Ever since I started seriously reading through Andrew Coleman’s Catalan Cuisine a few years ago with its gentle rejection of the tapas culture found elsewhere in Spain, the quasi-misnomer of Barcelona Wine Bar here in CT (and now Atlanta!) has kind of bugged me. If tapas aren’t a big thing in Catalunya, then why name a tapas place after its capital city? Fortunately, Andy and Sasha answer that question within the first pages of their cookbook:
We chose the name Barcelona because, while we planned to offer an authentic tapas experience, we wanted to feature a wide-ranging selection of Mediterranean food and wine. Spain’s Barcelona is a cosmopolitan, pan-European city that reflects this outlook.
It’s true: you do see a very wide variety of options in the city of Barcelona, but it’s very easy to get the tapas experience if that’s what you happen to be craving. And frankly, when it’s in the mid-80s and it’s humid and you’re definitely a little parched because there aren’t enough 1.5L bottles of agua sin gas to properly hydrate anyone, tapas are really the best alternative. And if you’re going to go for tapas, why not follow the advice from the best place to get them on the East Coast?
So I had this list of places to go in my trusty little Moleskine thanks to Barcelona Wine Bar’s fabulous guide to Catalunya and Barcelona in particular, and I was pleased that we made it to two of them, though it would have been three had Tapas 24 been open on Sunday like we’d wanted. That list would have been higher had we gotten to La Boqueria a little earlier on Saturday morning, but I needed my daily fix of pan amb tomaquet and jamon iberico.
Taller de Tapas was our first proper meal in the city, and the location in El Born was the perfect spot to take a break after a busy late morning/early afternoon of wandering down Las Ramblas and through the Barri Gòtic. They have a few locations across the city–notably one on Las Ramblas that I’m pretty sure is featured in a late scene in Vicky Cristina Barcelona–and it’s kind of a perfect place to get one’s feet wet when dining in the city. The menu is fairly extensive and the portions generous; we couldn’t even make it through our entire plate of fried Padron peppers, but that could have been more due to the fact that we had found another American couple to talk to and therefore were wrapped up in conversation.
Sticking primarily to dishes that would not be easy to either enjoy either at home or at a Stateside restaurant, we ate our fill of chorizo gently braised in an Asturian cider, fluffy cod fritters (baccalao is easy enough to find, but it’s a pain to have to rehydrate and make at home), and gently grilled baby cuttlefish. The cuttlefish had to be my favorite: grilled to perfection, each one had just enough golden caramelization while still remaining tender and succulent.
When we did manage to scare up some stools at La Boqueria, it was at Bar Central. While not quite at a frenetic a pace as it was on Saturday, the place was still hopping on Tuesday morning and we considered ourselves lucky that we were able to get anything at all. Michael took one look at the seafood ceviche and his mind was made up; mine was a little more complicated because they kept saying they were out of things like eggs. (To this, I wonder–why keep them up on your erasable menu? I guess this is the charm of eating at these booths.) When our cook behind the counter finally suggested some gambes al ajo, it was pretty hard to say no. They already smelled amazing.
The shrimp were so simply done–olive oil, garlic, a little pimentón–and just what I wanted. They provided a little bread which we both used to sop up the remaining sauce, though I’m pretty sure I would have tipped the dish directly in my mouth if I had no other option. I didn’t get a bite of Michael’s dish as I wasn’t in the mood for chilled seafood at 11 in the morning, but from what he told me, every last bite was fantastic.
The only downside (and I use that word loosely) to Barcelona’s guide is that it’s almost impossible to go to all of the places they recommend in one trip, especially if you’re not staying in the city proper the entire time. But that just provides more reasons to return as soon as we can, and I’d be lying if I wasn’t already planning our next trip there as we speak.
In the meantime, however, this blog will become very Barcelona-centric as I reminisce over our trip and we explore the delights in Catalan cuisine.