The trendy tapas bars that I told you about last time are generally trying to recapture the glory of the past, albeit in a shiny new package. Well, the past, while slightly scruffy, is alive and well in Barcelona and probably wondering what all the fuss is about.
The bars of today's post have, for the most part, been around for years and generally lean toward straight-forward, traditional tapas. So, I've placed them in the basic category. This is not the basic of "basic hotel room", a basic that might be translated as "no frills" or "modest". Rather, it's the basic of "basic alphabet"--a basic that is elementary, the foundation, or base, of your tapas experience in Barcelona.
Bars of the Boquería - Frankly, one of the best places to discover traditional tapas is the Boquería Market, which houses a handful of bars, featuring some of the freshest tapas in Barcelona. The classic Boquería bar--and a favourite of some of Spain's famous avant garde chefs, Ferran Adria among them--is the humble Bar Pinotxo, run by Juanito (the eponymous Pinotxo), a beloved Barcelona character. There's no menu at Bar Pinotxo, nor is what's available always obvious, so you will just have to ask your server to recommend something. Dishes seem to generally run between 7 and 15 euros. Other spots, like the inexpensive Bar Boquereía at the back, showcase their selection of tapas behind glass and, if you're stuck, you can always point at what you'd like. In Bar Boquería's case, your experience will vary from excellent to so-so, depending on what you order: choricitos (small, spicy sausages, usually served in a sizzling broth), butifarra (Catalan sausage), costillas (pork ribs), and pimientos (grilled red or green peppers) are usually a good and inexpensive bet. Felipe and I have eaten plentifully (3 or 4 sizable dishes) at Bar Boquería for well under 20 euros. The best time to go, if you're looking to snag a stool anywhere in the Boquería, is slightly before noon. Any later and you'll likely do a lot of hunting and waiting; most of the bars are open from the early morning and close some time between 3 and 4pm.
Quimet y Quimet (C/ Poeta Cabanyes 25, Poble Sec) - I discovered Quimet y Quimet fairly late in my Barcelona game and, frankly, it's the kind of you place I wish I'd been going to from the beginning. It's on a dingy Poble Sec street, has a sweetly crusty barman (Quimet, fifth generation), allows for standing room only, and is possibly my favourite tapas bars in Barcelona. It's a charming spot, stacked from floor to ceiling with an impressive selection of wines, liquors and tins of all descriptions, but, more importantly, it serves spectacular, made-before-your-eyes montaditos (small, open faced sandwiches), well-sourced cheeses in enormous quantity and some excellent conservas (canned seafood and vegetables). Especially delicious are the salmon montadito with yogurt cream and truffled honey and the paté montadito with caramelized onions and balsamic. Tapas prices range from 2.50 euros per montadito to 8.90 euros for a tray of cheeses that, despite our most eager efforts, was too large for us to finish.
Cal Pep (Plaça de les Olles 8, tel. 933 107 961, Born, www.calpep.com) - Equally good and equally packed is Cal Pep, the famed Born tapas bar. The difference is that Cal Pep is now overrun with tourists, not that that's a bad thing--especially because the tourists are of the well behaved variety. It does mean, however, that you will have to wait in line. The good news is that the line moves swiftly and, contrary to the often lackadaisical Spanish way, is managed by Pep and his staff with virtually German efficiency. Your wait is also most justly rewarded with some of the best seafood dishes in Barcelona--clams stewed with ham, baby squid with garbanzos and myriad fish cooked to perfection. Again, everything is made-before-your-eyes behind the bar. The Catalans who still haven't given up on Cal Pep tend to reserve one of the tables in the back. You could also do so, but I would recommend the full bar experience, which includes standing in line for 20-30 minutes, the first time you go. Our last tapas meal for two (5 dishes) with 3 glasses of cava ran us about 70 euros, but they nearly had to airlift us out of the restaurant so I would say that we over-ordered by at least one dish.
Coming soon: Tapas - Basic - Part 2.