Three countries. Five cities. Ten days. It was an ambitious trip but we managed to accomplish two end goals: bring our son home from his semester abroad and eat our way across several different regions. We also managed to celebrate 30 years of marriage with every glass of champagne or prosecco, beginning on the flight over! So the journey was a success and I am excited to share so many delicious memories with my readers.
Our flight touched down in Barcelona in the early morning and we hit the ground running. After a quick Cafe Americano at the charming Cotton House hotel, we hopped on a bus to drive by popular sites and get our bearings. Ignoring the chilly weather and any tinges of jet-lag, we capped off our first evening with a walking Tapas Tour. If you know me at all, you know that I L-O-V-E nibble food, so I was more than ready to check out this very Spanish style of noshing.
Our guide led us and two other couples through the Mercat de la Boqueria where we sampled Serrano Jamon and Manchego cheese from little paper cones, nibbled on cocoa covered hazelnuts and gaped at the butcher stands where EVERY part of the animal was available for purchase. We also visited two different style Tapas Bars--the first served popular tapas family style at the table: Patatas Bravas, fresh tomato bread, marinated peppers and veggies, croquetas, and Tortilla Española all came out in little dishes to be shared by the group. The second establishment offered a pinchos buffet. In this style of bar, you help yourself to any number of tapas varieties, all skewered on toothpicks, and the server simply counts the number of empty picks on your plate to calculate your bill. Seafood figured heavily into these offerings.
My takeaways from casual food in Barcelona:
- Amazing slices of bread on which you spread fresh tomatoes that are so tender, they burst open when you rub the fruit on the crispy surface
- Spanish extra-virgin olive oil which I loved drizzling over the above mentioned bread
- Paper thin slices of jamon (spanish ham)
- Salty, delicious manchego, a sheep's milk cheese that makes my heart sing
You could serve me the above items any night of the week and I would call it dinner! So first day/night done, and we were able to see a little of the city, taste some of it's flavors, partake of some wine and we were off to a great start.
The next day dawned cold and rainy in the city so we headed out on an hour train ride to visit Montserrat and the monastery set in the mountain. Our lunch at the Restaurant Montserrat was surprisingly lovely--surprising because most of the patrons are tourists and we've all experienced mediocrity of touristy establishments--lovely due to the inexpensive bottle of wine we shared (thought we were ordering a couple of glasses, got the entire bottle!), the fresh tomato bread, and the seafood we consumed.
That evening marked another culinary milestone for us...we dined at a Three-Star Michelin restaurant: Lasarte was elegant, subdued, and pleasantly meticulous. The service was perfection, casually friendly but at the same time, oh so professional. After we made our course decisions, a parade of amuse bouche found its way to the table. My favorite: a jalapeño ice cream that melted into a foam with a single salty clam. And of course, I loved the array of flavored butters presented in tiny little logs to accompany our bread selections. There were five flavors to choose from and I couldn't eat enough bread to sample them all! Our main courses of Chargrilled Pigeon (him) and Sea Bass (me) were stunning. It was a gastronomically excellent night and a wonderful way to celebrate our anniversary.
Our final day in Barcelona was spent self-touring the cathedral and Ramblas area and a quick stop at the beach. For a mid-morning snack, we stumbled upon a pastry shop, Caelum, where we sipped cappuccino and agonized over which nun-produced pastries we wanted to try. No lie: the shop specializes in "heavenly" sweets baked by nuns from all over the country! For lunch we sat in sunny Plaça Reial and shared yet another board of tomato bread and serrano ham as well as a bottle of wine. (What?! I was on vacation!) Our only disappointing meal: the paella at Vez Pella, (which came highly recommended) which was served with little shrimp instead of the promised ubiquitous prawns.
And we were on to the next city...
*The above title translates to "Part One: Barcelona, city of tapas and paella."