer right (while going up hill) onto Carrer del Pedro. Don't really bother looking for any more street signs.
6. Go straight (a couple of hundred meters?) until the road forks, and take the left fork. (As of July 2011, there was some construction on the right side of the road; beware the drop.) You'll think you're running out of village, but look for the big homemade "No Parking Aqui" sign, at the next fork in the road. Bear left, and park on the very tiny (sorta one way, going the other way) street. Restaurant U is on the left side of the street, and it looks like a regular house.
associate with fancy dark chocolate bars-- but it was pleasantly (relatively) light after such a generous meal.
This was an amazing meal, and I encourage anyone close to Barcelona to make the trip.
The Menu del dia was 12E, I think. We barely looked at the menu before we went with Plan B.
I think we had the 38E menu-- but I also think Raimondo undercharged us. He definitely charged us less than he should have for the wine. Originally we ordered one bottle (at his advice), but he ended up not having it, so he gave us the slightly more expensive Pardas at the original order's price.
I can't emphasize what a warm, genuinely delightful person he is. For example, because we were late getting to lunch, we were going to be late to our next vineyard tour. I had forgotten to write down the phone number, and he helped me look it up and use his phone (rather than my cell) so I could call and let them know. This was definitely a once in a lifetime experience.
Sensible, thank you for this recommendation. We just drove all over Spain, ate at Mugaritz, Asador Etxebarri, and all manner of wonderful restaurants, but Restaurant U was the highlight of our trip. We were driving down for lunch from San Sebastian, and securing a spot took quite a bit of effort as they were supposed to be closed that day, but we were so glad we persevered and managed to get lucky. Raimundo and his wife were absolutely fantastic hosts, and from the moment we arrived we were transported into a wonderful world where his vision of medieval/royal recipes was beautifully related and whetted our appetites. Every dish was more astonishing than the last, and the finish in the upstairs lounge for tea was a nice touch (I fell soundly asleep). We also went for the wine pairing, which was a bargain - our glasses were refilled every time they were empty, even between courses. I highly recommend this detour to the Penedes, which incidentally if you have time seems to be a real nice wine region.
I'm not sure about public transit options to Avinyonet. I don't think there's a train directly, but you might be able to find a close by town and take a taxi. I have no idea how much that would cost.
Rental cars: we rented a car from Pepe car and AutoEurope, and both were totally fine. AutoEurope you can find through Kayak.com, but Pepe I think I went direct to their website (which I found through advertizing on another site). Pepe car (I think) has a superconvenient pick up location on Placa Catalunya (you basically turn into an underground parking garage that's just to the left of the Ramblas, if you're looking down them with the fountain behind you).
If you have the whole day (like we did), I would totally recommend renting a car. Our original plan was to visit to cava vineyards (Freixenet, Peres Balta), and for three of us sharing, the expense was comparable to what we would have paid to take a train to the Freixenet site. Plus! we had complete freedom/mobility, and that's how we ended up at Restaurant U.
I hope this helps!
Renting in Europe I have always gone with the American chains and had no issues - Avis or Hertz. They have offices in most cities in Europe. Keep in mind that you will most likely get a manual transmission unless you specifically request otherwise. Cars with auto transmissions tend to be rare.
Good luck - however you decide to get there I think you will see it's worth it.