The concept of what’s near and far has gone topsy-turvy as of late. In the last decade, before the pandemic hit, far was near: We could have breakfast in Barcelona, get on a plane and arrive in time for lunch in Athens. Nowadays, the other side of one’s municipality is considered far-flung, and going there to eat at a restaurant you’ve dined at a hundred times before is a big adventure, one worth documenting on social media.
While we felt that distance keenly during the state of emergency, we could also close our eyes and imagine ourselves back in our favorite restaurants, sitting down to eat our favorite dishes. Often all it took was one distinct memory – the clatter of pots from the kitchen; a waiter cracking a joke on the other side of the bar; a cold, fresh beer being placed in front of us on the terrace of a chiringuito (a bar on or by the beach); or the crispiness of a tapa de chipirones (fried baby squid) shared between friends – to transport us. We asked some friends of CB which dishes they were dreaming of eating, the ones that made the state of emergency melt away (even if just for a second) and that they plan to seek out as soon as possible.
For Mireia Font, one of our Barcelona correspondents and walk leaders, all it took was a “ring” to reduce the distance. She explains: “Who would have guessed before the lockdown that Spanish kids would miss the ring of their school bells warning them to get to class? Something similar happened to me with the sound of an alarm clock. Not the one I have on my bedside table; the one that, before the pandemic, used to buzz in Diània’s kitchen to warn Roger, the 30-something chef, that whatever mouth-watering rice dish he was making at the moment was ready to be served.”
Halfway between a casual bar and a restaurant, Diània is run by Roger Mascarell and Jordi, his friendly twin brother, who greets their loyal clientele – mainly their neighbors in Gràcia and young crowds – from behind the bar. “The kitchen alarm clock’s buzz would be overlapped by the sound of satisfied chatty eaters devouring traditional Valencian dishes mixed with laughter and music,” Mireia continues. “In this unpretentious and lively joint, happiness is always served in the form of a paella and other less-known regional specialties from their hometown, Gandia, such as fideuà [a seafood noodle dish], espencat [baked red pepper and eggplang with salted fish], and figatell [in between a big pork meatball and a hamburger]. Although the Mascarell brothers are doing delivery service during the current de-escalation phase, I can’t wait to be able to sit down in the dining area surrounded by friends and the unmistakable sound of what will be a happily shared meal in a popular place.”
For Sara Lemos, a pastry chef who works mainly in the iconic marisquería (seafood restaurant) El Botafumeiro, which is part of the Moncho’s restaurant group, her most desired dish is perfectly visible from the top of a barstool. More specifically, a barstool at Bar Cañete, a high-end but casual and amusing eatery in El Raval dedicated to tapeo del fino (“tapas of the fine kind”). “I love Cañete’s bar, I really miss having my cool cañitas [small glass of draft beer glass] there,” Sara says. “My favorite spot is the corner of the bar just by the beer taps.”
Despite the many tables and the beautiful room in the back, which you reach by passing the busy kitchen, the best experience is at the magnificent bar, where skilled waiters take good care of you and serve up excellent tapas and drinks. “Whenever I’ve gone to Cañete, I’ve sat at the bar. There, the ambiance is more cheerful and the waiters are fabulous, especially Jose – we became pals and all!” says Sara. As for what she’ll eat, she remarks, “No doubt, I dream of the ortiguillas (sea anemone) served with a very delicate thin layer of cured pancetta on top. They are to die for!” Currently, Cañete is only offering takeaway. While the dishes will surely shine on anybody’s table, we wish that the bar’s ambiance and sympathetic waiters were just as portable. In Barcelona, we have to wait until phase 3 for bars to open; if all goes well, that’s scheduled to start on June 22.
Others prefer to get out of town. Danny Adler, also a CB Barcelona walk leader, is now mentally driving along the twists and turns that separate him from his first bite. “I’m dying to go to Chiringuito de Garraf, a perfect seaside restaurant in a small port town,” he explains. Located a few kilometers south of Barcelona, just by the Cala del Garraf beach, this restaurant and its iconic white-and-blue terraces offer fantastic views of the Mediterranean. “They do a great grilled whole fish, fried baby squid and a local lobster rice dish called arroz caldós, all served up with a crisp Penedès white wine and stellar views of the Mediterranean,” he says. I’m sure we can all imagine ourselves around Danny’s table, sipping on wine and planning our next dip in the sea (after a siesta on the beach, of course), but as he explains, “the restaurant is now closed, saying to their clients that they expect to reopen in phase 2.” We’re both counting down the days.
As for me, I knew where I would be heading from the moment I first heard that they were reopening in phase 1 (which allows Barcelona restaurants to open terraces at 50 percent capacity, with groups of less than 10 people): El Racó del Mariner, a family-run restaurant with strong ties to the local fishing community. I was a frequent client when it was located in Port Vell, the city’s old harbor. But since it moved out a few years ago to the Port Forum marina, on the border between Barcelona and Sant Adrià de Besòs, the municipality to the north, my visits have become more sporadic, if only because of the distance – the new spot has a large terrace and fantastic Mediterranean cuisine focused on fish and seafood, including some of the best seafood rice dishes in the city.
I went on a Saturday. The sun was strong at lunchtime, and the tables and umbrellas on the terrace were distanced according to the Covid-19 protocol. But the restaurant still felt crowded, with a line of clients waiting in sunglasses and masks. It took 40 minutes to sit down at a table and get a few beers and a fried prawns tapa, and another 30 minutes to receive the seafood rice. Groups at several tables clapped for the waiters – stressed, but smiling and kind – each time they arrived with drinks or food. The rice was tasty and intense, rich with langoustines, Mediterranean red prawns, squid, mussels and clams; every ingredient with its well-defined flavor, and the rice with a very enjoyable socarrat (crispy toasted rice at the bottom of the paella). We couldn’t stop eating it, realizing with every bite how much we had missed these sunny weekends spent on Barcelona terraces with family, friends and food. Never had a restaurant in such a far-flung neighborhood been so near to our hearts.
Editor’s note: As our cities begin reopening and adapting to the new normal in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, we are asking CB team members as well as chefs, journalists and food personalities to share the meal they are most looking forward to eating in our new “First Bites” series.
- June 2, 2020 First Bites
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