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May 14, 2012 05:59 PM

Strategies for Dining in Barcelona with a 10 Year Old

We're spending a week in Barcelona with our 10 year old. He's well behaved and a reasonably adventurous eater for an American 10 year old. IOW, I trust him to behave any appropriately any where we take him and we have taken him to some nice restaurants in the NYC area (where we live) and in Paris and London (where we have vacationed with him in the last couple of years). He's not trying to live on hamburgers and chicken nuggets and he's pretty excited to try some of the Catalan food I've been telling him about, but there are limits to how adventurous he's going to be.

One of the reasons he's well behaved in restaurants is that we know his limits. An hour and a half or a little more for a nice 3 course meal? Sure. Three hours while we make our way through a tasting menu? Babysitter.

Obviously, as an American child, he's not accustomed to eating dinner at 10, but it's conceivable that we may be able to tweak his schedule enough to make it work.

I haven't really researched the thread yet, so I'm not asking for restaurant suggestions. I'm asking more about your thoughts on strategies, particularly from those of you who have traveled to Barcelona with children of about that age. Big meal at lunch and then tapas for dinner? Will tapas bars welcome a child? Just have him nap and then pick appropriate restaurants* and get dinner at 10 and let him really experience the culture? A bit of both?

*In Paris we liked bistros and in London we like gastropubs, although we certainly didn't limit ourselves to those, but that's the kind of places we like to go with him on vacation.

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  1. Do tapas welcome a child? I don't see why not. But if he is very small, if he is shorter than the counter, it is he who may not welcome tapas. Would you like to get jostled in a crowd for an entire meal, and the only visibility you have is on happy diners' butts? (I mean the diners, not the butts, are the happy ones.)

    For older children (whose head at least exceeds the counter height), tapas are a great eating format. Children like the multiple colors, the variety, and the immediacy of service (you eat right away at the counter). Even picky eaters will find something they like. And people with varying appetite volume can eat together without worring about ordering too much or too little.

    You don't have to eat tt 10pm. Many restaurants open at 8:30pm. Ok, it is considered geezer early-bird hour, so what. In fact there is even an advantage. It is the hour when it is relatively easier to find a table. For example Senyor Parellada accommodate walk-ins at that hour on a first-come-first-serve basis. And the best way not to wait an hour at Cal Pep is to … wait 15 minutes: get there 15 minutes before restaurant opening.
    Otherwise please remember to reserve, or you may end up like a poster who had insisted on not reserving and later reported that the only way to eat well in Spain was to eat Chinese !

    2 Replies
    1. re: Parigi

      Ha, ha, ha. I've started my research on this board and it's not the first time I've seen you refer to that post. I promise to make reservations and to save my Chinese food for New York. We're sort of used to eating geezer-early, because we've been eating at nice restaurants with our son for years. Tapas are eaten standing up? I don't think I quite realized that. I was envisioning seats at a counter or small tables, like in a bar. Thanks for the advice, though, that's all helpful.

      I've been reading reviews of Cal Pep on other sites on the internet. I don't expect complete uniformity for any place being reviewed. Even at the best place, someone is always unhappy about something. And there's always someone who loves the most mediocre chain. But you could get whiplash reading reviews of Cal Pep. The reviews seem to be nearly evenly split between "fantastic! delicious! wonderful!" and "terrible food! the waiters wouldn't let us choose for ourselves and everything they brought us was awful!" I'm trying to figure out if there's a trick to making sure you get the first experience, not the second. The day of the week you go? Whether you make an effort to speak at least a little Spanish? Whether you let the waiter push you into letting them choose the food? The phase of the moon?

      1. re: anotherjennifer

        There are plenty of tapas bars with seats - I'd say most, if not all, have seats. You can never really be sure you'll get a seat, but they exist.

        The pintxo bars are more stand-up affairs with food laid out on top of the bars - you might try them in the off-hours, though, it could be fun for a kid. Other places are nearly all seats - Bar Celta and Tapas 24 come to mind as examples. Others still are probably a bad idea with a little kid because of crowds and tight spaces - e.g. El Xampanyet or El Vaso de Oro.

        I think Cal Pep is good. There's no question that they use good raw ingredients and cook them well. It's not ground-breaking, innovative cuisine, it's not fine-dining and it's not cheap. I think some reviewers have come with different notions of what they were getting into and been put off by the reality. (And I'm sure perfectly well-informed people have also not enjoyed Cal Pep. Every one has bad nights.)

        You can choose what you want or you can let the waiter choose . You can also let the waiter lead the way but make requests. Speaking spanish helps but isn't necessary, it's more about how confident you are (i.e. you don't have to let yourself get run over). Talk to your waiter and tell him what you're interested in, he won't just ignore you. Maybe learn some food words at least.

        And, finally, spaniards generally really like kids. Don't be surprised if someone at a bar offers to give up his seat for him.

    2. Hi--I'm the mom of a ten year old, albeit a Spanish-American one who has been tapeando on his feet since age two. I just wanted to point out that kids here eat a snack (merienda) around 5 or 6pm. Usually a little sandwich, tosta, fruit, pastries, churros, etc. You can get this kind of stuff at a cafe/bar (and even get it to go and take it to a plaza or on a paseo). It takes the edge off for the later dinner time (which is even later here in Madrid). Maybe you can make it fun by having him take photos and document of all the crazy stuff his chowhound parents eat. Of all the kids who visit us from the US, I have yet to find one who doesn't recognize the deliciousness of jamón ibérico--I think that's a sure thing.

      2 Replies
      1. re: butterfly

        Good to know! Thanks. I think he's also going to like learning the word tapeando.

        1. re: anotherjennifer

          For gelat (the Catalan word for ice cream), I like Vioko and Tomo II. Tomo has a few locations and some are in Barri Gotic.

      2. I was in Barcelona last month with my !0 year boy and my older daughter. Oh, and my wife of course. My son is a somewhat experienced New York hound and he had a great time. He keeps later hours then most kids his age, but even then, Spain dinner hours were a challenge. My family are not early risers so we had good size breakfasts, at about 9 or 10 in the morning. We happened to stay near Bar Velodromo and they serve a good selection of egg dishes in addition to the sweet pastries. A large breakfast at the Boqueria was another great starter. With that late breakfast we moved lunch back to the late afternoon and did tapas type places that had table service. The McFoie burger and patas bravas at Tapas 24 was a huge hit as was the skewered lamb. I know you are not really looking for specific places and dishes, I point those out because it was one of many tapas style places and restaurants open all day that would accommodate a late, delicious lunch. I also can't resist suggesting Alkimia for a great tasting, fairly priced high end lunch. My kids enjoyed the nearby Sagrada and then walked off a great 2 hour lunch at Park Guell. The late lunches allowed us to eat dinner late, but not so late that it was an issue. We started at 8:30-9 and my son held up well. Dinner was at places like Pacomeralgo and Allium that were very child friendly. Of course not a day passed that we did not eat ice cream at some point in our travels. On Carer de la Princesa near the Picasso Museum was a great old ice cream shop,Torrons. Just down the block on the same side was a fantastic chocolate store. We also hit them after a show the Palau Musica. An afternoon sweet stop also allowed us to relax and refuel. So, the key for us was we adjusted our eating schedule. Sadly we skipped the big ticket spots with tasting menus. Despite that, the joy I saw in son's eyes as he experienced a different culture and created memories that will last a lifetime, I would make that trade every time.
        Enjoy, and don't forget to tip. (Just kidding)

        12 Replies
        1. re: stuartlafonda

          For what it's worth, the ice cream shop you mention on Princessa is almost certainly not called Torrons. Torrons is the Catalan plural spelling of the Spanish "turron,", the nougat.
          Many turron shops do ice cream business in the summer. Planelles Donat, a famous and especially good one on Av. Portal del Angel (near the Cathedral) makes an incredible turron gelato and the best hazlenut gelato I've ever had.
          Also for excellent gelato try Cremeria Toscana on Muntaner, near Santa Maria Del Mar in el Born. There's also Fratello and Voiko on P. Joan Borbo, on the way to the beach in Barceloneta.

          1. re: caganer

            Sorry for the confusion. The sign on the side said Torrons and above the store it said Torrons La Campana. It is at 36 Carrer de la Princessa on the corner of Falassanders. One dish we had was cherry ice cream with chocolate chunks, the best Cherry Garcia this deadhead has ever had. We also had ice crean at the other branch of Cremeria Toscana just across the street from Pacomeralgo in the Eixample. That was another good choice.

            1. re: stuartlafonda

              It was good-natured teasing. Hope you don't mind.

              You mean La Campana on Flassaders. Flassaders is one of my fave streets in Born.
              Indeed the gelat and orxata (horchata) there are both quite good.


          2. re: stuartlafonda

            Great report.
            I do not have children of my own but have travelled with friends with children in Barcleona. Children take to Barcelona. They get it, get the snacky tapas, the funhouse narrow streets in the Gothic quarter, even get the exuberant contemporary art.
            Caganer is right as usual. With a name like his, he is Mr Credibility. Turron is a fabulous local specialty which is not that much mentioned on this board. Another relatively neglected local specialty is horchata and the horchata bar genre and granjas. I especially like Sirvent (Calle Parlament, 56) and of coure Granjer Viader near the Boqueria market, more for its funky interior.
            Turron and horchata were a huge hit with my friends' children. Parents and children were literally fighting over them.
            But to say you found an great ice cream place called Torron is like saying you found a great ice cream place called Hot Dog. :-)

            1. re: Parigi

              Parigi, I'd love to hear more about "the horchata bar genre". We are big fans of horchata (if it is like the horchata we get in California - and if it's not, can't wait to taste the difference).

              We are traveling to BCN at the beginning of July with our 2 and 5 year old kids, so I've been watching any post that has to do with kids very carefully!

              1. re: L nrs

                I have not tasted horchata in California, therefore I am really not qualified to answer you.
                The funkiest horchata bar in Barcelona is La Granja Viader mentioned above.
                It is near the Boqueria market, which means near the Ramblas, on the Raval side. You can find a great deal of info on the internet about the bar.

                Our fave drinks there are the Majorquina and Crema catalana.
                All over Barcelona there are this kind of milk bars. The Granja Viader is good although not the best, but its history and its time-machine décor make it a must for all our visits.

                We like to go there for a "second breakfast" right before hitting the Boqueria. In the earlier morning hours there also seems to have more locals and fewer tourists, not that I mind one way or the other.
                Besides the desserty drinks, it also has sandwiches and real desserts. Locals queue up to buy the house whipped cream, it seems.

                1. re: Parigi

                  One little note on Granja M. Viader: They only make horchata in the summer. If you order it in the winter you will get the bottled stuff. In that case it's better to get the Llett Mallorquina which thay make year-round.

                  AFAIK, other Granjas in the Ciutat Vella do not make horchata, but there are a number of horchaterias in Barcelona.

                  And yes, Granja Viader is a great place and a definite must for tourist. Their flam de mato and mousse de crema catalana are really delicious.

                2. re: L nrs

                  The horchatas most commonto Mexicans, and so I assume in CA, are usually based on rice or other grains (there's even a good horchata de melon made with cantaloupe seeds & pulp) whereas Spanish horchata is based on the chufa nut - sort of like a peanut - so they're different but the same general idea.

                  1. re: caganer

                    Chufa isn't really a nut... and it's nothing at all like a peanut... It's a very hard and fibrous dried tuber (of the sedge plant) that you soak and then grind up and strain to make the drink:


                    1. re: butterfly

                      Yes, I've only seen rice-based horchatas (with cantaloupe in Oaxacan places) here. Can't wait to try the Spanish chufa version. Would never have discovered this without this site - love it!

                      1. re: butterfly

                        Give me a break! There is a difference between "sort of like" and "the same as."

                        In English, the language used in this forum, the tuber of the chufa plant is called a chufa, a chufa nut or a tigernut.

                        A peanut is a legume, more like a pea than a nut botanically. But in English we call it a peanut or a ground nut.

                        Neither are true nuts.

                        This tuber, the chufa nut or tigernut, develops underground, is oblong, tan and has what is commonly described as a nutty flavor - sort of like a peanut.

                        1. re: caganer

                          Of course you are free to make the comparison, I just don't happen to agree.

                          One (chufa) is only marginally edible after a day of soaking (and if you eat more than a handful will give you intestinal distress due to the tremendous amount of fiber (chufa is a home remedy for constipation). It's has a sweet, milky flavor that I would not describe as nutty (though if I were to compare it to a nut, I'd say it's closest to almonds flavor-wise. People allergic to nuts and legumes don't have a problem with chufa.

              2. We visited Barcelona with our son when he was eleven. Like yours, he had a reasonably adventurous palate, with experience dining in fine restaurants.

                In terms of dealing with the later dining hour, it probably helps that our son has always been something of a night owl, and that we arrived in Barcelona directly from the States, so our internal clocks were a bit off anyway. We tweaked his schedule by sleeping somewhat later than we might at home, eating a late-ish lunch -- i.e., about 1:30 pm -- and then heading out to dinner right about 8 pm, which means that we were typically the first diners to arrive. Each child has his own clock, but for us dining at 8pm without a nap (or perhaps a nap from about 5-6 pm) worked better than waiting until 10 pm for dinner.

                We did go to a tapas bar one evening, and our son was definitely welcome. Despite his adventurous palate, much of the offerings did not much interest him, except that he loves omelettes, so the torta was a big hit. At other restaurants, as I recall, he opted for seafood dishes.

                3 Replies
                1. re: masha

                  We arrived in Barcelona late this morning and so far have managed getting into the apartment, a quick lunch at a nondescript place around the corner (I wonder why a grilled ham and cheese is called a bikini here) and a little walk around the neighborhood (Eixample) to look at the beautiful buildings. My son's dessert was cookies from the supermarket, but hey, that's local culture, too, right? Anyway, I'm just seeing some of the most recent replies and they are all very helpful. I'll be sure to post a trip report. Naps now. Tapas 24 for dinner later, I think.

                  1. re: anotherjennifer

                    Have fun. If you're up for it, on Monday night nearly all of Barceloneta will be one big street party for the end of the a traditional weekend festival called the Cors de la Barceloneta. The bars and restaurants have clubs that participate with music and lights and firework displays plus men dance through the street in costumes decorated with chorizos and garlic . (so not a good night to go to Cova Fumada or Can Mano, Can Majo etc. for dinner)

                    1. re: anotherjennifer

                      Since you're there right now, you might be interested in the De Tapes Per Barcelona event. It's a sort of festival where bars and restaurants try to outdo each other to win the prize for best tapa. It's 2,40€ for a tapa and a glass of Estrella.


                      If you can't make out the Catalan or Spanish, just use the map to guide you. I'm sure there are also paper version of the map in all the bars since it also has a voting form.

                  2. Just a bit of BTDT on eating with a child in Barcelona. Your S sounds like at least one of my kids--adventurous and well-behaved (well, both are very good in restaurants, but one prefers asian above all else). A couple of times, the younger one passed out on the table, when we sat down to eat at 10pm (until the jet lag cleared). We got in the habit of booking the "big" meals at the major dining spots for lunch. Our lunch at Cal Pep, for example, was quite memorable. We walked in (after actually finding it). They took one look at the kids and said: "we'll bring a nice grilled fish for the girls and some Cava for you". We basically ate our way up the food chain--really great. If you're child is up for it, he may decide to help you with what they bring for you, which is served somewhat family style.

                    I always make sure I feed them both beforehand (in case it's too challenging). The younger one always brings a book or something to draw with anyway in case there's a lot of down time. And I book the earliest possible reservation--even if we're the only ones eating there. If you do fancy lunches, you can always make a meal out of tapas in a cafe and then all of you can hit the sack before midnight.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: acmes

                      " We basically ate our way up the food chain"
                      Ace. Am going to steal this.

                      It seems all diners who have had a great experience dining with their children are parents who prepare and involve their children. A successful family dining experience is much more than just asking whether a restaurant is chld-friendly.
                      Bravo to you all.
                      Plus, I love Cal Pep.