Barcelona, food value heavenPosted by Mike Tommasi on 17 February 2008 in Restaurant Reviews
This past week I was in Barcelona, attending the Mobile World Congress exhibition. I looked up fellow blogger Joan Gómez Pallarès, who invited me for tremendous Galician tapas at a Braserìa right beside the fairgrounds, on the Carrer Lleida. Joan is a polyglot professor of greek and latin who travels frequently to the best wine regions of Europe and reports on his findings on his excellent blog DE VINIS CIBISQUE. Joan abides by his own variation of what in Spain is referred to as the three Bs, only he adds a fourth one: Bueno, Bonito, Bastante Barato. I would have added a fifth one: Barcelona! This city truly lends itself to finding places that are nice, good and reasonably cheap. Joan’s writing is an invaluable guide to what is truly exciting in wine in Europe, wines that are not yet on Robert Parker’s radar screen.
The number of visitors to the world’s largest fair on mobile telephony is staggering, and during this huge event it is very difficult for the uninitiated to find a free table in a restaurant. Barcelona is home to some of the best and some of the worst cooking on the planet. On the first night we made the mistake of venturing into a restaurant, without prior research, on the Avinguda Paral·lel, near the fair grounds: we paid a lot of money for a truly revolting meal in a noisy smelly cramped smoke-filled room full of shouting foreigners and rude waiters. Like in France, the average level of restaurants in Catalunya is very low indeed, but unlike France it seems to be much easier to find truly good value, as long as you do some research before you head out to eat.
Would it be possible to meet Joan’s 4B criteria during a major exhibition? I based my research to the blog “encatadisimo” of Andreu Serra. I was looking for places far from the usual tourist lists, with good cuisine at a reasonable price. What I found was excellent cuisine at prices that, compared to southern France, were a true bargain. In beautiful coastal Provence where I live it is hard to find excellent cuisine at any price… In addition to the 4Bs, in Barcelona I found restaurants that were smoke-free, tourist-free and who offered free water!
On the second night I chose La Panxa del Bisbe, (carrer Rabassa, 37, Tel. 932137049), a small place on the north side of town heading towards the Parc Güell, near the Plaça Rovira in the Gràcia area. See article on encantadisimo . The place is run by a brilliant young chef, Xavier Codina, a true talent. Service is very friendly, despite my attempts at speaking basic Catalan I soon discovered that Elena the waitress is in fact Italian… she guided us through the menu, which begins with an eclectic list of Mediterranean-Catalan and Japanese tapas as a first course, followed by four main dishes and four desserts. And the prices are amazing: tapas average 4€, main dishes 11€, desserts 3€! Back in France I cannot eat this cheap in the worst crappy bistro near the railway station! There is even a complete menu at 25€. Wines were reasonably priced.
The tapas were terrific and expertly made from the freshest market ingredients: large individual provolone ravioli with onion and leaks, a grilled cod ajoarriero, a salad of sardines, leaks and piquillos, a cream of aubergine with miniature falafels.
For a main dish, I went for fish, a slice of amberjack with young artichokes, the traditional “calçots” (catalan scallions with a sweet delicate garlic taste) and romesco sauce.
On our third night I picked La Estrella, a cozy room with well spaced tables close to the França railway station in the old town (carrer Ocata, 6, Tel, 933102768), see the article by encantadisimo.
The menu is brief, with veal and cod dominating the list, but the owner expands the list with dozens of extra dishes, and explains calmly and in great detail all the evening’s offerings. First courses are around 6€, main dishes 12€, desserts 6€, again very reasonable and unbeatable for the quality, not quite as inventive as the previous night, but precisely executed. The wine list is interesting enough with good prices, I picked a a Monastrell from the Jumilla area by Juan Gil.
I began the meal with the season’s specialty, the calçots served with a mousseline of garlic that was very light and delicate; the calçots were tender and sweet. One the the most interesting main dishes was veal cheek cooked at low temperature for 18 hours and served in rich brown juices, but I chose a slice of the freshest red tuna served with a tomato coulis and small green peppers.
Desserts were most impressive, the list of “postres” went on and on, and ranged from the traditional to the truly adventurous (goat cheese ice cream, coconut curry ice cream…), I settled for an irresistible construction of 6 different layers of chocolate.
On the basis of these two evenings I would say that Barcelona definitely qualifies for Joan’s 4B status, and deserves further “study”. A reveure!