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Editor’s note: We regret to report that La Portería has closed.

Looks can be deceiving. A case in point: La Portería appears dull at first glance, but venture down the few steps that separate this singular restaurant from the street’s frivolity and you will be rewarded.

Chef-owner Angel Muñoz Barrera opened La Portería in Sant Gervasi 20 years ago with his parents, and his mother still helps out in the kitchen while his father tends to the front of the house. The diminutive eatery sits among offices and apartments in a part of Barcelona where the “old bourgeoisie” traditionally lived. On the outside, it looks like the kind of simple, straightforward bar where you might toss back a beer while watching a football match. Inside, however, wine bottles encircle the dining room, slowly succumbing to the creeping tendrils and vines of the houseplants that populate the windows. In the back, the kitchen is a-bubble with deliciously homey, thoughtfully prepared dishes, many made from ingredients produced by the Barrera family. At La Portería, the roster of classics is available à la carte, a few culinary innovations make up the special gastronomic menu (€25 for two courses plus dessert, excluding drinks) and a menú del día costs just €12.

On a recent evening, Barrera made the rounds, chatting up the customers, recommending the monkfish with tomato sauce or the veal or beef entrecote. He explained the differences among the olive oils on the table, introduced the house wine and revealed the unexpected origins of the tomatoes in the salad. He seems like the kind of chef who pays attention not just to the food but also to all the other details of the dining experience, furnishing a warm atmosphere and imbuing a simple lunch with meaning.

We began our meal with a traditional lentil stew, which, Barrera explained, was almost entirely vegetarian – only the garnish of a couple of slices of chorizo was not. The small, delicate Pardina lentils with potatoes and green peppers made for a wonderfully creamy, velvety soup whose pure flavors, judiciously seasoned, sang out. Barrera told us that most of the vegetables that they use come from their family garden in the village of Castellbisbal, a half hour’s drive northwest of Barcelona.

For a main course, we had the house specialty, the steak tartare prepared tableside, as was once common practice. Barrera smashed some anchovies and carefully blended them with egg and some arbequina olive oil, adding capers, chopped onion, Worcestershire sauce and mustard to create a rich, intensely flavored emulsion. He combined the mixture with the ground veal, which he gets from Girona, and added a few drops of Manzanilla sherry and whiskey. As a flourish, he fashioned a delicate rose from slices of tomato and carefully placed it on a thoroughly chilled plate. He added leaves of tartare and drew a curving stem with ground pepper, which we used to season each bite of the veal. The perfect accompaniment, we found, was the house wine, a balanced, fruity D.O. Ribera del Duero that Barrera made from Tempranillo at his own winery in Burgos and aged for 15 months in French oak.

For dessert, we were served a glass of pomegranate seeds in orange juice – which, like so many other aspects of La Portería, was modest, yet intriguing, inviting closer examination.

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Published on January 22, 2014

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