A few days before leaving for Barcelona, I started stressing that we didn't secure reservations at some of the tougher places to get into. After all, Spain is considered by many to be the gastronomic center of the universe, so it would be a shame to eat tapas the whole trip (not really). We don't typically look for fine dining when traveling, but certainly wanted to experience a few meals from chefs serving modern Catalan cuisine.
I was able to snag a lunch reservation at Hisop, a Michelin-starred restaurant that seemed to fit the bill.
As usual, we were the first people to show up to the restaurant. I wasn't even sure if it was open, or if it was a restaurant. The interior is shockingly minimalistic. Clean lines and very modern. Stark whites and light wood tones. And boy was it quiet. I started regretting booking a restaurant for lunch that was probably more suited to evening dining (considering the price-point and ambition of the menu), but any concern melted away with the wonderful service and excellent food.
I asked for some help with the wine choice, hoping to get something local. With some guidance we opted for a bottle of Carles Andreu Parellada. Parellada is one of the varieties used to make Cava. This producer is in Catalonia, not far from Barcelona. It had a bit of oak, and lots of acid. A great match for the seafood that was coming down the pipeline.
A few amuses were presented, including this little piece of octopus in what I believe was described as “sea water.” It did, in fact, taste like the sea, but with a smoky element. The essence of the ocean, smoked. It was intoxicating The bread and olive, also, were excellent.
As I'm reviewing the pictures I see that we had five dishes, which is one more than we would have ordered, so I think this seppia was another amuse, rather than a course. Seppia (cuttlefish) with some sort of mayo-type sauce. It was the first seppia of the trip, and I found myself ordering it pretty much at every meal. This first cuttlefish dish made a positive impression on me.
Off to a good start.
A somewhat awkwardly plated asparagus and tuna dish tasted much better than it looked. Some of the pieces of white asparagus were pickled, and some were simply cooked. The fish of course was spot on. The missus didn't think the creamy sauce was necessary and thought it was a distraction. I think I agreed.
Another starter was squid with trumpeter mushrooms. Tender, and plentiful squid, with mushrooms and mushroom dust. The kitchen is not afraid of salt. I loved this dish. Combinations of earth and sea appeal to me.
The Gamba de Vilanova, served with artichoke, were just barely cooked, as they should be. Sweet, bright red, and wonderful.
The final dish was Sea Bass with morels. The menu also noted “rocoto,” but I'm unsure of what that is. The dish included some asparagus along with roe. I think this is the first time I've seen roe incorporated into a cooked fish dish, and I hope it's not my last. As with the shrimp, the fish was just barely cooked. The skin, somehow, was super crisp, yet the flesh was moist, vibrant and alive with freshness. Served sliced with the precision and skill of a surgeon.
The meal was truly excellent. I got over having an upscale meal for lunch, but hadn't realized that the restaurant I had booked for that same night was not only upscale, but also a tasting menu. Gelonch. I thought the missus was going to leave me on my own when I mentioned this fact later in the day. But, we managed to get to and enjoy that meal. More on Gelonch later.
Near Hisop is the wonderful Mercat Del Ninot. Like a few of the markets we saw, this one seems to be in a temporary structure while its permanent home is remodeled. I would urge anyone to explore any market that you stumble upon. Perhaps Boqueria is the most famous and largest, but there are so many all over the city, and they're a lot less crowded with iPhone photo-taking tourists.
The number of markets and the size and scope of them is truly astonishing. At least when you're a New Yorker like me. I returned from this trip wishing we here in the states had a market-centric culture like Spain and France and much of the world. Perhaps some day.