Saturday, July 19, 2008
Summer in Barcelona cries out for late dinners on candlelit terraces, with the murmur of city life subdued by crumbling church walls and leafy trellises. Just you and a boy you know (or maybe don't know) gazing soulfully into each other's eyes over some terribly well roasted lamb or a succulent lobster claw while a gentle breeze ruffles your hair. Maybe you're sipping a rioja or maybe a chilled verdejo because it's hot and you can't possibly imagine it getting any hotter. Maybe you order a golden crema catalana to share and feed each other as a prelude to the not-quite-direct walk home and whatever comes next.
Oh, if only it could be so. The unfortunate reality of Barcelona terrace dining is a little less romantic. Most neighbourhood restaurants do with a few tables on the nearest street corner where one battles both street noise and fumes and many of the restaurants in Barcelona's prettiest squares merit little more than a scornful saunter by or, on a truly beautiful day, an overpriced cocktail.
There are a handful of gems, however. This is my short list:
Agua (Passeig Maritim 30 (Barceloneta), 93 225 1272) - By far my favourite, Agua's beachside terrace is romanticly lit, prettily turned out, well (if not quite cheaply) priced and complemented by a very competently prepared menu with a focus on seafood, as the name suggests. I urge you to reserve ahead--at least a few days beforehand for a decent time (i.e. 10pm or later).
Merendero de la Mari (Plaza Pau Vila 1 (Old Port), 93 221 3141) - It's by far the best of the tourist filled seafood restaurants lining the Palau de Mar, I say without having tried any of the others. I base my assertion wholly on the fact that the clientele during most of the year is Catalan in high numbers, with entire families often enjoying Sunday lunch port-side. Because of the enormous size of the terrace (a corner of which is pictured above), you can usually get a spot even if you don't have a reservation, particularly if you're prepared to wait a little. Get the parillada (mixed seafood grill) and the squid ink paella to share.
La Candela (Plaza de Sant Pere (Born), 93 310 6242) - La Candela has a pretty good "market" menu that leans to the modern, but the best reason to go are the candle lit tables in Plaza de Sant Pere, overlooked by the Sant Pere Church and a series of charming Born walk ups. [P.S. See update in Losses post.]
Café de l'Academia (Plaza Sant Just (Gotico), 93 319 8253) - L'Academia is an old Barrio Gotico stalwart, serving traditional Catalan cuisine to well heeled Catalans and tourists alike. There are a few umbrella shaded tables in the atmospheric Plaza Sant Just, just outside.
La Cafeteria (Plaza Virreina 2 (Gracia), 93 416 0457) - La Cafeteria has an enviable location on the leafy Plaza Virreina--once described to me as the most adult of Gracia's plazas, presumably due to the absence of hordes of drunk revellers sitting on the ground in the middle of the square as is wont to happen in the Plaza del Sol and Plaza Rius y Taulet. La Cafeteria serves minimal food, but its sandwiches are first rate. Try the warm pork loin with goat cheese and green pepper. (The same sandwiches are served in an equally pleasant ambience and less daytime sun at Tierra on the other side of the square.)
Cafe Salambó (C/ Torrijos 51 (Gracia), 93 218 6966) - On the pedestrian Calle Torrijos, just a stone's throw away from Plaza Virreina and next door to the indie Verdi Cinema, Cafe Salambo serves good salads, a varied selection of well prepared mains and yummy desserts. While the few tables that hug its wall may not make the grandest of terraces, they are a fantastic vantage point on Gracia's parade of life.
El Jardí (C/ Hospital 56 (Raval), 93 329 1550) - In the dusty courtyard of the Antic Hospital de la Santa Creu, El Jardi is a charming escape from the bustle of the Raval. It has a small menu, but the salads are outstanding and the pastas and desserts are yum-a-licious. They also make a mean sangria. Stay away from boring basics like patatas bravas and tortilla here and you won't go wrong. (What makes me love it more is that in the fall and winter months they bring out blankets that you can snuggle into to withstand the cold. And, yes, I know that this doesn't concern you now.)
Ra (Plaza Gardunya 3 (Raval), 93 301 4163) - I have yet to try one of Ra's famous breakfasts (of the American variety, a rarity in Barcelona), but I can attest to a pretty decent and well priced (prix fixe) menu for lunch. While the rear of the Boqueria overlooking a parking location may not give Ra the most picturesque view of Barcelona, the happy decor, relaxed crowd and tasty selection of "international" food make up for it.
A few on Rambla Catalunya (Eixample) - Rambla Catalunya is a long leafy oasis of cafes of varying quality and price. My favourite time to go is at 5pm during the school year when the terraces fill with parents and grandparents, kids in tow, taking a break on the way home. I also love 6pm on weekends, when the clientele appears to be exclusively made up of well coifed Catalan ladies and gentlemen, most of them 70 and up, sipping orxata or tonic water. In terms of food, Ciudad Condal (Rambla Catalunya 18, 93 318 1997) and Taller de Tapas (Rambla Catalunya 49-51; also try the location at Plaza Sant Josep Oriol 8 (Gotico); www.tallerdetapas.com) offer the best quality; both serve tapas. Forn de Sant Jaume (Rambla Catalunya 50) has excellent Catalan pastry treats: try the cocas, buñuelos or chuchos with coffee or thick hot chocolate.
And some on Calle Enric Granados (Eixample) - The partly pedestrianized Calle Enric Granados, a few blocks over from Rambla Catalunya, also deserves honourable mention. There, Embat, Origens, Habaluc and El Trobador provide decent food on subdued, comfortable terraces. If you're early, pause in the pretty, gated university garden at the bottom of the street--be warned, though; neighbourhood cats tend to see its gravel paths more as litter boxes than walkways.
A postscript (August 26, 2008): In recent days, I've been enjoying the outdoor tables at Bar Lobo in the Plaza de los Gatos (c/ Pintor Fortuny 3, 93 481 5346) in the Raval. I don't actually think the plaza is called Plaza de los Gatos, everyone just refers to it as such because of the large cat mural on the wall of one of the buildings abutting the plaza. Bar Lobo has pretty wooden tables under a long canopy, with fresh white table cloths and pots of rosemary and thyme for adornment. For some reason, it makes me think of Provence. The food, if a bit on the pricey side for tapas, is very good.