“Where should I eat in name-a-Spanish town?” must be one of the top ten questions asked of chef Jose Andres.
It certainly explains the five-page document I received on what to eat, see and do when I asked about Barcelona. It was a missive on one of Europe’s food capitals by Spain’s culinary diplomat.
In Barcelona, I scan the list, consult a map and plot my next few meals.
I want to graze so I make my way to Cacao Sampka, a long shop lined with chocolate bars and bonbons that leads to a small café tucked in the back. I study boxes of chocolates filled with herbs, fruits, nuts, liquors and spices and consider how many I can stuff in my luggage. In the café, I decide on an orange-filled bonbon and a small coffee. It is the perfect pick-me-up and won’t be the last time I pop into the shop for something similar.
“Eat what you see. It’s an amazing place.”
Understated is not typically how one describes Jose Andres, but that nugget certainly downplays my next stop, La Boqueria. Barcelona’s main market is an overload for the senses. Hordes of people press through the narrow aisles filled with bright, tropical fruit, glistening seafood and every kind and cut of meat – including attention-grabbing sheep heads and much-lusted after Iberico ham.
I sip a fresh-squeezed mango juice and wander the aisles. I pick up a stick pierced with small slices of dried sausage. Sample a sliver of Iberico ham before choosing a thicker piece to bring home. And I pick up a container of plump, sweet strawberries and a few apples.
I wish I could eat – or take home – more of what I see, but a little restraint is needed before tonight’s dinner.
For that dinner, I am on a pilgrimage to try the “best paella in town.”
With limited time in Barcelona, I can’t promise Jose Andres’ assertion is accurate, but after eating at El Suquet de L’almirall, I’m not about to argue either.
Tucked into a former shipyard in Barceloneta, the restaurant is a cheery, casual place. Bright yellow walls are lined with photos – including several of Andres – and the tables are covered in red striped linens.
Inside, we order a crisp white Spanish wine and study the menu, though the only question is what to order for a starter. We begin with the ubiquitous tomato bread and fritters — gorgeous orbs of cod and shrimp in a light, airy batter.
Of course, we order the paella. It arrives in a steaming pan with a mound of shellfish – lobster, snow crabs, shrimp and clams – piled on top of a thin layer of perfectly caramelized black rice infused with an intense stock.
Now, the only sound that comes from our table is the cracking the snow crab legs and forks scraping the plate. Until, a sip of wine and a final assessment, “wow.”
A Chef’s City is an occasional travel feature in which our fortuitous writers hit up chefs for recommendations.