Spain Part 1: Eating Our Way through Barcelona

We decided that our resolution for 2015 is to post more about our travel adventures. Between the two of us, we logged over 200,000 miles flown in 2014, so we’re kicking off the new year with this overdue post on our trip to the Catalunya region of Spain last fall. We started with several days in Barcelona, then made our way to the excellent and seemingly undiscovered Priorat wine region, and ended with a short stay at a spa resort along the Mediterranean coastline. It wasn’t our first foray into Barcelona, a city we have grown to love as much as San Francisco. But it was our first time in Priorat, and definitely not our last.

We’re kind of late planners when it comes to buying tickets and booking accommodations, so many of our top choices for restaurants in Barcelona such as El Cellar de Can Roca and Tickets were already booked. We did make it to the excellent Michelin-starred Roca Moo and frequented the Roca Bar for late night drinks and lunch, both located in the urban hip Hotel Omm. We also returned to Tapac 24, one of our favorite dining spots in Barcelona, especially for the Estrellados o Fritos (potatoes and fried eggs) dish with foie gras. We can highly recommend them all, but decided not to post about them since we dined with a larger group.

Just as Roca Moo, helmed by one of the Roca brothers that own El Cellar, is much more approachable for getting reservations, tables are more accessible at the casual vermuteria (vermouth) and tapas bar Bodega 1900 than at Tickets, run by the Adria brothers of El Bulli fame. Their empire also includes a few other restaurants such as the Japanese-influenced Pakkta, which had openings, but as we’re in Spain, we wanted Spanish food so decided to have our first meal of this trip at Bodega 1900 where reservations can be made via email.

Our flight from San Francisco to Barcelona ended up landing late, so we literally came to the restaurant with luggage in tow with less than an hour to spare before closing time. Even after a long travel day, we had no problems eating several of their tapas plates, each one of them excellent, especially when paired with vermouth. They have a diverse vermouth menu, with most made by Martini, but their house blend was just fine: we made our way through several glasses over the course of our short evening. Highlights of our eating experience include (clockwise from left – click on picture to enlarge): glasses of vermouth, olive “spheres” (a holdover from El Bulli) and super crispy pork rinds, hand-cut five-year aged Jamón Ibérico and these awesome Mollete de Calamares Picantes (fried squid sandwich with mayo and hot sauces):

One of our biggest problems when traveling to Europe is that many of the best restaurants are closed on Sundays and/or Mondays. We asked at our hotel, Casa Fuster, if they had any recommendations for a Sunday evening and they sent us to nearby Botafumeiro, one of Barcelona’s top seafood restaurants. As we walked into the restaurant, we were greeted by the seafood case showing items delivered that day. We did have reservations, but opted to take seats at the long bar where the classic white-jacketed staff attended to our every need.

As Spain is the Gin & Tonic capital of the world, we naturally had to start with a Gin Tonica. Served with potato chips and olives, it made a great aperitif course. They served us a mushroom pastry amuse bouche, then we proceeded to courses which included white asparagus, grilled prawns and an Insalata Russa with crab. But the one item that really got our attention — having never had them before — were the barnacles (pictured bottom row). They tasted briny like the ocean and had the slight chewiness of a large clam:

Barcelona has a plethora of great seafood restaurants, many tending to the more expensive side, but the fare is extremely fresh. We had made reservations at the harder to find Pasadis Del Pep which is literally tucked behind an ATM through a long passageway in the building. It’s been in the same location for more than three decades, offering tourists and locals alike a unique dining experience. There is no menu provided, and once you are seated at the table, a chilled bottle of Cava “on the house” is brought to the table along with plates of Pa amb tomàquet (bread rubbed with tomato and garlic) and Jamón Ibérico.

Then the feasting begins. Plate after generous plate of primarily seafood dishes are delivered throughout the course of the evening. First there were clams, then fried calamari followed by plates of sea snails (conch), shrimp, duck liver and caramelized onions, squid ink risotto, langoustines then prawns. We paused at some point to order a bottle of white wine. Soon thereafter the waiter asked us if we wanted seafood or meat for dinner(!) to which we responded that we couldn’t take anymore food. Luckily we were able to stop at the “appetizer” courses, and they insisted on bringing us one dessert: a delicate chocolate parfait that we couldn’t finish even as we shared it. We presume that the check is based on how many dishes are actually consumed, but it arrived along with some post-dinner “digestivi” bottles that can be self-poured to the diners’ satisfaction. Needless to say, we over-indulged in the vodka, to our regret the next morning.

We did some sightseeing on this trip as well, with a return visit to Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, where we found significant progress since our last visit four years ago. We can also highly recommend a day trip to Montserrat, the multi-peaked mountain about an hour’s train ride from Barcelona that is the setting for a working Benedictine Monastery accessible only via cable car (left picture). It may have been rainy and cold, but the sights from a small hike were still breathtaking (right picture – click on photo to view larger):

These are just the highlights of our stay in Barcelona — it was time to discover Priorat, covered in Part 2.


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