Written May 20, 2012
Barcelona may not be on everyone’s list of top dining cities, but after this weekend it is certainly on mine. From fresh fish to Basque pintxos to traditional Spanish specialties this is a city that will definitely please the foodie palate. Where else can you find lamb brains, suckling pig and octopus within walking distance of your hotel?
Ca L’isidre an elegant family owned restaurant located at Calle Les Flors 12 in the Raval district (metro – L2,L3 Paral-lel) The intimate dining room is thoughtfully decorated with a fine gallery of original art and stunning orchids. Tables are generously spaced with just four tabled in the back section of the restaurant. This time, unlike past experiences in France, sitting in the backroom was a privilege with the surrounding tables occupied by well-dressed longtime local patrons.
The menu is a surprising mix of fresh fish, contemporary specialties, and traditional favorites. Just three items remain from the original menu – roast baby goat with small onions; lamb brains in black butter; and pigs feet with porcinis, truffle and duck liver.
After a sparkling glass of the house cava, we started with the baby broad (fava) beans sautéed with baby squid and mint, the bitterness of the bean balanced by the tanginess of the mint. For mains I had to try the lamb brains having never seen them before on any menu. The waiter assured me that if I like sweetbreads I would like brains. Dusted in seasoned flour and carefully panned fried they had thin crispy skin contrasting with the soft interior texture and rich flavor. Don’s turbot, albeit not as interesting, was equally well prepared.
The wine Lalama 2006 Dominio de Bibei, a lighter red than most Spanish selections was the highlight of the evening and a bargain at 23€. Coming from the Ribeira Sacra, a mountainous region of northern Spain these complex wines are becoming more widely known outside of Spain with good reason.
Restaurante Gorria, a Basque favorite located at Calle Diputacio 421 in the Eixample district (metro – L2 Tetuan, Monumental ) Arriving at 8:55PM we were told to wait at the empty bar as the dining room doesn’t open until 9PM. After a cava and beer we were directed down to the cellar dining room decorated in dark wood and white table cloths with racks of wine bottles against painted brick. A cozy well lit atmosphere waiting for patrons to make it come alive. The waiter mumbling to himself and to us in a mixture of Spanish and English couldn’t find our reserved table. We walked the entire dining room noting the name on the reservation ticket on each table. Finally it was decided that the person taking the reservation had misunderstood the name and he seated us at the table marked “extranjero” (foreigner).
The menu consists of traditional Basque specialties both meat and a selection of seafood including several bacalao (salt cod) dishes. With the bread they serve chorizo and boudin sausages. A tasty way to begin an indulgent meal. Next we tasted the artichokes stuffed with shrimp and mushrooms, a sort of upscale version of a cream of mushroom soup dish you might find in Betty Crocker Cookbook, and roasted red peppers. For mains the suckling pig, basically a slab of fall-of-the-bone-tender meat served on a plate with bones and the crispy succulent skin still intact; and the vizcaina bacalao, salt cod in a mild pepper sauce. Desserts were equally simple and well prepared, a chocolate cake served with vanilla ice cream and thyme ice cream dosed with Patxarán (a Spanish digestive made from wild plum), a pleasingly bitter sweet combination. By 9:45PM the restaurant was full of locals. Unfortunately we were seated in a small side room that misses out on the best people watching in the main dining room. All in all a delightful taste of traditional Spanish dining.
Ca la Nuri a more contemporary seafood restaurant also located in the Eixample district at Consell de Cent 377 (metro – L3,L2 Pg de Gracia). The modern dining room is decorated in soft tones with playful mirrored fish swimming along the wall. Unfortunately on a Saturday evening after 9PM the place was dead. Only a few patrons peppered the vast emptiness. The menu offers a selection of mostly simply prepared fish dishes, although meat and other rice and noodle dishes are also available. Started with local shrimp a la plancha, sweet with shells soft enough to eat whole; and grilled muscles. For mains tasted the octopus served over mashed potatoes. While the pulpo was well cooked and not chewy the mashed potatoes were a rather dull accompaniment. Don’s hake was beautifully cooked but served over the same boring mashed potatoes. Service was on the fast side. Most likely do to attentive staff with not enough to do. A lively crowd would do wonders to boost the morale of servers and diners alike.
For that later afternoon snack or a light lunch try Txapela for pintxos bascos, the Basque version of tapas with small savory treats served on a crusty slice of bread. With more than 50 items to choose from and additional specialties arriving from the kitchen there is something for everyone – Spanish ham, tuna, bacalao, brie, etc. And for the real deal, wash it down with a glass of Spanish cider served in small squat glasses. With two locations on Passage de Gracia, 8-10 and 58.