If you walk through any tourist-packed area you will notice that nearly all the restaurants boast two things: traditional tapas, and paella. I definitely had my fill of both, and I found that these are places of note:
Tapas 24 is run by Carles Abellan, the chef of Comerç 24 (read below for more on Abellan and Comerç 24). Here, they serve tapas with a twist, like a spanish omelette with a potato and chorizo center, and a "bikini comerç 24," which is a thin grilled sandwich with mozarella, Iberian ham, and black truffle. You will pay a little more than average for these kicked up tapas, but the food at this popular spot is well worth it.
This is a tourist-oriented restaurant. Placemats have images of all the offerings printed on and they have multilingual menus. Its convenient location, speedy service and extremely reasonable prices make it a hotspot at night. You can get all the traditional plates here from a Russian salad to a (mediocre) paella.
This small tapas bar is located in the Mercat Santa Caterina (more on this market later). The food is fresh (straight from the market, I'd reckon) and excellently prepared. It's popular with locals and tourists alike. Although the menu is in Spanish and the staff don't speak English, you can always just point to what looks tasty to you. For me, this resulted in some of the best grilled asparagus I've ever had.
I have saved the best for last. This is a "must visit," and if you walk by around dinner time, you will see why. This place is packed with locals and tourists alike, all drawn in by the impeccably prepared tapas. The prices are reasonable like at Tapa Tapa, but you get so much more bang for your buck. Of note: veal with roasted pepper and tomato bread, and brochette with mozarella and bacon-wrapped date. They don't take reservations, so if you walk in around dinnertime, expect to wait at least an hour. They are open all day though, so maybe try late afternoon.
Okay, so I didn't actually eat here because it was closed when I got there. The best paella I had will be discussed in another posting, but according to my sources, this place serves paella the way it should be served: at room temperature, with a toasted bottom, and not dyed a ghastly yellow that many restaurants assume people expect from paella. I will say that most restaurants in the main tourist hub serve paella. I will also say that many of them aren't well made, so I thought Can Solé was worth a mention.
And under the "miscellaneous" category:
This casual joint opened in 1970 and it still has its pop art murals to show for it. Its menu presents over 70 flavours of tortillas (omelettes, not flatbread). The food is simple, well-prepared, and at a reasonable price. Their delicious bun-less hamburger has a mouthwatering mystery seasoning in it. They're served medium-rare and I had mine with a side of fried shredded zucchini. Delish.
By the middle of the week, I didn't think I could handle another potato filled tortilla. Thankfully, I had a reservation at Comerç 24, which I suppose could fall under the tapas category, but only in the most general sense. Indeed, I dined on many (many, many) small plates, but the meal was more like enjoying a performance than getting plain simple nourishment.
I had planned on visiting the restaurant as soon as I started compiling an itinerary for this trip. The chef is Carles Abellan, who trained under superstar chef Ferran Adrià. Adrià runs El Bulli, a small three Michelin starred restaurant of enormous fame. It is regarded as one of the best restaurants in the world, serving innovative dishes featuring techniques in molecular gastronomy. They only serve about 8,000 diners a season (and they only open for 7 months of the year), but they receive over 2 million requests a year. I don't plan on setting foot in that hallowed dining room any time soon, but Comerç 24 was a taste of this kind of food that is brought beyond its simple function to both visual and performance art.
Comerç 24 has an a la carte and a tasting menu. The tasting menus are Festival (62 euros, 7 courses and desserts) and Grand Festival (84 euros, 10 courses and 3 desserts). I had the Festival menu, and learned quickly that 7 courses does not mean 7 dishes. In fact, the meal consisted of seventeen meticulously prepared items ranging from fish to meats, soups and salads to desserts, served over the course of 2 hours. It was meal of firsts for me: first shaved truffles, and first taste of actual gold (both in the first course too; that was a good start).
glistening golden macadamia nuts
It is apparent to diners how much thought Abellan and his team put into every detail of the meal. One of the most interesting dishes was a soup. The dish with the six different "bubbles" is presented first and you are left to ponder them while the waitress goes and gets a jug of steaming consommé to pour over top. She then explains that the small spheres now bobbing in broth are truffle, parmesan, and egg. Bite into one of the pockets and the flavorful liquid center imparts its essence into your spoonful of soup. The flavours are all so pronounced that each spoonful tastes distinct; it's like three soups in one bowl.
The desserts were no less stunning. They progressed from a tangy, palate cleansing mint soup with tangerine foam, to a refreshing yogurt with some very intriguing popped wild rice. The little dishes got richer, chocolatier, and more decadent, making for a very satisfying ending. I discovered how good chocolate ganache, salt, and olive oil taste together.
Passeig de Gracia, 44
Francesc Cambó, 16 (inside the Mercat Santa Caterina)
Carrer de Mallorca, 236
Calle Sant Carles, 4
C/La Granada del Penedes 25
Images property of beets and bites