On my last trip to Barcelona a couple of months ago, My good friend Gabriella who is always in the mood for good food and wine, joined me for a self-guided tapas tour one warm Saturday evening. After we got sidetracked at some fun shops on the Rambla de Catalunya and the Passeig de Gracia, we stopped at Cerveceria Catalana. If you are new to the idea of tapas and don’t mind being with others who are too, this is a great place to start. Its big, there is plenty of seating (not always common in tapas places) and it has great food, menus in English, many traditional options some with a modern flair, and great service! I was skeptical as I knew this place might be touristy but I was pleasantly surprised by the food and won over by the friendly staff.
Our next stop was pure fun. I had heard of Tapaç 24 as it is overseen by Chef Carles Abellan from Comerç 24 and I was looking forward to trying some of his inventive cuisine. Sitting on high stools, surrounded by colourful painted walls and fresh vegetables hanging between the bar and the glass through which we could watch the chefs at work, we were not disappointed. Practically everything on the menu is based on traditional Catalan dishes and ingredients, some with inventive twists, and everything made with the best fresh ingredients. We started with the Tapa D’Or – or Golden tapa for 2.50€ which was a plate of quality extra virgin olive oil with tomatoes served with crusty country bread. Next we ordered the restaurants version of Bombes called Bombes de La Barceloneta for 3.50€. Bombes are a type of croquette, always round. Our other tapa was the Tapas 24 version of the Catalan “Coca” which is like a pizza topped with fresh vegetable goodness with some caviar sprinkled on for fun. We of course enjoyed our tapas with some local sparkling cava and vowed to return someday soon!
Soon we were off again. To reach our third destination we took a 10 or 15 minute stroll down to the Born area near the Picasso Museum and stopped in at a packed Basque pintxos bar called Euskal Etxea, or the Basque house. Not just a source of great pintxos the Euskal Etxea is also a sort of Basque cultural center which offers activities and basque language classes. We stood at the bar and as is the custom here, were offered a plate and allowed to take what we wanted from the heaping plates of pintxos and kept our toothpicks in good faith in order to pay at the end. A weeknight might be better to stop here as it gets pretty crowded but no one really seemed to mind, and since this is the norm here in Spain, we were quite happy to enjoy our txacoli and pintxos elbow to elbow with our fellow diners.
C/ Mallorca, 236. Between Rambla de Catalunya and Balmes.
93 216 03 68
Carrer Diputacio, 269 (just east of Passeig de Gracia)
C/ Montcada 1-3, Barcelona 08003 (next to the Picasso Museum)
After a winter of little tapas activity, I am back with some more Spanish food to taste and places to visit. I thought I would share a tapa I had last weekend. I tried it more for the sake of a post for the blog than because I really wanted to. No, “miento,” that’s not true, I was curious as to what brains tasted like. We were in Cuidad Rodrigo, a beautiful walled in town full of renaissance palaces in Western Spain not far from Portugal. There is also a lovely Parador in a converted in a 14th century castle.
As luck would have it, on our walk through the city it suddenly it starts pouring down rain, and none of the six people in my group had thought of bringing an umbrella from the car. So we ducked into the first bar we came upon, which had only one patron, who I think was the grandfather of the girl working there. We ordered Cola Cao and tea and began to warm up. I notice that one of my friends is looking into the glass case on the bar, wondering to himself and all of us, just what kind of meat this was? “Sesos” replies the girl behind the counter in an uninterested voice.
So my friend Carl and I decided it was time we tried sesos, and with the slices of garlic we saw around them in the dish, I thought, at least they won’t taste too bad.
I have to say, I probably won’t be eating too many sesos again in the future. The taste was not bad, a fine meaty taste, but I didn’t enjoy the soft and slippery texture. Of course I would happily eat them if I had no other option, and many people really do enjoy them. Anyone like brains?
Last month I was fortunate to be in Northern Spain for a weekend. We travelled to Lugo, in Galicia, for a wedding which was held in the beautiful Romanesque and Gothic-style cathedral nestled in the center of town inside one of western Europe’s best-preserved, intact Roman city walls. Storybook wedding aside, we also spent quite a bit of time in Lugo’s various tapas bars with thirty or so friends getting reacquainted, catching up on each others lives, and eating tapas. Lucky for us, Lugo was holding a tapas competition with thirty five bars participating. Each bar offered a special tapa for the occasion under one of two categories; traditional or creative. I was able to try three of the contending tapas, along with several others acompanied by excellent Galician wines.
At Taberna Daniel, among a tapas style dinner of octopus, squid and mushrooms we tried the “tapa creativa”- The name in Galician is: “bacallau con pure duas cores“. Served in a glass it was a puree of cod, sweet onion and a garlicky tomato sauce which tasted like salmorejo. It was tasty and interesting, but I think I prefer not to eat my tapas out of a glass with a spoon. I would give it 3 out of 5 stars though.
At 101 Vinos, along with a beautifully tart Albariño we were served the “tapa tradicional” of “tortilla á mariñeira” which is a square slice of tortilla española, drenched in a marinera shrimp sauce. Very good. My favourite thing at this bar however were the pimientos de padrón. 4 out of 5 stars.
My favourite tapa was at Cafeteria Restaurante Antas de Ulla. Their own style of clams “ameixas ó Antas” included six clams for 2€ with a spicy vinaigrette sauce served with toastettes topped with a dried red pepper and gulas (imitation baby eels) and drizzled with olive oil. Our group ordered lots and lots of these. 5 stars!
I can’t find information yet on the winners but I do know I didn’t participate in the contest the correct way. You are supposed to have the waiter stamp your card proving that you in fact did try their tapa. After you have visited at least twelve bars you can deposit your stamped map in one of the boxes provided at each establishment for a drawing. You could win something too! A case of wine from the local D.O. Ribeira Sacra or a night in a luxury hotel in Lugo.
So next year, mid-September for about two to three weeks there will be another tapas contest in Lugo, I highly recommend checking it out!
A few weeks ago when visiting Bilbao we headed down to the Plaza Nueva, an enclosed plaza with terraces, and lots of tapas bars. Here they are called pinchos, or the preferred basque-ish spelling, pintxos. What a difference from the straightforward tapas found in Madrid’s traditional bars. Pintxos are a work of art. They are not free and you must ask for the one(s) you would like.
Our stop in the Plaza Nueva included Cafe Bar Bilbao, a historic pintxo bar and cafe almost 100 years old, we were a group of about eight people all standing around the bar with our drinks and sometimes ordering a few pintxos. A couple Americans came in (since I am one, for me they are easy to pick out) and somehow were able to get one of the 6 or so tables. It was about 8pm, still two hours short of dinner time but the bar was full of Bilbainos having an aperitif. The two women proceeded to order, first they were served a bottle of wine and I thought to myself, they are obviously tourists, they are not going about this pintxo thing the right way. They should stand at the bar like us, have some pintxos and move on to discover other places. Then their order came, a plate full of the colors of delicious looking pintxos, too much for just a bite, and seemingly too much for two people! It looked like the typical situation when you are in a foreign country and you order something and it ends up to be enough food for double the amount of people you are. But the women seemed happy with their dinner and my Basque friends had by now taken notice of these two and their huge plate and were enviously remarking at how those ladies really had a great idea! Now why didn’t we think of that!?
This was my plate of pintxos. I loved the one at the bottom of the photo. Its mixed fresh cheeses rolled into a ball covered with walnuts and balsamic reduction. The salmon and the fried squid were also wonderful.
Café Bar Bilbao is located at Plaza Nueva 6. (Metro Casco Viejo) in Bilbao
Bar Bilbao on YouTube
An interesting website dedicated to pintxos, the tapas of the Basque Country, is Todopintxos.com. They even have recipies and list some great tapas/pintxo bars in San Sebastian.
Another tapa with cod for this week! Katie over at España Profunda has posted her favorite croquetas in Madrid so to continue the theme, I’m posting mine. Which is better is yet to be tested!
For my favorite croquettes, I go to Casa Labra which is located in the heart of the commercial district in Puerta del Sol. Its a charming little corner of history nestled on a side street in the shadows of the Corte Inglés. One of the historical bars in Madrid, this was the place in 1879 where the Spanish Socialist political party was founded. But if you are like everyone else you are there to have the fantastic “croquetas de bacalao” which are well-known by every Madrileño. At busy times of day, just before lunch and dinner the crowd spills out onto the street. But the lines are fast moving and the staff very attentive and make sure everyone is served quickly.
I was fortunate to remember to snap this picture of the last half of a croqueta before it was too late!
Casa Labra does offer other tapas but most popular are of course the freshly made croquetas and pieces of fried cod. Order them as you enter then after paying for the tapas order your drinks at the bar. The typical drink here is either a caña of beer or vermouth “vermut” which they have on tap. For a non-alcoholic drink order a bottle of Mosto which is white grape juice and is very refreshing for the summer.
Casa Labra is on Calle Tetuan, 12 just next to the Corte Inglés in Puerta del Sol.
I’m quite a bit behind on my Tapas of the Week because of my recent trip to the US so today I am offering you a look at three authentic tapas I recently enjoyed at a great tapas bar called Retinto in Madrid. A canapé is a slice of bread topped with something tasty and here are some good examples.
1. On the left we have “Sobrasada con Miel”
Sobrasada is soft paprika infused sausage originating from the Spanish island of Mallorca and is so soft it can be spread on bread. Here it is mixed with honey, a common combination, which creates a delightful sweet and savory balance.
2. In the center we have “Solomillo con Brie”
Solomillo is sirloin, and here its sliced thin and topped with a slice of brie cheese. Easy to make at home! Retinto also does other sirloin tapas, one with mustard and another with caramelized onions. Delicious!
3. On the right is “Jamon de pato con tomate”
Cured duck ham on a slice of bread topped with a thin layer of fresh tomato purée. This could be a fun variation of pan tumaca if you wanted to add some garlic.
Retinto/Address: c/ Alonso Cano, 38 / Tel: 91 442 3419 / Metro: Aonso Cano or Rios Rosas
For the best Sherry in the world simply travel down to Spain’s southern coast around the town of Jerez. But here in Madrid you can get a taste before you go. Don’t like sherry? Maybe you do but just don’t know if yet. Unlike wine, sherry does not benefit from being in the bottle so the closer you are to it’s source, the better. Here in Madrid we are relatively close, same country, but step inside the Madrid bar “La Venencia” and you are immediately transported to Andalusia circa 1950 or before.
Since the 1920’s La Venencia’s unassuming exterior has welcomed visitors on the street Echagaray near Madrid’s center, Puerta del Sol. The wooden bar has fresh chalk marks, which are the clients tabs, dusty bottles line the wall behind the bar, along with some decorative sherry barrels and a “venencia”, the bar’s namesake which is the cup on a rod used for extracting sherry from barrels in the solera system. The yellowing walls hold antique posters announcing the Jerez spring fairs from years such as 1949 and 1957, a friendly cat sleeps on one of the tables at the back. Order your sherry at the bar along with tapas before taking a table. Olives (REALLY good ones) or almonds come free with the drinks but you can try ham, cecina (cured beef), mojama (cured tuna), manchego cheese etc, for about 2 euros per tapa. La Venencia serves a variety of types of Sherry or “Jerez” as its called in Spanish. They are: Fino, Oloroso, Amontillado, Palo Cortado, Pedro Ximénez and Manzanilla. For a description of these sherries, visit madaboutsherry.com. Wikipedia has a good explanation too. I like Palo Cortado, so if you aren’t sure what to order you can see if you agree with me.
And in keeping with good Andaluz tradition, you pay at the end. The bartender adds up your tab in chalk right on the wooden bar and probably won’t accept a tip. Before you step back out into the busy Madrid nightlife you sigh, aahhh, this is Spain.
La Venencia/ Address: Calle Echagaray, 7 / Tel: 914 29 626 / Metro Stop: Sol or SevillaClick here for a map of the location