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Wilfrid

Barcelona Restaurant Recommendations

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I thought I would start a new thread, as I am specifically interested in Barcelona, not Spain in general.

I have visited Barcelona some twelve or thirteen times, so I will make some recommendations for Danielle and anyone else interested.  I am going again at the beginning of February, and hopefully some good tips will get posted on this thread in the meantime.

Barcelona basics:

My strong view is that, although Barcelona has some good restaurants, it is a better city for casual eating/tapas and food shopping than fine dining.

Bux is absolutely right about the wonderful food markets, such as La Boqueria.  Extra tip: not only are there good casual restaurants around the perimeters of the markets, there also tend to be bars right inside.  Choose a good location, climb up on a stool, and you have a drink and a slice of tortilla while watching the extraordinary shopping rituals in comfort.  Free (or cheap) show for foodies.

The restaurants which always get listed in the tourist guides are predictable, okay-ish, but not the best the city has to offer.  Examples:  Amaya, Los Caracoles, Agut d'Avinyon, and Gambrinus.  I haven't been to the famous fish restaurant Botafumeiro.  Set Portes is an honourable exception; a landmark restaurant, it is now heavily used by tourists (but still by locals too).  It is scattered with memorabilia and promotional gimmicks, but I have always found the food to be fine.  The paellas are famous, but I also recommend their simple meat dishes - roast, kid and roast rabbit especially.

If it is your first visit, don't plan on having dinner much before ten o'clock.  Sure, you'll easily get a table before ten, but you'll be eating either by yourselves or with tourists.  The locals get very busy between about eleven at night and three in the morning (or later).

Locals are used to eating a number of tapas, then going off to dinner.  My preference was to alternate: spend some evenings eating tapas freely, reserving other evenings for restuarant experiences.

What else?  Non-violent petty crime is back in bucketloads.   Keep all valuables concealed, and don't let yourselves be surrounded by gypsy flower sellers or any other odd-looking groups.  I should emphasise, that I have always found it a safe city when it comes to personal safety, and will walk most areas at night without hesitation.  The Barri Xines (Barrio Chino) is an exception.  Go by all means, but make sure you know where you're going and don't hang around.

Specific recommendations you might not pick up from guides:

One of my favorite restaurants in the world is Ateneu Gastronomic (http://www.ateneu.com/index22.html).  Carefully sourced local produce, obsessive recreation of Catalunyan cuisine, superb (and cheap) local wines.  Restaurants in Spain barely mark up their wines, meaning you can often pick from the best on the list for the equivalent of around ฮ or ุ.

For tapas, the nearer you are to the Ramblas (and indeed the Plaza del Rey), the more expensive and less interesting the tapas will generally be.  Walking south from the Plaza de Catalunya, there's a big seafood tapas bar on your right; it's pricy, but the quality is high.  Search the side streets or the less-touristed parts of town; it's easy to get an idea of the selection by peering through the window.

I recommend El Portalon if you can find it (anyone - let me know if you're really interested, and I'll hunt down the address).  It's an old-style bar, deep in the Barri Gotic.  In addition to cheap, rough wine straight from the barrel, they serve tasty, authentic tapas:  snails, deep-fried artichoke hearts, blood sausage, cuttlefish, as well as all the usual suspects.  They also serve the Catalunyan version of paella, known as fideu, with vermicelli replacing the rice.

El Xampanyet is indeed in the guides, but is worth singling out.  Get there at opening time if you can (around 6.30/7) not just to drink the local artisanal cider (which is okay) or cava (which is distressingly sweet) but to eat the delicious little open sandwiches which are spread out on the bar (catalan sausage; tuna and pimento; anchovy; tortilla; etc) or order canned seafood tapas.  I am not joking - they have every kind of wonderful little sea thing canned in oil, from sardines and anchovies to baby squid and cockles.

If you're drinking, don't miss Bar Pastis on Carrer Santa Monica.  Go late for a digestif, and run the bizarre (but essentially unthreatening) gauntlet of over-sized transvestite prostitutes before diving gratefully through the door of this tiny, 1940s-style French bar.  Piaf, Trenet, Ricard - you get the picture.

What I am looking for, if anyone can help, is suggestions for good restaurants which are not on the regular tourist track.  Thanks in advance.

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Wifrid -  this may be less than useful to you requirements, as you most likely know this information already, but here goes.  I can't suggest specific restaurants, as it is seven years since I was in Barcelona, but here are several regional dishes that stood out in my memory. Sepia con albondigas (cuttlefish with meatballs) much more interesting then the Arroz negro, Pato con peras (Duck with pears), rice with those little white snails that climb up thistles in the Autumn and razor clams as tapas. I'm sure you already know about these, but a reminder can be good!  Maybe you could tell us about the offal dishes that you have had in Spain?

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Interesting:  I have eaten much sepia and many albondigas, but never the two together!  I endorse the duck with pears, of course, and the razor clam recommendation.  The latter have actually been appearing on fashionable New York menus this year, but no visit to Barcelona is complete without a bunch of them thrown on a grill.

I had a bad start with offal in Barcelona when I first went there around eleven or twelve years ago.  My horizons were not as broad then as they are now (nor was my Spanish as good), and I chose something from the meat section of a menu without knowing what it was.  I was served an entire, barely charred calf's head, simply cut in two with a cleaver.  Brain present and correct.  I fiddled around pathetically looking for something edible., thought I'd found some meat, pulled it away with my fork, and discovered I was lifting the lip to reveal the calf's shining teeth.  I can now take such things in my stride, but it was a bit disarming back then.

I remember excellent braised pig's feet in an old restaurant just off the Ramblas (I think it's called Don Juan?).  The local version of blood sausage has a little rice added for ballast; it's excellent and available as a tapa almost everywhere.   It's also easy to get a plate of tripe stewed with tomatoes (tripe: maybe the most underrated food in the world).

For serious offal fans, La Boqueria, and indeed any of the big markets, feature huge stalls devoted only to offal.  Here you can choose not just tripe, but differently configured tripe from the various stomachs of various animals.  On several of my trips to Barcelona, I have made a point of staying in an apartment (or apartment-hotel) just to have a kitchen.  This has allowed me to cook some of the great market produce.  And yes, let's not forget the big, plump calves' testicles - readily available, and another underrated foodstuff.

Hmm, not sure I've had those little white snails either.  Clearly still some eating to be done!

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I suspect Spain deserves its own board, but Barcelona deserves at least it's own thread. My recommendations for Can Majo and Ca l'Isidre can be read in the Spain Trip thread. Our path through the Barrio Chino to Ca l'Isidre seemed pleasant and safe enough by day, although it skirted some depressed neighborhoods and I might have felt differently at night. The restaurant is upscale from the neighborhood and on the other side of the Barrio Chino from the Ramblas. I don't know if Ca l'Isidre is on the tourist track of not, but it seemed to be missing from the Michelin guide and the crowd seemed mostly local when we were there. I'm told it tends to serve real Catalan food.

Wilfrid's suggestion of a bar at the market brings back a memory of settling a disagreement with my wife about when we should eat lunch. A short beer and a slice of tortilla changed my mind about needing lunch right away. My initial reaction to tortillas was that they were overcooked omelets and boring. I've long since learned to regard them as an ideal and always welcome snack any time of day at a bar. They are also quite varied in terms of additional ingredients and many bars will have a selection all over Spain

I also tend to not want, or be able, to enjoy tapas followed by a full dinner. More often then not while traveling in Spain, we'll have out big meal in the afternoon and hit the tapas bars about nine o'clock or even later and call that our supper.

There is a wine bar/tapas bar in the old part of town--La Vinya del Senyor at Plaça de Santa Maria 5 (Metro Jaume I)--with a very varied selection of wines as well as tapas. It was the sort of place where you have to work your way to the bar and speak up to get attention.

I've not had an apartment in Barcelona, but I enjoyed shopping for a great market selection of cured meats--dried chorizos, lomo, etc.--to bring to friends in southern France.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Thanks for the Ca l'Isidre tip - I have heard of it but never tried it.  I also note Vinya del Senyor.  I'm going to have to take a look at it before I know if I've been there or not:  I have been to a lot of these places in Barcelona!

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I barely know Barcelona and have found it's the sort of place in which the tourist needs a good guide to find good food. It can be hit and miss, especially in tourist areas. My best tips have come from a food critic in Madrid. Worse yet, is that more and more restaurants are posting menus in Catalan, although they all have menus in Spanish for the "tourists." I recognize enough food stuffs in Catalan to order things I may like, but not enough to discover things I don't know. Truthfully, I'm not ready for a severed head on my plate.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

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Gourmet magazine had a brief complimentary note about Comerc 24, near the Museo Picasso, featuring the cooking of an E Bulli alumnus, Carlos Abellan.

I wonder if anyone has been there and has a view?

Thank you, and if the restaurant has been mentioned already on another thread, I apologise for my memory.

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We're going to Barcelona this coming Sunday.

Can anyone recommend a buffet style (not vegetarian).

Also was interested in the Brazilian restaurants, with all the meat -- anyone have any experience of them?

Thanks.

Doug

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Re: "The restaurants which always get listed in the tourist guides are predictable, okay-ish, but not the best the city has to offer.  Examples:  Amaya, Los Caracoles, Agut d'Avinyon, and Gambrinus."

That's indeed a strange list of stale old restaurants. A 1970 tourist guide, perhaps? Barcelona has some great restaurants and is far above the culinary level of a "tapas city" (that description fits Seville to a T, not Barcelona). In  2002, the list (not going into the restaurant-rich suburbs and nearby coastal areas) would include Neichel, Àbac, Gaig, Jean-Luc Figueras, Racò d'en Freixa, OT, Peixerot... Some outstanding stuff in one of the food capitals of, perhaps, the one European country where cuisine is evolving fastest and most dazzlingly...

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I just caught this post before actually leaving for Barcelona, so thanks for the list.  I am afraid the examples I gave are from '90s tourist guides - admittedly English, which might be the problem.

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vdelaserna, it's nice to see your comments here. I've found them quite reliable in the past.

Wilfrid, I fear you are correct. While I rarely rely on general guidebooks for their restauarant recommendations, I had one of the most banal French meals ever after relying on a British publication. This is not to deny that there is a significant segment in the UK that really appreciates good food, but the rest seem easily contented if the price is low enough.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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vdelaserna astutely writes "the one European country where cuisine is evolving fastest and most dazzlingly" and to that I'd add it's also no secret to be most influential among working chefs.  Just last week I cooked with Rick Tramonto of Tru in Chicago, one of the best chefs in the country, and he told me how he feels his recent visit to Spain in August completely changed the future direction of his cooking--because of the exciting and different things he saw going on within the regions of Spain.

To followup on something Wilfrid mentioned, my question to this thread is how good a job did Gourmet magazine do with its February 2002 roundup of Barcelona restaurants?  Perfunctory? Predictable? Knowing?  They picked three:

Comerc 24

Can Ravell

Abac (mentioned by vdelaserna)

Should we be reading about "relative newcomers" or reading about who is doing the best work?

Granted Comerc 24 has an alum of El Bulli at the helm--how unusual do you think that is in Spain?

This is before the author, Jeremy Wayne, goes off on a few too-cute tangents like preferring to "distinguish between cereal and cerebral" and that eating in Barcelona "isn't just for the hungry.  There's brain food to be had, too."

I wonder if we've already reached the point in the American glossy food media that a piece on Spanish dining is the equivalent of an article on chocolate in February--de riguer and not all that enlightening.  Any other examples?  Or might I be an early-adopter on this issue?


Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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For two or three years now, I've been hearing that chefs from both coasts have been visiting Spain--the Basque country and Catalunya, where the multi-starred restaurants are clustered, in particular. It would not be surprising to learn that much of the regional cooking is also influencing a generation of American chefs. It may be that the average foodie, gourmet, or even average gastronome in America, is not ready for the rustic cooking of Spain, but that more inquisitive professionals are.

I thought Gourmet magazine's February 2002 roundup of Barcelona restaurants was perfunctory at best. It's the kind of piece that serves to remind readers that Barcelona is an option if they were thinking of traveling to Europe. If you were laying over in the city for a night, and food was of interest if not a passion, it might have all the information you need. I don't know the restaurants, but I don't know Barcelona's best restaurants. I've eaten very well in a lesser range in Barcelona when I've chosen carefully.

Steve, when you ask "how unusual do you think that is in Spain?" are you asking how many of Spain's young chefs have passed through the kitchens of El Bulli? I suspect a lot. I assume Adria's very labor intensive food is dependent on a large crew of dedicated and underpaid young workers. And I've eaten spectacularly well at the three star level in less urban parts of Catalunya.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

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I´ll soon find out how the area around Ca´LÍsidre is at night, because I am typing this in a small internet cafe just around the corner, and I am about to go and have a look at the menu!  I have now lost the address for Comerç 24.  Hey, this keyboard let´s me do Spanish accents!

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And to think I called you a liar in the NY board because I thought you were still posting from NY. We're eagerly awaiting the latest word from Barcelona.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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OK, Catalan speakers - or those who love Barcelona.

I just interviewed a Catalan chef who speaks no English whatsoever, who tried to spell for me the names of restaurants where he used to work. We did our best to muddle through - and I got 90% of the conversation I'm happy to say, but as my Spanish is pretty basic - I learned it from Sesame Street and the New York subway, which, as I have just found out, only gets you as far as the first Michelin star ! - I definitely missed the bits that were not standard Spanish.

I'm trying to do as much due dilligence as I can about the following, hope these are not too far off the mark...

1) "Spa i Sucre" or something like that - an all-dessert restaurant. Could be Espa i Sucra or Espas i Sucre" - the way I understood it, it was either a pun on "spice and sugar" or space and sugar...

2) El Gag - pronouned "gahj"

Both are in Barcelona, both supposedly have Michelin stars or used to, though I can't imagine the likes of Michelin awarding a star to an all-dessert restaurant (though I certainly would !! .

I am going to run out & buy a Spanish Michelin guide on my way home but any/all info you guys can provide on the overnight - and I know someone will ! - opinions are most welcome - would be great.

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1) "Spa i Sucre" or something like that - an all-dessert restaurant. Could be Espa i Sucra or Espas i Sucre" - the way I understood it, it was either a pun on "spice and sugar" or space and sugar...
Espai Sucre and not yet listed in Michelin. There was a big article on this place in the NY times last spring by Amanda Hesser. I believe the translation would be Sugar Space. The French regularly use the word space--espace--for a open gallery in which exhibits are held.

If you're registered at the NY Times, click for the Espai Sucre article by Amanda Hesser and see if this link works for you. If not, In Barcelona, One Has Dessert and Then Dessert was published in the NY Times on April 17, 2002 and perhaps you can do a search.

2) El Gag - pronouned "gahj"
Gaig (or maybe El Gaig, but "Gaig" in the Michelin) 1 star.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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thanks Bux - those are definitely the ones !

PS What, if anything, do you know about a chef called Josep Quintana? I can't find much about him... he used to work at both of these restaurants, among others...

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Espai Sucre is Catalan (a cross between French and Spanish). Since Franco died, and Catalan was no longer illegal, Barcelona is increasing becoming a bi-lingual city with the street signs in Catalan.

Espace can also be 'Place' or 'Area' in French so Espai Sucre really means 'Sugar Place'.

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I really don't know much about the chefs in Catalunya and the name doesn't ring a bell. Unless Josep Quintana has his own restaurant, it's unlikely you'll find out much about him. Sorry for the delay in answering. These less popular threads can really fall off the earth if I don't check the board.

Catalan, to give it it's full due is a separate langugage that developed from Latin alongside French and Spanish. It is closely related to Occitan. It bears some resemblance to both Spanish and French. Catalan is an official language of the semi autonomous province of Catalunya, as is Basque and Gallego in the Basque region and Galicia.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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At the Centre Pompidou in Paris we met some Catalans who proudly told us that because their language was so similar to French, Spanish and Italian the CIA was training its agents how to speak it. That way they could quickly learn all three. (?)

Maybe the top secret agents are trained to speak Euskera? :biggrin:

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It does. BTW ..And the new Adria book (weighing in at over 4 kilos--without recipes) , resembling the obelisk from 2001--including seperate guide/flow chart and CDRom (with recipes) is...well..it's..it's amazing.


abourdain

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Yes, it is amazing. I worked on a project there for La Vanguardia, the "New York Times" of Catalonia. The editorial directors wined and dined me for over three weeks, a differrent restaurant every night--high, middle and low. I never had a more exciting and memorable eating experience in my life. One day, during the first general strike (huelga) since Franco had gone, we were taken for lunch to a top restaurant that was officially "closed." I think the name, in English was something like the "four pillars" or Four columns" We rapped on the metal curtain, and it was raised to allow us in. The place was full and buzzing. I remember eating a wonderful stew of wild hare. I bit into four pieces of shot and I dubbed the dish--"conejo con quatro cojones" The owner loved it and said he would call it that on his menu from then on.

One dish that I could not get enough of were those litle anguilas cooked in oil and garlic and looking for all the world like one-eyed noodles.

There were Galician restaurants with the most fabulous shellfish. The best black rice I ever had was in a restaurant near the Sagrada Familia.

I agree. Barcelona is amazing. And those beautiful Catalan women..tall, black haired, straight-backed, look you right in the eye...the night life there is fantastic too.

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It does. BTW ..And the new Adria book (weighing in at over 4 kilos--without recipes) , resembling the obelisk from 2001--including seperate guide/flow chart and CDRom (with recipes) is...well..it's..it's amazing.

Cool, cool, cool. By the way, I don't suppose that Adria book has any English in it, does it? When, oh when... :sad:

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I recently bought a book, the existence of which I had not previously been aware. It appears to be a celebratory book for 2000-2001 jointly worked upon by Arzak and F Adria. I wonder how many books Arzak has published, and the titles of his works.

Another Arzak book I bought recently has a beautiful picture of the chef and his daughter to conclude. She is helping him put on a cute little red bow tie. This pair appears to be kind and adorable as people, as well as as chefs. :blink:

As for whether Barcelona rules, I have not yet sampled the cuisine of Adria or Santamaria (spelling). However, for me, it's not clear that Barcelona rules within Spain, even before the rest of Europe is taken into account.


Edited by cabrales (log)

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