BARCELONA (Spain)—Barcelona, a city surrounded by numerous wine appellation areas, is at the center of Catalan wine culture. After a long day of tasting wines, an excellent meal is essential.
Eating and drinking in Barcelona is a delicious experience, and the local chefs deserve kudos for their succulent creations. Regional specialties as well as classics are served to accompany the local wines.
La Rambla, a 3/4-mile-long boulevard in central Barcelona, is considered to be the civil, cultural, and gastronomic axis of the city. Radiating from La Rambla are streets and alleys where bars, tascas (tapas bars), restaurants, and many other gastronomic treasures are found.
On one of these side streets, Passatge de la Concepció, I had lunch at what I think is one of the best restaurants in the city, Boca Grande. It is famous for extremely fresh seafood and scrumptious rice dishes. In the fish display on ice, the lobsters were still waving their antennae and moving their claws.
I started with small plates washed down with a lovely cava, which was soft, fruity, and very refreshing—the perfect starter on a warm spring day. The restaurant has an outstanding cellar and the sommelier, Daniel Rivera, knows his wines.
The kitchen is as good as the cellar. Here the fare changes almost daily, depending on the season and availability of ingredients. There is a long list of 40 daily specials, ranging from small plates to first courses to seafood courses, and finally desserts.
The first item brought to the table was a Catalan classic, pan con tomate, a piece of charcoal-toasted bread rubbed with very ripe tomatoes, drizzled with pungent extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper. It is a peasant’s repast, but with freshly baked bread and ripe tomatoes, it’s a delight.
The next offerings were a glass of refreshing gazpacho and “Cod Rinds.”
Cod rinds are the edges of dry, salted cod fish—a staple in the Iberian Peninsula and the islands of the Mediterranean. The dried fish is soaked in water overnight to desalt, and the hard edges are cut off after the first round of rehydration and then deep fried. The rinds were crunchy, very salty but very tasty; they cause thirst, which means more wine consumption.
While I waited for the next batch of appetizers, an entire turbot was brought to the table so I could see it before it was prepared. It was so fresh I thought it must have been swimming in the Mediterranean earlier that day.
In the meantime, Rivera uncorked a bottle of Les Brugueres from Priorat, an aromatic, slightly acidic wine that paired beautifully with the appetizers. It was fresh, very dry and slightly effervescent, with aromas of white peaches and freshly cut grass. It paired beautifully with the meal.
Fried Padrón peppers were served on a piece of clay roof tile. Sprinkled with sea salt and breadcrumbs, they were small, green, mild, and flavorful.
Next was tuna tartare over an avocado base, made with fresh yellowtail tuna brought in every day from the Atlantic—it was sushi-grade and of perfect quality for a tartare. The coarsely cut dice was sweet and slightly briny. It was followed by rounds of fried zucchini topped with a bubbling béchamel sauce and chives.
Then came grilled octopus with potato slices and caramelized onions in a cream sauce. By that time, the deep-fried turbo was on its way back, and it was de-boned tableside and served.
The turbot was crunchy, a bit on the salty side, and utterly delicious. There is nothing better than freshly caught fish that still smells of the sea!
The kitchen serves numerous high-quality seafood dishes, including fried king prawn tails al ajillo and grilled scallops, and also offers exceptional rice dishes, such as paella marinera and black rice (colored with cuttlefish ink) with cuttlefish and cockles.
Even though lunch takes a couple of hours—this is Spain after all—no one departs without dessert and a cup of espresso or an Americano.
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Catalonia produces some of the greatest red wines in the world, as well as a diversity of whites and rosés with exceptional style, for every occasion and purse.
There is no such thing as a typical Catalan wine, even though most are created from the main Catalan varieties of garnacha and Cariñena blended with small quantities of merlot, syrah, tempranillo, cabernet sauvignon, and other grapes.
The whites are usually blends of garnacha blanca or parellada with some sauvignon blanc and/or chardonnay. Three indigenous white grapes—parellada, xarello, and macabeo—are used to create cava, Spain’s delicious answer to champagne. Pedro Ximénez is also used in blends as well as vinified by itself to give aroma and perhaps a hint of sweetness to the resulting white wine.
Manos Angelakis is a wine and food writer in New York City. As the gastronomy critic for LuxuryWeb.com, he has spent many years traveling the world in search of culinary excellence.