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Barcelona/Girona/San Sebastian Dining Report

We returned last week from a 10-day to Barcelona and San Sebastian. Since I got so many helpful tips from Chowhounders, I decided to post a report in the spirit of giving back. I will preface it by admitting that we went a little crazy, but the trip was to celebrate my 60th birthday, so it called for some craziness.
At the highest end of the dining scene, we ate at El Celler de Can Roca in Girona--we had been on the waiting list for months and managed to score a table once we were in Spain. What an experience! We were lucky enough to meet all three Roca brothers and tour the kitchen, in addition to having one of the most memorable meals of our lives. We got the classics menu with the wine pairings, and everything was exceptional. In San Sebastian we had dinner at Mugaritz. All I would say to anyone going there is don't read a whole lot about it beforehand. There are some really fun surprises! Also, definitely tell them if you're celebrating your birthday. That's all I'll say about that!
We also had a phenomenal lunch at Akelare. We had a beautiful table overlooking the sea. We were feeling kind of tasting-menu overload, so we were happy that we could order off the menu. The staff guided us toward the most seasonal, authentic dishes: anchovies cooked under hot salt, baby spring peas, a pasta with seasonal mushrooms, and suckling pig. All perfectly prepared, plated, and presented. Truly a 3-star experience. Chef Subijana made the rounds several times and stopped at most every table at some point.
Our final high-end experience was at Pakta, in Barcelona, Albert Adria's Japanese/Peruvian place. If that place doesn't get a couple of Michelin starts pretty soon, I'd be surprised. The creativity, attention to detail, and flawless food and service put it up there with our other high-end meals.
At the other end of the dining spectrum, we took the Aborigen food tour in Barcelona, with food writer Cece. It was phenomenal. He took us to one tiny neighborhood bodega after another, ordering us the best each had to offer. The tour was on the pricey side, but we thought it was a fantastic experience and we truly felt like we were with an insider.
Of course, you'll want to visit La Boqueria--it is quite a spectacle. But for a less frenzied experience, stop in to the Santa Cristina market, near the cathedral.There you'll see the locals buying their supplies. There is also a bar/restaurant connected to the market that features the market's best and freshest offerings.
My actual birthday was a Monday, so from the relatively few places open on Mondays, we picked Barraca, by the beach. It has a good reputation, and a selection of paellas. But we discovered that it's almost impossible to order paella for just one person. And at least there, it's expensive. It would have cost us over 40 euros--and we'd only be trying one dish! Anyway, the staff was not very helpful or attentive--I wouldn't go as far as to say that they were rude, but it was by far the worst experience we had in Spain, service-wise. So we called it quits after our appetizers.
I'm realizing this post is not very organized, but now I'm going back to San Sebastian, where I just want to say that the two pintxos bars we liked the best were La Cepa (try the gavillas) and La Cuchara de San Telmo (braised veal cheeks--yum). San Telmo is a little hard to find because it's actually around the corner from the street its address is on.
We also had a wonderful lunch just over the border in France, at a charming farmhouse restaurant called Ferme Lizarragua.
That's about it. I hope it helps some other Chowhounders.

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  1. Thanks msmolly! I'll be in BCN in Sept, so every trip report helps. The food tour sounds interesting. Did you book it from home or while you were in Barcelona?
    Sounds like you had a wonderful time.

    Cheers

    4 Replies
    1. re: petek

      I booked it from home. About 3 weeks out. It was us, the guide, and a lovely young couple from Melbourne Australia. We had a great evening.

      1. re: msmolly

        Do you have contact information on this food tour? We are heading to Spain in three weeks and this tour sounds very interesting!

        1. re: Homesteadmem

          http://www.aborigensbarcelona.com/

          I booked for the evening tour(Feast on tour) in Sept, sounds really good!

    2. Thanks for this. I have a reservation at Barraca for my upcoming trip, but as I posted on another thread, I was skeptical. Glad to get a recent report, even if negative.

      1. "At the other end of the dining spectrum, we took the Aborigen food tour in Barcelona, with food writer Cece. It was phenomenal. "
        Hey msmolly! Did you do the morning or evening food tour? Also, did you think it was good value for the money?

        Cheers
        petek

        2 Replies
        1. re: petek

          We did the evening tour. And yes, while it's pricey we thought it was worth it. First off, we went places we never would have gone and saw the authentic neighborhood bodega culture. Second, everything we ate, while simple, was delicious and authentic. There's plenty to drink too. We learned a lot and had fun. Non-foodies might have a different perspective but it was a highlight of our trip.

          1. re: msmolly

            Thanks msmolly,it does sound very cool(I'm a chef so I like to go off the beaten path when I travel). I'm traveling solo so I'm not even sure that they'll accept my reservation but I'll email them to be sure.

        2. Great post! Reliving our experiences as well…Can Roca to date is still the best on our spectrum too. It's a tight squeeze at Cuchara de San Telmo but the veal cheeks are worth it!
          We're off to new adventures this summer in Spain. Can't wait!

          1 Reply
          1. re: trvlcrzy

            Jealous! Where are you going this time?

          2. Thanks for posting, and happy (belated) 60th! Mine was last November, and we did Madrid this Spring . . .

            1. Just a note for future searchers: you may have meant "Santa Caterina" market (not Santa Cristina). It's nice and very near the cathedral. Great report!

              1 Reply
              1. re: storefronteats

                If it's the one with the colorful wavy roof, then I stand corrected. Hope I didn't lead anyone astray.

              2. Darn!! We turned down a table at Can Roca the first night we arrived in Barcelona because we just could not keep our eyes open! So disappointed! Question, did you drive to San Sebastián? We're doing the drive tomorrow and are thinking we'd like to stop somewhere nice for lunch along the way. If you get this on time that is ....

                3 Replies
                1. re: CocoTO

                  We did drive but we did not stop for lunch. Sorry I can't help. Enjoy SS

                  1. re: msmolly

                    Thanks for responding. Think we'll be winging it!

                2. We have a lunch reservation at El Cellar de Can Roca in September,2014. It is a 11 month reservation, after several month's attempt. Hope we will not be disappointed with all that effort!
                  Do they have a choice of tasting menu? How long will it take and do you remember the cost?

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: towkay

                    Hi! Assuming lunch is like dinner they have two menus, a classic menu with their signature dishes and a longer tasting menu of their current creations. We did the classics with wine pairings. It's fewer courses but they are bigger than bites. Plenty of food. There is a choice os main course and the whole table doesn't have to get the same one. My husband just looked it up. It was $672 all in! It's a phenomenal meal and if you're lucky you'll get to meet the brothers. Enjoy!!!! Oh and I'd count on 3-4 hours.