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Me Like Eat In Barcelona: Where To Eat, Where To Buy Cigars And Some Great Places To Go

April 21, 2017
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Those wonderful sardines. Just look at them! Delicious.

Barcelona is a wonderful city. It is charming, helpfully arranged in a grid-like pattern (mostly) and filled with wonderful places to eat.

We did very little planning before we went, so we couldn’t try some of the most prestigious places to eat (Tickets Restaurant & Restaurant Lasarte, for example: They require making reservations weeks if not months ahead). Nonetheless, we managed to have a few bites at places that are very, very easy to recommend, and some dishes that were outright stellar.

We were based in L’Eixample district, so this list focuses heavily around that area. We were there for a week.

Most of the restaurants we dined in are very, very small. I’m going to guess that seating at most of these had a maximum capacity of, say, 28 or so. In addition, Barcelona is a city absolutely bursting at the seams with tourists. I think the only city I’ve ever been in with more tourists per square foot is Las Vegas, possibly. Tourists are everywhere, and they are all going to the same places you want to go.

Ergo, between the size of the city itself, the intense concentration of tourists, and the diminutive stature of most restaurants listed here, you are going to want to make a reservation whenever possible. That is also true of visiting tourist sites, especially the Gaudi buildings, which are an absolute must. More on those later.

If you’re lucky enough to be staying in a hotel with a concierge, MAKE USE OF HIM OR HER. We stayed at The One Hotel in L’Eixample, which was a very fine hotel, but BY FAR the best thing about it was the expert concierge service we received. The folks there were tier one, gave us a roadmap (quite literally) to the city including numerous, excellent suggestions of some of the places on this list, and were generally dynamite.

The One Hotel itself can be recommended, though we had a slight trouble with the shower in our room that they did their best to remedy, but the service was so great it would draw us back to the place. It also has a lovely roof deck, where we enjoyed our martinis.

We found getting around Barcelona very easy indeed, being New Yorkers we’re quite accustomed to walking places, and only took a cab to get to and and from the airport and to get to Park Guell, more about which you will read later.

A note on tipping: A good tip, apparently, is 10 percent. That’s very low where I come from, but apparently in Barcelona it’s pretty good. A lot of folks just leave some loose change or round up to the nearest round number from the bill (or so I was told).

But let’s get on to the important stuff.

DINING IN BARCELONA

We had nothing but fabulous meals in Barcelona during our stay there, so this list isn’t exactly presented in a particular order. One of the best meals we had was at a place so fancy taking pictures of the food would’ve been more gauche and absurd than usual, but helpfully they gave us a copy of the menu as a souvenir, so I can tell you about the sumptuous meal. That was our only “very fancy” dinner, the rest were, shall we say, upscale but still casual(ish).

You’re going to be eating a lot of tapas and seafood and probably, generally speaking, things you don’t usually eat. Embrace it: You will be glad you tried the various things you will be trying. When was the last time you ordered sardines? Anchovies? Go ahead and do it. Barcelona is on the Mediterranean: The food is very, very fresh.

Dinner is at or around 10 or 11. More and more restaurants have availability earlier, but we found going later was actually better, since we were taking it easy, sleeping in a bit, and eating lunch at around 2 pm. By the way, in Spain, lunch is apparently the main meal of the day, and dinner a bit lighter, so keep that in mind. That’s not uniformly true, but if you’re worried about eating late, keep in mind you may also be eating lighter.

For the sake of convenience I’ve broken up this list into lunches and dinners.

GREAT PLACES FOR DINNER IN BARCELONA

We have to start somewhere, so let’s start at Restaurant 2254. Restaurant 2254 is so named because the chef is from Milan, and it is 2254 kilometers from Milan to Barcelona. The tapas have influences from every area along that route.

We ordered, among other things, sardines with guacamole. These were so spectacular as to defy reason. First of all, there’s the presentation, which I have made a silly video of above (with apologies to Foreigner). The sardines are served on a plate, and on top of the plate is a glass dome. And in this glass dome there is smoke. The dome is lifted, the plume of smoke blows away, and you are left with these confections. The smoke is not just for dramatic flourish, it infuses the flavor.

The sardines have a crispy, caramelized quality on the top of them which adds, of all things, a moment of crunch. The smoke informs the saltiness, which is pleasant but not overwhelming. The freshness of the fish bursts through. These insanely delicious little bites sit on beds of guacamole. It is wonderful, brilliant, and so easy to recommend. It is one of the best things I ate in Barcelona, and I would love to eat it again.

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Beyond the sardines, the rest of the meal was also wonderful. We ate dinner there twice, the above slideshow comprises highlights of our two meals.

Yes, there’s fancier, and better well known places. One thing we liked about this place is it’s a little under the radar, and yet still incredibly good.

The overall meal was a pleasure, with moments of pure brilliance. And keep in mind, this place was by no means fancy in any way. Don’t look like a schlub, but no need to bust out the finery either. It’s not a white tablecloth joint. If you’re looking for some true gormandizing, skip ahead to the write up about Cinc Sentits.

Bar Mut: Bar Mut is probably the most “famous” of the places we ate in Barcelona. That is, more people told us to go there before we began our trip than any other. We tried walking in, it was impossible, and then were able to make a reservation for late the following night. Bar Mut is famous in part because it used to have a “secret” speakeasy behind it called Mustis, where the fanciest and swankiest folks would go party the night away, but you had to know someone to get invited. We were told it had since closed (whether or not that’s true, who knows, but I wouldn’t blame anyone for telling us that since the secret is quite a bit out).

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Anyway, Bar Mut has no fixed menu, you go for the tapas version of, well, omakase: They serve you whatever they have that’s good. Place yourself in the hands of your waiter and be prepared to enjoy. Again, the place is quite small – chances are excellent you’ll be sitting at a counter (as we did), so reservations truly are a must. It was also a bit pricier than some of the other places we dined at (Restaurant 2254 was less expensive, as was Mont Bar). Highlights of our meal included the juicy and delicious scallops, a memorable “scramble” of fresh lobster and a fried egg (they mix the two together in front of you). The truly stellar winner, however, was the insane dessert: A coconut rice pudding with lemon and mint and a brulee top. It was so effing good.

Again, the meal was a bit pricier than some (nowhere near as expensive as Cinc Sentits) and quite tasty. I’d recommend it, but I’m not sure it’s worth a fight.

Mont Bar: Dynamite. Here’s one we didn’t see coming. The scale, size and quality were all on par with Bar Mut, in my opinion, though slightly less expensive and with less fuss.

What is it with food being served under a dome of smoke right now in Barcelona. Is it a thing? Because I was amazed when a similar presentation to the one we had at Restaurant 2254 was made to us at Mont Bar, though this time with a smoked salmon.

The level of service was very high, and the food quite creative and interesting, with many different kinds of flavors. The labor they put into making the food “just so” is quite evident, as you can see in the photos. I finally was smart enough to snap a shot a menu, which you can see below. This was another upscale-casual dining experience. Not tapas, however, more like a prix fixe menu of manageable proportions.

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We started with a hastily eaten oyster with achiote and green apple. It was delicious. The crispy poached egg with truffle was just unfairly awesome. The tuna belly marinated with pine nuts sauce was served under the dome. The flavor was delicious, but I confess the texture was a bit, well, mushy.  We concluded with a bonkers suckling pig terrine served with ice cream (!!) that was total insanity. The whole meal was delicious and took us entirely off guard.

Cinc Sentits: If you do go looking for a high-level, Michelin star, gourmet experience, look no further then Cinc Sentits (or Five Senses). It was easily the most expensive dinner we had in Barcelona (approximately 200 euro per person including wine pairing and tip). The place was also completely outrageous in terms of service, quality, creativity, quality and so forth. It is in every regard a world-class restaurant to which we’d happily return.

One of the things that makes Cinc Sentits so special is that every dish is sourced from within 20 miles or so of the restaurant (I believe). That is how strong the emphasis is on sustainable, “slow food.”

Our meal began with an amuse bouche of complete insanity (and I mean that in the best way): A beautiful, oblong shot glass with layers of liquid in it. At the very bottom of the glass: Sea salt. Next layer: Maple syrup. Next layer: Cream. Next layer: Cava sabayon (cava being the Spanish sparkling wine). Thin little layers of each. You down the shot and wait a precious moment with the glass inverted so the sea salt can fall onto your tongue. It was more like a desert than anything else but it was GLORIOUS. My wife and I were in heaven.

They then presented us with an array of, well, perhaps you’d call it “essence of tapas.” These were tapas so small – just bite size – where the components had been boiled down (not literally) to just their essential flavors. The tapas served included Iberian jam, grilled vegetable flatbread with olive oil “caviar,” freshly shucked baby clams with sauce (sensational), toasted bread crisp with tomato dust(!) and olive oil gel, anchovy with roasted red pepper and anchovy emulsion, salt-baked potato with carrot and green bean puree and bonito tuna belly, and two different kinds of olive oil for dipping, both of which were the best olive oils I’d ever had (manzanilla-arbequina olive with rosemary, verdiell with herbs from Collserola). All of these little, insanely delightful mini-tapas were served with their house vermouth. If your mouth isn’t watering by now, you can skip ahead to the next location.

After the tapas, we were served foie gras with braised leeks and chives. This was followed by Pyrenees trout with peas from Llavaneras, spring onion, caper emulsion and pea essence. And then it was on to aged “Vaca Vieja” beef with black truffle, heather-honey lacquered baby carrot and celery root.

The meal concluded with serra del tormo cheese, strawberries with frozen cream and sherry vinegar, and “drunk spongecake” with lemon verbena and burnt rum syrup, aerated toffee, pink peppercorn caramel, pineapple core and peel ice, and pineapple leaf cream.

Now read all of that once again and tell me if it doesn’t seem like being in a dream.

The place was brilliant. Go eat there. Now. I would if I could. Sorry for the lack of photos, it’s just so fancy there that pulling out the camera just didn’t seem right.

If you’re looking for the white tablecloth, high-end experience (and can afford it), look no further, you won’t go wrong.

L’Olive: This was, other than perhaps Vinitus, the largest restaurant we dined at, so I think getting a table won’t likely be particularly troublesome. It was also the one geared most towards what you’re probably accustomed to as a “meal,” i.e. an appetizer, main course and desert. By the time we dined here, we had been eating almost entirely tapas, so instead of checking out all their delicious looking main course, we opted for a smattering of appetizers which we indulged in tapas-style. Our waiter was extremely helpful and made some useful suggestions. The place is friendly and welcoming.

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L’Olive is a white-tablecloth place, and we weren’t in the mood for anything heavy, so we had just a few little bites, most of which were essential Catalan cuisine. Pieces of dry-cured sausage, and the ubiquitous tomato-rubbed bread. We also indulged in calcots, which were in season. They prepared them in a tempura-like batter, giving them a real heft, and served with romesco sauce. If you like onion rings, you’ll enjoy their version very much. We also experimented with their pickled tuna fish, which was served under a fish jelly. This is the kind of thing you’re going to see on a menu in Barcelona that will get you scratching your head (as the sardines did initially). Since we had such great success with the sardines at 2254, we thought “Why not?” and tried it. It was very tasty, but I suspect it won’t be for everyone. It evoked gefilte fish. We basically had a very light little meal at a very nice place. I’d go back, as I don’t think we really explored their offerings, which were extensive, since we were in the mood for lighter fare.

Casa Lolea: So many of the best reviewed places in Barcelona are in the Gothic Quarter. As you can see, our list focuses mainly on places in L’Eixample. However, one night we attended a performance at the spectacular Palau de Musica (more on that below), and so it was a natural chance to dine somewhere in this more heavily-touristed part of town. Our helpful concierges at The One Hotel suggested Casa Lolea, and since they had put us on to so many other nice spots, we thought to try it. We couldn’t make a reservation, since we didn’t know when our concert at the Palau would conclude, and decided to chance walking in. We got lucky, they had a table in the back, and we were seated.

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We had been cautioned by friends to avoid any place advertising sangria, as that was an indicator it was a place for tourists only. As it turns out, Casa Lolea sells huge amounts of sangria: They bottle it. We opted instead for glasses of tasty Vermut, which were served with large olives and a big orange slice. As for our meal, the standout was the tuna that was somehow transformed into an Iberic ham, served with little bits of fruit and onion. Delicious. The blinis with smoked salmon were also lovely: How can you go wrong with that. In addition, we had the usual slices of ham and some manchego cheese. Lovely. Good service, a nice place, we had a fine time.

BEST PLACES FOR LUNCH

If the weather is nice, head on off to El Mercader de l’Eixample. It’s so nice we ate there three times!

The extraordinarily delicious squid at El Mercader. I kept coming back for more.

While I enjoy me some calamari, I never really had that much of it in my life. I mean, here and there, fried calamari, sure… The occasional linguini with calamari in a red sauce and so on. But it’s not really my usual. Until El Mercader. The squid there is so good I returned and returned for it. It was, in the words of the person who recommended it to me, to die for. Just unbelievable.

First of all, let’s talk about how fresh they were. The freshest! Not at all fishy. The preparation: Al dente. Perfect little bites, not at all overcooked or chewy. They are prepared simply with garlic, oil and parsley. You get just a few little happy bites per order that are just heavenly. They are simple and packed with intense, rich, garlicky flavor. They are smashing.

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El Mercader was one of the few places we didn’t make a reservation. That said, we lucked out each time, because if you come around lunch time, it will fill up. Happily it is comparatively off the beaten path and is not known for its brunch (a la Brunch and Cake which consistently had a massive line and therefore we never manage to dine there, much as we may have liked to try it). Plus, there’s nothing like a nice glass of wine or two for breakfast/lunch in that wonderful garden.

Another very good option for lunch: Vinitus. This place was consistently one of the busiest places we would walk past: There’s always a bit of a queue, but not bad. Also, it is one of the largest (in terms of seating capacity) restaurants we went to in Barcelona, and turnover was brisk. The food comes right out, is very fresh, and like everything else, delicious.

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It is a bustling, busy, touristy and tasty tapas joint. Take a close look at whatever the specials of the day are. The fried small fish with padron peppers were a smash. This was again something I’d ordinarily NEVER order but boy am I glad I did. You can a photo of them above. You eat the fish whole, so yummy.  We had our first patatas bravas there too, which added heft and were quite good: Bravas are apparently a very typical item in Barcelona, we saw them advertised everywhere. The little sandwich of Iberian ham and brie was small and delightfully decadent.

BEST QUICK BITE: A very unexpected entry on the list: A pizza place! Being New Yorkers, we did not come to Barcelona (of all places) for pizza. We came to eat properly. But sometimes you don’t want to go through the hassle of getting a table or sitting for a proper lunch. And we had no better quick bite then the ones we had at La Fermata de Provenca pizza. Just look at what they served up:

Pizza with anchovies and olives. Just delicious.

Ordering a slice with anchovies and olives and fresh tomato makes perfect sense in a place where all of those things could not be any fresher. It was delightful. The slices are sold by weight, and the server clips off the amount you have with, well, something resembling gardening shears. La Fermata has the advantage of being quite close to some of the major Gaudi attractions, so if you’re just coming (or going to) either Casa Batllo or Casa Mila (La Pedrera) and you want a quick bite, that’s your stop.

WHERE TO BUY CUBAN CIGARS IN BARCELONA

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L’Estanc Duaso: We traveled Barcelona for your basic tourist reasons. An unexpected benefit was the ubiquity of Cuban cigars. I am not much of a cigar man, but I enjoy them from time to time, and know many mavens. And of course, the “White Whale” of cigars for Americans is the Cuban. In late 2016, the Obama administration altered the rules regarding Cuban cigars into the U.S. You can now import up to $800 worth of cigars without paying taxes every 31 days, provided you’re not reselling them.

So, what to do with this newfound freedom? Go get some!

I knew precious little about buying Cubans, and a little Google searching made it seem frought with peril: Counterfeits are apparently everywhere, and the best known places to purchase them I could find in Barcelona – Estanc Gimeno and Estanco Casa Fuster – got mixed reviews online. Some reviewers loved both of them, but others said they were given short shrift, gruff treatment, and spotted (or were sold!) fakes at their shops. Who knew there was such a concern about counterfeit Cubans? Suddenly I was worried about spending big bucks on something that could possibly be bogus.

Since they’re not cheap, some research was required in terms of learning what to look for when buying a Cuban. I could write an entire post about how to buy a Cuban cigar, but for now, I urge you to shop at Estanc D’uaso. I was astounded that the shop with the best reviews for honesty and integrity that I could find turned out also to be quite close to our hotel (an unexpected bonus), so I decided to try my luck. They were patient, professional, friendly and authoritative. It’s a mom and pop shop, and the gentleman who runs it is passionate and knowledgeable. He’s patient with foreign idiots like me. He helped me right away, spoke some English and was just generally a pro and a gentleman. Best of all, my cigars were verified authentic. So: Do not pass go, go directly to L’Estanc Duaso. They’re completely honest. Just go to them: But go with a plan, knowing what you want to get. They are friendly, but busy.

SOME BASIC PLACES TO GO AND SOME THINGS TO SEE

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No trip to Barcelona is complete without going to see the incredible architecture of Antoni Gaudi. The bad news is everyone else is going for that too. The good news is you can save yourself a huge headache by buying tickets in advance online.

Casa Mila (La Pedrera), Casa Batllo, Park Guell and of course the Sagrada Familia are all musts. Keep in mind, they will all be PACKED with your fellow tourists. Park Guell was a bit of a let down (for me) compared to the other spots, which are jaw dropping. Park Guell, being unfinished, seems unrealized and more like a theme park, as opposed to the otherworldly Casa Mila, Sagrada Familia and Casa Batllo.

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It’s also easy to recommend going to a performance at the incredible Palau de Musica. It’s not a Gaudi, to be clear, but that doesn’t matter: The interior is jaw dropping, and chances are excellent you’ll see a great show too. We very much enjoyed the Pedro Javier Gonzalez quartet show we saw.

Enjoy your trip and hope this has been helpful!

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