I Will Be Glad (a Guide to Eating like a Local in Barcelona)
“The Lovage is where I make note of my culinary experiences and reflect on their meaning,” so I explain in the ‘About‘ section of this blog. But what of all the action that takes place outside the kitchen? The hours between the meals? The pillow talk instead of table talk? Admittedly, an ample pie-slice of that time relates to the food just consumed and the next meal to be made. But there is more—there is much I have chosen to exclude from my little Lovage harbor.
Last night, as a new friend skimmed my blog for the first time, I realized as I watched the images melt past, that this place is a meager map of the life that’s been lived in a year. Since December 2010, I’ve moved four times: from my own apartment to my boyfriend’s carriage house, from there to Barcelona, from Barcelona back to New York, and imminently, back into my (as yet unfound) own digs…alone. In December 2010, I was working for Vanderhurd, the bespoke textile company that was run by my dear friend Jasper before his death. By March 2011 I was taking a course at the French Culinary Institute. In June Sebastian announced his decision to move to Spain. By September he was gone.
It feels like a lot.
I kept mums about many of these comings and goings on The Lovage—my delicious sanctuary—because I was so uncertain as to how they’d all play out, and because I was drinking a rather stiff cocktail known as Denial.
On February 1st, I moved to Spain and in the three months that followed, we—Sebastian, our two dogs and I—slid from room to room across the original Catalan tiled floors of our “new” early 1900s ten-room apartment. To attempt to furnish it, I frequented Encants, our local flea market ripe with trash, treasures and pick pockets. I biked everywhere. It became normal to pass Gaudí buildings as I pedaled to lunch at Ciutadella or Cornelia and Co.. I shopped daily at Barcelona’s famous food markets, with extravagant arrays of produce, watching rapt as the fishmonger filleted each pescado to order. I came to recognize the homeless woman who frequented the bench on our block and lamented the confines of her own mind at the top of her lungs late into the night.
I had an adventure. I ate. And ate.
And here I will sink back into the safety of a metaphor and tell you that the meal had its high notes and lows, and as promised, I savored the former and learned from the latter. Barcelona was a long and sometimes lonely meal, and yet a meal cut short and without a sweet ending—without dessert. A meal that ended with me, back in New York, flying solo. But for all its ups and downs, I’ll always be glad I ate it.
The Lovage’s Favorite Barcelona Haunts
(Be forewarned: little is open on Sundays or during siesta!! Call to confirm that establishments are open in August.)
Kaiku. Right on the beach, Kaiku is everything one hopes to find in Barcelona dining: novel Catalan cooking that’s adventurous and carefully made, but not pretentious. The best local ingredients at a very reasonable price, with a view of the Mediterranean between the tanned beach bodies whizzing past. Perfect meal here: tempura fried sea anemones, octopus carpaccio, arroz negra (squid ink paella). Only open for lunch; closed on Mondays. Plaça del Mar, nº1, Barceloneta. T: 932 21 90 82.
Mundial. My favorite. The first and last restaurant I ate in. An alley of a restaurant with small tables perpetually filled by clever customers—native Catalans, Spanish and ex-pats—who return again and again to enjoy the excellent tapas and their signaturemariscos. The environment is utterly informal, with old photographs of boxers on the walls. Perfect meal: pimentos de Padrón, tallarinas, chipirones, pulpitos a la plancha, and jamón ibérico. Plaça de Sant Agustí Vell, nº1, El Born. T: 933 199 056.
Bar del Pla. A lunchtime staple for its menú del día*, which always includes a salad and something deliciously fried, followed by a traditional stew or tartare (and dessert!). Also an excellent dinner spot. Montcada Street, nº 2, El Born. T: 93 268 30 03.
Betlem. This aesthetically pleasing wine bar/restaurant was our local favorite only a few blocks from our home. A good destination on your way back to the center after a morning’s visit to La Sagrada Familia. No menú del día, but the quality of the ingredients and how they are put together is so exquisite, it’s worth a visit even if you’re not in the neighborhood, and a nice diversion from the chaos of Passeig de Gràcia nearby. Girona, nº70, L’Eixample. T: 932 65 51 05.
Cocktail Bar. It’s an unmarked door that leads to some of the most well-crafted cocktails in the city (there’s not a ton of competition, but this place would be great even if there was). A throwback moody place, where you’ll be tempted to drink too many Old Fashioneds and say stupid things like, “Here’s looking at you, kid.” Carrer del Rec, El Born.
La Champagneria. This legendary vaulted bar is as debaucherous and fun as its name implies. All they serve is pink cava (local champagne) and sausages. Gorge yourself for me because I never got to go. El Born/Barcelonetta.
Betty Ford. Not to be confused with the place one goes to “dry out,” this Betty Ford is where all Barcelona hipsters and especially ex-pats go to get liquored up in the Barcelona equivalent of the Lower East Side. The bar and cocktails are unremarkable, yet it’s remarkable how often we returned and how many Gin and Tonics we consumed there. Carrer Joaquín Costa nº56, El Raval. T: 93 304 1368.
For more esoteric and formal Catalan cuisine, try Restaurant Toc or Tram Tram (where Colman Andrews, food critic and author of the book on Ferran Adrià, dined on a recent visit). Other fun places that are a little more formal (read: expensive) include Dry Martini, Speakeasy and Bar Mut.
Alpargateria. The one and only necessary stop for your espadrille fix, from the classic to the “folkloric,” all sizes and colors. Carrer de Avinyó, nº7, El Gotico. T: 913 665 450.
*Menú del Día – The extraordinarily inexpensive weekday lunch special that includes an appetizer, entrée, wine, and dessert or coffee Monday through Friday. Originally instituted as an incentive to keep workers from going home to their wives and siestas for lunch, el menú is one of the few relics of Franco’s reign that is actually appreciated by the locals, as it means eating an enormous lunch for a fraction of the price that one would normally pay for the sum of its parts. Not always advertised, so be sure to inquire whether a restaurant has a “menú.”
Images from top to bottom: sea anemones, octopus carpaccio, arroz negra, all at Kaiku. Duck and mushroom cannelloni at Betlem. Pimentos de Padrón, tallarinas, pulpitos a la plancha and pan con tomate at Mundial.