Monday, September 7, 2009

Of Princes and Pescados

I have a friend whom I dearly love who is currently imprisoned in a tiny cell in an office tower. I imagine him staring wistfully out the window, awaiting his reverse Rapunzel--the sexy warrior princess who throws up her long flaxen hair so that he can secure it to his filing cabinet and climb down into her waiting arms before his blackberry has a chance to send out a vibrating alarm.

Only a short time ago, our imprisoned prince was in Barcelona, basking in the sun pool-side at the Hotel Omm, sampling tapas, quaffing claras (a uniquely Spanish blend of beer and lemon soda), and generally loving life. But it wasn't long before his dark overlords put a stop to all that free-wheeling fun.

Maybe it will make him feel better to recollect his favourite meal. Or maybe it'll just be pouring salt on the wounds. Either way, it was at El Passadis del Pep and spectacular.

El Passadis del Pep (Pla de Palau 2, Born, tel. 93 310 1021, is the fancier cousin of Cal Pep, about which I wrote a few months ago: Tapas Basic - Part 1. I had read about it as the location of choice for one of Bono's dinners in Barcelona, not to mention on the Curious Eater blog, which was instructive in its warnings as to what could potentially go wrong with the El Passadis del Pep dining experience.

Those warnings aside, for the moment, El Passadis is an elegant restaurant serving traditional Catalan food. It specializes in seafood in particular. More importantly, dinner at El Passadis was, by our prince's own account, one of the best of his life and was undoubtedly one of my favourite meals in Barcelona--not for inventiveness or audacity, but for the pure joy of exceptionally fresh ingredients simply yet expertly prepared.

Once we were happily ensconced in the bustling dining room, with its rough stone walls and unpretentious charm, the following appeared on our table in quick succession (and, just as quickly, disappeared): A plate of paper thin slices of jamón iberico served with pan con tomate, succulent clams in a garlic broth, sauteed wild mushrooms so good they almost eclipsed the exquisite seafood dishes, pimientos de padrón (small green peppers, some surprisingly spicy), chipirones (baby squid, fried in batter), pescaito frito (fried whitebait), perfect grilled crayfish, the juiciest prawns, a hearty tripe stew (for Felipe), arroz negro (black rice with sepia) and lubina (sea bass), which we ordered at the prince's request, albeit somewhat unnecessarily, on top of the eight substantial dishes that we had already eaten. We shared a crema catalana (Catalan creme brulee) for dessert.

The food was so good that conversation virtually ceased for the duration of the meal. It resumed in the sleepy after glow, helped along by the complimentary chupitos (shots) brought out by our waiter by way of digestif, a welcome piece of tradition that has all but died out in other Barcelona establishments.

And, while we all rolled out of El Passadis drunk, happy and at peace with the bill, I do have a few words of advice that you should heed to avoid the pitfalls of the place (see Curious Eater's summary of those). What you need to know boils down to this: The place has no sign out front so be sure you've found it on a map before venturing out. You will almost certainly need reservations. There is no menu and the waiter will proceed to open a bottle of cava (the first is complimentary) and bring you an eight course meal, all courses emerging in quick succession, before you as much as have a chance to say boo. This is not a scam (I don't think), but it does require virtually instantaneous taking control of the situation if you do not want unwelcome surprises. The waiters, who are very pleasant and speak some English (though it's undoubtedly easier to communicate in Spanish), are very amenable to telling you what's coming and to making changes to the set menu; ours went through the proposed dishes with us in detail. Felipe, who is allergic to shellfish, received divine meat and vegetable dishes to substitute those he could not eat. We were even privy to a table of Israelis ordering a highly complicated, mostly vegetarian meal--why you would do this at El Passadis, whose particular fame is in the world of seafood, is beyond me, but I was impressed that the chef came out to assist with their selections and take note of their restrictions, all this a testament to the aforementioned flexibility.

You should also know that the price is not set and depends on the dishes ultimately selected. You should expect something between 50 and 80 euros per person, depending on the choice of dishes and amount of alcohol you consume. If you need to know in advance precisely what you will be charged, this is not the place for you. If you're lucky, you'll have with you a prince of man, who, with his customary generosity, will insist on picking up the bill.

As for our prince, we wish him many happy dreams of Barcelona and hope that he will be back soon.

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