Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Rias de Galicia, Barcelona

August 30th, 2009. 9 PM. If you're following, you'll see that it's still Sunday of this trip, day 2 of 7. This could take a while...

Really, we did some touristy things too. Here's the other famous Gaudi apartment building, Casa Batllo. We just stood outside and looked at it, which I think yielded most of the value (considering that we had already been to Casa Mila and seen the interior detail there). I can't help thinking of Gaudi more as an artist than an architect. While his ornamentations are completely unique, the spaces and the way they fit together don't feel much different from anyone else's work. This is especially true at Casa Batllo, which is a Gaudi remodel of an existing building and thus must have faced more interior constraints (although he seems to have tried mightily, converting the doorways to mouths and the roof of the main stairwell into a wave, and it seems the ornamentation may be more elaborate and better-preserved). At Casa Mila you can get a better idea of what Gaudi would have done with a free hand - the apartments are curved around the central light well despite the exterior walls being mostly straight. Both aspects are interesting, but I like modern art more than classical, and am happy to give up ornamentation for an interesting use of space. Digression stop:| At this point we fell asleep for a good 3 hours.

Rias de Galicia is a famous seafood restaurant. Perhaps the famous seafood restaurant. Botafumeiro is the other one, and appeared in our guidebooks, but I've seen RdG described as better if pricier, and we weren't there to save money. The taxi driver knew it by name alone. We were fashionably early at 9:30, but definitely not fashionable since several of use were wearing short sleeves and/or shorts. And denim. More on that shortly.
You'll know you've arrived when you see the greeting committee smiling at you. While the iced display here is pale, scrawny and pathetic in quantity terms compared to the Bangkok's mighty Profisherman ("If It Swims, We Have It", you don't see monkfish every day, nor are many of the other items common in other countries. And one has to believe that the quality here is higher. One kept telling oneself that as one sat and looked at the prices, which one had been warned about but not fully prepared for.

The broad, smiling reception we got from the waitstaff was comparable to the surprised, toothy, displeased expression of this (I think) barracuda. In an absolutely priceless moment, the maitre d' literally stopped and looked us up and down, pausing for a beat before deciding to seat us. His smile was strained for the rest of the evening, but I admit that this is a top-end restaurant and many other patrons were wearing evening dresses, jackets, etc. We were seated upstairs, which I read is the foreigner ghetto, but late-arriving Spaniards sat there too, so maybe there's no bias on that front. Anyway, it would make sense to have all the non-Spanish speakers in one place.

You should go here for things like this. Not others. Razor clams are uncommon where I'm from (or any of the places I've been from), and eating things like this was a prime reason for wanting to visit - eating things like this at absolutely top quality. Somewhere else (that I can't find now, I read that the name of the restaurant refers to a region of old rivers of the coast of Galicia - formerly above, now below the ocean surface, and by virtue of their unique geography forming a unique breeding ground for seafood. Uniquely tasty. The produce here is supposedly imported from there.

These cockles are pretty common in Spain, but from the first bite of their barely-steamed, gorgeous taste, I was convinced we were in the right place. And this was just a snack to get the table started, gratis. Excellent.

Razor clams, or razor clam on my plate. Throughout this portion of the meal, the staff brought small plates of shellfish and carefully doled them out to the 4 of us. This is because the maitre d' discouraged us from ordering full portions, and it wasn't hard because we were already discouraged by the prices. A half portion was generally enough to fit 4 creatures (except here, where we were advised that they would need to charge us up a little to get 4 clams in the order). It should already go without saying, but this was extraordinary - the plate of razor clams at Le Cinq was decent, but this was excellent, with a unique texture and taste.

And when we get to 'unique', we can't go by the barnacles. This is a crappy picture of an incredible item; you can get a much better one from Chuck (thanks in advance). Despite reading about them, I couldn't figure out comfortably how to eat them - you're meant to grasp the 'claw' end, twist and pull...but nothing happened. I ended up peeling away the claw to get to the soft, juicy, almost veal-like shellfish within. I'm told by reliable sources that the waitress hovered by my shoulder with a horrified expression during this process, as if I was violating a sacrament. I would eat these any time for the sweet, salty, meaty goodness, but at 5 Euros per bite it's merciful that you don't see them in Japan. Except perhaps on the bottoms of ships.

RdG was out of the best quality prawns that night (or else they told us that because they judged we weren't sufficiently skilled eaters after my barnacle performance). That meant we were stuck with these guys, largish prawns costing 30 Euros for an order of 4. I don't want to malign Japanese seafood or anything, but this was the single best prawn I've ever eaten. Speechless. Wish I had a whole plate of them. Unfortunately this was all the shellfish we ordered, and it was time for our...

Order fail. We all ordered fish main dishes. Let me tell you right now, unequivocally, you should go to RdG and order nothing but a full portion of the shellfish that interest you. The main dishes are acceptable and large, but dull by comparison. For the same price you could get another 4 razor clams or another 4 prawns, or a big plate of octopus. I regret our ordering pattern, significantly, because we could have eaten 2 or 3 times as much shellfish for what we paid overall. Damn.  Oh, I think this was sea bass. Huge piece of good fish. Yawn.

Monkfish with chick peas in a non-curry sauce that I can't remember but was an acquired taste lost on me. The prawn on top was not one of the famous ones, and the cockle-like things around the side, despite appearing similar to the inspired ones earlier, were one of the very few things in recent memory that made me want to gag when I ate them (both of them, for confirmation purposes). I'm reminded as well that monkfish tail is a big, meaty item, and huge portions may be excessive.

I'll cut things off there without showing off the other two mains or the large, acceptable, dull desserts. I can't stress this enough - I wish I could go back to Rias de Galicia wearing pants and a jacket, order a nice bottle of wine, and do nothing but eat shellfish for 2 hours - as well as all the cetaceans that we missed. I'm tortured by the memory.

Rias de Galicia
++93 424 81 52

1 comment:

  1. I'm surprised they gave you grief over your attire - although Mr El Bulli did a once over on me when i walked in with jeans. But I saw shorts at Can Roca - and i don't remember RdG being particularly fancy ?

    You're right - it's expensive as hell - but the shellfish is oh so good...