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)
A wonderfully simple tapa, Cogollos al Ajillo, or “garlicky lettuce hearts”, were something I discovered in Cordoba at a neighborhood restaurant outside the historic center which served fantastic pincho morunos for 60 cents each. We were also served cogollos al ajillo and I made a mental note to make them myself when I got back home in Madrid. These lettuce hearts are so fast, easy, and delicious, I don’t know why I had not discovered them before! This dish makes a great side, tapas party anyone?, and its a big hit with garlic lovers.
Preparation for 3 to 4 people:
3 lettuce hearts
White wine vinegar
4 to 5 cloves garlic
First carefully cut off a thin slice of the sometimes discolored stem, making sure to keep the stem intact so the lettuce layers do not seperate. Next cut the lettuce hearts into quarters or thirds, wash and pat dry. Arrange the pieces on a plate as above. Mince the garlic and heat several tablespoons of olive oil in a fryng pan and when hot add 4 or 5 cloves of minced garlic. Meanwhile, while watching the garlic so it does not burn, drizzle at least a tablespoon of white wine vineger over the lettuce hearts and then sprinkle on a pinch of salt. When the garlic is a golden toasted color, remove from heat and immediately pour over the lettuce hearts, with some of the olive oil that now has a wonderful garlic flavor infused in it. Drizzle on more extra virgin olive oil if needed and it’s ready to serve. I always make this dish last and serve immediately so the lettuce stays crisp. The lettuce can then be picked up by the stem, no utensils necessary. Enjoy!
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?