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Thoughts from our recent Spain trip (Barcelona, Madrid, Basque Region)

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We were recently in Spain for 15 days and below is the list and some thoughts on the restaurants we visited, many of which were on the recommendations of fellow Chowhounders on the forum.

Barcelona (tapas)
- Tickets: went twice for dinner. A real pain to get reservations (had to stalk the website 60 days in advance as they don't take reservations except through their website, and reservations open 60 days in advance and are snapped up fast). Great fun and very good food. You'd get better tapas elsewhere but they have some very clever dishes and the concept is very entertaining
- Paco Meralgo: went there 3 times (1 lunch and twice for desserts and coffee), loved the food and the modern vibe
- Tapas 24: a favourite, went there 3 times (2 breakfasts and 1 late lunch), their breakfast is great and food very good too
- Taller de Tapas: went for dinner, happened to pass it while walking along Rambla de Catalunya, and it was a Sunday when most places were closed. Food was ok, nothing special
- Pinotxo: had to queue and squeeze to get a seat. Interesting experience and food was good and very local (was served the local tripe dish).
- El Quim: were surprised by the huge portions. Enjoyed the food there (loved the deep fried artichokes and the squid), but we ate there immediately after Pinotxo so we couldn't finish our food
- TapaTapa: went there for a quick snack (not many places open at 10am on a Sunday) as we were starving and waiting for Paco Meralgo to open. Cheap food but a very touristy place, wouldn't eat there under ordinary circumstances

Barcelona (restaurants)
- Hisop: went for lunch (a la carte), food done in quite a classical style and was very good. Great for lunch, but if it's the same menu they have for dinner, may be a bit lightweight.
- ABAC: had a superb lunch (degustation) there. Food is very innovative and brilliantly conceived. Lovely dining room and ambience and service very good too
- Alkimia: had a very good dinner (degustation). Started slowly with a few hit-and-misses but got better as the dinner went on. Service a bit stiff.

Outside Barcelona
- Sant Pau: was there for lunch (degustation). Superb, lives up to its reputation. Food, service and the views were all stunning. Coffee in the garden after was a very nice touch as well. Chef Carme made an appearance
- Can Fabes: dinner (degustation) was very disappointing. The restaurant was empty and there seemed to be a funk over the place (after Santi's death). Service was mechanical and the food uninspiring
- Miramar Llanca: lunch (degustation) was very fun. Views of the beach in the day are stunning, and it was a long tasting menu with many small courses, some of which were hit-and-miss, but there were enough good and interesting dishes to make this an enjoyable meal (plus the views had a positive impact). In hindsight, a la carte may have been a better choice. Chef Paco Perez was away that day

Madrid
- Diverxo: lunch (degustation) was excellent. The Chinese-European fusion idea, though fraught with risks, turned out very well executed by the chef.
- Santceloni: dinner (degustation) was excellent. Very french-dining experience with an impressive cheese selection. Wine list was good too.
- Ramon Freixa: dinner was disappointing. The entire meal flattered to deceive. Chef likes to serve 3 or 4 plates of food at one time (similar to Pierre Gagnaire), and each time, the 4 different plates didn't really go with each other and was really inconvenient to eat. The main dish of each course was fine, but the accompanying dishes were mostly poor. Seemed like the chef was trying too hard. Perhaps a la carte would have been a better idea.
- Chocolateria de San Gines: went there for midnight chocolate churros. Was still quite busy at time, and had cheap and good churros there.

San Sebastian (tapas)
- Le Bar Cepa: our favourite in this town. Jamon is delicious here and cooked food pretty good too
- Gandaria: also pretty good tapas, didn't try the cooked food though
- A Fuego Negro: very El-Bulli-esque experience with innovative tapas. Enjoyed having the tasting menu (when you can eat at the table as opposed to the counter). Desserts particularly good

San Sebastian (restaurants)
- Mugaritz: great dinner here (degustation). Service excellent, wines very good and food interesting and well executed. Only gripe was the cod soup which required us to pound the sesame seeds; the final product tasted like dishwater
- Martin Berasategui: the best meal we had on this trip (degustation), dinner here was slightly better than our meal at Sant Pau. Everything was perfection. Chef Martin made an appearance
- Arzak: the greatest disappointment of this trip. Our dinner here (degustation) was surprising poor despite the reputation this place has, and it was made worse in the knowledge that both Juan Mari and Elena Arzak were in the kitchen that night. It was also our most expensive meal of the trip
- Etxebarri: the grill is amazing. Had the lunch degustation and most of the dishes were wonderfully grilled. A bit of a drive out (90 minutes from SS) but the restaurant is set at the foot of the mountains and the views are spectacular. A bit expensive for such food though, we felt.

Bilbao
- Nerua: good lunch here (a la carte). Nothing spectacular but meal was decent and service was good. It is located at the Guggenheim Museum which was convenient

Rioja
- Marques de Riscal: decent lunch (degustation), enjoyed the Rioja wines. Coffee at the roof terrace after is a must for the views of the area

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  1. We are going to Madrid next month with stops at Diverxo and Ramon Freixa. Sounds like maybe we should do more a la carte there. Any other advice or would you just drop Ramon off your itinerary?

    1 Reply
    1. re: albatruffles

      Based on my last meal there, I wouldn't go to Ramon Freixa again so soon (it wasn't that bad but a few of the dishes went quite wrong and I didn't finish my meal, which never happens), in any case, I have heard good things about El Club Allard and in hindsight, would have gone there instead of Ramon

    2. We also ate in some of the same places in Madrid & Barcelona. The food was so good!

      1 Reply
      1. re: SusanB

        Agreed, and cheap too compared to most places, for the same quality of food!