Here are some of the culinary highlights of our recent trip to Barcelona and Sitges, which was our first to Spain after several in Italy. Although my wife missed her pasta, overall we had many wonderful dishes; we were particularly impressed by the seafood in Sitges, which had no Chowhound entries that I could find.
-This has gotten some mixed responses from Chowhound, but we enjoyed our dinner there. The building, the atmosphere, the level of service and food would be hard to beat for the price. In particular, we enjoyed the lamb with garlic and the Galician octopus. Both were very moist, tender, and flavorful.
-For our Sunday night dinner (although, most places seemed to be open on Sunday), we walked up from a guitar concert at Santa Maria del Pi. We loved the space and the atmosphere, which reminded us of NYC. Everything we had was great, but we especially enjoyed the sea snails and the octopus with onion.
-A great space with a large glass front looking out onto a narrow street in the Barri Gotic. We enjoyed the beef carpaccio, the scallop wonton ravioli, baby squid and lentils, and duck with wild rice.
Café de L’Accademia
-A very popular and romantic spot in the Barri Gotic that offered visually creative and flavorful dishes. Everything we had were standouts: an eggplant terrine topped with goat cheese (resembling a fried egg), a bikini (toasted sandwich) with duck pate and black truffles, squid with rice (resembling a pasta carbonara), and cod with pistachio, tomato, and olives.
El Boliche del Gordo Cahrera
-A restaurant in Eixample that had a business lunch crowd; the menu del dia was 15 euro (including wine, water, and coffee). We enjoyed the cold carrot soup, merluza, and steak.
-An old-school seafood house in Barcelonetta, we went for the shellfish paella, which was wonderful, the rice having the perfect al dente texture. The stock used was a bit salty, but we noticed that to be typical of a lot the food that we had around Barcelona.
-This restaurant in El Born offers a fantastic lunch menu del dia. 18 euro per person for 5 courses and an amuse bouche with wine included. Of note were the red pepper and goat cheese soup, corvino with olives and peppers, and beef with pepper sauce and green beans.
-Highly recommended by everyone and a great experience for a pre-dinner snack. The owners were very accommodating given the crowd and the language barrier. Order the raw fish (salmon and cod), which we were served with pine nuts and black olive sauce, and ask for “cecina,” which is a cured beef similar to Bresaola. After trying it, we started asking for it in different shops, and we were able to find it at a place in Sitges (Chambord) for 30 euro a kilo.
-We went there for lunch at around 3-3:15, and we were able to sit right away. By the time we finished (4-4:15), it was mostly empty and they were prepping for dinner. We ordered four dishes (tellarines, fritto misto, tortilla, and baby calamari with garbanzo beans), all of which were excellent. In particular, the tortilla was the best of our trip, with a soft, gooey center. With a bottle of white wine, the bill was 59 euro. We were so impressed with the flavor of the tellarines that I bought some later at a market in Sitges (about 12 euro a 1/2 kilo) and made them at our apartment with olive oil and white wine.
Santa Caterina Market
-We stayed in El Born, about 200 yards from the market, so it was very convenient for us, but also we found it a great alternative to the larger and more crowded Boqueria. It was very manageable and the vendors were very friendly. I wish I could remember the name of the local Garroxta-style cheese that I bought at a stall there. It had a slightly sharp bite to it and was perfect on bread with some honey.
-Located just above the Platja San Sebastian, we enjoyed a breezy, leisurely lunch with a magnificent ocean view. The menu del dia was 23 euro each, but that included a whole bottle of wine and the portions were very large: the sopa de peix was excellent and could have served three people. Also excellent was the merluza, which was (like all the fish we had in Sitges) cooked to its moist and flaky ideal.
-An intimate space in the historic center, the vibe here is hip-urban-casual, but the crowd was a mix of Spanish families and couples. The food had a more modern, fusion-style preparation. We enjoyed the octopus with potato, prawn carpaccio, bluefin tuna with sesame and balsamic, and skewers of tuna, salmon and prawns with apricot sauce (although it would have been better without the sauce).
-A traditional seafood restaurant with a high level of professional service. We liked the sopa de peix, grilled razor clams, baked sea bass, and skate with romescu sauce and white beans, which was one of my favorite dishes of the trip. It was the perfect expression of the Catalan “mar y montana” approach to cooking. Complimentary sherry was given after the meal.
-The busiest tapas bar in the historic center of Sitges (located just up from the Platja San Sebastian); we stopped here for a noon snack. We especially enjoyed the goat cheese with caramelized onions and the meatballs.
La Taberna del Puerto
-Located in the Aquadolc Port, this is a more formal seafood restaurant. Complimentary cava and shrimp come when you are seated, and after that come incredibly-sized portions of top-notch seafood. We had the lobster salad with pasta, anchovies Bilbao-style (in a pot of hot oil, garlic and peppers), which was my other favorite dish of the trip, and grilled merluza.
-We were a bit wary because it’s connected to a hotel, but it’s located in a romantic garden on Carrer Cuba, and it offered a well-priced dinner menu with 7 or 8 choices for three courses, including wine, for 33 euro. We enjoyed the salmon, feta, and avocado salad, baby calamari and garbanzo beans, monkfish carpaccio, and steak with blue cheese.
-Also located in the Aquadolc Port, it is very similar to La Taberna del Puerto but the service is a bit more casual. Comparing the two, it seemed to be more a family-friendly place, but the quality of the seafood and the price are very similar. We had the crab and prawn salad, baby calamari, merluza Basque-style, and grilled turbot.
-A cozy, fun, and friendly place in the Old Town, it was a pleasure just watching the one waiter work the room, mix the various tartares, sing to himself, and arrange the singing of “Happy Birthday” (after having turned out all the lights). Everthing was fantastic. We had an avocado and prawn salad, sopa de peix, salmon with a caviar mustard sauce, cod and mussels with a champagne cream sauce, a raspberry sorbet, and an excellent Penedes Chardonnay for 67 euro.
FRIED CALAMARI - We are huge fans, and having stayed in various places on the Amalfi Coast, we weren’t sure how it would measure up. But we had it at least 8 times on the trip, and every time it was excellent. Consistently, the calamari had a plump texture and tenderness that we found impressive. I’m not sure if this made the difference, but watching the guys batter it at Cal Pep, they dropped it right in the bread crumbs without first doing flour and then egg. Or maybe the difference is in the bread crumbs?
PENEDES WINE – Since we ate mostly seafood, we tended to order the various whites and roses (having had cava before dinner), and with the exception of once ordering a Martin Codax Albarino, we had wine from Penedes every time. The Chardonnays were particularly impressive and were a perfect match for some of the heavier seafood dishes.
FOREIGN LANGUAGE MENUS – Ask for at least one menu in Catalan. As in Italy, you seem to be at a disadvantage when you are given an English-only menu. Not only do you not get to the learn the proper name for what you are ordering, but the waiters often don’t know the English menu well enough to identify what you are ordering. Looking back on it, I wish I had taken a little bit of time to pick some Catalan basics.
WATER – Once they got over the shock of our ordering water with gas (the Vichy Catalan is excellent if a bit salty), we were surprised to find that most places gave us either a quarter liter or a half liter (often with only one glass), but we were afraid to order two because every so often a place would give you a full liter. If we had spoken better Catalan/Spanish, we could have asked easily enough. Not a big deal, but we found it interesting.
DRAFT BEER – It seems to me that pouring a proper draft beer is a lost art where I live. In Barcelona and Sitges, the draft beer was consistently good wherever we went. In particular, watching the guy pour at Xampanyet was an education in itself. We also became fans of cerveza limon (I preferred the Damm Limon on tap to the draft mixed with Fanta); it’s perfect for your noon snack.
If you are interested in the non-food-related details of our trip, my wife’s report can be found on Trip Advisor