Thursday, June 24, 2010

Day 5 - Barcelona

On Tuesday, we did Barcelona.

First back to the Boqueria for breakfast at the most famous place to eat there: Pinotxo. It was very busy and we had no idea what to order, so when the Juan pointed at a deep brown greasy pastry coated in sugar we said "sure!"

Chucho. That is the word for the most fabulous gut bomb breakfast in the world. Imagine a croissant, filled with amazing vanilla custard then deep fried and rolled in sugar. Crisp & deep brown on the outside, flaky tender on the inside (NOT like a donut at all and not exactly like a croissant either) and then perfect homemade pudding/custard. It was amazing.

We wandered through the food stalls some more, we just couldn't help ourselves. Then we walked to the Barri Gotic to explore a bit. We went in the cathedral and went to the courtyard with the geese where they had the gorgeous flower petal mural seen above.
By 11:00 we had made our way over to the Picasso Museum. No lines, just lots of tour guides blocking entire rooms or certain paintings for 15 minutes at a time. I could go into a huge a rant right now about how I hate tour groups, but I'll refrain. (they just cause clogs that the rest of us have to fight our way through) We loved the Picasso museum because it was organized by age and started with some paintings he'd done when he was 12. It was so incredible to see his early work, see the painting that got him a scholarship in Madrid, and watch his work progress towards cubism.

The funny thing is that the museum didn't actually have many good examples of the type of work Picasso is most known for - all the famous ones are in bigger museums. Another highlight was an entire room of paintings where he had copied and played with Velazquez's "Las Meninas" which we had just seen in Madrid. Kyle loved the logical nature of the museum - not just a bunch of random paintings, but ones that told a story.

After the museum, we walked to the park and contemplated our lunch options. After quite a bit of thinking, we finally picked a place up by the sites we wanted to see next - Gaudi's houses in Eixample. First we walked the waterfront from Citadel Park to the Columbus monument. A few subway stops later we were outside of Casa Batillo and the Block of Discord, admiring the funky twisty houses.

We found our restaurant which unfortunately I forget the name of. Kyle threw away the pages I'd ripped out of our guidebook for each town, claiming I wouldn't need them. I reluctantly agreed (I have a rick steves book from 1996 on my bookshelf, but still try to fight my hoarding instinct) and now I can't double check the names of the places we went to. Oh well.
This was probably our favorite meal in Spain. It was super crowded (with locals), but huge and we were able to get a table right away with a waiter who spoke very good english.
Solomillo - a 4 oz piece of filet mignon grilled rare on a piece of toast for only $5
Our first ever grilled razor clams - from then on we ordered them every place we went
grilled wild mushrooms w/ pancetta (seen below with the peppers)
The only spicy padron peppers we got in all of spain
skewers of cheese & bacon wrapped dates (seen below)
The steak & the skewers were so good and cheap, we ordered seconds. It was amazing food.

Next up: Gaudi's Casa Mila. It was beautiful and fun to walk through. We loved the roof "terrace"

Kyle with our next stop, the Sagrada Familia in the background.

At this point, I got bored of taking pictures of funky roof sculptures and decided my real calling in life was to take pictures of other tourists. See my "tourist opus" above. Lucky for you, my camera battery died right as my excitement for my new muse peaked. This was the only "good" shot I got. (also note: we borrowed a camera and didn't realize till we returned that the lense had a smudge on it. So picture quality isn't great, the best photos are from kyle's iphone, like the Sagrada Familia ones below)
We walked a nice long mile or so to the Sagrada Familia and had a great conversation about art. One we've had many times before - what makes art art and an artist an artist? But somehow seeing the art & architecture renewed our interest in the topic. Kyle also brought up this question: Why does art rarely express joy or laughter? Why does it most often address such sullen topics? (feel free to share your thoughts in the comments if you have them!)
Quickly it seemed, we were at the church. We weren't planning to go in it, but once we sat outside and read about it we decided to come back the next morning. Basically the church was started 125 years ago by Gaudi. It was his final project, his grand vision and if you read about the symbolism in it, it is phenomenal. Only one side of it was finished when Gaudi got hit by a trolley and died. It was halted for years during the Spanish Civil war and under Franco, and it still has about 25 years worth of work left to be completed.
I could go on and on, we loved and were so fascinated by the whole project. Kyle even bought a book on Gaudi, and he actually doesn't really even like his work at all. (being the square straight line guy that he is. Of course I have always loved Gaudi since my first brief visit to Barcelona 13 years ago - being the chaotic whimsical creator that I am) We decided the entrance fee was worth paying since it helped build the church and vowed to come back in the morning.
The "Passion" side of the church with sculptures done in the 80's/90's

The "Nativity" side of the church, done when Gaudi was alive in the early 1900s.
We walked another couple miles back to our hotel, running into yet another closed street with a huge mass of protesters. (government workers this time) After a rest, we headed out for dinner in a taxi at 9pm. It was to be our one "fancy" dinner in Spain. We ate well all the other times, because for us, food is a huge part of our trip. (in case you haven't noticed) But this one time, I wanted to try fine dining in Spain, especially getting a chance to try the catalan "experimental" style food that originated with El Bulli up the coast. The chef there, Ferran Adria, does "molecular gastronomy" and has impacted cuisine world wide with his creations. (if you've ever had a savory "foam" on your food, you can thank him)
Supposedly the chef at the restaurant we were going to, Gelonch, worked at El Bulli before opening his own restaurant. His tasting menu was also considerably cheaper than many that we looked at, plus someone on raved about it. So we went.
It was fun. Not our favorite meal in spain, but worth the experience in my book. Our starter were these crisps with a bunch of flavored powders on them - olive, tomato, a couple cheeses, oregano. When you took a bite, it tasted like a pizza.

Next up was mussle pate w/ a sesame crisp. It arrived looking like this:
You got to squeeze the pate out onto your crisp and it was fun to do it all decoratively.
My favorite menu item was this soup. Each color is a different vegetable puree and in the center was a deeply flavorful vegetable broth. But the fun part was that when it arrived there was a glass dome filled with smoke over it. The soup was infused with a nice smokiness and was delicious.
Other favorites were a mille feuille of pork & octopus and dessert of cherry crisp with balsamic ice cream & tufa nut foam, and a pineapple sorbet with candied fennel, bay cream and other stuff I don't remember. I think we both found the meats a little disappointing - the sauces seemed more french style than experimental - deep broth flavors that probably took hours to reduce and the meat was good, but he seemed to take extreme pride in cooking it forever at low temperature to make it succulent. Which for us...well it was hard to really notice when we'd never eaten pork belly before. Tasty, but not quite as exciting as we'd hoped.
So finished our awesome Barcelona day. I LOVE Barcelona. It is probably one of my favorite cities. Catalan cuisine blew us away and there were always about 10 restaurants I wanted to try for each meal. I love Gaudi and the way his style infuses the whole city. I love the old quarters with their winding passages. The tight areas could be creepy, but everything is so clean and nice and actually feels lived in rather than just completely touristy. (but yes, there are lots of tourists). And we didn't even make it to the sandy beaches rimming the town....But we did see a guy ride by on his bike completely nude.


Andrea Elliott said...

wow. that whole day sounded absolutely amazing!

amy said...

i love your last sentence. it's totally the way a short story should end. :)