Barcelona in March--whoda thunk snow?!!

Old May 3rd, 2010, 04:31 AM
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Barcelona in March--whoda thunk snow?!!

We’ve become big time Barcelona fans. The city holds almost as much draw for us as Paris. Consequently when we found a more or less reasonably priced flight for early March we jumped on it. This is a report of our trip--us being me and husband Val, both 60 somethings who love travel, food and wine.

Having been to BCN 4 times in the last 4 years we no longer start the trip with a list of “must sees” to check off but rather a general feel for where we want to be sure to go to suck up the ambiance we so enjoy about the city and an increasingly smaller list of places we haven’t yet seen that might be nice to get to. Hence this report won’t be filled with a recital of the big time must see places nor even much of a list of “off the beaten track places we chanced upon.” It will, of course, feature long dissertations on the food we ate and the places we ate it in—one of the primary reasons we like Barcelona so much is its wonderful dining opportunities.

For those who like to skim, the report will cover: our flight out, weather--which proved a major issue, hotel, sights and dining--in that order.

<b>Flight out</b>--or, sometimes when you expect the worst , you get the best

The day of our flight to BCN I awoke about 5 a.m. to find an e-mail message telling me that our flight from Atlanta was cancelled (because of snow, of all things) and that we’d been rebooked through JFK with a landing first at La Guardia from our home in Ft. Lauderdale. The idea of changing airports in New York sent me into a tizzy. I quickly queried Fodors for help in figuring out how best to handle the shift and also awoke my son in New York to get advice. I also went on the internet to get reseating for us on our changed flights, actually winding up with exit row seats-- better than those I’d held for months on our now cancelled flight, a good pattern was beginning to develop.

Our bags were the first off the flight from FLL at LGA and there was no wait whatsoever for a taxi which took us, at an almost traffic-free time, directly to JFK where we walked up to an open counter to get our boarding passes to BCN and then from there to an open security line to be on our way to wait for the remainder of our 2 and a half hour time between planes at JFK. Easiest connection I’ve had in recent times. Could not believe our good fortune, especially when I’d been expecting long waits, out of breath runs and general angst connections. Just goes to show—never assume, and regardless of how much planning, luck is always the best thing to have on your side.

<b>Weather</b> --or, sometimes you just can’t count on things to go your way

Having been to BCN in February and been able to dine outside, and even having had fairly decent weather there once at Christmas time, we were expecting super weather for a March visit. Again, never assume. I’d been watching 10 day weather forecasts for a while and was expecting cooler than I’d hoped for temps and some dreary showers but as it turned out we even got snow—just as there was snow in ATL that caused the cancellation of our plane out.

First day saw rain, lots of it. Second day sunshine—when more rain had been predicted. It was cool but sunny the day we day-tripped to Vic. But by the day before our flight home we awoke to a very overcast sky. By the time we’d walked to the Boqueria market on Las Ramblas we were glad it was a covered market rather than open since it was raining quite a bit. As we walked further down the Ramblas and caught a cab to the Barceloneta area we started to notice a few flakes of what looked amazingly like snow. Within minutes as we pulled up to our lunch restaurant on the harbor it was a full-fledged blizzard with staff grabbing cameras to race outside to take pictures of this once every 5 to 10 years phenomenon. Actually it made for a beautiful lunch which we ate at the Barceloneta restaurant next to floor to ceiling windows facing the giant sailboats in the Port Vell harbor gradually being covered in puffy, slushy snow.

It wasn’t quite so pretty though as we saw the slush pile up to about 2 inches or more on all the streets that afternoon and as we plowed through it to walk to our dinner location—and worst of all, as we worried that our flight the following day might not be able to take off with icy runways and even possibly more snow. But once again, fate took care of us. The slush was all driven off by morning and we were able to make our flight home as easily as we’d made our flight in—in spite of what we worried both ways might be pure disaster.

We now have bragging rights to say we survived the great Barcelona blizzard of 2010.

<b>Hotel</b>—or returning to the tried and true is always nice

We’ve stayed two or three times before at Hotel Granados 83 in the Eixample area on Enric Granados street, corner Provenca, about 3 blocks from Passieg de Gracia. The trip preceding this, we had our son with us and flirted with apartment living for the first time, decided we aren’t apartment tourists and so returned to our old standby Granados 83. It’s a 4 star design hotel with small but beautifully equipped rooms in an architecturally great building renovation and we like it a lot. That I was able to book it for about 120 euros per night made it all the better.

For my money, BCN has more terrific design hotels at reasonable prices than any other city—at least any that I know of in Europe. I only wish there was an outpost of Granados 83 in the El Born area which has tapas restaurants and wine bars even more thick on the ground and more tightly spaced than Eixample. Eixample does, however, seem to have more trendy, sit-down restaurants and bistronomics than El Born so it’s nearly as good from my foodie perspective.

Sights and Food to follow.
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Old May 3rd, 2010, 04:46 AM
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<b>Sights and experiences</b>—or sometimes less is more

I won’t give a blow by blow, day by day or place by place account of where we went and what we saw. Rather I’ll just share some of my favorite spots and some observations.

<b>Breakfasts</b>—Breakfast is not my favorite meal. In fact I really don’t like it at all, at least as we do it in the US. Most offerings are either eggs, or something sweet and sticky. Not to my tastes. I like salty foods (love the breakfast offering on KLM flights, where they ask “sweet or salty?” almost like the usual refrain on other carriers—“chicken or pasta?”) and BCN has some of the best salty breakfast you can get. Each day we would foregoe the pricey—but beautiful—buffet spread at our hotel and strike out for some little hole in the wall café where I could indulge in their wonderful tomato bread with olive oil and slices of iberico ham. Now that’s breakfast.

<b>Boqueria</b>—I agree with many food writers who consider this one of the best markets in the world. It has it all—grit, color, exotic stuff like percebes, the goose barnacles that look like elephant's toes, and several fun and interesting places to stop and partake of prepared versions of what you see raw all about you. The fish “circle” is a favorite right in the middle of everything with its many stalls of folks hosing down their fresh catches or filleting them in whatever manner the shoppers request.

This time I finally snagged a stool at Pinotxes counter restaurant stand that greets you if you enter from the front of the market just off the Ramblas. We scarfed down butaferria /sausage and cava next to a couple from California in town for 4 to 5 days before taking off for a 22 day cruise in the Med and then 3 weeks of driving in Italy. Some folks just know how to travel right.

But the Boqueria, wonderful as it is, is only the flagship of a small empire of wonderful markets spread throughout the city very like Paris only most are covered rather than street markets. Other favorites that we revisited on this trip are the modern Santa Caterina with its undulating roof of colorful hexagaonal tiles and great food displays in my favorite El Born district and the Concepcio in the Eixample area.

This time I checked off my list the St. Antoni market, in or just beyond the Raval district. Unfortunately they are in the process of renovating the lovely old market building that usually houses this market so in the interim it has spread out outside along the Ronda de Sant Antoni street that leads to the market building. I will be excited to see the actual market space on a future visit once the renovation is complete.

Among the new sights we saw this trip was the <b>Monestir St. Paul</b> and its hospital, a fairly pleasant old place where folks in the neighborhood seem to gather in the nice green courtyard for coffee or chat.Nothing terribly special, just the kind of pleasant place you find when you’ve been to a city several times and go poking around to see what else is out there.

We also finally really explored for the first time the BCN modern art museum or <b>MACBA</b>, short for Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, in the Raval district, a somewhat seedy area in the early stages of gentrification. The exterior of the building is a striking white rectangular affair with lots of glass surrounded by a cement plaza where students seem to naturally congregate—and some to skateboard. The interior has corridors several stories high, continues the white theme and is generally pleasing. We did not, however, feel the same about the actual art being exhibited and so we spent very little time actually touring the place.

On this trip we spent more time than on previous trips in the area where Passeig de Gracia meets Avignuda Diagonal, a wonderful area of leafy boulevards and <b>modernista mansions</b> (Casa de les Punxes, Casa Comalat, and Casa Quadras being among the most famous and all within a block or two) just made for strolling.

We made the obligatory pilgrimage to the <b>Sagrada Familia</b> to note the progress being made—quite a bit this time-- and then walked up the Avignuda Guadi to what has probably become our favorite bit of moderisme architecture in the city—the <b>Hospital de la Santa Creu de Sant Pau</b>. The architect responsible for this wonderful complex of fanciful buildings wasn’t Gaudi but rather Lluis Domenech I Montaner.

We were there on a Sunday morning, so things were quite quiet even though the buildings are in close proximity to the new hospital some of which was only completed in 2009. The moderniste buildings are being restored and will become part of a “city within a city” for use as a kind of conference and exhibit space to bring people in business, social sciences and education together—a mouthful, which probably means they’ve got a great historical treasure here and they want to make use of it somehow.

This time we saw the interior of the church in the complex, actually not as striking as the exterior of most of the buildings with their statuary, multi-colored ceramic brick, mosaics and endless turrets. Frankly, strange as it sounds, we find a walk through this hospital complex more charming, more filled with whimsy and more enjoyable than a trip through the much more popular Park Guell by Gaudi.

Other buildings or monuments we saw throughout the city were the Arc of Triomf just north of the Parc de la Citadella, and the Palace of Justice which fronts on one side of the lovely lamp-posted walk that links the Arc and the Parc and of course, the old <b>Cathedral</b> which appears to be just about finished with its major facelift. The scaffolding is down in the interior where you are instantly struck with how clean and well-lit it has become.

Interestingly enough, they have decided to pay for all of this renovation by actually charging a 5 euro per person entry fee. I was not appalled as I assume some/many are. I applaud their good sense in deciding to do something I have long felt should be uniformly the case. It cannot be easy to keep up the fantastic art treasure that is called a cathedral and begging for help to do so with silent, sometimes almost unnoticeable coin receptacles has apparently not worked. We pay for the privilege of seeing far less spectacular art in a place like the MACBA, why not at the cathedral where the exhibits truly are priceless? Good job BCN, I hope your bold efforts become a trend.

For those of you who don’t share my feelings on this matter, I hasten to add that the even more beautiful IMO <b>Santa Maria del Mar</b> church in El Born, is still free. When we went there (and, I will admit, failed to make a deposit in the voluntary donation box) we were treated to one of my favorite things—a Spanish wedding. These folks really dress up for such affairs. How the women in their super high heels were ever able to pick their way across the cobble-stoned courtyard to enter and exit the church is beyond me.

But we didn’t spend all our time in BCN on this 6 day trip. We took a day trip on one of the days to <b>Vic</b>, reportedly the sausage capitol of Spain in the mountains to the northeast of the city. I’d been told on this board that Vic is a very pretty little town with a very nice market and a great cathedral. As usual, the posters here were right on all counts.

We took a train from the Catalunya station for less than ten euros a person and arrived in about an hour and a half for an easy walk up a slightly hilly street that led directly from the station to the large Plaza Mayor where a market is held every Saturday and Tuesday. I was a bit disappointed at the small number of produce stands in comparison to clothing and “junk” stands at the market but I’m assuming that was due to the time of year and that the ratio changes as the growing season progresses. The bustle of the place was infectious and I purchased two darling handmade, checked smocks for my twin granddaughters.

Besides the market, while in Vic we took in the Roman Temple (I have to admit, I’m not much for ruins), bought some of the famous Vic sausage (which sat in our hotel mini-frig uneaten but served as the basis for an animated stop in a Vic butcher shop with a delightful butcher/salesman and a passing-by nun in old fashioned habit.)

We also toured the dark, brooding cathedral with sepia toned paintings—unique in my experience, and photographed a delightful modern cubist type statue of a cleric outside the cathedral, reminiscent of the figures on the new side of the Sagrada Familia. And we dined, of course, at a nice little café with art nouveau décor and very good food and wine. It was a lovely day.
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Old May 3rd, 2010, 05:26 AM
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Sign in supermarket in Ireland last Saturday apologised for a shortage of some produce (fruit I think) because of unseasonably cold weather in Spain.
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Old May 3rd, 2010, 05:50 AM
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<b>Dining in BCN</b>—or the wonders never cease

We make constant comparisons between Barcelona and Paris and, of course, one of the primary areas for comparison is food and dining. It’s a tough call especially for anyone as partial to French bistro food as I, but from one meal to the next, Barcelona can hold its own with Paris in the dining department in our humble opinions.

Husband Val often orders just appetizers when we dine in the US—or anywhere else—so tapas always gets high marks with him. The lower Spanish prices give BCN the edge in the value for money spent comparison and the Barcelona flair for design can be counted on to push them ahead in the atmosphere and plating areas especially at lower price point places. Finally the sheer volume of great places in BCN per capita seems even higher than that in Paris. Or is my head just being turned by a new love? Whatever, one of the greatest pleasure BCN furnishes and one you can surely count on (unlike the weather) is its terrific food.

With 11 meals in Barcelona (our 12th of the 6 days was our lunch in Vic) all were good to exceptional on one basis or another even if the best might have been “the one that got away.”

<b>Tapas 24</b> or Tapac 24 with a squiggly under the c just to make it confusing—This is a current favorite for tapas in foodie spheres if I’m correctly keeping up with the foodie blogs. It really is swell. We first went last time we were in BCN and liked it well enough to want to return in spite of a strong pull to reserve meals for new places we haven’t tried before. It’s just off the Passeig de Gracia in a tiny spot below street level. It’s a real hole-in-the-wall (unless you choose the few outdoor tables) with all counter seating and all on tall bar stools.

We arrived early for lunch and breakfast service was still underway though they were beginning lunch prep and we were able to order lunch dishes. We had sardines, oxtails in brown sauce with white beans, great tomato bread, a plate of iberico ham and tasty bikini grilled crustless ham and cheese sandwiches. Yum. Off to a very good start, accompanied by a bottle of celebratory “we made it” cava all for 47 euros.

<b>La Dama</b>—Dinner our first night was at this classic restaurant on the corner of the Diagonal/Enric Granados intersection only 3 and a half blocks from our hotel and a good nights sleep on our first night in town. The restaurant is housed in what is billed as the last great modernism building built in BCN and it is lovely. The entry alone is worth the price of admission. You need to ring the bell for admission and then walk on a red carpet down a long corridor with arched ceilings and embellished plaster columns. There are multiple small dining rooms which makes the experience more like dining in a private home than a restaurant.

The food was wonderful and service friendly and profuse--because we were the only diners (never knew whether that was just because we were early by Spanish standards or if the high end BCN dining scene is in decline or if the restaurant itself has fallen into hard times.) If it was the latter, for sure we couldn’t tell from our experience which was terrific. Between the two of us we devoured: amuse of itty, bitty clams with jelly in their shells, then sea urchin in sauce-again in it’s own shell, stuffed morels, stuffed cabbage with spider crab in cream sauce with red and black caviar accompaniment, ravioli with mushrooms, goat with puffed crispy potatoes and lobster in creamy sauce. We opted to skip dessert but were served complimentary grappa type drinks and petits fours. As we so often find the case, we enjoyed the appetizers more than the mains.

We consider BCN cava heaven and most often accompany our meals with a reasonably priced but almost always delicious bottle. Overall the dinner was in the old French tradition of multiple dishes often in cream sauces but featuring a combination of French and Spanish staple ingredients.
Not having any other diners to keep us company was a bit sad, OTOH overall the experience was a good one and the privilege of dining in the lovely art nouveau setting at a very private party was quite unique. 222 euros including wine and a generous tip given the special attention we received.

<b>Dos Palilios</b>—This was the most cutting edge dining of the trip. I’d just read a post on Chowhound about the place before leaving and quickly made a lunch reservation before getting into town. This is Asian tapas style dining described by the name of the restaurant which is Spanish for two sticks—toothpicks and chopsticks, get it? It’s behind the Boqueria market just down the street from the trendy Camper Hotel on a narrow, tree-shaded street. You enter through a long, narrow space with a lunch counter and then pass through a door with a beaded curtain to a square space with a u-shaped counter surrounding the kitchen/grill area.

The décor is quite interesting. Obviously not wasting money on expensive renovation, the place which probably had tough-to-cover walls that would otherwise have required significant renovation were simply hung with chains of red steel beads to mask whatever lay behind and to provide a very hip, industrial look to compliment the black and white tableware and the red chairs giving an Asian touch to the place. Wait staff and cooks were uniformly good looking and smartly dressed in black and white. The whole place exuded that BCN-trendy, design on a dime, quality that is so ubiquitous and so appealing in this city.

Val, who loves nothing better than Chinese food, unless it’s tapas, was in heaven. We were the first to arrive and were seated by a very friendly waitress who explained the strategy that has to go into seating diners at a counter rather than tables when you don’t have the luxury of leaving stools open. By Val’s request we started with three types of Japanese pickles—roots and two types of radish. Next came Vietnamese eggrolls with red curry, then kimchi (another Val favorite—by now he’s swooning) with jellyfish, radish and cucumber. He was so entranced he ordered a second helping on the spot. Then came the most interesting dish—monkfish liver with something greenish and mushrooms and gelatinized yuzu sauce (you have to trust me on this one, it actually tasted good) then shitakiin tempura with yuzu, followed by tempura covered sea anemone, something I found very mushy and not to my liking, but, hey, you can’t hit a home run with every dish. Prawn dumplings with soy and ginger were probably the most “standard” of the offerings but nonetheless good for being recognizable. Eel with green leaves was another hit and the spareribs were fantastic.

We probably should have accompanied it all with tea, but when in cava country..... At 94.5 euros including the cava, this meal was not only wonderful and cutting edge, it was also relatively cheap and certainly an incredible value for what all was involved.

<b>Passadis del Pep</b>—This dinner was as traditional Spanish as lunch was cutting-edge Asian with a Spanish flair. As any of you who have read my previous reports from Barcelona know, even after several trips we’ve still yet to go to the famous Cal Pep tapas place in El Born that everyone raves about. We didn’t make it this time either, because we’re just not good at getting in line to wait a long time for a chance to enter a restaurant no matter how good it is supposed to be.

Passadis del Pep is, as I understand it, run by a brother or some other relative of the beloved Pep and further has been touted in reports I’ve read as being as good as what you get at Cal Pep but with the opportunity to get in with a civilized reservation and eat without someone standing behind you waiting to finish so they can sit down. Whether that’s true or not, I can’t say. But what I can say is that Passidis del Pep provides an incredible meal of traditional fish and seafood in the Spanish manner in a hospitality style that leaves you scratching you head at how they can be so generous.

The restaurant itself is rather hard to find. The entry fronts on the Placa del Palau roughly between the Port Vell area and Santa Maria del Mar church in El Born. I use the term “fronts” very loosely since all that is there is the entry to a narrow passage about a door’s width wide which goes straight ahead and then turns left before you see the actual door to the restaurant. To make matters worse the “tunnel” is fairly poorly lit. I guess these people just don’t need to advertise or even identify themselves.

Once in the real door, you’re confronted by a cadre of waiters who check your reservation and usher you to a table and begin to serve you what’s being served that night. You choose only your main course but otherwise, just sit down and let the fun begin.

And fun it is as dish after dish is brought for your consumption. In order here’s what we were served:
Tomato bread and iberico ham, tiny, supersweet, clams, some item that seemed like spiney bulots, tiny shrimp, langostines with fried onions, calamari with rice, baby fried fish and large shrimp in oil.

By the time they came, our main courses were all but superfluous. Nonetheless I did my best with seabass and Val with lobster. If that weren’t enough, they then brought chocolate cake, apple cake and grappa. Enough already!! And certainly no annoyance at being given a bill for 199 euros for all of this and 2 bottles of cava. What a night!

<b>Bossborn</b> (or Boss Born as I’ve also seen it spelled--what is it with these multiple spellings?!)—This was a repeat for us. Hadn’t planned it but when we were hungry at lunchtime in El Born just as we were nearing the Placa del Palau area, we looked around and there it was, an old favorite with a nice homey feel and tried and true good tapas. We had olives, red and white anchovies, razor clams (one of my all time favorite foods) french fried potatoes with ham truffle oil and egg, ham and tomato bread and a bottle of cava, all for 56 euros.

<b>Sauc</b>—This was one of two “new” places for us and also new in the sense of trendy in the new bistronomic vein. A small place in Eixample with two rooms of no more than 6 or 8 tables each, it is decorated in a stylish black, orange and red color scheme. Typical of the BCN design-obsessed mentality, even the napkins are not just folded and laying next to the plate, they are folded to be long and narrow and to drape gracefully from the plate over the side and down the table cloth. No big deal, just a nice presentation that I’d never seen before, probably because no one except these people give any thought to a new presentation of the napkin. They seem to have it in their veins.

The menu was fantastic. Everything on it was appealing to me in one way or another. I could have shut my eyes and pointed pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey style and been content with whatever I got. Amuses were a black olive jell with a dish of green olives. We were then served 3 breads with olive oil and black salt. Next came potato and scallop slices, then a poached egg with toasted onion sprinkles in a chicken broth and finally a standout eel tartare with green apple sorbet and green apple salad topped with herring caviar. So many tastes all of which worked so well together and all but the eel tartare were simply served as starters to everyone.

From here on we were diverted to our own choices. I picked white asparagus with razor clams accompanied by a basil mayo milk. Val selected pickled vegetables with salad greens. We both had risotto with scallops and artichokes accompanied by a shot glass of the warm juice in which the scallops had been poached. He selected suckling pig with potatoes and onions for his main while I had seabass with peas, pea shoots and quinoa. Everything was perfectly done, tasty and beautifully presented

We finished with grapes in yogurt followed by lemon and chocolate squares and drank both a cava and a Ribera del Duero. Quite an incredible meal for 236 euros and service was top drawer. The waitress knew everything about the menu and the preparation of all the dishes and she had just the right amount of spriteliness to move things along quickly, making it possible for her to handle all the folks in our room when the place filled to capacity.

<b>Fonda Gaig</b>—This was even more incredible than Sauc from a price standpoint at 150 euros (but with one rather than two wines) and almost equivalent taste.

I had somehow formulated the impression that Fonda Gaig, as the downscale, little sister to the very hip and pricey Gaig, was highly traditional and was not expecting the modern décor and tastes we found there. It was large, with both tables and booths, and quite well-lighted with lots of blond wood and red upholstered banquettes and large lampshades overhead.

Like Sauc, this place had a menu I’d have devoured in toto if I could. Everything sounded wonderful. As it turns out I did make some relatively traditional selections—baby artichokes and dry scallops followed by butiffaro sausage with white beans and a crumb crust , then a sort of dessert of french-fries with balsamic/truffle oil and fois gras all covered with a fried egg, much better, albeit more calorie laden, than pie or cake or even cheese.

Val had a meatball with macaroni in chicken broth and then, once again, baby pork with crispy skin which he pronounced superior to that he’d had the night before at Sauc. Our wine was a Ribera del Duero and we chose not to have dessert, unless you really do count the fries, fois and egg dish I had.

Service here started out perfect, as our waitress helped us order but ground to a halt when we had to request three times that she bring us the bill. Not a complete spoiler, but when two places are close to equal in a comparison, it can be the reason one gets rated above the other and merits the return trip.

<b>Tensorio</b>—This is a place we’d stopped on Passieg de Gracia many times for a drink or an orange juice (the universal availability of freshly squeezed orange juice is one of my favorite things about Spain) and that had been recommended in Maribel’s guide to Barcelona as a good, family, mid-level place especially on Sunday when lots of other places are closed. So Sunday lunch is what we went for when we couldn’t get into the place I’d planned. (More about that in a bit).

Tensorio lived up to the reputation Maribel spelled out for it. It is enormous and was filled to the rafters including several large tables of extended families, all happily chattering and eating. We had tomato bread, calcots—the large green onions that are roasted on fires and then, as Tony Bourdain showed on one of his programs, wrapped in paper to steam the,m or in this case placed on a grill. We also had a plate of mushrooms, and fish soup for Val and pigs feet for me with more mushrooms, artichokes and potatoes with onion. A bottle of cava brought the bill to a mere 87 euros for the two of us. This is a very good place for those seeking chic at a mid-level price point.

Oh, and about "the one that got away". My plan for Sunday lunch was to be in the Sagrada Familia area about lunch time and to seek out a Basque place there that I’d read about—Jaizkibel. After much tromping around we did find it, and even though we arrived without reservations at about 1 p.m. found the bar upfront filled but not a soul in the dining room. So, we thought we’d be able to get seated. Not so. Every seat in the dining room was reserved for real Spanish people who would be coming at the more reasonable hour of 2 p.m. or so. What a shame. Our brief glimpse of the place with Basque (I assumed) guys chortling amiably at the bar and percebes (those wonderful, crazy goose barnacles that are such a big deal in Spain) in a dish in plain sight on the bar,and great smells coming from the kitchen, suggested to me that I’d hit pay dirt in that wonderful sweet spot known as “undiscovered gems.” Alas, not to be this time but now on the must try place for a future visit.

<b>Paco Meralgo</b> is another place that you can count on for dining on a Sunday, but I’d be happy there any day of the week and would go even if every other restaurant in town was open as well. This is a favorite that we MUST return to each time we are in Barcelona. For me it’s the perfect tapas place. Eating at counters like tapas is supposed to be, but seated on stools rather than standing and milling about like I just can’t do with arthritic knees. The whole place is happy, happy, happy, starting with the serving staff who actually seem delighted with their jobs.

We were lucky enough to be seated directly at the bar rather than the side counters that face the windows or the walls and it’s a pleasure to watch this crew work. Everything goes smoothly and everything tastes great. We amazed ourselves at our capacity—which I must admit we’d been building up throughout the trip.

We had crispy artichoke shreds, tomato bread (some of the best among many very good examples), baby clams, razor clams—can’t get enough of them, anchovies of the red and the white varieties, oysters, sea snails, steak tartare and the ham and cheese crustless bikini—and cava, of course, all for 101 euros. A wonderful meal with the variety that Val just can’t get enough of. I swear he’d eat tapas daily if he could.

<b>Barceloneta</b> is a large place at the end of the Barceloneta area directly on the sailboat harbor at Port Vell. It’s a member of a restaurant group that includes L’Olive, Provenca, Vinya Roel, and a couple of others--all quite nice IME. I’m glad I didn’t go before because, as mentioned in this report earlier under “weather,” it was absolutely perfect this trip as it afforded us views onto the port in the driving blizzard while we felt warm and toasty and well fed based upon our consumption of tomato, olive, onion salad, fideau with seafood—a kind of thin noodle based paella, fish soup, suquet (potato based fish soup) with monkfish, and crema catalan.

If you can’t wait for another 5 or 10 years until it snows again to try this restaurant, I’d do it on a nice, warm day when I’m sure they throw all the windows open to let the air and the light into the nautically themed interior. Nice, place. Not outstanding for food but it sure was perfect in the snow storm. At 126 euros it provided less value for money than most others, but hey, once again, think of the snow.

<b>Windsor</b>—This is my favorite place in BCN so I saved it for our final meal. This was the third time we’ve dined here and also the third time we’ve been seated at the very same table set on the window-paned porch with views out to the lovely little rock waterfall (or actually trickle) in the narrow outdoor patio. This time even the patio was covered in snow/slush and the waterfall was gushing.

After an amuse that I can no longer remember except for its accompanying romesco sauce, I had artichokes, scallops and bacon while Val had a scallop burger. As I look back over these menus I’m only now starting to recognize how many times we had scallops on this trip. We certainly never noticed while we were eating them since all of the preparations were very different so we never tired of them. I then had baby lamb with potatoes and tiny onions and Val had risotto with cepes and catalan sausage.

Everything is always perfectly prepared in just the right sizes and proportions and pleasantly but unobtrusively served. Being it was our final BCN meal I splurged and even had dessert—oozy chocolate goop cake with chocolate ice cream. The bill came to 176 and included a great Ribera del Duero to accompany and even coffee to continue to prolong the dinner, the visit, and the wonderful experience of being in Barcelona, even in the snow and slush.

So there, once again, you have it--an account of a great time in Barcelona with emphasis on the great meals you can always find there. Happy to answer questions.

And for Abby who leaves soon for her trip to BCN, I hope I got this done in time to be useful to you. Besides the places we dined on this trip, I heartily recommend also from previous trips and trip reports—L'Olives, Provenca, Cinq Sentis, Gresca and Comerc 24. And next time I’m there I surely intend to have some of the beautiful tapas we filmed at Sagardi, and I would love to try Cheese Me, and of course, for wine drinking don’t forget Vinoteca Torres on Passeig de Gracia and Vinya del Senor outside Santa Maria del Mar in El Born, but I could go on and on and on. You’ll love BCN. Enjoy.
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Old May 3rd, 2010, 06:17 AM
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Thank you for your long awaited trip report. Have a great time in France.
So far we have booked Paco Meralgo, Embat, Cinc Sentis and Gresca. Not enough time to eat everywhere I want to. I guess I will have to go back with DH.
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Old May 3rd, 2010, 06:21 AM
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Thanks for your great trip report -- we leave for Spain in a few days and will follow some of your recommendatins, I'm sure.
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Old May 3rd, 2010, 06:45 AM
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Elephant toes? Not the same image they conjured in my mind, but more acceptable.
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Old May 3rd, 2010, 07:01 AM
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Entry to the Cathedral is free after 5 pm. I find the idea of paying a €5 fee to enter the House of God absolutely appalling.
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Old May 3rd, 2010, 08:25 AM
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Thank you, Julie. Barcelona is always calling me back. Next year I hope.
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Old May 3rd, 2010, 08:47 AM
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We're planning to head to Rome after a return visit to San Sebastian this fall but now I wonder if we shouldn't head to Barcelona again, especially since you've done all the research for us! Thanks for a great report, even if it unsettled our autumn plans.
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Old May 3rd, 2010, 09:56 AM
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Awesome report, Julie, as usual!
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Old May 3rd, 2010, 10:16 AM
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Thanks all for your nice comments.

Abby, I'll be interested to hear your report of Embat. It's been on my list but haven't been able to get there. Also Tuset and Ovic (which was being renovated while we were there in March.)

Pvoyageuse, I was expecting some to react as you do and I can understand it--if my purpose in entering were for prayer.worship, etc. (and I presume they still provide continuous entry to one or another chapel for that purpose) but my purpose and that of most tourists is to see the art treasures and architecture of the cathedral which is, to my mind, a different purpose for which payment should be expected.

Marija, we'll be headed to San Sebastian this June. I hope my dining opportunities there are as good as those I've found in BCN. I know that foodies often regard it is the culinary mecca of Spain. I'll try to report back before you head out. We're also headed to Rome but not until late September and from my experience it just can't hold a candle to BCN for food. Val and I differ about it on the sightseeing perspective. I prefer BCN. He thinks Rome is up there with, but not ahead of, BCN, if you subtract St. Peter's from the equation. (We sort of make up our rules on these things as we go along.)

Treesa, if you do go to BCN next year it might be when we go again--no definite plans but so far we're going once a year it seems--maybe we can stage a BCN GTG. It shouldn't just be Paris where Fodorites GTG.
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Old May 3rd, 2010, 10:55 AM
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Fantastic report and just reading your restaurant/food critiques you sound like my kind of gal! ;-)

Looking forward to seeing you at the GTG in Paris! We'll be in San Sebastian the week before Paris, so maybe I can give you some good pintxos bar recommendations!
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Old May 3rd, 2010, 11:08 AM
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Julie--for San Sebastian do consider Akelare (for both the food and the view)and Mugaritz. Those are two places on our revisit list. In San Sebastian we made lunch our big fancy restaurant meal so we didn't have to give up pintxos in the evenings. I'll look forward to reading both of your San Sebastian reports (and Paris of course!)
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Old May 3rd, 2010, 11:39 AM
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Old May 3rd, 2010, 01:12 PM
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Julie: I know the expression is overused but I will utter it anyway. WOW! Utterly fantastic report. I have been toying with the idea of returning to Barcelona (or Madrid) for a week next winter and your report seals the deal, so to speak! Bien hecho!
Muchisimas gracias!
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Old May 3rd, 2010, 03:28 PM
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Julie, helpful report and, as one who dealt with snowy weather on the Med this year, you can imagine how much we've been enjoying spring.

I hope you don't mind if I embed into your trip report a caution that I advise people to visit Vic on a day when it is NOT a market day. Some guides to Catalonia are market oriented, but in the case of Vic, I think it almost guarantees a compromised enjoyment of the Plaza Mayor, one of the loveliest public spaces I've seen, with a fantastic array of architecture from an amazing span of centuries, but it is best appreciated when the plaza is not filled with market stalls.

Also, for me, the gem of the town of Vic (and why I visited two days in a row, I was so thrilled with my first visit) is the Episcopal museum,where many art treasures of Catalonia, hidden and saved from Franco's destructive rampages, are now gorgeously displayed in a state-of-the-art museum. In the museum, one clearly sees the influence of Greek, Italian, French and Flemish high art on Catalonian painters and craftsman -- and gets a much better understanding of the ardor of Catalonian nationalism. It's not just the language. A really amazing cosmopolitian was suppressed and made to subordinate itself to Spain. Vic is the center of preserving that culture, sometimes to extremes.

Have a marvelous time in San Sebastian, Julie, one of the very few places I considered moving to instead of Italy. My next trip to Catalonia will be by boat, I hope, from Genova to Barcelona, but I probably will head in the direction of Tarragona, Valencia and the wine country in between (although Vic made me so interested in Catalonian painting, I will head into Barcelona briefly for the Catalonian museum and the Picasso museum.)
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Old May 3rd, 2010, 03:50 PM
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Great report, Julie! Loved hearing about the food and the restaurants. I've only been as far into Spain as Figueras (from a trip to Colliioure), but your comments make me wonder if Barcelona shouldn't be missed!

Have fun on this next trip! Wish I were joining everyone at the GTG in Paris!
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Old May 3rd, 2010, 04:22 PM
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PS, Julie: Will you be renting an apartment in Rome? My feeling after several years of living in Italy is that Italy is a great food culture, but not a great restaurant culture. The joy of Italian food is the freshness of the produce and what you find in the stores, not the restaurants. If you are the kind of eater who likes to eat a fantastic "plate" of food created by a chef for the individual diner, the zenith of Italian cooking is not that. Instead, it's the family meal, made from recipe designed to be cooked for six to eight people.

You can track down great Italian chefs and restaurants in Rome, but they are expensive. You might do better, especially since you like markets, to track down the great markets, and if you want, try the pricey restaurants for lunch, but eat at home at night.
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Old May 4th, 2010, 03:31 AM
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Sorry Julie for interrupting you earlier. I have only been to Spain on day driving trips from Argelès (near Collioure, where grandmere also was)to Figueres and the valley of nuria, a wonderful spot in the Pyrénées, but next week plan to visit Barcelona for 4 days. Thanks for the report.
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