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Best places to eat paella in Barcelona

Posted by edux127 on January 26, 2007

Barcelona’s many restaurants and bars offer the best of Catalonia’s diverse cuisine. Other Mediterranean countries, like France and Italy, have heavily influenced Catalan cooking, which features lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, seafood, pork and veal.

Catalans love cold meats (embutidos) of all sorts, especially pork sausages (butifarra). The staple dish is butifarra amb mongetes, a stew of pork sausage and white beans. Escudella is a traditional stew made with sausage, chickpeas, pasta and a giant pork meatball. It’s generally eaten at Christmas time and followed by crema catalana, a sweet egg custard topped with caramelized sugar that has become a popular dessert throughout Spain.

Fish is a major part of the diet. Zarzuela is a tasty seafood casserole that originated in Barcelona and spread to other parts of the country. Bacallà a la llauna is cod cooked in a tin dish.

In summer, you can enjoy lighter dishes like escalibada (red peppers mixed with aubergines and onions) and esqueixada (red peppers with cod and onions). Or head for one of the many farmhouse (masía) restaurants on the outskirts of the city and try some traditional dishes. If you’re lucky, the restaurant will serve calçotada, a sauce (calçots) made from tender spring onions served on an oven-fired tile, followed by grilled meat.

Catalan dishes are always accompanied by pan con tomate, country-style bread smeared liberally with ripe tomato, olive oil and salt.

There are eight different areas in Catalonia that produce good quality wines. The region is famous for its white wines from the Penedés area and cava, sparkling white wines. The quality of red wines, particularly from the Priorato area, has improved in recent years.

Where to Go

You’ll find traditional Catalan restaurants along with restaurants featuring regional cuisine from other parts of Spain. There’s also a variety of eating places serving Italian, Chinese, North African, Middle Eastern and Mexican dishes along with more trendy designer restaurants.

Basque cuisine is served in Irati and Zure Etxea. The old town has quite a few Galician restaurants like the famous Bar Celta, which offers a variety of traditional octopus dishes.

You’ll find three famous traditional Catalan restaurants worth visiting in the area around Monumento a Colón (Columbus Monument): Ca l’Isidre, Botafumeiro and Casa Leopoldo.

There’s plenty of reasonably-priced seafood restaurants down by the harbour, in La Barceloneta, that specialize in paella and the Catalan equivalent, fideuà, based on noodles instead of rice. Arròs negre is a kind of paella cooked in a stock of squid’s ink. Can Ramonet, Set Portes and Salamanca are three of the best places for rice dishes in this district.

The seafood restaurants at Port Olímpic (Olympic Port) display their fresh fish in cases by the door and many offer sea views.

There are more seafood restaurants with views in the Maremàgnum, an ultra-modern shopping centre by the harbour, close to the Ramblas.

Tapas are often served as an appetizer along with a glass of beer or wine before lunch or dinner. However, you can make tapas into a meal by ordering a selection to share with friends. Lots of informal tapas restaurants have recently opened up along Paseo de Gracia and Rambla Cataluña. Traditional tapas are small portions of things like pescaíto frito (mixture of deep-fried Mediterranean fish), patatas bravas (chunks of potato, deep-fried and served with spicy garlic sauce), calamares a la romana (squid rings fried in batter) and boquerones en vinagre (marinated anchovies). Try the following places for tapas: Tapa-tapa, Von-Till, Ciudad Condal or Moncho’s. For bullfighting memorabilia, try Los Toreros on Calle Xuclà, close to the Ramblas.

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Posted in Barcelona Hotels, Eating in Barcelona, Visiting Barcelona | 4 Comments »

Restaurant El Bulli from Ferran Adria. The best restaurant of the world?

Posted by edux127 on December 29, 2006

I remember reading about El Bulli four or five years ago in a newspaper. I remember the yearning, and I remember the pang that followed closely: considering the small number of guests that the restaurant could accommodate each season, the dream seemed out of reach. But a few years later, I learned from a well-informed friend that getting a reservation was a bit like playing the lottery: the odds were low, but it didn’t cost much to try (see below).

And so I played, I won, and this is how my girlfriend Anna and I found ourselves driving to Roses some weeks ago with three of our friends. My state of mind was a mix of excitement and circumspection: few restaurants have gotten as much press as this one, and I knew that the actual experience could fall short of my expectations. Fortunately, there was no need to brace myself for disappointment.

The evening that we spent at El Bulli was every bit as extraordinary, surreal, and more important, joyful, as I’d hoped it to be.We arrived at the restaurant in early evening, after a short curvy ride up and down the mountain road that leads to Cala Montjoi, and offers a striking view out to sea. A tiny parking lot, a small (and a bit scruffy) beach, a handsome tiled-roof house — we walked up the stairs and were greeted by the staff, who gave us a short tour of the kitchen and led us to our table by the window, nicely isolated from the rest of the room: the arrival of each dish offers a bit of a dramatic thrill, so we were happy not to get any spoilers from the other tables.

The tasting menu, which changes slightly every day, unfolds in three acts and thirty-five dishes: small snacks that you eat with your fingers, larger-sized tapas to be eaten with a fork and spoon (no knife, ever), and desserts. It is a fast-paced dining rollercoaster, with explosive flavors and textural surprises that await you at every turn — it is thus a good idea to take a break on the terrace every now and then. Each dish, or group of dishes, is brought to the table by a small squadron of waiters dressed in black, and while you are busy taking pictures of the new UFO that has just landed, the head waiter explains what it is (in our case, in excellent French), and how to eat it: start with this end or that, gobble it up in just one bite, or hurry before it melts.

There were recurring themes within the meal — seaweed, seeds, Parmesan, Thai flavours, Clementine, peach, the cotton candy texture, and Adrià’s famous esferificación technique, in which liquids are trapped in a thin alginate casing that bursts open on your tongue. Not everything was successful, and not everything sent shivers of pure pleasure down your spine: some of the flavours were quite strong, and it took stamina to take them all in with fresh taste buds. But every single item managed to amaze and entertain, making the whole experience quite dazzling, both on an intellectual and sensory level.And now, for your entertainment, let me offer a photographic account of the menu we were served (those with asterisks are the ones I enjoyed the most): 

Snacks
Cucumber gin tonic* with candied citrus peel, prepared tableside with a jug of liquid nitrogen
Esferificación olives* (olive oil trapped in a soft casing to look like an olive)
Olive oil spiral*, which you loop around your index finger and drop in your mouth, where it dissolves into thin filaments
Mango leaf with tagete flower (a type of marigold)
“Animals”: seaweed-flavored rice crackers with a fragile, moussy texture that reminded me of Monster Munches
Hibiscus, blackcurrant, and eucalyptus
candy with a paper-thin sugar “cape”*
Sea lettuce and white sesame
waffles
Freeze-dried banana
crunches flavored with sesame and nutmeg*
Walnut
polvorones (“polvorones” are traditional Spanish cookies — these were savory, and had a buttery texture that turned to dust in your mouth)
Mandarine essence: a silky soup of mandarin with a hint of mango
Caramel filled with squash seed oil*
Popcorn cloud*
Melon and passionfruit caviar
Pine nut tart in a meringue shell
Thai brioche filled with a lemongrass and basil ice-cream
Crab fritter topped with an anemone*
Liquid ham croquette topped with breadcrumbs*

Tapas
Parmesan wontons in a chicken broth, plopped into a bowl of basil foam
Parmesan “air” (more like snow, really) in a styrofoam box, on which you sprinkled a freeze-dried berry muesli (this was our least favorite dish: there was too much of the Parmesan air, the texture wasn’t particularly enjoyable, and the muesli seemed completely out of place)
A fillet of
anchovy, surrounded with dots of variously and intensely flavored sauces and grape-like bubbles, and a crisp cardamom brioche on the side
Tomato soup with virtual ham* — thin slivers of tomato-flavored jelly, and croutons topped with ham-flavored jelly and basil seeds
Mussel spheres in a potato and bacon soup, with dots of double cream, and cubes of apple jelly
Bread soup with egg yolk spheres and laurencia seaweed
“The seeds”: tiny lumps and piles of various vegetable and herb seeds
Curry-flavored
zucchini seed risotto with capsules of peanut oil*
Ackees (a Jamaican fruit) and cucumber hearts in a veal and basil broth
“The sea”: a discovery trail of twelve different types of seaweed, some mild, some extremely bold in flavor
Crab Marrakech: lumps of crab meat in a mandarin flower broth, with bulgur on the side
Boneless chicken feet wrapped in sea lettuce with sesame sauce and froth*

Cheese and dessert
Creamy sheep’s milk cheese topped with a sheep’s milk cheese “wool”, with a wedge of raspberry jelly on the side
Liquid peach: a frozen casing of peach liqueur, and a spoonful of thin peach purée
Raspberry sorbet, verbena mousse, and chocolate* (notice how the plating makes it look like a snail)
Peach soup
Mango sorbet sandwiches
Chocolate bites filled with mandarin sorbet*We gave carte blanche to the sommelier, who selected five different wines for us — let us take a moment to consider how challenging it is to come up with pairings for such a wacky menu. In order of appearance, we tasted a Cava (Brut Nature Gran Reserva 2002 / Cava Augusti Torello), a white wine from Penedès (Xarel.lo Pairal 2003 / Can Ràfols dels Caus), a white Rioja (Allende 2004 / Finca Allende), a red
Burgundy (Volnay Les Roncerets 1998 / Nicolas-Rossignol), and a sweet wine from Montilla-Moriles (PX Reserva 1998 / Alvear).

It took us six hours to go through the entire meal — from 8pm to 2am — but we were in such a state of elation that it was hard to tell if it had been two minutes or two days since we had first sat down. I would like to stress here how pleased we were with the service: the ballet of dishes coming and going was perfectly choreographed, and the waitstaff was exceptionally warm and attentive, making us feel as if we were the only guests in the restaurant.

So, do I think that El Bulli is the best restaurant in the world? First of all, I’m sure I’m not the only one to whom the idea of one single “best restaurant in the world” seems ludicrous: depending on my mood, my appetite, and who I’m with, the best restaurant in the world can be the pizza place down the street or a farm-inn on top of a hill, just as much as any three-star on the planet. But dining at El Bulli is certainly a one-of-a-kind experience, and I wish it upon anyone who’s passionate about food, who has broad tastes, who is tickled by the discovery of new flavors, and who is happy to be whisked away on a flying carpet driven by a mad scientist, even if the ride leaves him a bit dizzy.

How much does dinner cost? The tasting menu is 165€. Add wine, water, and coffee, and you’re looking at roughly 220€ per guest — a reasonable price compared to other three-star restaurants.

How does one get a reservation at El Bulli? The restaurant is open from May until September, and starts taking reservations in mid-October for the next season. Around October 15th, send a reservation request by email (the email address can be found here), with the number of people in your party. You can indicate the day(s) on which you wish to come, but your best bet is to let them pick a date for you, and arrange the trip around it. A few weeks later you will get a response — the negative ones get sent earlier than the positive ones, so having to wait is a good sign. (How they award the reservations is a bit of a mystery, but I am told that it is mostly on a first come first served basis.) Once you’re in, you can jump up and down with glee, mark your calendar, and organize the flight and accommodation — just don’t forget to confirm your reservation a week before the set date.

Practicalities. El Bulli is just a few miles outside of Roses in the northeast of Spain, about an hour and a half by car from
Barcelona. It is a beach resort (and a rather ugly one if you ask me) that has lots of hotels, but gets booked up quite fast in the summer, so plan early. (We are terrible planners, so we ended up staying at the Sant Marc hotel, which I do not recommend. Insert shudder here.) Once in Roses, you can either take a cab to the restaurant, or drive yourself up the mountain road if you feel up to the ride back down, and if someone is willing to be the designated driver.

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Vegetarian restaurant in Barcelona

Posted by edux127 on November 14, 2006

Barcelona Vegetarian Restaurants

Here is a list of Barcelona Vegetarian Restaurants. They range from offering at least one vegetarian option to being completely vegetarian. They are not all fully vegetarian, but the important issue is that they all understand what being vegetarian is and offer appropriate options. If you have any advice for other vegetarians in Barcelona or some opinions you wish to share with other visitors, please add your comment.

Barcelona Vegetarian Restaurants List

Whilst I make every effort to ensure this list is accurate and up to date, I also appreciate that things can and do change, so if you know of any errors in, or omissions from our listings, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Posted in Eating in Barcelona | 1 Comment »