The rustic family favorite Can Pineda has been holding down this corner of Barcelona’s El Clot neighborhood since 1904. It was not a restaurant originally, but a typical wine shop and canteen, where plenty of life could be found amongst the wooden barrels that now slumber peacefully on their perch up above the dining room. At that time, the place was frequented by local factory workers, who would come for a glass of wine to go with a simple meal or to drink while warming up their lunch boxes. The then-owners would put a pine branch on the door to signal the arrival of the vi novell, or new wine of the year, and from the pine, pi in Catalan, came the name Can Pineda, which translates roughly to “The Pine House.”
Today, El Clot is part of the new high-tech 22@ district, which is focused on innovation and research but maintains in its oldest streets the spirit of the village (Sant Martí de Provençals) that once flourished here, with its own market (dating back to 1889) and walls that remain from Barcelona’s first Industrial Age. Can Pineda sits right in the middle, a small but welcoming eatery with just 30 seats, decorated with the characteristic blue azulejos tiles, those wooden barrels and a few excellent hams hanging behind the bar.
Partners and brothers-in-law Paco Cuenca (front of the house) and Jaume Jovells (head chef) have run Can Pineda since the 1970s. Since then, dish by dish, they have gone from a simple bar to a more ambitious restaurant, turning excellent seasonal and local ingredients into interesting dishes with a Catalan foundation and Spanish, French and Italian influences.
Instead of wine poured straight from those barrels, Can Pineda now offers a selection of 200 to 300 Spanish and international wines, and diners can call on the expertise of the restaurant’s sommelier. There are bottles from some of the most renowned Spanish and Catalan wineries, like Pingus (Ribera del Duero), L’Ermita (Priorat) and Venus L’Universal (Mont Sant).
Locals and visitors from abroad marvel over carefully prepared dishes made with ingredients such as Catalan mushrooms, foie gras, Piedmontese white truffles, oxtail, Palamós red prawns (Catalonia), Carril clams (Galicia), guisantes lágrima, or “tear-shaped peas” (Basque country), and fresh fish and seafood from the Mediterranean and Atlantic. The sardine coca (a traditional flatbread) highlights the deeply savory qualities of the fish with caramelized onion, tomato and olivada (tapenade), and the crispy coca offers a delightful contrast to the fleshy fish. We also like the homey meatballs (pork and beef), which are paired with delicious xipirons, or baby squid, in a satisfyingly earthy Catalan rendition of surf and turf. Another winter dish combining flavors from land and sea was the stew of artichokes and mongetas del ganxet (Catalan white beans) with a few big, briny clams from Carril, a village on the Atlantic coast. The white truffles that Can Pineda gets from a direct supplier in Italy’s Piedmont region bring their beguiling perfume to a few of the restaurant’s Italo-French dishes, like the creamy, delicate fresh pasta or the pochè eggs with foie. Our favorite of all, however, is the guisantes lágrima, sweet, tender and juicy peas, cooked with bits of ham and bacon, garlic and mint leaves, which imbue the dish with a subtle yet thoroughly enticing aroma.
We always make sure to save room for dessert – perhaps the praline biscuit with broiled yolk or the Roquefort cheese with pear and pepper. But most likely, we’ll ask for the house specialty: bombetas, small bites of crispy phyllo that gush forth warm cream or chocolate when bitten into.
Can Pineda’s owners have been honing their craft for a long time. Cuenca started at the bar when he was 16, while Jovells began working there at the tender age of 11. They’ve come a long way since then, transforming a simple bar into one of Barcelona’s culinary institutions.
This review was originally published on December 9, 2014.