Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Barcelona Quick Stops

A wise man told me it wouldn't be hard to find good food in Barcelona. That's true, but it's not hard to find some pretty crappy food there too. Here are some places enjoyed over 2.5 days in BCN.

First, tapas in La Boqueria. I just looked for the most crowded place (I think it was El Quim, but not sure), Bar Central, waited for a seat to open up, grabbed it, ordered a beer, and tried to make sense of what was going on. The fast pace and crowd, combined with my nearly non-existent Spanish and the local preference for Catalan, made for a pretty intimidating experience. But everything looked so good. Wiggling razor clams, heaps of fresh wild mushrooms, and just tons of great looking plates of food. Prices were high but portions were generous. I went with oysters (pretty good but not special), a traditional omelet with some bread that was topped with the ubiquitous tomato water and olive oil (okay), and a couple of fresh sardines (ridiculous). The sardines were cooked on a flat top with some olive oil and salt. They were truly excellent.

I also learned about the cortado, which would remain a running theme throughout the vacation.

For a first dinner, Casa Delfin. I'm sure the raved about Cal Pep, in the same neighborhood, is good, but waiting 2 hrs for tapas seems very un-tapa. So Casa Delfin it was for a serviceable shrimp and avocado salad, amazing tomato water olive oil toast, a pretty good rioja, potentially excellent sausage with beans (unfortunate smell and aftertaste of burnt oil kind of ruined it), and terrific brandade stuffed baby artichokes. Service and dessert were very good too.

Non-hipster butchers.

And last, but by far the best, was the upstairs tapa bar at Coure. We tried to walk into Embat right before they opened for dinner at 8, but apparently people in Europe are really into making dinner reservations and they were fully booked for the night. Even at the bar. We asked for a suggestion of where to go, and after first pointing us to a decent looking place across the street, some guy from inside the restaurant had us wait so the hostess could get us a card for a place he liked. That place was Coure.

We started with chicken and ham croquettes. The downstairs of this place was for super modern food 2.0 stuff. The upstairs was the antithesis. Same high quality ingredients, same care, but old school tapas with occasional twists. These were perfect croquettes, and we tried lots of them on the trip. Then wine and feasting. A perfect little piece of braised Galician beef cheek over celeriac puree, beef tartare with a quenelle of mascarpone cheese standing in for an egg yolk, seared tuna belly with figs and a ponzu like sauce, cheese cake, and a pear tart with pear ice cream (the first of many of the fantastic ice creams we had in Spain). There was an oyster in there and something else too (an Asianish ravioli with pesto--many of the modern Spanish places visited seemed to really be enamored with pesto). Also, a heaping plate of razor clams.

The meal upstairs at Coure was the most enjoyable food we had in Barcelona, and the price was totally reasonable. Plus I think they take reservations at the tapas bar (also very un-tapa) as well as their sit down place, which makes the experience much more pleasant dining than the elbow dropping zoo-like atmosphere at some other spots.

Next up, San Sebastian. Those hams in the top pic are nothing compared to what was hanging in the average Donostia pintxos spot.


Anonymous said...

cortado, baby. that's the shit right there.

Anonymous said...

Glad you got to know about cortados.

But really, isn't it very tourist to determine what is "untapa" in Spain? Shouldn't the local places determine that?

The CFT said...

tres tourist. but then, what do the local places in barca really know about tapas/tapa culture? that kind of eating isn't really a catalonian thing is it? next trip, andalusia. i'll get to the bottom of it.

Anonymous said...

More, I suspect, than an American tourist...

The CFT said...

They probably do know more about tapas than I do. I'd maintain though, that Barcelona isn't the place to learn about the history, etiquette, or general culture of tapas. I'd suspect that the tapas scene in barca is largely geared to serve (or at least a result of serving and capturing the $ of), shudder, tourists, whether from within Spain or from outside.

Based on my very limited experience, the tapas places in barca, particularly the highly touted ones, were packed with fellow tourists. The restaurants appeared to be a completely different story. It was just about the exact opposite in Basque Country.