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sant pau or celler de can roca?

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shipshape Mar 14, 2013 08:34 PM

Planning a trip for this October to Barcelona + Basque Country. We can only budget for one blow-out meal. Assuming we can get reservations to Celler (we're flexible on date and time and can plan around it), should we go there or Sant Pau? Which one seems more special / where did you prefer the food itself, to say less of the atmosphere, etc.?

Sadly, the weeks we will be there exactly coincide with Akelarre's anual vacation. Based on things I've read here, I'm not super into Mugaritz for this trip (since we'll only have one big meal, I hesitate from so many people saying the dishes are so hit-or-miss) and the reviews of Arzak aren't that glowing. Open to Etxebarri or MB, too—Celler and Sant Pau just came off as more of a treat. Thoughts?

  1. estufarian Mar 15, 2013 07:38 AM

    First, you can’t go wrong with either. All depends on your preferences as to style. You obviously liked Minibar – which suggests Can Roca would be your preference as it’s ‘modernist’ in style.

    But Sant Pau is modern Catalan at its best – and I’m also a modernist/molecular fan. Although I have 41 degrees as my best meal, Sant Pau has numbers 2 & 3. (Can Roca is also pretty high).

    BUT I have a solution for you. Try Can Roca and do Moments (in Mandarin hotel in Barcelona) for LUNCH. The prix fixe lunch is a bargain, and the menu is designed by Carme Ruscalleda of Sant Pau.

    6 Replies
    1. re: estufarian
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      shipshape Mar 15, 2013 08:08 AM

      Holding 2 of your top 3 meals is pretty impressive for Sant Pau! They were able to offer me a reservation that was slightly more convenient than the ones Can Roca did—so your enthusiasm for SP might be pushing me over the edge. Do you prefer lunch or dinner at SP? Does it make a difference the way it seems to at Akelarre?

      Perhaps you can advise us on our general itinerary: We're planning on spending two full days in Barcelona, then the day in Sant Pol de Mar (or Girona), three days driving through SW France, three days around Spanish Basque, a day traveling to Paris (drive to Santander; fly to Paris), and then two full days in Paris. Does this itinerary seem acceptable? Is there too much / too little of a certain area? We're most interested in food and don't want to spend too much time in the big cities.

      Thanks so much!

      1. re: shipshape
        estufarian Mar 15, 2013 02:19 PM

        The menu @Sant Pau is identical for lunch & dinner.

        But Sant Pol de Mar is tiny – not that much of interest (that I found). Girona has far more to see and do. Accordingly we took the train from Barcelona (about an hour to either of Girona or Sant Pol de Mar) and then took the train back after ‘lunch’ – maybe 4 hours later. That also left us free to choose the wine accompaniments (at both). I was more impressed at Sant Pau, particularly as most of the wines were unfamiliar to me (and excellent matches with the food). My two visits were different seasons – so different ingredients.

        So I’d spend the extra day in Barcelona with a day train trip to Girona (caution the last train back is very early evening) or to Sant Pau for lunch only then the evening back in Barcelona.

        In and around Barcelona, I don’t usually drive (unless essential). Outside there it’s almost essential. Also be careful with the Pyrenees – takes much longer than maps would indicate (so use the highways). French Basque (for me) was not inspiring on the coast (mountains were good), and I much preferred the Spanish Basque (although San Sebastian itself was adisappointment (except for food) – I’m not a beach person, so the ‘main’ area wasn’t too interesting).
        I had great luck with the Michelin ‘Bib’ recommendations, both in France and Spain, but can’t help with tapas or pintxos, as I prefer to sit and eat, even for casual meals.
        So personally I’d drop a day in France (SW) and add a day in Spain (Spain is generally cheaper too). But you’ll spend that day driving anyway!
        I’d even consider dropping France altogether, depending on how hectic your schedule is.
        Either way make Sunday your main driving day if you can as it’s slow almost everywhere (although there are some good lunch options).
        You’d need to check but I vaguely recall that Etxebarri is open for Sunday lunch, and is reasonably priced as long as you don’t go for the exotic ingredients, such as Iranian Caviar (which isn’t that great when smoked anyway!).

        Two days in Paris seems light – but you can always go again!

        1. re: estufarian
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          shipshape Mar 15, 2013 02:51 PM

          Good to know about French Basque. We had heard good things about Carcassonne so we wanted to go through SW France instead of NE Spain. Google says it will be 9.5 hours (spread over 8 days). http://goo.gl/maps/duUuk

          Do you think it's better to just drive right through Spain from Barcelona to Basque Country?

          1. re: shipshape
            estufarian Mar 16, 2013 07:10 AM

            Carcassonne is spectacular.
            I've driven both routes, and France is more interesting scenically. But not much food interest if you take a direct route. Either route needs detours for interesting dining. And that takes time (potentially).
            If you were returning to Barcelona I'd say do 1-way in each country - but as you're flying, just go with what interests you.

            1. re: estufarian
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              shipshape Mar 18, 2013 01:53 PM

              We're not beach people either and want to see some great scenery we're going to trust all your recommendations. Thank you! :D

              We're going to stay in Carcassonne one night and in French Basque one night to break up the drive. Do you have a favorite town in French Basque?

              Would you recommend not staying directly in SS if we are not beach people?

              Many thanks.

              1. re: shipshape
                estufarian Mar 18, 2013 09:20 PM

                I’m traveling right now and don’t have access to all my files. Certainly Biarritz is mostly Beach!

                The best place we stayed was in the foothills of the Pyrenees very close to the border. IIRC, we used to see signs to the Museum of Gateau Basque (yes indeed there is a museum devoted solely to that cake). We used that as a base to day-trip to both Spain & France. Google implies that we actually stayed in Sare (which is where the museum is), which is quite possible. The issue is how close you want to be to the restaurants – it’s the driving home that’s the issue.
                Last time in San Sebastian we stayed in a converted farmhouse, but they spoke no English at all and Basque was their first language. And it took all my navigational skills to find it – the road wasn’t even on the GPS!
                It was just outside San Sebastian, which gave us the flexibility to travel widely. But some of the fun is getting lost and making your own discoveries. Our philosophy is ‘sleep cheap, dine fine’ so we don’t need all the mod cons, but appreciate our own toilet and shower.
                Clearly reservations at top restaurants are essential, but we like to leave each second day free for ‘discoveries’ – but as I mentioned earlier, Michelin ‘Bib’ selections are usually excellent.
                It sounds a bit like you’re ‘overplanning’. That way you’ll certainly see everything you’ve scheduled, but many lasting memories (and some horror stories) come from the things that are unexpected.

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