Eating in Barcelona

I had been looking forward to my short trip to Barcelona almost as much for the food I was going to taste as for the places I was going to see and the people I was going to see. With the advent of restaurants such as El Bulli (where I have not been and which does not serve Catalan food) and Manresa (in the Bay Area), Catalan cuisine is achieving some sort of recognition in the US. My sojourn through Catalan cuisine was quite successful and I now wanted to see what Catalan dishes would taste like when cooked right. Alas, I ended up being disappointed, not as much as in the cuisine, as in my own experience with it.
The first problem was that for whatever reason I became a bit stomach sick after arriving in Barcelona – whether the culprit was airline food or a Burger King burger from Kennedy airport, I will never know – but the fact was that I didn’t feel like eating anything my first day in Barcelona. A small lunch at Restaurante Taxidermista in Barcelona’s Plaça Reial was my first introduction to Catalan food – but its brief menu only allowed me to taste pa amb tomaquet (bread with tomato) and some Catalan sausages. They were both very good, however.
I didn’t eat again until the next day, when I ended up by accident (i.e. telling myself “I’ll sit down at the next restaurant I find”) at a Galician restaurant somewhere. Here I had some more pa amb tomaquet, some ravioli with sauce and some grilled quail – neither of which impressed me. Once again I skipped dinner that night.
The next day was the start of the meeting I was attending. I had lunch with my colleagues at Restaurante Mango, on Aveda. Diagonal 635, very near my hotel. Mango does not actually serve Catalan food, instead concentrating on pizzas, salads, pastas and paellas. I had the Tropix pizza (E12) and it was good, though nothing special. My colleagues seemed happier with their salads and pastas – so maybe pizza is not the way to go here.
That evening we had the buffet dinner at Restaurante Contraste, the restaurant of the Hotel Princesa Sofia, where we were staying. This was probably the best buffet dinner I’ve had. Though the selection wasn’t terribly broad, everything they had was fresh and great tasting. I had a simple salad (beware that there are no ready-made dressings, though) and then two of the three pre-made entrees. I think one was cannelloni and the other some stewed meat, very good though a bit salty. There were plenty of desserts, I tried the crema catalana which once again did not impress me – but most of the other bites were quite good. They also have a grill station which I didn’t try, my suspicion after several meals is that Spanish/Catalan beef is not particularly good in the first place. Other people seemed quite happy with their selections, though. I think the buffet is about E45-50, but we got a special group rate. In any case, if you want to eat at the buffet you may want to inquire whether it’s cheaper if you pay for it when you register.
The next two lunches were at the University, where we were served 3-course meals which included wine! Leave it to the Catalans 🙂 The food was quite good though not terribly exiting. Our second dinner was at a popular restaurant in the Gothic quarter – unfortunately I don’t remember the name. We had popular Catalan tapas/appetizers such as croquettes, tomato bread and several things I didn’t recognize – but everyone seemed quite happy with them. I had the veal with brie, which seems to be a popular dish in Barcelona, and it was nice but also not too exiting – the veal wasn’t as tender as you’d wish. I ate it assuming that baby cows are not mistreated in Spain the way they are in the US – I hope that’s true.
Our last dinner was at La Botiga, also close to the hotel. It was also quite good.
So, what am I left with? Well, my impression now is that Catalan food as randomly served in Barcelona is good and solid, but not magical. My standards, however, may be too high – I’ve been cooking a lot of really good Mediterranean food lately (you’d be surprised at how many “C” cuisines are in the Mediterranean), and, if I say so myself, I’m quite a good cook, so it takes a LOT to impress me.

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