Friday, June 02, 2006

6//1/2006 4:10pm/ Barcelona
I'm pleased to report that new levels of culinary satisfaction were just achieved, and none too soon with one night left in Barcelona. Your intrepid diarist, out on the front lines of the gustatory battlefields, has once again scored a decisive victory against the cursed wallet-emptying, boring-food adversaries who seemingly lurk round every corner.
How's this for lunch: Three courses, each unbelievably satisfying, plus 1/2 bottle of wine, plus after lunch café solo (espresso), all for a mere $11.00 US....did I mention that whole "I don't want to leave" thing? And all by happy accident! I left wanting to go to Pinotxo in the Boqueria.Not to be a one trick pony, but it simply is the best. Way too crowded at lunch, two deep at every bar stool. Crossed over La Rambla, did a bit of shopping in the Gotic, them back across La Rambla into the El Raval neighborhood. Had a cerveza at a small bar while I pondered my lunch fate, getting fairly ravenous in the meantime. It had been , after all, almost four hours since my late breakfast at Pinotxo. Wandered down a couple more blocks, and saw a sign outside this nondescript place called Flor de Maig (address: C. Bejar 70), just maybe three blocks off La Rambla. Had a set price menu outside that seemed suspiciously cheap, which always worries, but this place was also off the tourist track of Rambla/Gotic, so you know they were chasing locals. The menu offered a first/second/dessert/bebida (drink), and bread for nine euros. The menu...well, what I could make out of it anyway...looked promising. Entered a clean. modern dining room, and got my table for one (shades of Steve Martin in "The Lonely Guy"!). Was looking at the menu, asked for a first course of spinach-ricotta tortellini, and was wondering about my second. There were two guys sitting next to me. One guy gives me the eye, says, "Hey, you like fish?" Me: "Um, yeah". He says "Have the bacalao." Who was I to argue? Salt cod it is.
Ordered a glass of vino blanco. My waitress, who was incredibly nice with the best smile, brought an empty glass and a full bottle of white. Thought "Now that's my kind of glass of wine!" Coming out of my fantasy, figuring that the first glass was included, and then they'd charge for more, I poured away. As I found out, there was happily no upcharge for the second or third glasses, and now I'm wondering what would've happened if I had drank the whole bottle, besides me getting an early groove on followed by a later nap. Well, the first course of tortellini in a light cream sauce was really nice, and generously sized. Then came the bacalao. Here's a picture:
This was a seriously good plate of food...that's a lightly sweetened citrus purée around it, that was the perfect counterpoint to the ever so slightly salty fish. One of the best things I've had on the trip. It was one of those perfectly balanced dishes, and again a very nice sized portion of fish. I was loving very bite! Finished that, feeling pretty full at this point, but with dessert to come, took my servers advice and had the profiteroles.....
....oh yeah, nothing wrong there. In a trip filled with great food at stupid prices, this may have topped the list. When in Barca, get your hungry bodies to Flor de Maig!
Now taking a break on my small, sunny balcony, making dinner plans in my head, plans that will certainly begin with a Tanqueray martini at Boada's that will look something like...make that this:
To my wonderful sister and brother-in-law, knowing your love of the perfect martini, I toast you with every sip! To everyone else, wherever we are, life is good, no?!
6/1/2006 12:30pm/ Barcelona
It was an all Gaudi, all afternoon in Barca yesterday. Spent the early afternoon in Parc Güell, a Gaudi designed, 30 hectare park that is regarded as the nicest open space in the city. Gaudi is a local hero here in Barcelona. His designs, particularly the phantasmagorical (now that's one of those words you don't get to use too often) La Familia Segrada, his unfinished cathedral, are iconic Barcelona landmarks. Fanciful, disturbing, drug-induced...pick your adjectives, because he had some wildly original things going on in his head. And unlike most of us, if he could dream it, he could build it!
Here's a couple of shots from yesterdays Gaudi fest.....
A piece of the furniture he designed that is now in the Gaudi Museum, which was a home he lived in for 20 years here in Barcelona, in Parc Güell.

Gaudi slept here!

Huge columns and the "G" designed ceiling in part of the parc by the museum.

Part of La Sagrada Famiglia. On one side of the Segrada are these dramatic religious scenes (notice that instead of a detailed head on Christ, it's just a square block), the other side, as in the next photo, this bizarre, dark view of religion. Crazy stuff, but very compelling.

After a round of tapas bar hopping last night, woke up late this morning, almost 10:00! People out on La Rambla until all hours of the morning. The first stop today was La Boqueria. I can't get enough of this local food mecca. Had my garbanzos at Pinotxo Bar (and just so you now, I'll be back for one last hit tomorrow morning before I that dish), and a very small, flat omelet that they serve with a piece of toasted rustic bread that has been rubbed with tomato and drizzled with olive oil. That's one that's coming home with me! Wandered the market for an hour or so...then this afternoon...who knows. I'm guessing more food and drink.........ciao!
Here's a few more shots......
Walking back to the hotel last night, wandered by this knife shop. Somehow, incredibly, this guy who works there had just CUT HIMSELF! Grabbed my camera, took a quick shot which I'm not sure he liked, and admittedly was kind of rude, but it was too good. Then ran out before they demo'd some product on me!

The next three are from my morning at Boqueria......
Beautiful fresh shellfish and seafood everywhere.

Now this is how to sell farm fresh eggs!

My future wife and mother-in-law.................okay, maybe not, but ya gotta respect what she could bring to the table!!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

5/31/2006 10:55am...Bacelona
Does it get any better than this?:

Almost 11:00am in Barcelona, and just tucking into this mid-morning snack of churros con suizo, which is essentially these long fried pastries dipped into what has to be the BEST hot chocolate I've ever had. More than hot chocolate, really. More like a daaaark chocolate syrup, slightly thinned, and all too sexy. It's beautiful, warm, sunny....the perfect day to hunt for Gaudi!
Let's see, what has transpired since my bedspread rant?
Arrived in Barcelona yesterday afternoon, checked in to the Hotel Lloret, a wonderfully situated hotel a the top of the Ramblas, the ancient shopping street of Barcelona that even though it is swarming with tourists, still retains that sense of history. My first stop, of course, is the famous La Boqueria food market right off the Ramblas. Imagine any food market you've ever been in. Imagine it on steroids and pulsing with life and vibrating with color. Hundreds of vendors selling everything and anything you could possibly want to cook! Just inside the entrance, I grabbed a quick seat at Bar Pinotxo, not only a very sweet little bar with a mere twelve seats, but considered among the best restaurants/tapas bars in town. Started with a perfectly chilled glass of rosado and a plate of langoustines, large sea shrimp, that as the cook behind the counter showed me were still alive right up to the moment he dropped them on the grill. Fabulous! Then had a small plate of perhaps twelve mussels, topped with an olive oily vinaigrette/mignonette. Again, they were amazing. The perfect light lunch to carry me through the day.
Wandered for hours, through the Ramblas and the Barri Gotic, the old Gothic quarter of Barcelona, walking its narrow, twisting streets. Then went back to the Lloret for a post-travel, pre-cocktail bath. Feeling very refreshed, got dressed to check out the Bar Boada's, right across the street from my hotel. An absolute classic, liike being thrown backk abou 60 years. A tiny, wedge shaped room, the Boada's is thought of as the city's best cocktail bar, and was founded in 1933 by ex-Havana barman Miguel Boada. The mixologists behind the bar still wear the white shirts withblack vests and black bow ties they've been wearing for decades. Can you say mojito? Well, they certainly can, and my mojito was perfection! I just couldn't leave at that, and in this bar it only seemed appropriate to have a martini, so out came the Tanqueray, and the show alone was worth it. Pouring back and forth between two shakers, this was everything I could hope my favorite elixir could be. And unlike the giant, four ounce plus concoctions that we see at home, these are poured into the classic 2-1/2 to 3 ounce glasses that were the traditional cocktail glass back in the day. With that lovely beginning glow, I wandered down the Ramblas in search of Agostina's, in the Gotic.Perhaps it was that olive in the martini that threw me off, but it took me a bit to find this place. But once I did, it was well worth the hunt. I had three plates of tapas, all superb. I didn't have my camera, so no pics, but let me try and describe them. A plate of Jamon Catalunya, a house specialty, which was six two inch slices of ham on top of a piece of potato, the whole drizzled with olive oil and lightly sprinkled with paprika. Then a plate of six grilled sardines, again so fresh and salty good, each about 5 inches long. A little fire , some olive oil, a dash of fresh parsley, and a few drops of lemon juice....what couuld be simpler, or bettter? And then, when I saw this, I knew I had to try it...foie gras on apples, which sounds so simple and tasted SO incredible. Slices of granny smith apples, topped with a generous portion of foie gras, and that drizzled with a balsamic/fig juice, really nothing more needs to be said. I can't even think of adjectives to describe this...even my favorite "f-cking awesome" doesn't do this justice. With that, a couple of glasses of rosado, and this body was ready for bed.
Okay, so now it's the next morning, have already been to the Boqueria, had a breakfast of stewed garbanzos with pine nuts, raisins, and blood sausage crumbled in it. Here's a picture...pardon the camera strap...amatuer hour with the camera!

My new favorite morning treat! Washed down with a café con leche, then wandered the market. I could spend hours here. I have a few pictures below. Then back to the hotel to grab the computer, to La Pallaresa for the churros, and now you are right there with me. More later!

Beautiful pieces of tuna above!

What are you having for dinner tonight?! I told you that you could get anything here......ha!!
With all due apologies to the Rolling Stones, Goat's Head Soup anyone??