Thursday, August 26, 2010

Barcelona Food Porn

Entrance to La Boqueria

Paris gets all the love.  No doubt it should, it's home to some of the world's best and most innovative  restaurants.  But Barcelona's cuisine is fresh, flavorful and stunningly executed.  From sampling cheese, fruit and cortaditos in La Boqueria (where I would begin every day) to some of the more elegant and refined tapas bars, there is an explosion of flavors to be found in Barcelona.  There were three spots, though, on my latest trip to the Catalan capital really blew me away and I had to share.

Bar Mut



The first was Bar Mut, a popular wine and tapas bar in L'Eixample.  This is a local spot.  In fact when I got there and tried to order in my bad Spanish, my server told me to wait while he got the one English speaking server in the joint to assist me.  I needed it because some of the menu items needed explaining.

I started with the jamon iberico, widely considered the world's finest.  Before I go any further, I hate ham. Can't stand it.  Yet, I could wear a dress made of the cured, nutty meat and eat my way through it even if Karl Lagerfeld himself hand-sewed it.  It's amazing.  The pigs are fed things like barley, maize, chestnuts and acorns resulting in a slightly sweet yet salty, nutty flavor that is stunning.

Following the ham, we had the razor clams that were simply sauteed in parsley and olive oil.  I ordered the small clams and wish I had gotten the larger ones because they were delicious yet hard to get out of their little shells.  From there it was on to cheese and mussels.     

The particular night we were there was a holiday, the Festival de Sant Joan, that celebrates the summer solstice.  It's sort of  like a non-independence day July 4th holiday: fireworks light up the sky, families celebrate on the beaches or head out to eat.  The tiny Bar Mut was packed with families enjoying the night.  It was quite the authentic, upscale Catalan experience.


La Torreta de L'Escorial
While making the three-mile uphill walk from our hotel to the beautiful Park Güell, my boyfriend and I started to get faint around 1pm.  He noticed this cute little pink building on the right side of the street that I was convinced was a doctor's office.  Wrong again.  It turned out a quaint, charming neighborhood restaurant.

We were the only Americans in the joint.  There wasn't an English speaking server or English menu so my bad Spanish skills were put to the test but I did ok except for dessert.

Both of  us ordered the menu of the day, which came with either soup or salad, a choice of three entrees and a dessert.  Water, beer or a cold carafe of red wine was also included.

Both of us started with the gazpacho which was amazing.  It was a fresh puree of tomatoes, garlic, cucumbers and herbs.  It wasn't the chunky salad-soup I was used to eating.  This was creamy and  unquestionably delicious.

The boyfriend ordered a sauteed chicken dish served with cooked pimientos de padron.  This was the first time I sampled the salty, sweet and almost smoky pepper.  I could have eaten a whole plate of those alone.

I ordered a salad.  It was fresh, simple lettuce salad served with fried fish filets.  I love fish, just not fried.  The flavor was actually quite good but a fried fish is just not my preferred choice.   Bad Spanish, again, biting me in butt.

We had our choice of desserts ranging from a flan to a beautiful cuatro leches cake.  Unfortunately, I ordered the ice cream.  My bad Spanish got me in trouble, again.  I thought I was ordering gelato (hello, helado!) which is served all over the city but, no.  This, however, was a brick of Neapolitan ice cream sliced out of a box. Blech.

What made this restaurant so special was the local flavor of it.  It's the kind of place where 70-year old men solve the world's problems over a full fish and three bottles of wine.  Or maybe it's more of a place where men take their secretaries, who may be a little more than there their secretaries, if you know what I mean.  At least that's what looked like was going on at the table next to ours.

I would go back again and again order the same ice cream out of a box just for the experience of it.

Santa Maria
Real food heaven came when we visited a place in El Born called Santa Maria.  It's sort of a luxury tapas concept run by a chef who is definitely fun.  He shoots YouTube videos of his creations which are definitely television worthy.

We did the tasting menu, which cost €27 per person and featured nine courses.  It was the absolute steal of a lifetime.  The wonderful tempranillo we had that night muddled my what-would-have-definitely-been perfect recall so here are the highlights:

We started with a tiny peach-mango smoothie that was light, refreshing and a great amuse bouche.  Next was one of the most amazing salads I've ever consumed.  It featured shrimp, mint and avocado in a mojito-like vinaigrette.  Simply sublime.  The flavors were fresh, delicate and complemented each other perfectly.  A white fish ceviche followed and then it was hakefish topped with and avocado puree.

Frog legs were next on the menu.  I am embarrassed to say that I had never tried them until that night.  I can't say the cliche´ held true for me: they tasted supremely better than chicken.  They were lightly friend and seasoned in a way that I can only call "Barcelona style".  If you've been there you know what I mean.

A filet with apricots dressed in a whiskey sauce was served after the frog legs.  I can't say that was my favorite.  I am not a steak fan nor do I enjoy whiskey.  It was an interesting marriage of flavors but it was a course that I could have skipped.  Pickled cabbage was served with the filet.  An interesting choice in my opinion.  I would have rather had more frog legs or hakefish.

Dessert was perhaps the best.  The chef proved the urban legend wrong by combining fruit-flavored Pop Rocks with a Coca-Cola foam (a nod to Spain's most famous chef, Ferran Adrian) for a wonderful little concoction they call Dracula.  It was a simple, sweet mixture but fun to eat.  We spent a good five minutes trying to figure out what exactly it was we were eating.  Pop Rocks!  We finally determined.  Needless to say, we lived.

We weren't done.  At this point, my skinny jeans were about to bust.  We closed the meal with two small cookies, chocolate truffles and a little white chocolate, nut concoction that was sort of a better tasting version of the infamous white trash party treat

This was a NIGHT.  An absolute treasure of an evening that lasted a good three hours. We walked the mile and a half back to our hotel at one in the morning satiated but hungry for another dining experience like that.

Anyone who has visited Barcelona knows the food is one of the highlights of a trip there.  From the traditional Catalan pa amb tomaquet to freshly caught mussels or the Dracula dessert, the food there is a study in Catalan and Spanish culture.  It might force you out of your culinary comfort zone because you can definitely run into a rogue calf brain here and there.  But if you just trust the menu and kind of go with it, you will create a food memory that will last a lifetime and will definitely have you longing for more.
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