Many of these message boards were of tremendous help to me in planning my trip to Spain. Thanks to all for your help and advice. Here's where we ended up going, which I've split up by city for easier reading:
BARCELONA: Days 7-9
LA PARADETA: A fun and unique experience for people who like seafood and don’t get squeamish at fish markets. We were a little intimidated at first by the guidebook description, which made it sound like an actual fish market, with people shouting/yelling out orders and sprawling counters of raw seafood and where non-native speakers don’t stand a chance. The reality is far tamer, at least at the Born location: the seafood options are pretty recognizable (the shrimps, prawns, and lobsters have been pre-cooked), and the offerings limited to one counter, so it’s not too overwhelming. Furthermore, only one or two cooking methods are available for each type of seafood (e.g., grilled or fried for the calamari, raw for oysters), making the ordering process easier than that at Starbucks. Knowing fractions in Spanish/Catalan is helpful, as most prices are based on weight. We ended up getting prawns, calamari, and clams—the first two grilled (planxa) and the clams in marinara. The food was good, but the highlight is probably the novelty of the experience. Also, a good value--we spent 30 euros on our lunch, which included a bottle of wine.
EUSKAL ETXEA: A very, very cool pintxos bar. This was one of my favorite places in Barcelona. This was our only experience at a true pintxos bar. The spread of culinary concoctions were both beautiful and delicious. Didn’t seem very expensive, 1.80 euro for each pintxo (great bargain compared to some of what we had in Madrid), and I can't imagine eating more than 6 (most people we saw got 3). Because the pintxos were just lying on platters, we didn’t really know what we were eating until after eating it (and sometimes not even then), but we were delighted by every single one (we had 9, so we were able to try about half of their pintxos). It seemed like a lot of these were fish mousse, fish/seafood salad, or cheese. My favorites were their seafood salad pintxos. We had one cheese pintxo that tasted like cranberry cream cheese on a bagel. There’s a restaurant in the back, but it was just so much fun sitting at the bar and grabbing one of everything!
CAN CULLERETES: We came here for lunch to try their hearty, homestyle Catalonian cooking. Even with their endless dining rooms, this place was packed. Their menu del dia is 17 euros, which seemed like one of the most expensive that we saw while in Spain, but it included a LOT of food. For our 1st course, we had the highly recommended spinach and crab mousse, which reminded me a little bit of spinach-artichoke dip so a very indulgent dish, and the cannelloni. Both of these were very good and quite filling, to the point that I would probably have been fine just having the 1st course for lunch. For our 2nd course, we had the grilled squid, which seemed a little boring but at the same time delicious and perhaps better quality than the squid at La Paradeta. We also had the veal stew—the chunks of veal were very tender and came apart easily. The meal also included desserts. The whiskey ice cream tart is strong on the whiskey. We were still stuffed when it was time for dinner 6 hours later.
TAVERNA DEL CLINIC: We managed to eat a full meal at TdC even after our food coma lunch at Can Culleretes. The food here was super cool—everything is beautifully plated, and the combination of flavors is a very inventive take on traditional Spanish tapas. For example, their patatas bravas entails small cylinders of potato scooped out and filled with alioli. Other dishes like the excellent morels with foie and the scallops entailed wonderful and unique combinations of textures and flavors. While the food seems more high-end, the ambiance is quite casual and has the makings of a very clean takeout place (bright lights and a narrow dining room with 2-4 person tables lined up one after the other). If you don't mind the barebones ambiance, this is a good place to try haute-ish cuisine, but it’s not cheap (70 euros with 1 glass of wine each). I’m still a little conflicted: TdC offers creative, high quality cuisine but seems a little overpriced at $50pp.
CAFÉ ACADEMIA: Of the places in Barcelona so far, this one had the most refined atmosphere, quickly filling with chic Catalonian women and businessmen at lunch time. Both CC and CA felt like a locals spot, but CA is quieter and a little more upscale in its ambiance. Taking a cue from our belly busting Menu del Dia at CC the day before, we decided to order a la carte, both to save room for dinner and to try some of their recommended dishes. We started with a really yummy Cafe Academia salad (as delicious as Spanish/Catalan food is, we were really missing the vegetable food group). What was on this delicious bed of endives, olives and tomatoes? A very large chunk of tuna, of course! This power protein salad was then followed by the duck confit with poached orange sauce and the grilled botifarra (Catalonian sausage). The duck was excellent—the meat was very flavorful and moist and contrasted nicely with the mildly tart orange sauce. I also really like the layers of cheesey potato that came as a side.
CINC SENTITS: Much has already been said on this board about Cinc Sentits, so I’ll just have to add to the many endorsements. This was one of the best meals I’ve ever had. Ever. The restaurant certainly lives up to its name of appealing to all five senses. We had the 8-course Sensacions menu, supposedly an overview of Catalan cuisine but for me it was much more an incredible exercise of a plethora of culinary techniques applied to locally sourced ingredients. I really appreciated the use of both molecular(?) application, such as with the “false egg” served for dessert (an egg-white like texture of white chocolate encompassing a deliciously tart and liquid passion fruit center), and innovative traditional cooking, such as with the wild sole, where the fish sizzled in a campfire-esque smoke, and the faint aroma of burning logs lingered through the course. To complement the meal, we opted for the standard wine pairing (a premium wine pairing is also available). While we enjoy wine, we’re far from being experts, so having the sommelier explain the notes in each wine and how they balanced with the different flavors of the dishes enhanced both the wine and the dishes themselves. It was a great experience, an opportunity to learn about wine and food, as well as eat it.