Proof that we ate more than just ham in Barcelona

…a whole lot more. Hang in there folks, this will be a picture-heavy post, and I will try to minimize my yammering on in favour of letting the photos do the talking. And let me be clear: even the excesses of this third post about Barcelona do not cover the entirety of what we consumed there. There is still more that didn’t make the cut in the interest of keeping this post down to a “reasonable” (!) 29 photos. Needless to say, Barcelona is truly one of the greatest food cities I have been lucky enough to visit.

(See our two previous posts about Barcelona here and here. And if you want to skip this lengthy post and get right to the nitty gritty–our recommendations–scroll to the end!)

Also, let me assure you that we did do all sorts of cool touristy stuff while there; the Sagrada Familia and Parque Güell being among our highlights. I promise! See?

So we didn’t eat all the time. Just most of the time. Speaking of which, back to the food. While the copious amounts of pork and tomato bread that we consumed would likely have been enough to fuel us through our entire week in Barcelona, we did investigate a whole lot of the other delicious foods and drinks that the city has to offer. We did not have a single bad meal while we were there. We became addicted to small plates-style dining. Among the other highlights of our week in this glorious city, were:

Yes, of course, lots of delicious seafood:

Graeme and I both tried cockles for the first time in Barcelona. They were light and lovely.

These cod fritters, also from Paco Meralgo, which I haven’t shut up about in several posts, blew. my. mind. Perfectly fried and crispy, they were gooey and creamy inside. They had the perfect texture. I want to eat them forever.Aaaaaaand also from Paco Meralgo, Graeme and I have not shut up about this dish of octopus in a caramelized onion sauce. It is one of the dishes that brought us back to this restaurant on our last night in Barcelona as we rushed around the city trying to have each of our favourite dishes one last time. Look for something similar to this on the blog in the coming months–I am determined to recreate it at home. Or at least some lame facsimile thereof. Baby eels with mushrooms and garlic! If any of my girlfriends from grad school are reading this, you will recall our baby eel adventures from our trip to Portugal and Spain many moons ago. Graeme was super into this dish–the eels are chewy and super garlicky and now that I’m a less squeamish eater, we both really enjoyed them!Anchovies. Enough said.And paella. Oh our lovely paella. We scarfed down the best paella I ever ate after a morning relaxing on Barcelonita beach. I may not have mentioned this on here, but our trip to Barcelona was actually prompted by my having a conference to attend, such that there was a little bit of work in between all this eating. All of the work-related anxiety and exhaustion melted away after a morning on the gorgeous beach, which could not have been followed up by a more perfect lunch than this seafood paella, which takes over 30 minutes to arrive at your table after you order it, as it is all made fresh, from Can Majó, just off of the beach. If you poke around the internet, you will find lots of hang wringing over the sorry state of paella in Barcelona, but this resto was one that came up again and again in my searches for a good one. It was beautiful–the seafood was meaty and fresh, and the rice had an amazing texture and flavour. It was served to us in a giant paella dish, and we devoured the whole thing without a second thought.

Meats other than pork (and cheese!):

While pork was the star during our time in Barcelona, we did also enjoy a few other beautifully prepared meats. I will say that possibly my only food regret from Barcelona is how, obsessed with meat and seafood, we sampled very little local cheese. There just wasn’t enough time for everything! But I love Spanish cheese in general, and will have to keep exploring it back home.

These venison kebabs were perfectly grilled!

We had this duck pate in a pear crust at Onofre on the same night that we ate this epic charcuterie plate. And yet we finished the whole thing. Because it was silky smooth and impossible not to keep returning to. Behind it is a lovely cheese plate of aged manchego that went beautifully with all of our meat.

We picnicked on ham and tetilla cheese.  I love how creamy and refreshing this traditional Galician cheese is; it countered the pungency of our strongly cured meat really well. Graeme loves how, well, it’s named after its nipple shape.

Lovely grilled goat!

Tapas, tapas, and more tapas:

These heavenly chickpeas were served to us at Bar Pinotxo, the legendary tapas bar in the Boqueria market. While extremely touristy, this place lived up to the hype, and the chickpeas above blew my mind. I have no idea how they prepared them, but they simultaneously still had a bite to them and were perfectly creamy in the middle. It is not often that I get so excited about chickpeas, but I could eat these every day for the rest of my life. Patatas Bravas. Ideally in a creamy and spicy sauce, this ubiquitous tapas staple can be exciting or totally mediocre depending on where you find it. Above was our favourite plate of them–it had an awesome kick to it!

Ham and chicken croquettes; these came courtesy of Bar Pinotxo as well, but we ate many more croquettes during our time in Barcelona. That I enjoyed these so much was a real shocker to me, as at home I would consider croquettes a very dated, 1980s, bland and tired sort of dish. But it is a staple of tapas culture, and so many places we ate did a beautiful job of them, frying them perfectly so that they’d be crispy but not greasy, and melted and creamy inside. I am now wondering if it is time for croquettes to make a comeback!

Occasionally even a little bit of fruit:

In my family, we have a “thing” about peaches in Europe in the summer. My dad will wax poetic about the best white flesh peach he ever ate, in Paris, in 1970-something. I am more likely to go one about flat peaches. Both kinds suck when you buy them here in Montreal, and come to life on the other side of the ocean, full of sweet juice. We could not resist them.


Booze:

As might be clear from this blog, neither Graeme nor I tend to be huge wine drinkers. But in Barcelona we both fell head over heels for light white wines, which were just so refreshing in the summer heat, and a perfect accompaniment to light, small plates dining. Graeme sampled a great many beers in Barcelona, but even he eventually succumbed to the siren song of white wine. We generally skipped sweet drinks like sangria for these guys, amazed that we, for once, felt like we “got” wine, and the wonders it can do for a meal. We mostly drank pretty cheap wines but that didn’t matter; we even lugged one of our favourite, and cheapest, bottles home with us.

Thanks to a recommendation from a friend, we also discovered L’Ascensor, the world’s most unpretentious cocktail bar, which despite being so down to earth has an incredible reputation for being one of the best bars in Spain. Above are some refreshing mojitos that we drank there, a wonderful reprieve from the lame sugary ones that seem to overpopulate cocktail bars these days. L’Ascensor reminded me that properly made mojitos are awesome!

Sweet stuff:

Another one of our Barcelona failures is how little dessert we ate! We were too stuffed full of meat! This is a ridiculous situation which, as you will see, we tried to remedy on our last night.

I became obsessed with this stand in the old city which sold a million different flavours of ice cream on a stick. How could you go wrong with this? It was not the most mind-blowing ice cream you’ll ever eat, but come on. Ice cream on a stick.We were in Barcelona for what we in Quebec know as the festival of Saint-Jean, which is also, it turns out, a festival in Spain. I was not a fan of navigating past 8 year olds setting off amateur fireworks in every part of the city the entire night, but I was a fan of the sweet bread that is traditionally eaten for this festival, which is pictured above. Crema catalana, is, effectively, Catalan crème brûlée. Which is to say that it’s awesome.

And then there was Espai Sucre, pictured above. This is where we made up for our paltry dessert eating. You may have noticed, in our Barcelona recaps, that we did very little fine dining while there; while there are, apparently, many excellent fancy restaurants in the city, we were on a fairly tight budget and had enough to explore on the regular proletariat side of things. We even had reservations for Ferran Adrià’s new tapas bar, and cancelled them. However, knowing that modernist cuisine has its roots in Spain, I did really want to go to at least one wacky modernist restaurant, and when we found out about Espai Sucre, which is an experimental dessert-only restaurant, with a pastry chef school attached to it, we decided that it would be a perfect way to cap off our trip. You can have an entire meal of desserts at Espai Sucre (I really recommend you look at their menu, it is insane!), but we did opt for the small, three-course each menus ourselves, as we had already wandered around the city filling up on the favourite dishes we had collected during our stay in Barcelona. I think dessert is a great way to explore modernist cuisine as dessert cookery is already so mad scientist-y to begin with. It did not disappoint. I ordered the “cheese” menu while Graeme ordered the “chocolate” one, and I will post photos of all of our dishes below.Goat “cheesecake” with raspberries, red pepper and ginger

Chocolate with vinegar, strawberry, mint and pepper

Extra virgin olive oil cake, white peach, green olive and San Simón
Truffle mushroom, butter, hazelnut, cocoa

“Idiazàbal”  cake with cherry + beet and black beer

Chocolate, prunes, oak, rum, tobacco

We capped off the meal with this delicious array of petits fours, which may have been my favourite part of the whole experience! I particularly loved the lime and rosemary pops (top left).

Overall, it was a fantastic meal; I was especially fond of my first course cheesecake, which helped me understand the point of “deconstructed” food, as it combined everything that is delicious about a cheesecake in new formulations so that it was at once novel, while at the same time…everything good about a cheesecake. The chocolate crumbles, in particular, were so perfect and really captured what is so awesome about cheesecake crust at its core. Graeme raved about his second course, and the earthiness that the chocolate got from the inclusion of truffles. Neither of us have every been that crazy about truffles but somehow they really worked in that dish and helped us get why they are so hyped. The “weirdest” dish was, of course, his third, due to the inclusion of the tobacco. It kind of worked, as the tobacco also lent a real earthiness, once you could get over the idea that you were, you know, eating tobacco. The problem was that the tobacco flavour was a bit too strong and  overpowered the dish, which did not help one get past the “I’m…eating…tobacco” feeling. It was the only one we both weren’t crazy about, but I think all it really would take for us would be scaling that tobacco down a notch, to be a complementary flavour and not such a dominant one.

Espai Sucre reminded me to be more open-minded about experimental cuisine. Graeme and I are both, at the end of the day, most passionate about traditional cuisines, and I will probably always prefer a simple tomato bread to deconstructed cheescake. But still, the work they do there is amazing and everything we ate was delicious, and luckily we are hungry enough that there is space in our bellies for both the old and the new. And we love trying new things so we felt really pleased with our experience at Espai Sucre as a way to cap off a fantastically gluttonous week in Barcelona. I totally recommend it as a great way to splurge.

It is easy to surmise what our favourite places were based on these long three posts about Barcelona, but if you want the quick rundown, here are our recommendations for eating and drinking in Barcelona:

Tapas:

Paco Meralgo:  Get the cod fritters, octopus in caramelized onion, tomato bread, and, even though we didn’t try it ourselves, the cheese-stuffed and fried zucchini flowers–they just looked that good!

Onofre: They specialize in wine and charcuterie. So eat those. The huge charcuterie plate is worth it. Their dishes are huge though, so beware when ordering!

Bar Pinotxo: This tapas bar at the edge of the Boqueria market is a perfect place to grab lunch. Eat a plate or two of their sublime chickpeas (and you know, seafood and meat and stuff).

Paella:

Can Majó: The paella is worth the wait. Reserve if you want to sit outside.

Cocktails:

L’Ascensor: Get a mojito. Relax.

Hamming It Up:

La Boqueria
: This market right off of the Rambla lives up to the hype and is a great place to explore the different hams, cheeses, seafood and fruits that Barcelona has to offer. Lots of places will let you buy little samples of various hams, which is how we started exploring.

Other Local Markets: There are excellent neighbourhood markets littered throughout the city, which are quieter but just as chock full of ham and other delicacies as La Boqueria, and they are well worth exploring as they are less crowded and allow for a more leisurely stroll. La Conceptió Market was right by our guesthouse, and so we spent a lot of time there, and everyone was incredibly friendly, helpful and knowledgeable.

Splurging:

Espai Sucre: where you can live out your childhood dreams and have dessert for dinner! And get a taste of what Spanish modernist cuisine is coming up with these days.

Guest Post: A Wine Cheat Sheet for Morons Like Me

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As you may or may not have noticed, we are a beer-drinking household. The amount of beer we go through in a given week is a bit alarming. We are also lovers of scotch, and I will admit to having a soft spot for the ever polite gin and tonic, but where Graeme and I really drop the ball is in regards to wine. I like wine more than Graeme does, but both of us are total wine morons and don’t really understand it. I have attended many little intros to tasting wine, and none of them ever managed to penetrate my thick, wine-resistant skull. I am not sure why this is, as I do enjoy a delicious glass of wine, although I am incapable of telling you what I like about it.

I would love to know more about wine generally, but specifically I would love to just feel more confident doing basic things like picking something out at the SAQ, rather than employing my usual tactic of going for the prettiest label within my price range. (Yes, I really do that.) This is where my good friend Petite Chablis comes in. She is not only a lovely person, but she possesses the rare talent of being able to talk about wine in terms that even I, the dumbest wine person there is, can understand.  And she has a wonderful approach to wine drinking that is unpretentious, focused on enjoyment and sociability, and does not tend to do that think wine people do where they compare stuff to urine. So I asked her if she would write a guest post for Braising Hell that was a sort of “cheat sheet” for buying wine when you are stupid and overwhelmed, and she kindly obliged. I love what she’s written and I think it will be super instructive for me in my future ventures to the liquor store. If there are any other wine morons out there like me, I am sure you will be as thrilled as I am to read her advice below.

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Help!  I’m on my way to a dinner party and I’m supposed to bring a bottle of wine and I know nothing about wine.  What should I bring?

Facing wine-store panic as you stare down row upon row of unfamiliar labels?  You’re not alone.

Unfortunately, there’s a somewhat unwelcoming culture surrounding wine, one that seems to be more about obsessing over the wines themselves than making wine an enjoyable experience – part of a meal, part of a social occasion, or simply a source of relaxation and pleasure.  When you’re listening to a friend or acquaintance go on about how this red contains “whispers of lingonberry” or “lacks a sense of terroir,” it can be easy to think, “wow, I really don’t know much about wine.”  Hence the uncertainty that can set in when you’re asked to provide wine for a dinner party or when you’re confronted with one of those encyclopedia-length wine lists at a Really Nice Restaurant.

But the truth is that very few people know much about wine, and those who pretend they do often don’t.*  And you don’t need to pay $50 or read tons of books about wine or travel the world sipping and spitting** in order to pick out an enjoyable bottle.

Well, that’s great, PC.  But I’m still in the liquor store and I still have no idea what to buy.  Can we get to the real advice, please?  Like which wines I should look for? And  now much I’ll need to spend to get a good bottle?

Right, useful advice.  Here we go.

I’m a big fan of looking for wines by region and varietal, rather than by label, especially if you’re in an unfamiliar liquor store.  The problem with getting too attached to specific labels is that when you can’t find them on the shelves, it can be easy to get overwhelmed and give up and leave the store with yet another bottle of overpriced Cabernet.+  Do jot down the names of a few recommended wines, but if you can’t find them in your store, try something in the same price range from the same region.

Below, I present some suggestions for my favorite region/varietal combos. Almost all of the wines I drink are under $15 (most, in fact, are under $10) and so the recommendations I’ll be making will focus on that price range.  I will also mention a few of my favorite wines in these categories, but remember, don’t get too stuck on the labels!

Crisp, light whites (delicious for sipping on hot days, perfect with grilled fish)

  • Grüner Veltliner from Austria – OK, this is pretty obscure.  But most stores will carry one or two bottles of this wine, and they’re delicious – think lemons and limes, a bit of pineapple and a delicious crisp finish.  I like Grooner, which is fairly widely-distributed; I also love the Laurenz und Sophie Singing Grüner Veltliner, but that may be harder to find.
  • New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – This is probably my favorite category of white wines.  They’re vibrant and fun to drink.  A typical New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc will have lots of fruit (mango, pineapple, melon, pear) and often some green pepper on the finish to give it a bit of a kick.  Our two standbys are Oyster Bay and Nobilo, but I also really like Dashwood.

Heavier whites (great with spicy Thai food and pasta with cream sauces)

  • California or Australian Viognier.  Viogniers are unusual whites – they usually have a slightly floral smell (think jasmine or honeysuckle) and taste like peaches and apricots and citrus.  They are lower in acidity than either of my “crisp white” varietals.  Sonoma’s Cline Cellars makes a really nice Viognier, as does the Australian label Yalumba.
  • Washington State or German Gewürztraminer.  Another unusual white wine; the “gewürz” part of the name means “spice” in German.  So, as the name suggests, Gewürztraminer produces a slightly spicy white wine.  A typical Gewürztraminer will have some cinnamon or cloves or nutmeg flavor, along with pears and honey.  Some Gewürztraminers will also have a hint of sweetness, so I think they’re best when paired with spicy food.  Gewürztraminer is usually a German grape, but Washington State has been making some good ones lately.  I’ve enjoyed both the Chateau Ste. Michelle and the Hogue Cellars Gewürztraminer.

Light reds (pair these with pizza, grilled chicken, or really just about anything – they are marvelously versatile!)

  • Italian Sangiovese or Nero d’Avola.  Inexpensive Italian reds make great “table wines” – they are easy and pleasant to drink, with a nice balance of fruit and earth and acidity, and they’re fantastic with food.  Sangiovese and Nero d’Avola are two grapes from Italy that usually turn out affordable and yummy reds.  We are longtime fans of Di Majo Norante Sangiovese and Archeo Nero d’Avola.
  • Côtes du Rhône red wines.  These are wines from the Rhône region of Southern France made from a blend of different grapes.  The most famous Côtes du Rhône wines, like Châteauneuf-du-Pape, will be incredibly expensive.  But down at the sub-$15 end of the spectrum you’ll find a lot of wonderful, food-friendly wines.  We’re still happily working our way through a case of Domaine des Rozets; the widely-distributed Guigal is also a good bet.

Heavier, bolder reds (pair with red meat or a robust cheese, or sip on their own)

  • Argentinian Malbec.  This red grape is originally from France but has found great success in Argentina and became very popular very quickly in the US market. These will be spicy, fruit-forward wines, with flavors like blackberries and cherries and pepper.  I’m a longtime fan of Conquista and Trapiche; recently we picked up a bottle from Zuccardi that we liked a lot.
  • Chilean Cabernet.  Cabernet is my favorite red wine, but lately I’ve had a tough time finding US Cabs under $15 that I’m excited about drinking.  Fortunately, Chile came to my rescue.  Chilean Cabernet will have some raspberry or blackberry quality to it, along with a bit of dark chocolate, black pepper, and tannins.  I’ve had good luck with Casillero del Diablo and Xplorador.

Happy wine shopping!

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*  I am still cranky about the time a guy cornered me at a party to give me a lecture on Malbec.  He assumed I had never heard of it and proceeded to tell me several incorrect “facts” about the grape. Sigh.

**  I’m not a big fan of spitting.  I understand it when you’re going to be tasting a ton of wines and you don’t want to get super-drunk, but I don’t think you can really evaluate a wine unless you actually drink it.  Also, I haven’t figured out a way to spit into a bucket without worrying that I’ll either dribble on myself or splash someone else.

+  A story that describes many of my early wine-buying experiences.

Petite Chablis is an enthusiastic amateur wine geek who loves recommending her favorite bottles to friends, both in real life and on the Internet.  You can read her musings about inexpensive wine, fun cocktails, and other important topics (like Canadian reality television) at petitechablis.wordpress.com.