Last month my son and I spent 10 days in Spain. In preparation for the trip I spent much time on Chowhound researching restaurants, so in the spirit of giving back, here is a report of our experiences. Because it’s so long, I’ve broken it up into two parts, Barcelona and Granada, then Madrid and Segovia.
Arrived late into Barcelona on a Monday night. After checking into our hotel (H10 Metropolitan), walked down to Cafe Viena for the ‘best ham sandwich in the world’ (per Mark Bittman). It was good, but not noticeably better than the sandwiches we got at la Boqueria a few days later at half the price.
Next morning we went on the free Sandeman’s Barcelona tour, which was a nice way for jet-lagged travelers new to Barcelona to ease into the city. Afterwards walked down to Barcelonetta for lunch at Kaiku. Beautiful day and a great location right on the beach, but too windy to sit on the patio. Seated inside, we ordered the navajas (razor clams) and fideua (Barcelona version of paella made with angel hair pasta). The clams were good and the fideua outstanding. Wish we could have taken leftovers as the two of us could only finish half of it. Total for food, glass of cava and sparkling water was 50€.
Grabbed some very good gelato nearby at Vioko, then walked to the Museo Naval.
In the evening, went on the Spanish Trails Tapas Tour. I have mixed feelings about our experience. It was just two of us and our guide, a Barcelona native. Our guide was friendly and knowledgeable, discussing not only the food but the culture and history of Barcelona (it was actually a nice complement to our morning tour). We went to five places, with one or two dishes at each. The accompanying drinks were very good, a white wine, 2 reds, a homemade vermut, and a cava. So what was the problem? Well, we found the food to be mostly underwhelming. Not bad, but no ‘wow’ either. This wouldn't have been a problem if the tour had been half the price, but at 230€ for the two of us, it was by far, with the exception of Disfrutar, our most expensive night of the trip. Having said that, I don't want to discourage anyone from taking such a tour. If food is not a priority (which probably rules out everyone reading this post) it can be a fun evening and a nice introduction to tapas etiquette.
The next day we spent the morning at Camp Nou, then went to Quimet | Quimet for lunch. No line at 130pm, so we made our way to the bar. After listening to us mangle the Catalan pronunciation of several menu items, the woman behind the counter kindly suggested that ordering in English might be easier. We ordered the navajas, cockles, stuffed squid, and scallops on toast. The squid was a little bland but everything else was outstanding. The total with a caña and sparkling water was around 30€. Hope to return here someday to try more of the menu.
Spent the afternoon exploring Montjuic.
Dinner was at Disfrutar. Warmly welcomed by the host, who gave us a quick tour of the restaurant and kitchen (introducing us to the 3 head chefs), before leading us to our table. Three prix fixe menus were offered. We selected the Festival (middle) menu. I won't list each course (you can see a reasonable approximation on their website), or ruin the surprises, but will say the the dinner was one of the most enjoyable of my life. The courses were creative, whimsical, often surprising, yet never sacrificing flavor for novelty. Service was top-notch at all levels. After dinner, we were in invited to the back terrace where we ended our 3 hour meal with espressos. Total including 2 glasses of house white, numerous bottles of sparkling water and 2 espressos was 235€. I would be surprised if Disfrutar is not awarded a second star in the near future.
Next morning was Sagrada Familia. I wasn't expecting to be as impressed as I was. This place is stunning. We did the audio tour and went up one tower, both of which I recommend.
Lunch was at La Pubilla, a small neighborhood spot serving Catalan food, where we ordered the 15€ menu del dia. We both ordered the fish cake starter, my son had the stuffed shredded pork and a chocolate dessert, while I had the rice with clams and fresh nectarines. Everything was very tasty and the price included a caña, sparkling water and two espressos. This was probably the bargain meal of the trip.
Dinner tonight was Tickets. Upon arrival we were seated at the bar. We asked our waitress to put together a meal for us for 150€. Again, I won’t list each dish, but all were good, a couple spectacular (tuna nigiri, octopus). After delivery of our 7th dish our waitress said we have one more dish before dessert. We weren't ready to stop so I asked her if she could bring us a couple more dishes. She said the additional dishes wouldn't be included in the 150€ and I said of course, no problem. When our final regular dish arrived (the octopus), I asked our waitress for a menu, saying we’d like to order something from it. She said no problem and brought one over. Our next dish arrived (spatchcock quail), which was our first additional dish. Upon its consumption, we began looking at the menu when another waiter came by and asked us to follow him, saying “We have a surprise for you.” We followed him to the next room which I recognized as the dessert bar. Did this mean we were finished with dinner? We were seated at the bar and presented each with a rose containing a ball of sorbet nestled in the petals. An intermezzo I wondered? We finished the sorbet, then sat awhile wondering if we were supposed to stay or return to the other room. Eventually another dessert was set before us (a slab of some sort of coconut-flavored cream, set upon a chocolate base and covered with a caramel layer), which normally would have been welcome but less so here since we were still ruing the premature end of our entrees. This was followed by chocolate madeleines, then a selection from a tray of chocolate cookies and nibbles. Afterwards, we weren’t sure if dessert was over, so we sat watching elaborate desserts prepared and sent out to the main room, all looking better than the ones we received. Finally someone came by and asked if we wanted anything else, at which point I knew the meal was over.
My feelings about the evening are mixed. The dinner started strong. The entree portions, while generally not achieving the heights of Disfrutar, were for the most part excellent: creative, fun and tasty. The hand-off to the dessert portion however was handled poorly and our experience in the dessert bar was uncomfortable and disappointing.
Total for food, 2 cavas and numerous bottles of sparkling water was 166€, which was quite reasonable given the quality and quantity of the food. I’d try Tickets again. The food warrants a return and knowing what to expect, I’m certain I could avoid the missteps that marred our first visit.
The next day we flew to Granada, where we stayed via AirBnb at Smart Suites Albaicin.
After settling into our unit, we got a late start on a tapas crawl, starting at La Criolla. It was a beautiful evening so we sat outside on the patio across from a small plaza. A small plate of sauteed pork arrived with our drinks. From the menu we ordered pulpos (octopus) and some sort of ‘vampire' pincho just to see what it could be. The pulpos arrived promptly and were delicious. Then we waited and waited for the pincho. I checked with waiter and he says a few more minutes.10 minutes later he again says a few more minutes. Finally after 30+ minutes our vampire pincho arrives. Turned out to be like a fancy empanada. Good but nothing special. Total for food, one caña and one sparkling water was 20€. Despite the wait, I really liked this place. Good vibe, good location, good looking menu. Would definitely try it again.
Next we went to Taberna La Tana but it was too crowded and we didn't want to wait. So we went to Bar Los Diamantes. A plate of fried squid came with our drinks and we ordered the crawfish, which were the largest crawfish I've ever seen and delicious. Would have ordered more but it was late and we had an early start the next morning. Total for food plus caña and sparkling water was under 20€. Note that even at 11pm on a Friday night this place was packed with large extended families and it was LOUD. Would definitely return here and try more of the seafood.
Stopped at Los Ilianos on the way home for very good gelato. This place was also packed, with lines out the door at 11pm.
Did the Alhambra the next morning, then took an afternoon bus to Madrid. Our experiences continue in Part 2, Madrid and Segovia.