International TravelThings I LoveWining/Dining

BARCELONA – LAST STOP IN SPAIN

Upon deciding to revisit Spain after a 28-year period, Barcelona was foremost on the list of cities to visit. After just a few days in this vibrant city on the Mediterranean, it is clear what the attraction is for so many — both inhabitants and tourists alike.
 
For sure the thing I am delighted about is NOT having a rental car during our stay. After needing the car to make the approximately one-hour drive to Girona for our much-anticipated dinner at El Cellar de Can Roca, I couldn’t wait to have the hotel take care of returning the car to Hertz.  Not only is this a city with excellent public transportation, but it is likewise full of “loco” drivers and tons of motorbikes weaving in and out of not-clearly-marked lanes.  Add in the buses, pedestrians, and the like, and I’ll gladly opt out of driving for once.
 
About that dinner around which our itinerary in Spain was planned, it definitely lived up to all the extraordinary reviews and Michelin stars, but in a most wonderful, fun, and not stuffy way.  There are three brothers Roca — Josep handles all the wine together with the four sommeliers for each seating (two seatings per day, Tues-Sat) and he greets every table; Joan is the head chef; baby brother Jordi is the pastry chef.  They must really get along because not only do they work closely, but they are rarely separated and all live near one another.
 
Doing justice to what was eaten is virtually impossible. As with the astonishing restaurants in San Sebastian (see previous post), a menu was provided at the meal’s end with course descriptions (to which I repeatedly referred in order to write this). We asked for and got a peek into the kitchen and a brief chat with all three brothers. More than one person inquired as to how we were going to be able to drive after the meal, but that wasn’t a problem. We were in the minority of guests — only 20% — who do NOT go with the wine pairing.  Thus a glass of champagne and sharing a half bottle of wine in no way impaired the drive back, especially after a good bit of food and a four-hour experience.  By the way, their wine pairing includes 14 different pourings, which we were told amount to 750ml — i.e., a full bottle per person. Following are photos and details:

 

Each table is set with just 3 rocks (for the brothers)

 

 

Clockwise from top left:  Live olive tree bonsai style with stuff olives attached to the branches; the hubby with one of three immense wine books on a rolling cart; sea bream foam and ceviche; pine nut duo
The above arrived closed (shown right) and then opened to reveal tastes of the globe, from Mexico/Turkey/China/Morocco/Korea.
Then it was local bar food a la Roca (complete with small cut-outs of the brothers): the red ball is filled with Campari which dissolved in the mouth.

 

From top left: Spring vegetable stock;mushroom bonbon and brioche; favorite: 3-corn ice cream
Fish, clockwise from top left: Skate with mustard; Mackerel; Oyster with anemone; Cuttlefish with peas; Surf & Turf – sardine with pork jowl; Prawn
Savories (clockwise from top left):  Crispy pig with garlic; Veal shin; Goose; Pidgeon. NO, I didn’t try everything!
And then there were the sweets.
Top row, l-r: Milk/Lime combo; Chocolate “anarchy”; Orange “Colourology” – frozen balls of all different orange flavors.
Left: Amazing rolling dessert cart. Right: The offerings.  The vertical cylinders are apple.  Ridiculous.
At the end (close to 1am):  Top is Josep – front of the house;
the gleaming and enormous stove;
head chef Joan (l) and pastry chef Jordi (r)
After returning to the hotel at nearly 2 a.m., hindsight would have been experiencing the meal at lunch en route to Barcelona.  This became abundantly clear after sleeping ’til noon!  Alas, small note to self in an otherwise spectacular experience. 
 

 

We then explored the city on foot followed by Flamenco tickets in the evening. The waterfront area is beautiful with a long walk between two prominent hotels: The Barcelona Arts and the W. In spite of rather cool and cloudy weather, many people still enjoyed a dip in the Mediterranean.  Finally, when in Barcelona — Spain to be sure — how can one not seek out the best paella? Our hotel sent us to La Salada Mar for the delicious dish and it did not disappoint.   

 

Above at the Hotel Arts (vacant) pool.  Frank Gehry’s “Goldfish” can been seen from everywhere on the waterfront.  Below is the seafood paella ..

 

An entirely different and terrific meal was at Dos Pallilos, whose owner and chef once worked at the now-shuttered El Bulli, long at the top of the world’s great restaurants.

 

Clockwise from top left: sauteed vegetables; “hamburger”; mushroom caps w/ garlic; seafood potstickers

 

The chef’s jacket from El Bulli is on display outside his new “home” — he is shown above (on the left) together with his crew making “raviolis” for the evening’s dinner seating.
After eight wonderful and certainly gastronomic days in Spain, we say adios and gracias for a lovely stay in this country.  It is a shame the country is not better managed — the unemployment rate is a whopping 23% — for we wish the people here greater success and encourage all to visit this beautiful destination.   Next stop: Milan.