Saturday, June 27, 2009

Volume 25. Barcelona

Welcome back Dear Readers.

So nice to visit with you again.

Global Around Town

Senior Travel Correspondent

Doug Wingate

has recently returned from a number of interesting trips.

Here is his mouth watering report from...


I arrived in BCN on U.S. Memorial Day, Monday May 25, staying through Tues., June 2. Last year, I stayed at a fine 3 star hotel called SAGRADA FAMILIA (obviously named for the Gaudi masterpiece of BCN) which is steps away from the Cathedral and the metro stop of the same name.(By the way, for those on a budget -- and even for those "green" folk, and practical folk who just like public transport -- I highly recommend getting a Barcelona Card [available at the airport and at a few other tourist centers around town, including the Sagrada Familia metro stop!], which provides unlimited travel on ALL the city's various transport systems [metro, intra-city trains, buses, trams, and importantly, the express train to/fro the airport to downtown and the metro system. It's a great deal, plus it even provides some cool free stuff and discounts to stuff that one actually would like to do! The cards [used like any metro card] are available in various multiple-day amounts, such as 2, 3, 4 or a maximum of 5 days. As I was there for 9 days total, I bought both a 5 and 4 day pass.)Back to the SAGRADA FAMILIA hotel ( ), it's clean, modern (clear-glass-fronted mini-bars, flat screen TVs, complimentary wifi and even 2 individual guest computers in the lobby for those guests who came without a laptop!), insanely well-located, and even stylish in my opinion. Plus, a relative bargain -- even in well-priced BCN. My stay was under USD $1,000 for 8 nights! After staying there twice now, I can recommend it for all except those who demand "Deluxe" wherever they go. For those Deluxe-minded folk, try the historic MAJESTIC ( ) or the even more celebrated modern masterpiece HOTEL ARTS

( ) or maybe even the magnificent-looking new W BARCELONA HOTEL being completed in the Barceloneta part of town (opening Oct. '09) ( ), right on the Mediterranean, with a spectacular Dubai-style "windsail" design.On my nonstop JFK to BCN flight over on AA, I sat next to a Spanish UN representative, who had homes in Manhattan of course, as well as BCN and Madrid. Figuring he might know a few good spots to eat, I asked for his favorite places. He gave me two: EL LOBITO in the Barceloneta beach area, and LITTLE ITALY in the newly uber-hip BORN historic district (on the edge of the Barceloneta).

The day after my arrival, I wended my way down to the Bareloneta area (metro stop of the same name), to enjoy lunch at EL LOBITO see ), so named for its chef/owner (lobito means "little wolf" in Catalan), who was indeed on hand when I visited, making sure everything was ship shape at this prix fixe, set menu seafood spot. The meal was a progression of the finest the Mediterranean has to offer: beginning with a gorgeously colorful vegetable antipasto-type assortment dressed with olive oil and fine vinegar, through what seemed an endless supply of the freshest seafood courses, ranging from -- for example only -- delicate baby clams, langoustines, to an entire fish served whole, and finally finishing with a fresh fruit platter of impeccable ripeness. What really makes this place is the nonpareil freshness of every ingredient, which is simply prepared and served at the exact temperature and texture to enjoy it best. Go!As those of you who have been to BCN, know, NOBODY dines before 2 PM in the afternoon (except tourists at McDonald's and the like!), and 9 to 10 in the evening. I chose to make my main "fine dining" meal each day at lunch (which appropriately took a leisurely 2 hours or so), and then just tapas or other such tidbits in the late evening. A very good plan, especially in summer, when the sun doesn't set until nearly 9 PM anyway.On the next day, Wednesday, the city erupted in joy as their futbol team (U.S. baseball, football, and basketball combined -- in terms of public fascination) won the WORLD CUP, beating England's "NY Yankees-style" legendary Manchester team, in the final in Rome. Fireworks and major celebrations were nonstop!!!! The victorious world champion BCN team arrived home to a huge ticker tape parade through the center of town.

A day later, I dined at a Michelin one-starred spot called enticingly -- ALKIMIA (Alchemy, I assume!) (see ) -- and indeed, the chefs did indeed spin ordinary ingredients into culinary gold, like legendary alchemists of yore, often using modern molecular gastronomic techniques. As was the custom at most of the city's "restaurants de cuisine d'auteur" (as Catalan gourmet-aspiring chefs self-identify), the marvelous meal began with a few amuse-bouche gifts from the kitchen, including a marvelous "shot" of intense-tomato-infused water topped with a razor thin slice of dried tomato and the region's de rigeur celebrated iberico ham. I had put myself in the capable hands of the kitchen, and was rewarded with a wine and food pairing that included "el bonbon de huevo" -- a clever egg-like-looking (it only looked like an egg, thanks to molecular gastronomy wizardry) appetizer that was a savory inspiration. I followed that with a magnificant Amberjack fish course, and then a red mullet masterpiece, and finally a house dessert creation, that drew inspiration from a classic BCN folk dessert -- a "fried" croissant filled with cream -- sinfully delicious!

The next day, I dined at a favorite of mine from last year, SPEAKEASY (see ), a wonderfully sumptuous spot, whimsically hidden within the celebrated 21 CLUB-inspired cocktail bar, DRY MARTINI ( ), reached by passing THROUGH the kitchen! The bar is a fun way to while away some hours, but the restaurant SPEAKEASY is divine. It actually is located in the bar's liquor storeroom, which has been enchantingly transformed with sophisticated lighting into a glamorously sexy spot. One side of the room is occupied by a giant glass-fronted wine cellar, while the other walls are decorated with the places stock of all kinds of bottles of fancy boozes, expertly lit to look like objets d'art. The food here is just downright delicious. A favorite peasant dish in BCN is fried eggs on a fired potatoes. At SPEAKEASY, this peasant dish is transformed to food for kings, by its expert cooking and the addition of foie gras and asparagus! I followed that with a successfully creative Tuna Tempura roll with wasabi cream, finally finishing the meal with an amazing green apple "soup" with creme fraiche ice cream and accented with sliced grape tomatoes too. Sounds peculiar perhaps, but it was perfection to eat. (By the way, the "Barcelona Card" amazingly offered a 20% discount at this haute cuisine d'auteur bastion. Why? Who cares!)

On Saturday, I dined in the whimsically-named cuisine d'auteur restaurant MOO (see ) inside the 5 star HOTEL OMM (another excellent choice actually for luxury lovers, who like their luxury Zen-like, [only a few blocks from the traditional Hotel Majestic]; ). Again, I put myself in the kitchen's auteur hands and their expert waitstaff. The menu offered some a la carte option, I believe, but also had an elaborate chef's tasting menu, plus a vegetarian tasting menu, and finally a seasonal tasting menu -- all in descending order of numbers of courses and price. When I inquired whether to try the veggie menu or the less expensive seasonal menu (that seasonal menu was only offered on the Catalan-written menu, by the way!!! If using the English menu, that option was mysteriously missing!), my female headwaitperson advised "I always go for the 'seasonal' option." I took her advice of course, and was delighted I did. She also chose wines for each of my 4 courses, which expertly matched my food. After several marvelous amuse bouches (e.g., a razor clam with emerald snow peas), I finally began with a "chocolate" and foie gras creation. That was followed by a cold strawberry/tomato/oyster soup poured tableside into a bowl fashioned out of a solid block of ice. I wish I remember what I had next, but my notes are illegible. Suffice it to say it was creative AND delicious!

That same Saturday evening, I attended a performance of Flamenco dance and music at the spectacular PALAU DE LA MUSICA CATALANA (see ), in the Ramblas/Born area. The building alone is worth the price of admission, being a beaux arts glass and tile masterpiece, but happily, the show was also top notch.

Sunday, I attended the opera at BCN's magnificently restored grand opera house, TEATRO LICEU (see ), where I enjoyed an expert performance of Beethoven's only opera, FIDELIO.Apres opera, I finally tried LITTLE ITALY, the other spot recommended by my airplane seatmate (see ), in the uber-trendy BORN historic area. Sadly, I found it very good, but NOT of the caliber of EL LOBITO, or the other d'auteur restaurants I enjoyed on this trip. It's famous for its nightly (EXCEPT SUNDAY!) live jazz, so maybe that was part of my problem, since I was there on a Sunday!

Anyway, after a fine, but not inspirational, meal at Little Italy, I went "strolling" (one of the most fun things to do in BCN!) and stumbled upon a nearby Indian restaurant/night club called KAMA (as in Kama Sutra, I presume)(see ). This was a lively place indeed, filled with folks far younger than I, all having a fun-filled time drinking exotic, Indian spice-inspired cocktails while entertained by house music and a giant screen featuring the hippest of current Bollywood dance numbers! By all means, stop in here for an out-of-the-ordinary meal, cocktail, or a late-night party!

Many thanks to Mr. Wingate for a wonderful report!
I can't believe I posted this on an empty stomach.
I'm racing to my kitchen immediately.
And Barcelona, with visions of it like Doug's,
is always towards the top of my list of
desirable destinations.

Do keep your eyes peeled for more of Doug's travels
in the weeks to come.


  1. Hi my friend!
    I placed a link in my Blog for your Blog using your profile image!
    I wait that you like the idea!

  2. I'm going to Barcelona for a couple of days mid july...Am saving all your tips and addresses,
    thank you very much Mr David !

  3. Hello Lala,

    It is a pleasure. I hope you have a great time. I know you will!
    And Doug has such interesting travels etc... I am envious of that and grateful to him for his hard work. Someone's gotta do it!



  4. What a glorious trip. I'm especially envious of your visit to the magnificent opera house. And now I am going to have that fried croissant on my mind all evening!

  5. Hello Dear Willow,

    While you''ll be dreaming of the fried croissant. I'll remember not being able to sleep anticipating the poppy seed petit pain I enjoyed for breakfast in Copenhagen at the Hotel Skt. Petri. Why doesn't anyone make anything like that here?

    All the best,