It’s true that travel is an important component of any burgeoning chef’s education, but sometimes you go somewhere and the lessons don’t stick. For example, I spent ten days last summer in Spain–most of that time in Barcelona–and though we ate some truly extraordinary food, I can’t really say that it changed the way I cook. Yes, I use smoked paprika a bit more freely in my food and I’m very intrigued by the possibilities of pairing chickpeas with seafood, but beyond that? I’m still the same old me in the kitchen.
However, the trip I took in 2005 with my family to Greece (see here), stuck in a very important way: I now make a very good, very authentic Greek salad.
This was the year of El Bulli, the year of Barcelona, the year of Austin, Texas and San Juan, Puerto Rico. In other words: this year was a pretty extraordinary eating year for yours truly, The A.G., maybe my best eating year on record. I’ve gone through my archives and studied all the restaurant meals I’ve consumed and I have a team of doctors and the crew of A&E’s “Intervention” standing by, ready to escort me to intensive decadence therapy once I share with you my Top 10 Restaurant Meals of 2009. Are you ready? Starting at #10, here we go.
This is my last post about Barcelona and El Bulli—thank you all for your patience as I recounted my trip in such great detail. For anyone who wants a quick all-purpose post that covers the bases, here they are: we stayed at (and loved) the Banys Orientals which was recommended by a reader, had the friendliest staff, and lovely music on its website. (They also helped us rent a car for our journey up to El Bulli.) In Roses, we stayed at the Hotel Coral Playa, which was recommended by Louisa Chu, and was a charming (and relatively inexpensive) option for those of you lucky enough to get a reservation at El Bulli. As for our dinner at El Bulli, many of you asked how much it cost. The answer is $1000 (about 700 Euros). That may seem outrageous, but I’d been saving since February so when it came time to order wine, etc, I didn’t have to be a cheapskate. (Without the wine, and without a tip–which, I imagine, is optional (though I left a nice one)–the meal could’ve been more like $700.)
Wandering around the markets of Barcelona–which is an essential activity for any food lover who visits–you’re confronted with sights and sounds and smells that’ll haunt you forever. I may one day forget the spires of the Sagrada Familia, but I’ll never forget my time wandering the aisles and aisles of fresh fish (so fresh, some of it’s still moving!), eggs placed out on piles of hay, and cuts of meat so stark and unfamiliar, they’d probably frighten Francis Bacon. What follows are a bunch of pictures I snapped wandering around the markets, with some occasional commentary.
Lest you think our trip to Barcelona was nothing but lollipops and rainbows, I thought I’d take the time to tell you about our worst meal of the trip. Before I get into it, I want to assure those of you who recommended this place–and several of you did–that I hold no grudges and that you weren’t alone in recommending it: we found recommendations for it in not one but two of our guidebooks. Which is why I feel the need to warn anyone headed to Barcelona to stay far, far away from this highly-touted restaurant; please, heed my warning: do not go to Le Quinze Nits.
How do you sum up a city’s food in one post? It’s an impossible task, and one I can’t even pretend to set out to do. I considered splitting this up into multiple posts–one on tapas, one on Bistronomics (a new restaurant trend in Barcelona, where high-end restaurants serve multiple courses for reasonable prices)–but ultimately I thought it would be more useful to you, and more manageable for me, just to pick the best bites from our trip. What you’re about to see represents the best food we ate in one of the world’s great food cities: Barcelona, Spain. If you’re planning a trip there soon, you may want to follow our lead.
If there’s one dish that most fully represents our time in Barcelona, that really captures the varying cooking styles we encountered but also represents the deeply rooted food culture that exists in Catalonia, that dish has to be “Pa amb tomàquet”–Catalan for “bread with tomato.”
Before I left for Barcelona, two weeks ago, I created a three-ring binder of essential information. The first tab said “Hotels” and there I printed out the confirmations for the Hotel Banys Orientals, where we’d stay for most of the trip, and Hotel Coral Playa, where we’d stay when we went to Roses for dinner at El Bulli. (Note: both hotels were great choices, thank you all for your tips.) The second tab said “E-mails” and there I kept all the direct e-mails I received about where to go and eat in Barcelona. Tab three was “Comments” and I printed out all your comments from this post, highlighting the most commonly reoccurring restaurant suggestions, and then, in Tab Four “NYT,” I printed out profiles of those highlighted restaurants from the New York Times Barcelona page. Suffice it to say, I arrived in Barcelona fully prepped and ready.