Part 1: Following The Pintxos Trail
Part 2: San Sebastian Foodie Favorites & A Great, Big Steak
Part 3: Barcelona, Spain: “Angry” Eggs, Gung Ho for Gaudi, & Sexy Ham
Part 4: La Boqueria & El Born – A Photo Essay
Part 5: My Favorite Restaurants
The Spanish word, gula, is a most interesting noun. Used to describe the desire to eat solely in anticipation of taste, rather than to satiate hunger, it is, in a word: greed – or two: gluttony. Whatever it is, gula aptly describes this list of all my favorites in Barcelona.
El Bulli alumnus chef, Carles Abellan, is the driving force behind Tapas 24, popular for its envelope-pushing methods on traditional tapas. The place is often described as humming and hectic but on the Sunday lunch that we are here, it’s all rather sedate (TIP: go at off-peak hours). The action is usually down the stairs and into the seemingly subterranean restaurant, but we end up taking a table outside on this gorgeously sunny day.
Tapas 24’s signature dish, or at least one of them, is the cutely coined “bikini.” Ibérico ham and buffalo mozzarella smeared with black truffle combine to produce the most luxe take on a ham and cheese sandwich. It’s understood however that tucking into one of these insanely crisp sammies almost certainly precludes you from wearing a two-piece.
In the photo above on right, more iberian ham, this time mixed into a croquette, a synergy of smooth sassed up with shots of salt.
Perhaps the most expensive at €9.60 and the smallest burger my Bin and I have ever had, the Mc Foie-Burger is a tiny beef-foie gras patty. What makes this dish is the mini ramekin of foie ganache alongside that we spread on the burger. With a texture akin to the silkiest liver paté, it slithers down our throats. Ah, if only this were a bigger portion!
At Tapas 24, you can order smashed or “angry” potatoes and runny fried eggs crowned with such meaty treasures as Iberian ham, chorizo, sausage, bacon, or go for broke like we do and go for more foie gras. This is just tremendous: there is electricity between the fried potatoes and crisp-edged hot eggs, and the addition of the hot, thick lobes of salt-studded foie gras amps up the voltage even more. Simultaneously elemental in its simplicity and feral with the foie gras, this is a dish we eat wondering why we haven’t eaten it sooner.
I kick myself for not having ordered the dessert of chocolate with bread, olive oil and sea salt. If you come here, you must have dessert.
There are three Asadors in Barcelona, each one specializing in roast meat and traditional Castillian cooking. The El Asador Tibidabo is the prettiest one, perched at the top of a road yawning up from Barcelona to Tibidabo mountain. Along the way, we marvel at the mansions in this posh locale, some of which are now restaurants.
Asador Aranda is located in the Casa Roviralta, yet another style of modernista by Joan Rubió i Bellver that one writer describes “…looks like the winner of the world’s best Lego house competition.” It may be that but it’s certainly elegant too.
And because this was a former mansion, its soaring ceilings emphasize its spaciousness. The maze of dining rooms and banquet halls are fitted with long tables to seat the large parties that book meals here. In the day, you can even dine on the rooftop terrace. It’s a breathtaking space and I wish that I had more photos to show you.
I peek into the kitchen where a cook is just about to pull out a roast from the clay oven.
A variety of Spanish starters including chorizo; an unforgettable morcilla de arroz, blood sausage that’s feral and flavorsome; those unforgettable piquillo peppers, and a type of picadillo (meat-tomato hash).
Asador Aranda has mastered the art of roasting, a skill displayed to masterful effect in the house specialty of roast lamb. It’s shown here already sliced but the server presents it at table whole and with a paper certification on its hoof proving its provenance.
Simple really, with crinkly skin setting off little salt bombs in my mouth, pleasant sensations that spark appetite. The meat is almost too tender, molding itself to the contours of my palate. My spine slumps in delicious submission.
Equally unforgettable is the suckling pig. Suspended in a haze of smoke and wood, its appearance first stuns, then stokes hunger. When sliced into, the skin crackles in complaint, plumes of intoxicating steam escaping as white meat submits to the intrusion. Guiltily but oh so willingly, I give in to each bite of tender pleasure, flavors of pork and smoke rolling to the back of my mouth; I am awash in scents of smoke and the lusty satisfaction of a good piece of meat.
If you come to Barcelona, have a meal at Asador Aranda on your last day; it will be unforgettable. It’s more than worth a visit, but do remember to reserve.
Two favorite chocolaterías
A few days into my visit to Barcelona, I’m yearning for hot chocolate and churros. Tucked away in a dark alley off Las Ramblas in the bustling Raval quarter, I walk into Café Granja Viader and feel like I’ve stepped back in time. The café, which has been open since 1870, is rich in detail with ornately painted floor tiles, the décor a testament of times past. The servers are garbed in black pants and vests with white shirts and move with an efficiency that belie their decades of service.
Of course you come here for the chocolate as everybody else does. The xocolata amb melindros (thick hot dark chocolate with soft sweet Catalan pastry) is famous and so is the suís, hot dark chocolate that’s thick and rich. It comes freighted with cream, sweet purity on dark sin. Cool on tongue and cup, the cream slowly succumbs to the dark embrace of the chocolate. I dissolve with pleasure into my drink.
My plate of churros is a breath away from cold but I delight in dipping each crispy swoop into the murky fluid.
Café Granja Viader is also a classic Catalan-style milk bar and deli. The selection of dairy products is mouthwatering. The Viader family also invented Cacaolat, a milk chocolate beverage similar to Magnolia Chocolait.
Just in case you prefer something savory instead, there’s a selection of cold cuts and egg dishes available here too.
Not too far from here on Carrer del Carme is chök, The Chocolate Kitchen. The owners describe it as an American-style bakery replete with cruffins and cronuts. It’s wild and wonderful and choosing something to try is agony. What’s even more agonizing is that I’m too full from breakfast at Café Granja Viader to eat anything here. Note to self: next trip.
Granja La Pallaresa
While Seville and Madrid are better known for their churros, I have it on good authority that Granja La Pallaresa is one of the best churerías in Barcelona,
on what is perhaps my favorite street in all of Barcelona, Calle Petritxol.
Granja La Pallaresa has been offering drool-worthy breakfasts since 1947.
The thinner, lighter version of hot chocolate is delightfully frothy, its bubbles twinkle invitingly; while the classic ‘a la tassa‘, thick cup of drinking chocolate, is almost too thick to drink – preferable to spoon it in in delicious doses alternating with bites of ensaïmada, a leaner version of what Filipinos are used to.
These churros are indeed better. They’re hotter and more crispy. Here too, the thick hot chocolate isn’t as dark or earthy as what I have at Granja Viader. Both are good, just different.
Somewhere along the way, my Bin wants relief from the onslaught of chocolate so he orders some whipped cream. It’s an entire plate of pristine fluff, clouds of desire melting on tongue leaving nothing behind but a creamy remembrance.
Right beside Granja La Pallaresa with a similar menu is Granja Dulcinea. I hear that it’s great here too so I’m jotting this down for when I come back.
As I said earlier, Calle Petritxol is my most favorite street in Barcelona, which has also been dubbed ‘Chocolate Street’ for obvious reasons as you see here. There are so many shops in this little alley in the Barri Gòtic that call for my attention. And who can resist staring at artwork such as the one above?
Beside Granja La Pallaresa is Petritxol Xocoa.
Lonely Planet describes this place as [a] “den of dental devilry…” showcasing outrageous cookie balls, chocolate bars, pastries and more.
Nearby at No. 12 is a nice kitchenware store for plenty of food styling props. Not too far away is my favorite, Custo Barcelona. Desigual seems to have inundated the city but the only other Custo I see is in my visit to El Born.
Vicens, the store selling my favorite torron (nougat candy) has a big outpost on C/ Petritxol.
Le Comptoir de Mathilde is a new discovery. Fascinating and artfully arranged, it specializes in chocolates and spreads. Sampling is encouraged and we end up coming away with the Nutella-like spread with the addition of feuilletine, caramelized, brittle crispy flakes.
An intricately designed building near C/ Petritxol.
Back on Rambla Catalunya, Colmado Quilez came highly recommended for some serious food shopping. Opened in 1906, the store isn’t very large but it is very well-stocked. An expansive (and expensive) range of high-end foodstuff from tinned tuna in olive oil to saffron, caviar, and gourmet oils and wines, I try very hard to take a photo here but am unable to manage a coherent thought or action; such is the mind-boggling variety on display.
Paella is a specialty of Valencia and not Barcelona, but when in Spain, it seems only right to have paella. On one evening when my Bin is at work, I yearn for a hot meal and find this place.
Bucolic interiors exude a certain charm emphasized by the yellow lights. A portly man greets me warmly and attends to me and his other table of two. Soon, the tables start to fill but this big man takes care of everyone’s needs surely and sufficiently.
The menu is wide and Mediterranean-heavy but I zero in on the paellas of which there are many.
But first, an excellent mini loaf of crusty bread paired with the waiter’s – I learn his name is John – wine recommendation, Viña Esmeralda Torres, a Catalan version of Moscatel and Gewürtztraminer. It’s a striking and aromatic white wine…
…bringing to the fore the notes of the exceptional olive oil. It’s so fruity and full that I ask John if I can buy a bottle. He only laughs; I take that as a no. Since the wine has the restaurant group’s name on it, I suppose the oil is proprietary. Ah, well. I could drink this oil like wine though, I like it so much.
Ahhh, here it is, my captivating squid-ink-black arròs negre. It arrives in a dazzling aroma of the sea. Because this paella has been cooked – according to the menu – in 30% of seawater and cooked broth, it’s very flavorful and satisfyingly salty. The liquid has plumped up the grains of the Spanish “bomba” rice, they yield easily to teeth but have bite.
I’m given a wooden spoon to eat my paella. I never do get to ask why but I suppose it’s because metal tableware would affect the paella’s delicate flavors. Every spoonful of this dish is a surprise. First, cuttlefish and squid; then peas and clams – all playing foil to the flavor of squid ink, supple and flooding my pleasure center. The garlic aioli that accompanies the paella is lush, lubricating every spoonful of rice and ending each one with a gentle exhalation of garlic.
Sips of wine increase my feelings of contentment, and soon, my “mmm’s” have become satisfied purring noises.
I suppose this was a big dish of paella. It was perhaps 8-inches across and only 1.5-inches deep. But I eat every last grain, soul and stomach sated. This was perhaps my best meal in all of Barcelona not just because of the food which was outstanding but also because as a solo diner, I was taken such good care of; so much so that John kisses me on the cheek when I leave. I also can’t say enough about the kindness of Jordi, the manager here. He and John worked to make this a truly memorable meal. I can’t wait to come back here — and to Barcelona.
Carrer de la Diputació, 269, 08007 Barcelona
el Asador de Aranda
Avda. Tibidabo, 31, 08022 Barcelona
Carrer Xuclà, 4-6
Granja La Pallaresa
Calle Petritxol, 11
Carrer de Petritxol, 2, 08002 Barcelona,
Carrer de Petritxol, 11, 08002 Barcelona
Rambla de Catalunya, 65, 08007 Barcelona
Chok, The Chocolate Kitchen
(2 locations in Barcelona)