Editor’s note: The year is coming to an end, which means it’s time for us to look back on all the great eating experiences we had in 2014 and name our favorites among them.
At this tiny, century-old restaurant in the neighborhood of El Clot, we ate a simple dish of guisantes lágrima (“tear-shaped peas”) with little bits of jamón ibérico, one of the most delicious culinary treasures we have had all year – and one we will remember for a long time to come.
Paco Cuenca and his brother-in-law, Jaume Jovells, who is the chef, make magic using excellent ingredients and regional Spanish traditions, with a little help from such wonderful additions as Italian white truffles and French foie gras. Jovells excels at bringing out the best in what’s seasonal, such as a surf and turf of mushrooms and squid, those splendid peas, artichokes, and fresh fish. Menu mainstays like the oxtail are also brilliantly executed. In addition, the cellar holds a selection of more than 200 wines, from Spain and abroad.
Morro Fi and Mitja Vida
One of the gastronomic highlights of the Barcelonan vermuteo (“vermouthing”) phenomenon is the project Morro Fi, which includes a blog, two bars, an online shop and a line of vermouths and high-quality canned products (olives, mussels, pickles, peppers, cured fish and much more) produced in collaboration with their suppliers.
Morro Fi was originally a bare-bones place on the corner where, in past decades, locals from this part of L’Eixample would meet to have a glass of wine, beer or vermouth together. When that bar closed, Marcel Fernández, Marc Monzó and Guillermo Pfaff took it over and gave it new life. Their second venue, Mijta Vida, is bigger and located in Sant Gervasi.
This laid-back little bar lined with stools and with a flying pig hanging over the entry is one of our favorite places to put up our feet for a while and graze on delectable offerings like a platter of cheeses, cured meats made from acorn-fed Iberian pigs, sustainably caught tuna, Catalan wines from small producers (some organic), perfectly cooked eggs and mackerel marinated in the very local Barceloneta style. The owner, Santi Hoyos, has a talent for identifying the finest products Spain has to offer, and has spent years traveling all over the country in search of the best tastes, textures and methods. From the tuna to the peas, everything here is special and connected to the soul of the city and the neighborhood.
Just next to Bar Ángel sits another culinary wonder, a place that inspires the kind of devotion in which longtime regulars constantly grapple with keeping the place a secret or spreading the word from the rooftops. La Estrella is an unpretentious restaurant that has been in the hands of the same family since it opened in 1924. The food here is prepared in the Catalan tradition, using the best Catalan products along with exceedingly great care and thoughtfulness. Even the most rustic dish of chickpeas with prawns has a subtle and refined quality to it. The restaurant is known for its fish and seafood preparations and specializes in traditional codfish dishes and stews.
Xavier Vilamala’s tiny family-run bakery makes bread from old recipes, unusual grains and dough fermented at length and bakes it in-house. They’ll even take special requests given some advance notice. Vilamala is the president of the Catalonia Bakers Guild, and his bread is one of the city’s finest. However, even more famous is the milfulles or coca (Catalan flatbread) filled with caramelized cream, which is cut into small portions and eaten with the fingers. It is the most iconic and best-loved sweet of the area around the port, where it is also served in local restaurants like El Passadís del Pep and Bar Ángel.
Right near the top of our best eating experiences of the year is Casa Lucio, not only for the quality and staggering number of mushroom dishes, especially those with the enticingly aromatic black and yellow trumpets, subtle llanegas and unusual cauliflower mushrooms, but also because of their traditional soul-warming stews, such as callos and cap i pota, and the great bar at the entryway stocked with plenty of cheeses, cured and cooked sausages and homemade pickles. Tasty dishes like fig and ham rolls or artichokes with wine, lemon and olive oil are particularly well-suited to a good vermut or a glass of Catalan wine.
We wrote about craft beer last year, but we must now add what has become one of the best places in town (perhaps in all of Spain) for suds lovers. Besides liquid refreshment, there are good tapas on the menu, including Wagyu tartare, sashimi of Mediterranean croaker, escalivada (Catalan baked eggplant and red pepper) with goat cheese, the bar’s renowned patatas bravas, and montaditos (slices of bread with various toppings).
Some 30 taps dispense domestic (Agullons, Guineu, La Pirata and Napar, for example) and international craft beers, and if that’s not enough, there are more than 200 different bottled beers. Decisions, decisions….
Taberna Marcano (Madrid)
We have to give a shout-out to David Marcano’s extraordinary restaurant in Madrid. A disciple of Juan Mari Arzak, Marcano specializes in brilliantly executed contemporary Spanish-Basque cuisine with international influences, served in an informal setting. The restaurant used to be minuscule, but recently moved into larger quarters on an adjacent street in the neighborhood of El Retiro. All the fish he uses is wild-caught and many of the other ingredients are impeccably sourced. A good way to sample some of the menu is to have some mini tapas with drinks.