Barcelona's restaurant scene is an ongoing adventure. Between avant-garde culinary innovation and the more rustic dishes of traditional Catalan fare, there is a fleet of brilliant classical chefs producing some of Europe's finest Mediterranean cuisine. Catalans are legendary lovers of fish, vegetables, rabbit, duck, lamb, game, and natural ingredients from the Pyrenees or the Mediterranean.
The mar i muntanya (literally, "sea and mountain"—that is, surf and turf) is a standard. Combining salty and sweet tastes—a Moorish legacy—is another common theme.
The Mediterranean diet—based on olive oil, seafood, fibrous vegetables, onions, garlic, and red wine—is at home in Barcelona, embellished by Catalonia's four basic sauces: allioli (whipped garlic and olive oil), romesco (almonds, nyora peppers, hazelnuts, tomato, garlic, and olive oil), sofregit (fried onion, tomato, and garlic), and samfaina (a ratatouille-like vegetable mixture).
Typical entrées include fabes a la catalana (a broad-bean stew), arròs caldós (a rice dish more typical of Catalonia than paella, often made with lobster), and espinaques a la catalana (spinach cooked with oil, garlic, pine nuts, raisins, and cured ham). Toasted bread is often doused with olive oil and rubbed with squeezed tomato to make pa amb tomaquet—delicious on its own or as a side order.
Beware of the advice of hotel concierges and taxi drivers, who have been known to warn that the place you are going is either closed or no good anymore, and to recommend places where they get kickbacks.
Aside from restaurants, Barcelona may have more bars and cafés per capita than any other place in the world. Cafés serve an important function: outdoor living room, meeting place, and giant cocktail party to which everyone is invited. Be advised: the sidewalk cafés along La Rambla are noisy, dusty, overpriced, and exposed to pickpockets.
Catalan wines from the nearby Penedès region, especially the local méthode champenoise (sparkling white wine known in Catalonia as cava), perfectly accompany regional cuisine. Meanwhile, winemakers from the Priorat, Montsant, Empordà, and Costers del Segre regions are producing some of Spain's most exciting new wines.