It wasn’t very hard to do so. And it wasn’t very expensive either. Very early on, I developed a habit of ordering a glass of red wine with every meal. It just didn’t seem nor taste right to order anything else. Wine in Spain, it seemed, flowed freely like water from the wells of Bacchus. Coming from San Francisco where the cheapest glass at a casual restaurant is at least 8 bucks, it was odd to be paying up to 3 euros for a generous pour. Most meals, our bill would come to less than 15 euros per person for a multi-course meal. That’s virtually unheard of in the states.
Given my previous experience in Spain, I knew that no matter what, I had to eat my holy trinity of tortilla, jamón, and croquetas. I was fixated and fortunately, the our first dinner in Barcelona offered up just that.
Cervecería Catalana on Calle Mallorca is a crowded and noisy place filled with yuppie looking locals and tourists alike. It was one of the few restaurants that was open on Sunday and was also Neen’s magic list of good things. We were late in meeting up with The Korean but I like to think that the food more than made up for the transgression. We opted for a table rather than the bar and ordered pretty much everything under the sun.
The one occasion I ordered beer. It’s not quite a heiferweisen. Damm Lemon!
I don’t know what kind of marketing Anheuser Busch pulled off to get their stuff on the list but I’m not drinking that crap. Somebody hand me a Pyramid hef.
I loved the artichoke dish. They were thin, crispy, and salty, with the sweet after taste that I’ve come to expect from artichokes. This should be a staple in all American pubs.
Tortilla. It has nothing to do with the Mexican tortillas we are more familiar with out here. This egg and potato concoction is on the short list of comfort foods for me.
The Spaniards have elevated cured meats to an art form. Their products are so much better than anything you can get here. It has just the right amount of flavor and is not overloaded with salt.
When I studied in Spain, my señora would make croquetas de pollo for the three of us students. And although we were normally mild mannered, we became very aggressive at the dinner table whenever they were served, trying to get most croquetas for ourselves. Even though the meals were served family style, we eventually resorted to counting the croquetas before hand and painstakingly dividing them up equally onto our plates like bratty little kids. God forbid your fork accidentally accidentally onto someone else’s claim.
After all that food, we only had room for one dessert and for the first night in Barcelona, we had to choose crema catalana which is similar to the more common creme bruleé here. Typical of my experience in Spain, there was restrained use of sugar in most desserts, which I prefer. The custard base was not achingly sweet and balanced out the burnt sugar on top.
The next day, following a recommendation from a friend of The Korean, we hunted down a little restaurant called Embat, also on Calle Mallorca but on the opposite side of Passeig de Grácia. It was quite a few blocks over and we almost gave up but fortunately, found the will to keep searching and were rewarded with a great meal full of delicious flavors and textures and quite possibly the best bacalao ever.
We almost didn’t get to eat here as the bartender said that there was no room when there were a few tables that were empty but might have been reserved. My limited Spanish didn’t fully grasp what she was saying except for the no room at the inn part. Fortunately, the gracious maître d cum sommelier directed us to a table. She didn’t speak English and the menu was entirely in Spanish but we made do with our limited Spanish and Neen’s handy dandy Spain phrasebook which offered ingredient translations.
Housemade ravioli filled with fresh spinach. It was topped with bacon, pine nuts, and a fruit geleé that reminded me of haw flake candy.
It’s very easy to mess up a pork chop but this one was really juicy and tender. The ground mustard added a little bit a of sweetness and worked well with the mashed potatoes and the sauce which resembled a red wine reduction.
L ordered the onion with poached egg and it was a delightful and whimsical dish combining multiple flavors and textures. Underneath that unidentifiable foam was a whole cooked onion stuffed with crumbled morcilla next to a poached egg. It was paired with truffled mash potatoes and some crispy bits that tasted like fried bread. It added crunch to what otherwise would have been a softer, mushier dish.
This was easily one of the best dishes I had on my entire trip and the best bacalao. I have not eaten enough bacalao to know the difference in sauces and preparations but I’ve eaten enough good food to know when something is special. The bacalao was perfectly cooked and seasoned and sat atop a bed of grilled eggplant. Resting on the balacao was some fresh, melty cheese and half a grilled/roasted tomato. All of that oozed together and dripped into the bowl making an incredible sauce that I eagerly sopped up with bread. The Korean also enjoyed dipping his bread into my bowl and my greedy eyes considered sticking a fork in his hand after the first couple of times but I decided that friendship was higher on my priorities than sauce, how ever delicious it was.
I really liked this restaurant. The flavor combinations and techniques were creative and worked well. I would look out for these guys to be the next big thing if they aren’t already. We wouldn’t have even known to dine here if not for a word of mouth recommendation. This made me wonder if there were other Embats in Barcelona that I need to explore into when I visit again.