Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Els Pescadors, Cadaques

August 31st, 2009. 2 PM

Thanks to providence, we survived a day of tourism and eating in Barcelona. That afternoon may even have included a visit to Sagrada Familia, but my memories are hazy. Something that was also hazy was the sky the next morning. We suffered through a mediocre breakfast of bread and coffee at a cafe (when in Europe...) on the edge of the Barri Gothic near the water where the other patrons were of indeterminate status - up early or still up late? -  and were playing Europop on a boombox. After that we went to Europcar, rented our Europeancar, and, pausing only for a short freestyle detour through the gridless one-way streets of the Barcelona waterfront, we were on the highway to The Beach. The sky was no longer hazy when we got there. Hellz Bellz!
You've been to Europe more than me, no doubt. And you've probably visited the Amalfi Coast, or Greece, or Croatia or somewhere equally picturesque with vibrant blue ocean, similar sky, and white houses on overlooking cliffs. If so, lucky you, and feel free to tune out to your own memories. As for me, I was really looking forward to seeing Cadaques. Based on a few grainy blowups on the worldwidenetz, it seemed to deserve its reputation as the quaintest of towns on the Costa Brava as well as the one closest to France. After all, this was the place where Picasso and Dali chose to vacation (which makes you wonder if there's something in the water). It wasn't the most convenient way to get to El Bulli, but the nearest town for that is the dull-looking Roses, and we were taken with the idea of a hotel with balconies overlooking our own Mediterranean bay. As a result I had agitated for a schedule that involved leaving Barcelona early, getting to Cadaques by lunch, and spending most of two days there.

Staying at a hotel on the outskirts provided a nice opportunity to walk a bit - a pleasant 10 minutes each way, through the residential road and then along the tiny coves and shops of the waterfront (pictured above) until you reached the old casino and then the town square. We drove out to the hotel, checked in, got amazed by the views, and started walking back for lunch. We didn't make it all the way back to town; there are a few seafood restaurants in the last cove before the center, and we looked at each other and called dibs on the one open table at Els Pescadors.

For obvious reasons, no? As a newbie American in Europe, I was shamelessly excited about eating in a setting like this - the only thing that could be slightly better would be to perch the restaurant on a rocky cliff. But that might be different, not better. These French people were there before us and there after us, enjoying a view that was 2 metres closer to the water and all the better for not having themselves in it. During our time at table, they handled two bottles of wine between them with aplomb. And they seemed pretty excited about the view too. Tell me, does one get tired of this? I prefer to hope that Samuel Johnson was correct in saying, "When a man is tired of eating seafood and drinking wine by the sea, he is tired of life."

I envied the vinous capability of our French neighbors. Also I was, as usual, stunned by the low low prices of very drinkable sparkling wine in Spain, so we started with an attractively-necked bottle from the near-Barcelona Penedes region that went down our own necks just as nicely. This pretty little fellow was the same price as one glass of his French cousin who we drank at Le Cinq. It's cava. Don't call it recession champagne or they get very annoyed. And then we began le fooding.

Si, si, I was still distraught at not having had octopus for any of three meals the day before. This fellow was small, tender, salty, sliced in pieces, and most importantly sitting on a table next to a bottle of sparkling wine next to a blue ocean cove. Gaaaaahhh! I can only imagine that there are better octopi in the world. I'm not ashamed to say it, I spent this lunch in love with all things European.

Very tolerable prawns were also on the agenda, prompted by the incredible ones the night before. They were of course not equal in any way, but they were superior in quantity and inferior in price, so all was far from lost.

But again with the main dish...ORDER FAIL. At another table we saw a nice-looking paella. We debated about which one on the menu it could be. We tried to ask. We ordered fideua, which is best described as 'pasta paella'. Sounds weird if you've never heard of it (like me), but the pictures should make it clear - make pasta in a shallow pan with lots of seafood, then broil/grill until crusty on top. Why the fail? For some reason we ordered this for 4 people, and we certainly got a portion for 4 people. While we (nearly) finished the whole pan, we were reduced to gibbering wrecks. ONE of us went to bed, not to recover until morning.

Who would think that such an innocent dish could hide such depradations? The other truly depraved thing about this is that, in addition to the hunks of cholesterol-of-the-sea liberally mixed throughout (the ham-like bits are in fact octopus, while the white ones are squid, not fish), it was served with a mayonnaise topping. Sure, not regular mayonnaise - aioli. My cholesterol is fine, thank you, so I went for broke and put a dollop of garlicy mayo on every last bite. And the last bite finished me; I barely remember the walk back or the fall into bed.

Els Pescadors doesn't have a web site, but I saw one review in French that talked about the professional staff, great atmosphere and huge portions. Spot on. It's on the south side of the bay. Keep walking past the casino and you'll see it. Don't be fooled by the even-more-touristy place next door.
+34 97 225 8859

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