Highlights of Barcelona, Espana: FOOD

Ahhh Barcelona (heh pronounced in my exaggerated lisp, “Barth-elona”)—Last month, I returned to Barcelona approximately 8 years after first going there with my two friends. Returning to a foreign place after so many years is an interesting feeling; a  contrasting sense of familiarity (though in another country and experienced fleetingly so long ago) as well as a newness yet again (seeing things differently from the first visit, and realizing that it is you who has also changed affecting your perspective).

We arrived in the early morning, bleary eyed and killed some time at a local cafe before checking into our wonderful Airbnb apartment located in the Born area, just north of Mercado de Santa Caterina, with its curving rainbow dragonscale-like rooftop.  We stayed here for 4 nights and I’ll share some of our highlights from food (this post) and the lovely sights (another post).

Overall Barcelona is such an easy city to walk all around (there is a metro as well if you’re feeling tired or are short on time)–but typically whenever Fred and I travel, we always walk everywhere since heh, we’re on vacation and what else are we going to do. We also enjoy the walking because you are able to slowly soak in the feeling, the culture, the vibe of each street, the neighborhood–the leisurely pace allows your brain take it all in, I think–leaving a more lasting impression.

Another note about re-visiting a place that you’ve been, I was surprised about how things can be different. I recall my very first impression when I went to Barcelona so many years ago–was that the tapas were delicious but very salty. And that was my limited assessment of the food. But in retrospect, maybe it was specifically what we ordered (a lot of salted cod–a specialty there but …enough orders of that, it was bound to leave a lasting impression of well, saltiness–as well as the delicious cabrales blue cheese)

I feel like this visit I experienced a more diverse, maybe modern take of Spanish cuisine, blended with traditional styles (and I do not know if this was a function of the food scene here itself changing, or what we happened to order…) It just shows how much of a variety there can be in experiences when traveling! Which heh justifies the need to always travel 😉

Also, during my first visit, I never actually experienced the “real tapas crawl” in which you kinda wander from place to place with vino at night, in the bustling narrow streets. On my first trip to Spain, we mainly went to sit down or 1 restaurant for dinner. I think the differences in experiences also had to do with the fact that Fred and I stayed up later (heh do as the “Romans” do) as in having dinner at the Spanish normal of 10 pm (instead of like 6pm)…and this was a direct result of haha not forcing ourselves to follow the time change, and waking up at noon every day hehe. ARITEY–onto the wonderful food highlights in Barcelona!

FOOD

Now unfortunately some of these places I do not remember the exact dishes/ingredients, but suffice it to say they were delicious and unique creative flavors that were a joy to experience. I think next time I will seriously bring a little notebook and record the names and ingredients of the dishes.

Elsa Y Fred

Just based on the name including Fred, we had to go hahah j/k–Actually it was due to the great reviews as well as the close vicinity to where we were staying–this was our first dinner in Spain (I always love the first meal in a new country—this heightened sense of excitement and awareness).  Delicious creative dishes

A lovely rioja
A lovely rioja
Cute bistro decor
Cute bistro decor

Elsa Y Fred Menu

Deliciously light crispy fried batter with melt in your mouth rich squid flavor and creamy aioli for dipping
Deliciously light crispy fried batter with melt in your mouth rich squid flavor and creamy aioli for dipping
Thick wedges of potatoes crispy fried on the outside and soft inside--with creamy garlicky aioli and the kicker: smoked paprika--complex and took this simple dish to another level
Thick wedges of potatoes crispy fried on the outside and soft inside–with creamy garlicky aioli and the kicker: smoked paprika–complex and took this simple dish to another level
Just before a bite (thin slice of rare duck and foie gras)
Just before a bite (thin slice of rare duck and foie gras)
Slices of slightly seared rare duck, shavings of creamy foie gras with pumpkin seeds and a citrusy sauce to cut the  richness
Slices of slightly seared rare duck, shavings of creamy foie gras with pumpkin seeds and a citrusy sauce to cut the richness
Pumpkin ravioli with slices of manchego and dried tomatoes--earthy and comforting flavors
Pumpkin ravioli with slices of manchego cheese and dried tomatoes–earthy and comforting flavors

Restaurant Montiel

Wonderful service here, and definitely a more modern take on Spanish flavors. Highlights included a tomato soup and a scoop of an herbie cucumber gelato, a refreshing take on traditional gazpacho. Barely seared rare cerdo, or pork–such a clean and light porkie flavor the texture of sashimi (in the US everyone is scared to serve rare pork). Grilled perfectly tender pulpo, or octopus, not at all squishy from perhaps either under or over cooking, nor rubbery, from overcooking. Roasted rabbit–usually really dry or sadly scrawny–here richly flavored meat and juicy.

Started with a crisp vino blanco

Started off the meal with a refreshing vino blanco (one of many vinos that night 🙂

Roasted rabbit
Roasted rabbit
Cerdo --like glistening tuna sashimi
Cerdo –like glistening tuna sashimi

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Tomato “gazpacho” with a scoop of the cucumber herb gelato

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Seared pork belly on top of a citrus herb green sauce–almost salsa like, cool refreshing contrast to the rich pork

 

Lovely pulpo (octopus)
Lovely pulpo (octopus)

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Delicious finish–dark chocolates and creamy sweet marshmellow

Le Xampanyet

Le Xampanyet is located in the lively Born barrio, with picturesque gothic buildings, and narrow walkways. We actually just happened upon this place–(thats the fun part about wandering this area, it is so lively at night–A fun food maze of sorts)–And this was Fred’s first taste of the classic tapas bar–standing room only, crowded around the counter filled with colorful cured meats, roasted peppers, seafood and cheeses. This place is known for their lovely sparkling cava, so refreshing with the warm weather–and so we started off with 2 glasses. For food highlights, they had this awesome tapas that combined delicious sweet savory sardines atop …(I cannot remember the exact ingredients but at least I have a photo of it below 😉 Basically what stood out about this lil tapa was the savory flavors (sweet/salty combo) that is so addicting.

People spilling out the front of El Xampanyet--Oh how I miss this bustling warm ambiance--Its not crowded to the point where you will not get any service or would have to wait an hour for food.
People spilling out the front of El Xampanyet–Oh how I miss this bustling warm ambiance–Its not crowded to the point where you will not get any service or would have to wait an hour for food.
Fred had another kind of bubbly (heh cerveza)--I stuck with their cava blanco--with this amazing tapa: I think sardine or anchovy, rich salty balanced by sweetness (from maybe the paste that is drizzled on top?) and cut with the fresh sweet acidity of the tomatoes. We ordered this twice :)
Fred had another kind of bubbly (heh cerveza)–I stuck with their cava blanco–with this amazing tapa: I think sardine or anchovy, rich salty balanced by sweetness (from maybe the paste that is drizzled on top?) and cut with the fresh sweet acidity of the tomatoes. We ordered this twice 🙂
Classic canned tuna (okay I know that sounds so bland...but lemme tell you, their preserved goods of canned seafoods are on such a higher different level than what we typically associate in the US with canned food--some cans can run easily hundreds of euros, so good the quality, the richness and balance of flavor that you can only get via this preservation process. Oh yes and of course damn good olive oil). Fresh slices of tomato and the ever present scrumptious olive.
Classic canned tuna (okay I know that sounds so bland…but lemme tell you, their preserved goods of canned seafoods are on such a higher different level than what we typically associate in the US with canned food–some cans can run easily hundreds of euros, so good the quality, the richness and balance of flavor that you can only get via this preservation process. Oh yes and of course damn good olive oil). Fresh slices of tomato and the ever present scrumptious olive.
These stuffed sweet spicy red peppers were such a zesty punch of flavor--perfect to include in a combo order of tapas--the acidity and brightness keeping your taste buds on their toes (tho I realize they lack appendages much less toes :)
These stuffed sweet spicy red peppers were such a zesty punch of flavor–perfect to include in a combo order of tapas–the acidity and brightness keeping your taste buds on their toes (tho I realize they lack appendages much less toes 🙂
The awesome anchovy/or sardine tapas I mentioned earlier, and with ribbons of delicious jamon (not sure what age/grade this was--it was a slightly firmer texture, salty rich. But wait until Sevilla--where I had the best jamon iberico in my life...)
The awesome anchovy/or sardine tapas I mentioned earlier, and with ribbons of delicious jamon (not sure what age/grade this was–it was a slightly firmer texture, salty rich. But wait until Sevilla–where I had the best jamon iberico in my life…)

Quimet & Quimet

I first heard of this place from the novel Cooking for Mr. Latte, written by a former NY Times food writer (highly recommended by the way 😉 in which she describes a visit to Barcelona and to this special tapas place, tucked in a side street of a neighborhood, away from the typical barrios one would visit in Barcelona. The second time I came across this place was at the airport during my trip with my girlfriends 8 years ago, right before we were to fly to Barcelona–in a food magazine. That was what sealed the deal–I decided then that we must try it! And it was an awesome warm experience, with delicious tapas made in a style that reminded me of omakase: beautiful creations–tapas piled high with delightful combinations of ingredients right before your eyes. During that first trip to Barcelona, we returned there several times–loving the warm friendly and joking staff and the intimate standing-only ambiance with walls filled with stacked rows of wines.

I had raved about it to Fred and on our final night in Barcelona, we forewent reservations at Ferran Adria’s brother’s restaurant, Pakta (Japanese and Peruvian fusion) for this, and we do not regret the wonderful experience we had. (I’m sure the food at the former would have been amazing but we were more in the mood for casual down to earth rustic ambiance. Plus..note to self for future travels to bring 1 nice outfit that does not include hah sandals (flip flops) and Fred’s sports wear…)

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Cabrales blue cheese, and then a cheese similar to a more mild parmesan drizzled with concentrated balsamic vinegar.
Cabrales blue cheese, and then a cheese similar to a more mild parmesan drizzled with concentrated balsamic vinegar.
Creative take on the savory, fresh, sweet combo: Rich salty anchovies, laid over a fresh halved peach (reminded me of the concept of prosciutto e melone)
Creative take on the savory, fresh, sweet combo: Rich salty anchovies, laid over a fresh halved peach (reminded me of the concept of prosciutto e melone)
Anything topped with caviar is wonderful in my book heheh--this with marinated tomatoes, canned tuna, drizzled in their distinctive olive oil, and of course a hearty scoop of caviar.
Anything topped with caviar is wonderful in my book heheh–this with marinated tomatoes, canned tuna, drizzled in their distinctive olive oil, and of course a hearty scoop of caviar.
Well also...anything topped with foie gras is also wonderful in my book hehe Black bright tasting flecks of lava sea salt....Like a rich meaty butter.
Well also…anything topped with foie gras is also wonderful in my book hehe
Black bright tasting flecks of lava sea salt….Like a rich meaty butter.
I cannot remember what topped this...the orange looks like uni...but I suspect it may be a type of fish egg...Sigh (again, realizing I should carry a notebook around to record the ingredients)--but yet again, delicious!
I cannot remember what topped this…the orange looks like uni…but I suspect it may be a type of fish egg…Sigh (again, realizing I should carry a notebook around to record the ingredients)–but yet again, delicious!
The walls are lined with stacked bottles of vino...cute and intimate vibe.
The walls are lined with stacked bottles of vino…cute and intimate vibe.

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