We returned last week from a 10-day to Barcelona and San Sebastian. Since I got so many helpful tips from Chowhounders, I decided to post a report in the spirit of giving back. I will preface it by admitting that we went a little crazy, but the trip was to celebrate my 60th birthday, so it called for some craziness.
At the highest end of the dining scene, we ate at El Celler de Can Roca in Girona--we had been on the waiting list for months and managed to score a table once we were in Spain. What an experience! We were lucky enough to meet all three Roca brothers and tour the kitchen, in addition to having one of the most memorable meals of our lives. We got the classics menu with the wine pairings, and everything was exceptional. In San Sebastian we had dinner at Mugaritz. All I would say to anyone going there is don't read a whole lot about it beforehand. There are some really fun surprises! Also, definitely tell them if you're celebrating your birthday. That's all I'll say about that!
We also had a phenomenal lunch at Akelare. We had a beautiful table overlooking the sea. We were feeling kind of tasting-menu overload, so we were happy that we could order off the menu. The staff guided us toward the most seasonal, authentic dishes: anchovies cooked under hot salt, baby spring peas, a pasta with seasonal mushrooms, and suckling pig. All perfectly prepared, plated, and presented. Truly a 3-star experience. Chef Subijana made the rounds several times and stopped at most every table at some point.
Our final high-end experience was at Pakta, in Barcelona, Albert Adria's Japanese/Peruvian place. If that place doesn't get a couple of Michelin starts pretty soon, I'd be surprised. The creativity, attention to detail, and flawless food and service put it up there with our other high-end meals.
At the other end of the dining spectrum, we took the Aborigen food tour in Barcelona, with food writer Cece. It was phenomenal. He took us to one tiny neighborhood bodega after another, ordering us the best each had to offer. The tour was on the pricey side, but we thought it was a fantastic experience and we truly felt like we were with an insider.
Of course, you'll want to visit La Boqueria--it is quite a spectacle. But for a less frenzied experience, stop in to the Santa Cristina market, near the cathedral.There you'll see the locals buying their supplies. There is also a bar/restaurant connected to the market that features the market's best and freshest offerings.
My actual birthday was a Monday, so from the relatively few places open on Mondays, we picked Barraca, by the beach. It has a good reputation, and a selection of paellas. But we discovered that it's almost impossible to order paella for just one person. And at least there, it's expensive. It would have cost us over 40 euros--and we'd only be trying one dish! Anyway, the staff was not very helpful or attentive--I wouldn't go as far as to say that they were rude, but it was by far the worst experience we had in Spain, service-wise. So we called it quits after our appetizers.
I'm realizing this post is not very organized, but now I'm going back to San Sebastian, where I just want to say that the two pintxos bars we liked the best were La Cepa (try the gavillas) and La Cuchara de San Telmo (braised veal cheeks--yum). San Telmo is a little hard to find because it's actually around the corner from the street its address is on.
We also had a wonderful lunch just over the border in France, at a charming farmhouse restaurant called Ferme Lizarragua.
That's about it. I hope it helps some other Chowhounders.