Saturday, June 9, 2007

Barri Gotic, La Boqueria and Restaurant Moo

Days are starting later the more we head south in Europe. We haven’t waked this late since making our recovery from jet lag in Holland or maybe it is the Cava we were drinking last night. Cava is the Spanish version of sparkling wine and the Spaniards claim is superior to their neighbor’s Champagne. I am not sure I agree with this, but the Cava wasn’t bad. Due to its highly acidic nature it is important to drink the cava while indulging in some sort of good eats as well.

The Barri Gothic was on the agenda for today. We would take ourselves on a long adventure matriculating through the intricate circuit of narrow alleyways and corridors that make up this old neighborhood. Architecturally, Barcelona is as diverse as they come. The many styles that make up this city create an amazing identity that has been unrivaled in the other cities we have visited and that is saying a lot. The buildings are old and have so many influences from the neo-classic look of the buildings in “The Triangle” to the influences of famed architect Antoni Gaudi and his unfinished masterpiece La Sagrada Familia and, of course, the chilling gothic and medieval buildings left in the Barri Gothic. Today, the Barri Gothic is filled with a wide array of shops, bars, small cafes and restaurants. In fact, some of these bars and restaurants have been around since the 17th century! The alleyways are dark and a little dreary with gargoyles protecting almost every building, but the streets are tourist ridden and filled with some of
Barcelona’s prime food hot spots filling the area with light.

We strolled the Gothic taking in all the sites and poking our heads in and out of the shops buying a few souvenirs. We had a strange breakfast that day opting for a zumo made of kiwi, banana and orange juice which was quite refreshing on this warm day and then chased it with cinnamon ice cream and a Belgian style waffle slathered with the creamy and chocolaty Nutella spread. If it weren’t for all this gluttonous eating we probably would have lost 10 pounds on this trip. We are averaging about a 5 mile walk per day and walking is what we would do as we searched out La Boqueria market.

Simply said, this market was amazing. I have never seen anything like this. I know I haven’t traveled the world, but this has to be one of the greatest on Earth. We turned down a large corridor off Las Ramblas, passed through the stained glass modernista entrance and fell into a large village of food stands bustling with chefs, tourists, and abuelitas searching for the best Barcelona has to offer. The area is huge, about 20,000 square feet, and vendors sell everything that represents all that is best with Catalan ingredients. We passed through the huge displays of seafood finding 6 different kinds of prawns, lobsters, 4 different kinds of clams, mussels, 3 types of snails, monkfish, hake, scorpion fish, sardines, anchovies, salted tuna roe and, of course, bacalla which seems to be a staple in Catalan cuisine. We passed through many exotic produce stands selling the best the season had to offer like apricots, cherries, lots of white asparagus, and bales of dried chilies on the floor and hanging from the ceilings. We came across a mushroom forager who had at least 15 pounds of summer truffles residing on his counter, chanterelles, enormous porcinis and even had a small section of edible insects like grasshoppers, crickets, and scorpion candy. Further on we pass by the legume vendors with their chickpeas, lentils, white beans, nuts, and dried fruits. They also sell artisanal cheeses and charcuterie. We see various types of chorizo and famed blood sausages hanging in front of the butcher’s tired faces. Despite all this, the most amazing part was the meat section. Again, I am faced with an enormous contrast to our American eating habits. We have to be the only country that wastes animal product because we saw customers actively purchasing the stomach lining of cows, lamb brains, bull’s testicles, the entire pig’s head and even asking the butcher to split the lamb’s head in half with eye balls and everything. Seeing their butchers at work was another sight. Imagine a 60 year old woman manipulated at 30 pound cow’s liver slicing off the most perfect medallions while preparing the ban saw to trim down a quarter hind of lamb. I was impressed by these women butchering meat and fish as I believe this is a profession mostly dominated by men state side. These sights blew me away to say the least. So now it was time to eat.

La Boqueria contains many tapas bars that create their menus based on what the market has to offer that day. We were on a mad search for a place called Pinotxo Bar, but were unable to find it so we settled down at another busy stand. I asked the cook to prepare us 3 of their best tapas, but he was apprehensive on what to choose so it didn’t make for the most adventurous experience. He brought us this wonderful mild and salty chorizo that were about the size of my pinky and were dripping with bright orange oil flavored with smoked paprika. He then passed along some plain roasted chicken wings that were marinated with turmeric, garlic and salt. We could have done without this choice and had the grilled calamari with garlic and parsley oil that our neighbor was drooling over. Lastly, he brought over a zarzuela which is a Spanish seafood stew. This was full flavored and tasted completely fresh. Squid, cuttlefish, hake, mussels, clams and prawns all lovingly braised in a seafood tomato broth and drizzled with a fruity and peppery Spanish olive oil. You better believe that I was mopping up that sauce with a baguette. Two beers later and we were off for a long walk to try and burn calories for our dinner that night and, of course, our daily siesta.

We were running late for our well anticipated dinner at what is said to be one of the best restaurants in all of Spain – Restaurant Moo, run by famous chef Joan Rocca. I have seen this restaurant in every travel publication that we have read about Spain and there was a huge feature about the chef and the restaurant in a chef publication called Art Culinaire.
We walked into this ultra chic and modern restaurant and felt like we were back at the trendiest hotel restaurants in Hollywood. Dark lounge furniture contrasted with Asian décor and growing beyond a Plexiglas window was a real bamboo garden. The service was friendly and professional and they accommodated us in almost perfect English. Staying with tradition, the chef has compiled a menu that is made up of ½ portions so that the diner can try many things, much like a tapas bar except that this was in a formal setting. Nicole ordered 2 items, a cheese plate and a dessert. I ordered 4 items and a dessert. Nicole suggested that we change our order because they would not be able to serve us correctly since I had a total of 5 items and she 4. I argued that this is a professional restaurant and I am sure that they have done this a million times before….they know what they are doing. Guess who was wrong here?

The first course arrived and we could tell they all ready had things mixed up. Nicole suggested to the waiter that we split a first course so that the service would not be off, but apparently he decided not to listen to us. Instead he brought out my Smoked Pigeon Carpaccio with Juniper Ice Cream with a theatric effect. The plate arrived covered in a glass dome and then the server unveiled the ploom of olive wood smoke that was encapsulated under the plate cover. The aroma filled the surrounding air making our table the current attraction. Nicole’s dish was equally, if not more impressive. She had a beautifully composed appetizer of blanched white asparagus mirrored by shelled long tender and salty razor clams rounded out with a fluffy green asparagus espuma hinted with lemon. This dish was not only clever in its presentation, but harmonious in flavor and texture.

Second course is where things got messy. It is not that the food was bad in any way; it was that they served it wrong. Now I was served another harmonious dish of Dublin Bay Prawns with a licorice-curry sauce dotted with lobster roe and asparagus tips. I thought this might be too assertive, but the prawns were as sweet as I ever tasted and balanced out the one two punch of the salty roe and the spicy licorice-curry sauce. Nicole was then given her “main course”, a duck breast sous vide with roasted beets and blood orange. The duck’s skin was crispy, but the meat itself had a raw look to it. However, one bite and I knew this meat had been cooked at a low constant temperature for a long period of time because of the tenderness of the meat. My teeth could’ve taken a day off with this one. It was excellent, but then as luck would have it the kitchen made a crucial error. They must have left a piece of sinew in that is between the tenderloin and the breast meat and Nicole found herself chewing on the untenable for quite a while. Without the sinew part this dish was definitely a winner. The problem with this course was that Nicole would have to watch me eat to other dish with nothing in front of her when this could have been all avoided had the waiter listened to us or knew what he was doing.

The next two dishes arrived quickly and I would eat them and share them quickly so that Nicole would not be left without food for long. We asked for the cheese plate sooner, but the chef refused saying that it must be served with dessert. My sea bass came with green beans and a ginger broth. The flavors all worked, but seemed way too ordinary for a restaurant like this. It took subtlety too far and was unimpressive. My “veal” was next and was very tender, practically melting in my mouth. The problem was that this was not veal. The meat was red and perfectly cooked, but in my experience, I have never seen veal that looked this way. I am pretty sure that the kitchen was misleading their guests with this one. Again, it was not bad, but it was not what it should have been.

Finally, Nicole’s next course, the cheese plate, and my dessert, breaded toffee with caramel ice cream, arrived. We expected the cheese plate to show off the great varieties of Cataluña or Spain, but instead Nicole received three versions of France’s Comte cheese. This was definitely a letdown and it was oddly accompanied by paper thin shavings of button mushroom and one large red grape neatly sliced in half. My dessert was tasty, but the disappointment with the service and the cheese plate began to take precedence.

Nicole’s dessert arrived, and to our dismay, I was left staring at her eating. The timing by the service was so bad that it ruined the experience. The strawberry tartare with strawberry sauce and goat cheese ice cream was excellent and highlighted some very flavorful and sweet strawberries, but at this point we wanted just wanted to leave.

We paid the bill and asked for a call for a taxi. To top it off, this snobby and trendy restaurant told us none were available and to wait on the street to pick one up. I think the kitchen did well, but did not live up to the hype. However, the service failed that restaurant and for 3 Michelin stars one has to think what it really takes to get that king of rating. I would have traded our paella night over that expensive meal anytime.

We’ll catch up with the rest of Barcelona a little later.

1 comment:

Ronia said...

Keep up the good work.