Monthly Archives: April 2009

Agua: Worth the Wait

Entrance to Agua by the beach

Entrance to Agua by the beach

We were greeted with perfect weather on our first full day in Barcelona. The sun was shining and the wind was calm, so we donned our short-sleeved shirts and headed towards the water.

There are many small restaurants with both indoor and outdoor seating all along the beach in Barcelona. We decided to check out Agua, as recommended by Esquire’s John Mariani. Although the other restaurants surrounding Agua had plenty of open seating, we decided to wait for “thirty minutes” to be seated outside here. After all, Agua must be doing something right if they are the only restaurant with a wait.

And so, as the hostess recommended, we took a seat at the bar facing an enormous window that looked out onto the outdoor patio and the Mediterranean beyond. At first it was nice, sitting there with a great glass of cava, the sparkling wine specialty of the Catalonia region, looking out onto the beach as the chic Spanish crowd with their faces half covered by enormous sunglasses filtered in and out of the establishment. And then we watched as the hostess greeted her friends with a kiss and an immediate table in the sun. Half an hour went by. Forty minutes. I sat for over an hour, admiring the Mediterranean paradise with greedy eyes, like a devilish American tourist whose access was denied.

Finally, after reminding the hostess of our existence, we were shown to a perfect table in the early afternoon sunlight. The house cava was excellent: Gran Claus 2004 Cava Brut Nature Reserva. We started with an arugula salad with parmesano cheese and balsamic, which was fresh and delicious. We also ordered mixed vegetables, which included broccoli, zucchini, and carrots, sautéed in a thyme olive oil and prawns in garlic oil. The savory star of the meal was the crema de ceps, huevo poché y aceite de trufa blanca, a poached egg in white truffle oil covered with mushroom puree. This was perhaps the most successful dish I had during my visit to Spain. The white truffle oil brought intense flavor to the dish while the perfectly cooked runny egg contributed texture to the otherwise thin puree. While it probably was not the most impressive looking dish, as each bite was simply a varying shade of brown, it had the most interesting taste.

crema de ceps, huevo poché y aceite de trufa blanca

crema de ceps, huevo poché y aceite de trufa blanca

Next, we ordered paella. The dish was good, but I think that Agua’s innovative dishes are more impressive than their traditional ones. While this was evident with the starters, it was confirmed with the dessert. We ordered the fresitas gratinadas a la pimienta, strawberries with custard that are grilled with a dash of pepper. The wild strawberries were small and tart and complemented the sweet custard very well. This dessert was so delicious that I had no qualms about continuing to eat it even after my mom compared the consistency of the custard to breast milk.

fresitas gratinadas a la pimienta

fresitas gratinadas a la pimienta

Agua
Pg. Marítim de la Barcoloneta, 30
08003 Barcelona
Tel 93 225 1272

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Quatre Gats: A Historical Landmark But Not Much More

4gatsexterior“In January 1899 Picasso returned to Barcelona after his stay in Horta de Sant Joan. From then on he became a full member of the Catalan avant-garde. The meeting point and the heart of the Catalan artistic and literary world was the famous café Quatre Gats, which opened on 12 June 1897 in Monsió Street. It was an initiative of Miguel Utrillo in association with Rusiño and Casas and the manager was Pere Romeu. The young Picasso’s fellow habitués were Carles Casagemas, Jaume Sabarstés, Ramon and Cinto Reventos, Mateu and Angel Fernåandez de Soto, Joaquim Mir, Hermen Anglada Camarasa Isidre Nonell and Ramon Pichot.” –Museo Picasso

Quatre Gats, a landmark of the modern artistic movement of the early 20th century, still exists on Carrer Montsió, a small pedestrian-only side street in el Burno neighborhood of Barcelona. Quatre Gats may be comparable to Gertrude Stein’s infamous Parisian apartment, the regular hang out of Picasso’s French and Expatriate contemporaries. Indeed, the rich history of Quatre Gats is immediately apparent upon arrival. Every inch of available wall space is taken up by framed prints of Picasso sketches, and the décor looks as if it has not been updated in the past century.

This is not to say that the scene at Quatre Gats is dead. We stopped in for a late supper on a weekday night and were greeted by jovial waiters dancing and singing to the pianist playing various Spanish and American tunes in the corner. The large dining room was nearly filled with guests drinking wine and in no rush to leave.

But Quatre Gats was certainly not extraordinary for its cuisine. The food was not of bad quality, but it was mostly lacking in flavor and creativity. We began the meal with a green salad, which was fine, and croquettes. The croquettes were soft and bland; my mom said they reminded her of food she served in the nursing home in which she volunteered. (“What? Don’t you think this is perfect food for them?!”)

Our main courses were more interesting. The Mediterranean seabass was good, grilled with olive oil and served with potatoes. I insisted that we try arrós negre, a classic Catalan dish of rice with fish, cuddle fish in this case, that is dyed black and served like paella in a cast iron pot. My sister, despite having been in Barcelona for three months, had not yet tried it and felt slightly uneasy about the concept of the dish: the black dye is actually squid ink. She was very concerned about where the ink comes out of the squid. So, for anyone else who may have the same question, I did a little research.

While in the wild, squid expel a cloud of dark ink to intimidate and confuse potential predators when the feel threatened. The ink sac is a muscular bag that lies behind the gut and does indeed open into the anus. However, this is not how squid ink is obtained for cooking. A chef must obtain a whole squid (pre-cleaned will have the ink removed) and then extract the ink from both the main ink sac as described above and the small secondary sacs behind the eyes. The ink, along with the sacs, can be added to the desired recipe. For those who would like the flavor and aesthetic benefits of squid ink but are not so sure they want to try this process, pasta dyed with squid ink can be bought ready-made.

The arrós negre was my favorite dish of the night. The cuddle fish was tender, the short- grained rice had a nice texture, and the squid ink had a nice salty and not-too-fishy flavor. While the arrós negre tasted good, I did not look cute eating it. As I was chatting and spooning it into my mouth, my sister announced to the table, “Ew, look at Maddie’s mouth.” It was completely black. This might be something to think about if you are trying to impress on a date.

Arrós negre at 4 Gats

Arrós negre at 4 Gats

Overall, the food at Quatre Gats is just like the food that can be found on any block of the city. However, the restaurant is special for its history and its atmosphere. I would recommend stopping in during the day for a café or a glass of vino, just to order something off the menu that was designed and sketched by the young Picasso at the beginning of his career.

4 Gats
Carrer Montsió 3 Bis
08002 Barcelona
Teléfon: 93 302 41 40

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Breakfast of Champions

Enterance to La Boquería

Entrance to La Boquería

When my younger sister decided to spend her spring semester in Barcelona, my mom and I immediately planned a visit. The three of us spent the last week traveling through Catalonia expanding our palettes.

If I could begin every day with a trip to La Boquería food market on La Rambla in Barcelona, I would. From the moment I first walked into the market, my senses were under attack. I was first greeted with the sweet smells of the flower stands on the outskirts of the market. Just past the flower bouquets were mountains of brightly colored fresh fruit and vegetables. Some of the fruit was cut and packaged on the spot and ready to eat while some were squeezed into fresh juices. The large mango slices were especially delicious.

But as I weaved through the bustling market and worked my way to its center, I passed some of the more gristly display cases. The butcher stands had pig heads prominently displayed in the front, with hanging carcasses in the open air behind them. The dead animals banged against the heads and backs of the butchers as they chopped meat on wooden blocks with their bare hands that had just accepted money. The procedure at the seafood stands was similar, with shellfish still squirming in buckets before my eyes.

A typical display at the heart of La Boquería

A typical display at the heart of La Boquería

We took a seat at Bar Boquería, one of the little restaurants situated among the meats and fish. We began with a Mozzarella and tomato salad and patatas bravas, a classic dish of lightly fried potatoes with a mayonnaise-based dipping sauce. Eventually, however, we gained some courage and ordered a mixed seafood dish. As Mark Bittman would argue, breakfast food is a cultural construction—Why not start the day with a nice plate of fish with your coffee?

The seafood could not have been fresher. I know this because I was sitting right in front of the display case. The sardines, barely dead, stared up at me. When the chef reached in to grab some clams and mussels, they all started to move around his hand, disturbed by the sudden movement.

The plate came with one large sardine, mussels, clams, razor clams, squid, and cuddle fish. In my opinion, the mixed plate deserves a mixed review. I did not care for the mussels at all as they had a very pungent taste. The clams also had a bitter flavor and a sandy texture. The razor clam had an extremely unusual shape and was relatively bland, as most large shellfish are. On the other hand, the sardine, squid, and cuddle fish were very good. It was impossible to eat without getting a few bones in each bite, but they were so soft that they were barely noticeable; and as my mom said, they are a perfectly good source of calcium. Also from a nutritional standpoint, one might want to skip the fish skin that the Europeans seem to enjoy. The grilled squid was very good, but seemed chewy in comparison to the similar but more tender and juicy cuddle fish. The mixed seafood dish was a great thing to order because we really got to try a little of everything.

Mixed Seafood Plate

Mixed Seafood Plate

La Boquería market is a must-see for anyone interested in culinary culture. Just be prepared for the grunge—or simply don’t walk past the fruit.

La Boquería can be found off La Rambla in Barcelona.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized