Barcelona: Sampling the Re-interpretations and Innovations of the cuisine
By: Esilda Buxbaum and Jaime Cobas
The capital of the Catalan region, Barcelona, is a global city, the major cultural and economic center of southwest Europe, and a place that welcomes innovation and transforms foreign influences. Gastronomically, food historian, Penelope Casas, in her book, “ Discovering Spain”, informs us that “ By favoring stews and ‘composite’ dishes featuring more than one main ingredient, and by joining the most unlikely and disparate elements, Catalans have created an imaginative, almost baroque-style cuisine. “Combinations such as, dried cod with honey, sweetened sausage (botifarrón dolça), goose with pears, chicken with figs, pork with chestnuts, and rabbit with quince and honey, all trace their origins to medieval times. Although the use of chocolate, tomato and peppers, typical of Catalan cooking today was a result of the Discovery of America”.
In Spain, but mostly in Barcelona, there is the tradition of “ tapear”, sampling small portions of dishes, and we followed this custom in our brief gastronomic and architectural tour of the city. Two restaurants are emblematic of the contemporary gastronomic adventure that draw tourists to this culturally rich city.
We began at “ Cinc Sentits” (the five senses) where chef Jordí Artal and his sister, Amelia, invite you to this elegant and modern establishment with cream colored walls and intimate banquettes in alcoves that create a sense of comfortable privacy. Located in the fashionable Eixample area (the “Ensanche” where the city grew out of its medieval confines with wide boulevards and parks). It was awarded a Michelin star in 2008 and has also been singled out as “one of the hottest new restaurants in the world”.
For lunch, we opted for a short sampling of the “sensations” and a pairing of premium wines, comprised of Catalan and Spanish wines only. Their philosophy is to serve the best food by utilizing only the freshest and highest quality of ingredients provided by purveyors from across Catalunya and all of Spain.
After a glass of Juve y Camps Gran Reserva cava, a courtly parade of small plates laden with a variety of memorable and contrasting delicacies started arriving. Andalucian Gordal marinated olives stuffed with garlic and a crackling codfish skin were offered as starters along with two breads. These were followed by two “ tapas”, first, a shot glass with layers of maple syrup, cream and a sabayon of cava and sea salt, then, mixed greens with a poached quail egg and a cream of Iberic ham. Followed by “Pa amb Tomaquet” (a version of the Italian “crostini”) here is toasted bread rubbed with olive oil, garlic and tomatoes, both raw and liquefied.
A generous slab of caramelized Foie Gras, topped with vinegar glazed leeks. was paired with an Aspriu 2007 from Penedés,. Then ensued a moist and flaky trout from the Pyrenees, with its roe smoked, presented with cubes of baby squash, cucumber, pear and an artisanal cheese from the Rías Altas (the Northern coast of Spain), paired with a Rita from Montsant.
For the meat course a “ cochinillo” (suckling pig from Extremadura), a staple of Latin cuisine, that had been slowly poached (“sous vide”) for hours and finally broiled to provide it with a crispy, crunchy skin for a combination of savory textures, that literally “ melts in your mouth”, paired with a Teixar 2008 also from Montsant. I had the pigeon cooked to perfection, with a sauce thickened with its own blood, and a small croquette made with chopped heart, gizzard and liver, paired with an Aspriu 2007 from Penedés, I was in heaven. For desserts we sampled a plate of local artisanal cheeses, strawberries with cream, vanilla and lime, plus a chocolate truffle with saffron, hazelnut and orange flavorings, enhanced by a Gramona Gra a Gra 2010 by Penedés, and a brandy Sol I Serena by Empordá.
Foie gras with glazed leeks
This delightful banquet was 306 euros for two, including the IVA and the surcharge for the premiums wines (about $ 204.00 at a rate of 1.30 euros)
Melon with Catalán mozzarella cheese and anchovy; iberic suckling pig with crackling skin
Strawberry with vanilla and lime “ snow” Chocolate with hazelnut and orange
A welcoming meal that served as an introduction to the variety that distinguishes the contemporary Catalan cuisine which innovates using traditional recipes and fresh produce to crate new dining sensations.
(Cinc Sentits, Aribau 58,Tel. 963325260, www.cincsentits.com )
Our last memorable meal in Barcelona was at “ Fonda Gaig”, the restaurant was recommended as serving typical Catalonian food and I went expecting something like tripe and paella; boy, was I surprised!
This is a very modern, sleek establishment in a very staid neighborhood. It is an offshoot, of the “ Taberna d’el Gaig” which was established in 1869 and was awarded a Michelin star in 1993. However, Carles Gaig, the grandson of its founders, rules the kitchen in an austere interior that is a symphony of glass, stainless steel, leather upholstered armchairs, white table cloths and minimal decoration.
Sleek, contemporary Spanish, with dark stained wood planks, stainless steel, glass with ox blood red side walls at Fonda Gaig
The tables are set quite apart, and, at lunchtime, filled mostly by informally dressed businessmen in short sleeved shirts and young elegantly dressed ladies " who lunch” with streaked manes and pocketbooks the size of small “ valises”.
Upon reading the menu, we stated that we would like to do our own “ tasting menu” and the elegantly dressed lady in a white suit with back edging, aptly named “ Doña Fina” (Carle’s wife) suggested half portions an a pairing of wines to accompany each choice. (Fina in Spanish means elegant, slim, delicate, well bred) She was all of these and more.
Three apptizers: “Coca de tomate”, Seitons en tempura
Bunyol de bacallá and croquets de
Rap amb emulsió d’ alls La innovació de la crema Catalana
The afternoon started with a glass of “ Cava” and a plate that contained one Cantabric anchovy on “ Coca de tomate” (toasted bread with a tomato spread), Also a roasted chicken croquette and a codfish “ buñuelo”(fritter), all paired with a dry white wine, “ Perfum de Vi Blanco” from Penedes.
Following was “ Boquerones en Tempura” (anchovies in batter) that were crispy and savory. Then a “ Rape” (monkfish) in an emulsion of garlic and mushrooms atop thinly sliced potatoes that was delightful and went very well with the wine recommended; a “ Gotim Brut” by Costers del Segre. We selected the “ Pies de Cerdo Deshuesados con Salsifíes” (Deboned pig’s feet) with a salsify sauce. (a vegetable that some call oyster plant) This was unlike anything previously tried; the feet came as two small red wheels, that were not gelatinous, yet held together very well. It was paired with a red wine, “ Ermita d’Espiells” also from Penedés.
For dessert Doña Fina enticed us to try the “ Inovación de Crema Catalana” again this was not the expected “ Créme bruleé” but a gossamer thin cream without thickeners and a caramelized dollop of the same, atop. One cannot imagine a better “ hasta luego” to this innovative city that melds tradition with modernity and continues to forge new paths despite the vicissitudes that constrain their daily lives and creative juices.
Fonda Gaig, Corsega 200, ph: 34.934.532020, email@example.com
Next trip we need to nab a table at “Tickets” and/or “41 Degrees” both the new enterprises by the Adria brothers.