Monday, September 14, 2009

Cerveseria Catalana, Barcelona

Events of August 30th, 2009. 3 PM.
Barcelona has lots of attractions for between-times when you're not eating (as I get older I like more and more to use those times for sleeping, but your mileage may vary). This post's gratuitous shot is of the roof decorations at Le Perdrera, one of the two Gaudi apartment buildings that make up what I came to think of as the Holy Quaternary (including Sagrada Familia and Park Guell). We did the full tour here, which includes an apartment, the attic gallery (formerly used for cooling and for servants to hang out laundry) and the roof, which is notable for the up-and-down stairs, these monuments, and the views both to other buildings and down the interior light well. I'd like to think that this building is more interesting since it was designed from scratch and thus the interior is also more organic and flowing, as opposed to Casa Batllo where Gaudi tacked the famous melty facade onto an existing building. But that facade is certainly more impressive, and I don't know a thing really.

Afterward we did some aimless walking around the neighborhood, hoping to see other architectural marvels. While we didn't see much, strolling around a clean, spacious, unfamiliar city on a Sunday afternoon in late summer is rarely a bad thing. We walked down a lot of blocks, through the clever angled plazas that are designed into all the intersections, and then it happened.
It was already 2:30 or so, and we were actively wondering what to do about lunch but had no specific plans. As we crossed one intersection, there was a sudden voice calmly saying "We should go to that place." It was like the Voice of God! Perhaps I exaggerate, because it was my voice, but someone did make the VoG comment. I had seen Cerveseria Catalana mentioned on various lists, some of which called it 'the best tapas in Barcelona'. While I'm not given to grandiosities like that, I didn't have a better tapas elsewhere (and yes, I definitely missed your favorite spot. I missed a lot of places I would have gone to given the time and enthusiasm).
Another thing mentioned frequently in reviews of this place - it's crowded. I think we were secretly relieved after walking past a dozen lightly-trafficed establishments to find that this place didn't have a table for us, nor a space at the bar. A bonus of the casual Spanish attitude is that it's OK to wait casually. As I said, there wasn't even space at the bar since the bar is such a normal place to stand and eat. In this picture, which I swear is not the approach shot for an upskirt on my Dining Companion, you can just see the rest of my party outside on the pavement crowding a small, frightened, soon-to-be-empty jug of sangria. Personally I would have preferred cava sangria, or just cava, but everyone has their own tastes. At some equally popular bars later in the week, cirlces of people were sitting outside on the sidewalk with a bottle of cava in the middle of the group and bowl glasses all around. A sort of Spanish spin-the-bottle, but the bottle's full. And you don't spin it.

It's good to push the horizons a bit, especially when travelling. In Spain, I've read that the focus on seafood leads to extraordinarily good results, especially in the canned arena. There are evidently bars that focus on drinks and canned seafood, and not at all in a cheap way like those street bars in Japan that have canned corned beef and 1-cup sake. One preserved/canned item that's a bit of a stretch for most Americans is anchovies - famous in Spain, somewhat reviled in America. I think this is because the best Spanish anchovies have yet to make their way through the 'foodie' crowd initiation and into the popular consciousness. Suffice to say that if all anchovies were as good as these, there would be no lack of people eating them. And they were resoundingly not the best anchovies we had all week.
These, however, may have been the best cuttlefish we had all week. Quite sizable, these buggers. When you say "cuttlefish," I first think "Nonsequitur?" and then realize what you're on about and think of something on a 2-inch scale. The bodies alone on these guys were 3 inches, which was somewhat frightening at first. You want your cuttles to be, well, cuttley, and at this size they're starting to present an octopus aspect. But with this beautiful grilling, firm but soft meat, and a schvitz of lemon...
And then to the main event - montaditos. This being Barcelona, and Cerveseria Catalana, you should expect your items to come on toast. Toast that's been rubbed with tomato to soften up the staleness. Depending on your personality, these may or may not be easy to order. I found it challenging to get the attention of someone behind the counter (in my case it turned out to be one of the Filipino houseboys wearing the white coats with gold epaulets. Seriously, they're dressed that way.) because so many people are crowded in ordering and eating. But we had already been graced with a small table at this point, so all I had to do was specify our number, then start pointing. 4 of each please!
Nothing fancy here, just good ham on toast. Yes Dad, the white part at the bottom of the picture is pure fat. You'd still like it.
I'm mildly unsure what this is. Just from looking, I think it might be lomo, which is of course a dry-cured pork tenderloin (although I didn't know this until later in the week when we visited the World's Best Ham Shop). On top is certainly a little pepper, of the shape that in Japan is spicy only once in a surprising and painful while. These, I think, were spicy all the time.  
Never feed autumn eggplants to your daughter-in-law, that's what I always say. Fortunately this particular montadito didn't feature autumn eggplant, because it was August and 90 degrees, and I also wasn't with my daughter-in-law (for obvious reasons to numerous to number). This was toast with roasted pepper, eggplant and anchovy, and a weirder or tastier combination we didn't try. This should give you some ideas for home.
To really bulk things up, mini veal steak montaditos. Oh my. Soft, beefy, beautifully grilled, just big enough to make you feel you've eaten steak, and with those darling little peppers again...a challenge to eat standing up, as they were so juicy that you'd be spattered in no time.
When I went to the bathroom I was quite surprised by the inside of the restaurant. There were only seats for 20 or so outside, and the bar was dark enough that you couldn't see too far in. But once you were, there were 3 big rooms there, all packed with tables packed with people packing away the food. And more of those Filipinos with the faux Admiralty jackets. It put me very much in mind of Joe's Stone Crab, where they also serve very normal food, in very high quality, for serious prices, in a casual but classic environment populated by Latin waiters in eveningwear. And you have to love it.
I have some regrets about this lunch. I mildly regret that we didn't ask to transfer to one of the cooler tables during the period when it got hot on just our table due to the sun approaching its peak (at 4 PM!). I regret that we drank sangria instead of cava. But mostly I regret that we lost stamina and couldn't stay longer in order to try the seafood side of the bar beyond the cuttlefish above. I would have loved to get through some fancy Spanish shrimp and razor clams. Fortunately there was dinner to come that night...

Hmm, I don't think they have a web site. But it's kind of on the opposite side of the block from Casa Mila, the southwest corner. Ish. Look for tables and people waiting.

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