Running counter to the reality here in the states, restaurants near water or in touristy areas do not necessarily suck in Europe. Merendero de la Mari is another data point supporting this.
While it was recommended by a foodie friend, we were a bit hesitant to give it a whirl, as it is right in a marina and all, and has a huge outdoor patio, and, well, I dunno. It just seemed like a questionable choice for our first dinner. However, any reservations where unfounded.
I had been craving black pig since a trip to Portugal a few years back, so when I saw it on the menu, there was simply no choice but to order it.
A plate containing a substantial amount of thinly sliced pork arrived. Deep, rich red, and wonderfully fatty. The stuff melted on my tongue. No need to chew. This is how pigs are supposed to taste. Throw away your factory farmed loin chops and start eating some serious swine (hacky writing alert).
They served the pig with the famous tomato bread. I had never heard of this before this trip, but it's basically bread that's rubbed with the fleshy part of a tomato, maybe some garlic, and drizzled with olive oil. This will be happening at t:e headquarters going forward.
Our foodie friend recommended the codfish fritters. While not intensely flavored with cod, they were light, airy, crispy, and we found ourselves eating them all. There's really no reason they should be so good, but they are. We were on the lookout for these for the rest of the trip, although I don't think we ever ordered them again. It's just as well, because it's unlikely that they'd be as good as these here ones.
I have been operating under the assumption that the paella we are exposed to here in New Jersey and the US in general is nothing more than a pile of overcooked, crappy seafood, plopped on top of dry, flavorless rice, and that it couldn't possibly resemble the dish that you find in and around Spain. What do you know--I was right.
I'd urge you to never order paella from a place like El Cid or Segovia or any other restaurant claiming they are "Spanish" or "Iberian" again. Ever. It's a crime and a sin to eat that crap. If you don't believe me, get on a plane and order the Fisherman's Paella at Merendero de la Mari.
The rice was ridiculously flavorful. I'm not sure how they cook it, but it's certainly not the orange/yellow boiled and Adobo dusted stuff you see in the states. More likely, it had absorbed the flavors of the seafood and some outrageous stock and whatever else is used to cook this dish. Simply incredible.
Every bite revealed a little piece of tender seafood or vegetable. Stuff I didn't recognize. I'm having a hard time thinking about this dish at this moment, because it was so outstanding, and I'm so hungry right now, and I know it will be some time until I have anything remotely as good as this. I don't know what else to say other than it was a revelation.
The outside patio is large and looks over the marina. Great for people watching. It was too cold for us, so we sat inside. The server spoke very little English, but it was quite easy to communicate our needs. I can heartily recommend this restaurant. In fact I insist that you go and have that paella if you find yourself anywhere near it.
Merendero de la Mari : Plaça de Pau Vila, 1 : Barcelona, Spain : +34 932 21 31 41