Marc Cuenca was the kind of kid who was interested in what other people were eating, and this curiosity was the seed of his own restaurant, Els Tres Porquets (“Three Little Pigs”). A small enoteca and tapas bar with just a few tables, it sits in Poble Nou-El Clot, an area that brings to the restaurant a combination of locals, office workers and Spaniards and foreigners employed by startups and other businesses in the 22@ innovation district. While these days the city – and indeed many cities around the world – is teeming with restaurants specializing in an ambitious menu of small plates intended for sharing, in 2009, the concept was still quite new when the “three little pigs” arrived in the city.
Cuenca is the son of Can Pineda’s Paco Cuenca. He studied telecommunication engineering and audiovisuals, but after the financial crisis he decided to cast his net wider. He worked with his father at Can Pineda for a while until he saw an opportunity to open a restaurant with his current partner, Juan Valencia, a wine distributor (who, naturally, takes good care of their great cellar), using all the experience of the family in a world he had known since his childhood.
From Can Pineda, Els Tres Porquets inherited numerous suppliers and an absolute devotion to seasonal products of exceptional quality. In this matter, Cuenca has total trust in the head chef, Roger Boronat, who, along with chef Gino Capra, selects the best seasonal Catalan products for their more than 40 different tapas or small plates. Every product here is remarkable, and the two chefs and Cuenca talk about them with authentic enthusiasm: little sweet and tender “tear peas” from El Maresme, delicate mongetas del Ganxet (which have a protected geographical indication), seasonal Catalan mushrooms, the freshest foie gras, excellent bread and the iconic sweet coca de crema from Vilamala bakery. Fish and seafood always arrive at night, just the right quantity for the next day (the Palamós prawns are not to be missed!). Els Tres Porquets prefers not to store its produce, in order to maintain maximum freshness; instead, the chefs buy more that day if they need it.
The menu on the blackboard is composed of a long list of small plates to taste with beer, the house vermut or more than 400 wines – a comprehensive cellar with Spanish and international wines of all kinds and prices. Some of the dishes are sacred cows that never change, such as the deeply savory seasonal mushrooms with foie gras that we recently tasted with boletus, yellow chanterelle and horns of plenty. It comes with a fried duck egg that is broken and mixed with the dish and is especially great for dipping bread into. Then there’s the “Alambre,” a version of the Mexican classic that combines super-tender beef with a vegetable sanfaina (a kind of Catalan ratatouille), Emmental cheese and coriander and cumin olive oil – a particularly exotic touch for Spanish tastes.
Others dishes change every season, like the crispy and soft lorito, a small, delicate fish from the Balearic Islands, or the “cucumber flowers” in summer. Don’t miss the sardine coca (a savory coca is similar to a small pizza), a thrilling bite of crisp, fragile layers of mille-feuille with marinated sardine, strawberries, fine chopped onion and a pinch of thyme. We also love the fried octopus, crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside, which is served with potato cream and onion- and sweet paprika-infused olive oil.
We like taking our time and grazing at Els Tres Porquets, but for quicker bites or takeaway, the partners have recently opened a new bar nearby called La Caputxeta, which specializes in excellent gourmet sandwiches. [Editor’s note: We regret to report that La Caputxeta has closed.]