I had occasion to spend five evenings in Barcelona and wanted to offer my take on five meals – four terrific and one not so good. The restaurants involved were Agut, Gaucho’s Restaurante Argentino, Merendero de la Mari, Senyor Parellada, and Set Portes.
** Agut brought out a small bowl of delicious large green olives and a sausage slice on tomato bread. I ordered a bottle of the Bodegas Auras Verdejo from Rueda, which was good. I started with anxoves cantabric, a plate of anchovies laid on sliced tomatoes with black olives. Fantastic anchovies, but they left me dehydrated all night. I then had potatge de cigrons, chickpea soup with baccala and a green that looked like chard.
I continued with the calamarsets (small squid), which were charcoal grilled. The tentacles were slightly charred and just wonderful. I finished off with a cheese plate, which included manchego, idiazabal, cabra, and pata de mulo. Not a fancy presentation, but big slabs of cheese on a plate. The service was workmanlike but nothing special, although the place does have its charms.
** Gaucho’s Restaurante Argentino was pure serendipity. Plan A and Plan B for dinner had both fallen through and I was tired and hungry. I had seen this place earlier and had made a mental note (on Carrer Aragó, just off Passeig de Gràcia). Truth be told, I don’t think I have ever had a bad meal at an Argentinean restaurant, so I decided to see how the traditional menu would be interpreted in Catalonia. I ordered a bottle of Luigi Bosca Single Vineyard Malbec, which was excellent. I started with a plate of mollejas, charcoal grilled sweetbreads piled high and served with lemon and touches of red and green sauces. They were stunning, quite possibly the best I have had.
I continued with a classic entraña, which turned out to be a thicker cut than the ultra-thin skirt steaks we see in the States. It was very flavorful, done perfectly, and served with a red chimichurri. The plate also contained two thick slices of roasted potato, one topped with an allioli and the other with a tomato-onion relish. I finished with a dulce batata con queso, slices of a sweet potato jam with cheese, which was also good. So I lucked out big time. One note: this place does not appear to do much tourist business, so no one spoke even rudimentary English. The service was very friendly, though. They really did aim to please.
** Merendero de la Mari worried me a little as I had been warned away from the fancy joints along the waterfront. But I had seen a couple of positive posts and decided to try it. This is one of four restaurants in the Palau de Mar, but the only one that was doing any business on the Friday night I was there. It was buzzing and the other places were mostly empty. A lot of families with children – definitely a family-friendly place. The décor is modern – definitely looks like a restaurant consultant waved a magic wand over the place. I especially liked the octopus lamps. The maître d' reminded me of Henry Kissinger. He was really on top of the room. The service was crisp and professional.
They brought out a bowl of arbequina olives. I ordered a bottle of the Terras Gauda Albariño blend from Rías Baixas, which was good, but not quite as minerally as I had hoped. I started with cigrons i calamarsets (chickpeas and little squid), which I recommend, and continued with the arros negre (paella with squid ink), which was perfect – served with a generous bowl of first-rate allioli. I ordered a glass of the Fernando Castilla Pedro Ximenez and the crema catalana. Fortunately (yes, fortunately) they brought the wrong dessert, which turned out to be canelones de manec i coco. One look and I couldn’t resist the little soft canelones, with sauces providing a terrific blend of tart and sweet.
** Senyor Parellada was close to my hotel. A paper cone filled with black olives was waiting on the table when I sat down. They were not very flavorful. I ordered a bottle of the Pittacum Bierzo, which was good. I started with embotit, described on the English menu as “brawn sausage.” The waiter tried gently to steer me away from it by explaining that it was not “a sausage like chorizo.” He should have been less gentle. I will normally eat just about anything, but picking bits of bone and cartilage out of my sausage was a bit much at a white tablecloth restaurant. The meaty parts were not even that good. It reminded me of ordering chicken feet at a Chinese restaurant.
I continued with the arros S. Parellada, the house paella. The rice was mushy and the peas – surely they weren’t canned? I finished with the seleccio de formatge featuring three cheeses that were not named or described. There was a manchego, a goat cheese, and a blue of some kind. They were fine. No doubt you have surmised that this was the clunker of my visit.
** At Set Portes I was a walk-in and they could only seat me in the smoking room, not ideal but the meal was worth it. They brought a bowl of arbequinas, some bread, and four different olive oils – two arbequinas, one empeltre, and one picuda-hojiblanca blend. I ordered a bottle of the Mas Perinet Priorat, which was fantastic. I was pleased to see that they had calçots – the local spring onions – on the menu. I ordered them and a huge plateful appeared – easily enough for two. They were deep fried and served with two sauces, an allioli and a sweet red pepper. The calçots were melt-in-your-mouth creamy.
I continued with the bacalla a la museltina d’alls de la Sra Carme, a perfectly prepared bacalla with a tasty tomato-garlic-shrimp sauce. I closed with the pastis al poma al calvados, which was OK but not great. The service was friendly and competent. My waiter was quite helpful with recommendations.
In conclusion, the best dishes were the calamarsets at Agut, the mollejos at Gaucho’s, the arros negre at Merendero de la Mari, and the calçots at Set Portes. The best wine was the Priorat at Set Portes. The most expensive meal was at Merendero de la Mari, and the least expensive at Agut.