Barcelona, Spain

10Aug08

Hola.

The last thing I wanted to do in Barcelona was see more statues, monuments, and anything requiring an admission ticket. I was burned out and ready to relax and just enjoy a foreign city. Not only is Barcelona right on the beach, but the most applauded aspect of the city, its architecture, is free! Unfortunately for Sarina, I was in charge of reserving our lodging in Barcelona. For 13 Euros a night, how could you NOT stay in a 12 person mixed room?! She must have called ahead because there just happened to be a 4 person room available. 😉

Unfortunately for the both of us, our hostel seemed to be the international meeting point for traveling18 years olds. With the Monday night group bar crawl crossed off the list, we roamed around La Rambla, the main street of Barcelona.

Since most of the restaurants were closed on a Sunday night, we stumbled into one restaurant hoping to have an amazing authentic Spanish meal. We realized only at the end of the meal that it was, in fact, an Argentinian restaurant. I’ve never had good paella. In fact, the first time I had it at Cha Cha Cha in Los Angeles, I got food poisoning. Theirs came to a close second.

Luckily, my handy excel sheet of restaurants led us to Cafe Viena for lunch the next day, also known as the place to get the most overrated sandwich in Barcelona thanks to Mark Bittman’s review in the NY Times.

When you enter this cafe on La Rambla, you can immediately see they’re taking advantage of Bittman’s applauding review. His words are blown up on posterboards and taped to the storefront window. You can read his review yourself as he describes the sandwich better than I could, but as much as the cynic in me would like to say it’s overrated, I think it’s the best sandwich I’ve ever had.

“It’s not just the ham, though. The flauta [d’Iberic] is so good you could fill it with supermarket boiled ham and have the best sandwich you’ve had this month. It’s deep brown, like a perfectly baked baguette. (The owners of Viena, which is a small chain of around 20 restaurants, claim to have a secret process, and I believe it.) When you take a bite, it crackles. The combination of crisp crust and the tender, chewy interior is nothing less than stunning to someone who’s eaten bread around the world. A bit of tomato is smeared on the bread, adding just the right amount of moisture and acidity.” –Mark Bittman

You’d think, because the flauta is so small and thin, the bread would be stiff and tough to bite through. But the crisp crust was so thin, it was only moments before your teeth sunk into the soft interior. The bread was so buttery that I actually opened my sandwich to see if they had spread any butter on it.

The next day, we went to Cal Pep, a tapas bar that seemed to be recommended by everyone that’s been to Barcelona. After an hour wait, we finally got seated at the bar. There is no official menu to peruse, only the tapas dishes that have been ordered by your neighboring patrons. We put our fate in the hands of our waiter and we were rewarded with what some say are the best tapas dishes, dare I say it?…in the world!

The clams were the freshest of their kind. Sitting in a pool of white wine butter sauce, they were freckled with bits of parsley and pancetta. Oh! And the baby squid! Tossed with some of the largest chickpeas I’ve ever seen, they were the perfect texture and so incredibly soft to the bite. Green peppers were deep fried and sprinkled with kosher salt, a perfect finger food. The tuna tartare was exceptional if only for the quality of the tuna. The ambience, the staff, the bottle of wine, the great company, and the fact we were eating dinner at midnight, it was all too perfect. And all too far away from home. (sigh)

And it got better. After being turned away the first night for not having reservations, we firmly returned to Cheriff our last night in Barcelona. Following the recommendations of foodyi’s everywhere, I came to this restaurant to break my habit of eating horrible paella. Our host proudly waved us into the main dining room, having recognized we weren’t just ignorant walk-ins, but rather, determined souls that wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Sarina can confirm that the majority of our first course, or at least the remains, ended up on my half of the table.

Like the clams from the night before, these langoustines must have been swimming in a pool of white wine, butter, and garlic all their life. Once you get the hang of peeling back the shell and the meat rolls out in one piece, you can’t help but smirk at the fruit of your labor. We ate without talking, only nodding and agreeing to each other’s silent praises.

And then the main attraction came in all its glory. It looked incredibly greasy at first, and the dark brown color of the rice hinted at it perhaps being aggressively heavy and the flavors too strong. But I was surprised to find how light and not overpowering it was. And like a true paella, the focus was definitely on the rice. Unfortunately, the waiter didn’t let the rice sit in the paella pan long enough to form a socarrat, the golden carmelized crust formed at the bottom of the pan. But I was too in love with the night to care.
Maybe it was the abundance of wine. Or the serene calmness of being next to the beach. But Barcelona’s culinary offerings were excellent, and far exceeding my expectations.

Cafe Viena
La Rambla de Esetudi, 115
Restaurant Cal Pep
Placa de les Olles, 8
08003 Barcelona
No reservations required for the bar, but expect approx. a 45 minute wait
Cheriff
Ginebra, 15
08003 Barcelona
93 319 69 84
Call ahead for reservations
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3 Responses to “Barcelona, Spain”

  1. 1 Shanna

    salivating.

  2. This is a just first rate blog post – I’m absolutely looking forward to reading more of your articles

  3. 3 erinatruba

    Hi! I’m the Community Manager of Ruba.com. We’re building a website to highlight some of the most interesting places travelers around the world have discovered. We’ve read hundreds of blogs about Spain, and we think that yours is awesome! We’d love to highlight excerpts from blogs like yours (assuming it’s OK with you of course) and to discuss other ways of tapping into your expertise if you are interested. I’m at erin@ruba.com.
    Thanks! 🙂


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