Showing posts with label Barcelona. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Barcelona. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Koy Shunka - Barcelona

Koy Shunka

Spaniards are fiercely proud of and loyal to the culinary traditions of their native country, and for good reason: I think it's some of the greatest food on earth too. Yet with that loyalty comes a certain - parochialism may be too strong a word, so let's just say that Spain doesn't often seem to take much interest in other countries' cuisines. You won't find many notable Italian restaurants in Spain, for instance.[*]

But lately, Spain does seem to be paying some attention to the Far East. The celebrated DiverXo in Madrid leans heavily on Asian flavors and stylings (the resumé of its chef, David Muñoz, includes a stint at Hakkasan). Kabuki (also in Madrid) applies a distinctly Japanese sensibility to Iberian ingredients. Alberto Raurich, formerly elBulli's chef de cuisine, now runs Dos Palillos in Barcelona, whose very name (meaning both toothpicks and chopsticks) is a play on the connection its food seeks to draw between Asia and Spain.

Perhaps because the Spanish curiosity about foreign cuisines is a relatively new thing, the restaurants that explore those cuisines seem to be perceived as somewhat revolutionary in their native country. Whereas, as I noted after our visit to Dos Palillos last year, much of this stuff just may not seem particularly remarkable to a reasonably well-rounded American eater. For us, Asian food is so ubiquitous that even mediocre shopping center chains carry pre-made sushi.

All of which is primarily to explain why I was a bit skeptical when I heard about "the best Japanese restaurant in Barcelona." But I had indeed heard many good things about Koy Shunka, including that it is a favorite of Ferran Adrià's. And after several days of the indigenous foods, and with a big meal at elBulli on the horizon, we were looking both for something different and something a bit lighter. So we gave Koy Shunka a chance. I'm glad we did.

Koy Shunka

The restaurant is hidden away on a short street in a quiet dark corner of the Gothic Quarter behind a black door that you could easily walk by several times without noticing. You enter upon a dark hallway lined in shale and wood, which ultimately opens up onto a sizable open kitchen positioned in the center of the dining room. There are several seats at a counter that wraps around one side of the open kitchen, as well as tables arranged mostly along the back wall of the dining room.

Koy Shunka

I believe the counter seats are reserved for diners going with the omakase tasting menu, which was our desired format regardless. (You can click on any picture to see it larger, or view the entire flickr set: Koy Shunka)

Tomato salad

The meal started with a cool dish composed of cherry tomatoes, a dashi gelée, shaved bonito, and local Galician seaweeds, presented in a free-form glazed earthenware bowl. It offered pure, simple, clean flavors, and was, interestingly, more than a bit reminiscent of one of the dishes Katsuya Fukushima had served at our Cobaya dinner only a week earlier.

Berenjena con miso

Rounds of Japanese eggplant were grilled with an intensely salty-sweet miso glaze, with the skins removed and crisped up a bit, then wrapped back around the eggplant. A guindilla pepper provided a hit of spice to contrast with the richness of the miso and the smoky, sweet eggplant flesh. I've had a number of different iterations of grilled Japanese eggplants, and this was certainly among my favorites.

Vieira sashimi

Our first fish course was a sashimi of super-fresh sea scallop, sliced crosswise into coins, drizzled with good olive oil, sprinkled with coarse sea salt and chive, and plated with little rounds of baby corn. The star here, rightfully so, was the scallop itself, with the other components providing a bit of variety and interest without overwhelming or interfering.

(continued ...)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Cuines Santa Caterina - Barcelona

Sometimes the most satisfying meals come when you're not really expecting them. I must have read about Cuines Santa Caterina before we left for Spain, but recall being leery at best - though I liked the idea of a restaurant tied to a market, I was wary of the menu description, which sounded like an unfocused hodge-podge of cuisines. But the afternoon before we left Barcelona, I found myself drawn to the market's multi-colored roof. Unfortunately, the market itself was closed, but its restaurant, Cuines Santa Caterina, was open and hopping.

Though it didn't look like much from the outside, the restaurant was deceptively large. The front holds a rectangular tapas bar with seating on all sides for a total of about 25 people, but the restaurant space stretches way back, with several different stations (a cold station for salads, a sushi station, and an open kitchen that seemed nearly half the length of a football field), with counter seating along the cooking stations and a combination of communal and regular tables throughout the rest of the room. Over the open kitchen, a huge display scrolls items from the menu in red LED lights, like a train-station departure list.

The menu was laid out as a grid, with the top of the page listing basic ingredient categories horizontally ("vegetables / rice / fish / meat / egg") and the left side listing different preparation styles ("vegetarian / mediterranean / oriental / grilled"). Then within the grid were the various menu items, organized both by primary ingredient and prep style. A little confusing at first, but after a little while it started to make sense.

I was very excited to see calçots on the menu, after having just seen them in the stalls at the nearby Boqueria market. Calçots are a Catalan thing, wherein they take a white onion bulb, replant it, and then cover the shoots with earth as they grow from the bulb, yielding tender, sweet, leek-shaped onions. They were flame-roasted until completely blackened on the outside, and served steaming hot on a terra-cotta shingle. Eating them is a messy, finger-searing business, which requires pulling down the blackened outer layers of the calçot to reveal the tender white steaming center, which is dipped in romesco sauce and then eaten sword-swallower style, often involving some quite inelegant contortions. These were fresh, sweet, and absolutely delicious, simply the best onions I've ever had.

While I blackened my fingers and twisted around dangling onions over my head, Mrs. F had an appetizer of a a provoleta, a dish of grilled provolone cheese that I've always associated with Argentina. Here, it was served bubbling hot in a cazuela, topped with a dice of tomato and a nice, pungently herbal and garlicky pesto. Very good and almost too much food for an appetizer. She followed with some delicious grilled baby calamares, served with shaved asparagus and a dribble of sauce of the squid's ink. I had a very nice rice dish, made to order and served in a cast iron pan, with wild mushrooms, butifarra sausage, morcilla, and chicken. The rice was permeated throughout with the aroma of the mushrooms, and had nice crispy bits around the edges.

I had low expectations and they were vastly exceeded, indeed everything we had was just great. I have no idea if everything on the ambitious menu is of the same quality, but after our experience, I'd be willing to try.

Cuines Santa Caterina
Avnda. Francesc Cambó 16
Barcelona 08003
93 268 99 18

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Alta Taberna Paco Meralgo - Barcelona

Paco Meralgo had a few things going for it before we'd even stepped through the door: (1) it was close to our hotel in the Eixample neighborhood; (2) it was open on Monday, when many restaurants in Spain are closed; and (3) its name appealed to my fondness for wordplay ("comer algo," hidden within "Paco Meralgo", means "to eat something").

The restaurant has a clever layout, basically mirror-imaged food bars on either side of a workspace for the staff, with one side being a smoking section and the other non-smoking. Each side has additional counter seating around the edges of the walls, with several small tables scattered throughout. The decor is simple and minimalist, with painted brick walls and blocky blond wood tables and stools. Indeed, the primary "decoration" is at the food bar itself, which houses a magnificent selection of seafood, including fantastically colorful bright red gambas on ice in a big bowl and lots of other little delicacies under a sushi-bar style glass countertop fridge, including beautiful scallops with their roe still attached, and some of the biggest oysters I've ever seen.

The menu (available in several languages) had a long list of mostly tapas-style options, with a strong focus on the seafood items decorating the bar. We started off with what was the best pan con tomate I've ever had. I know it seems almost silly to get excited over something so simple and ubiquitous - but this was great. The bread was crisp and toasty but still permeated with the juice of sweet ripe tomatoes, enhanced with an assertive but not overwhelming whiff of garlic, and generously drizzled with some really good olive oil. We accompanied that with a plate of some very nice jamon iberico.

Zucchini blossoms stuffed with mozzarella were nicely fried; though I enjoyed the gooey, stringy mozzarella, I usually prefer a lighter cheese with these so as not to overhwelm the delicate blossoms. The croquetas filled with fish and seafood also showed a deft hand at the fryer. The best thing we had, though, came from that ostentatious display of seafood at the bar. "Berberechos" translates as cockles, a small, round-shelled clam. Simply heated on the plancha and sprinkled with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon, these were absolutely delicious. They were fresh, briny, plump, and more tender than any other clam I've had.

We had a couple misses as well. The Catalan-style beans brought young favas, still in their fuzzy outer shell, cooked with bits of pork and a big slice of black sausage; I didn't love the texture of the beans, and an herbal presence (mint?) seemed out of place. A tortilla with artichoke, instead of being the thick frittata-like slab we'd anticipated, instead was a skinny, almost crepe-like omelette. We would have done better ordering the artichoke on its own, as we saw several people happily chomping on the fried artichokes.

We closed out with a classic, a crema catalana. Their version was happily creamy, dense and eggy, my only gripe being that the brûléed topping was perhaps taken just a bit too far and had a slightly charred taste to it.

This was a nice casual place that still obviously takes its food plenty seriously, which is a nice combination. I'd happily go back, especially to try more of those beautiful seafood options.

[I know, I know - there sure is a lot of talk about Spain here for a "Miami food blog." Only one more dispatch from Spain before we return to regularly scheduled programming.]

Paco Meralgo
Calle Muntaner 171
Barcelona 08036
94 430 90 27

Friday, March 27, 2009

Dos Palillos - Barcelona

After three great days in San Sebastian, we swung over to Barcelona for the final leg of our trip. Our first restaurant visit was to Dos Palillos. Dos Palillos is the creation of Albert Raurich, who from 1999 through 2007 was the chef de cuisine at El Bulli. Those expecting another temple of modern gastronomy or showcase of cutting edge cooking technology, however, might well be disappointed. At Dos Palillos, Raurich, along with head chef Takeshi Somekawa, instead explores - using mostly traditional cooking methods - the curious parallels and intersections between Spanish and Asian cuisines.

Dos Palillos is located down the incredibly narrow Carrer Elisabets in the funky El Raval neighborhood, on the ground floor of the Casa Camper hotel (a product of the Camper brand which sells moderately hip sneakers for what seem like incredibly high prices). The name - which means "two toothpicks" - is itself a play on those aforementioned commonalities, analogizing between the toothpicks commonly used for eating tapas and the chopsticks of Asian cuisine. Small portion sizes likewise bridge the two food cultures, the Spanish tapas being easily comparable to either the small dishes of a Japanese izakaya or Chinese dim sum, as does a respect and appreciation for prime raw ingredients. The restaurant's layout also plays on the Asian/Spanish theme, with the front area being a very typical (almost nondescript) looking Spanish bar, while after passing through a beaded curtain, the back room houses an Asian inspired food bar with open kitchen (which actually reminded me very much of a low-budget version of a L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon). I always like an open kitchen, and particularly enjoy the intimacy of this kind of layout, where the person who prepares your food is often the one to actually hand it to you.

It certainly seems to me that the Spanish-Asian mashup idea is gaining increasing traction in Spain, with Dos Palillos and Kabuki Wellington and Diverxo in Madrid (both of which we missed) as prominent examples. What's less clear to me is whether there's really anything so remarkable about it, as we in the U.S. are pretty accustomed to seeing these type of East-West hodge-podges (i.e., Asia de Cuba, Sushi Samba ... - and yes, you're certainly welcome to question whether it's being done well). But let's set aside that question for the moment, and focus on the most important question - how's the food? The menu on the Asian bar side offers a couple tasting menus at different price points for more extensive course offerings (I think in the more casual front bar you can order a la carte as well). The most expensive option was, I believe, €65 for about 15 courses. Here's the rundown.

[Sorry for the atrocious layout of this post - I'm working on fixing it. I've cut back on some of the pictures and added links to them instead. The full set of pictures can be found here on flickr].

wontonswontons - crispy fried shells enclosing a fine mince of pork (I believe, memory is fading), generously sprinkled with pungent pepper. A great, addictive snack. Also served at the start of the meal were some vibrant magenta pickles, presumably colored with beet juice though I'm not sure what the pickles themselves were made from.

chicharrones - perhaps not what they were called on the menu, but these were perfectly fried strips of chicken skin, assertively spiced with curry powder. Even better than the wontons.

summer rollsummer roll - again, perhaps not what it was called on the menu, though certainly what it reminded me of, a light rice paper wrap filled with vegetables, served cool, and topped with grapefruit segments, chili threads and tiny baby sprouts. You'll see a couple dipping sauces in the corner of the picture, one a ponzu, the other a fruitier orange-yuzu sauce. These were presented, almost Benihana-esque, at the beginning of the meal with appropriate dipping suggestions for some of the early courses.

sardine sunomono - a typical Japanese dish of vinegared fish and vegetables, done here with nice fat slabs of silver-skinned sardine, along with lightly pickled cauliflower, carrots, cucumber and topped with fresh kaiware (daikon sprout).

ankimoankimo - one of the standout dishes of the night, perhaps in part because it's one of my favorite ingredients. Ankimo is monkfish liver, poached and chilled, and served here with a couple different kinds of seaweed (the dark green type being one I'm used to seeing in Japanese dishes, the red branched one more unusual for me), with a slightly sweet reduced soy sauce along with cubes of a jelled citrus sauce. Monkfish liver is sometimes called "foie gras of the sea," which might be a bit generous, but it does have something of that same richness and depth of flavor along with a bit of a seafood twang.

navajasnavajas - another standout, some of the smallest, most delicate razor clams I've ever seen are served cold with a Thai red curry sauce and flecks of sea beans and more colorful seaweed.

chawan mushitrout roe chawan mushi - a chawan mushi is a Japanese custard, with an incredibly delicate quivering texture, here infused with dashi flavors and topped with trout roe. A beautiful presentation, and the flavor and texture of the chawan mushi were wonderful. The combination with the trout roe could have been fantastic, but unfortunately the roe were dissatisfyingly firm in texture. They had very little give and were almost crunchy, a jarring contrast against the creamy chawan mushi. I think I would have preferred the more giving, liquid texture of a salmon roe to pair with the custard.

tempura tomatotempura tomato - simple but surprisingly good. Juicy, sweet cherry tomatoes are fried with a very thin tempura batter, and topped with a dab of wasabi. Just the slightest hint of crunch from the batter, followed by a gush of near-molten hot tomato, followed by the kick of the wasabi.

shiu maishiu mai - steamed dumplings, stuffed with minced pork and shrimp with a hint of foie gras, if I recall right. These were fine dumplings indeed.

tuna don - very lightly seared tuna belly (toro in Japanese, ventresca to the Spaniards) over sushi rice, served with sheets of nori and a dab of wasabi for some DIY maki. Nice rich fatty tuna.

japoburgergyoza - pan-fried pork dumplings, a/k/a postickers. Good but nothing particularly special about this iteration.

japoburger - a plump little miniburger, seared just rare, laid over some lightly pickled cucumbers for something of a banh mi effect.

verdurasverduras - stir-fried vegetables, a nice melange including baby bok choi, snow peas, baby corn, baby carrots, all in a light soy-based sauce, and flecked with little micro sprouts and flower petals. Decent but not very exciting.

chicken yakitori - the traditional Japanese skewered and grilled chicken, lightly brushed with a soy-sake-mirin sauce and sprinkled, I believe, with schichimi togarashi.

fruit saladfruit salad - pieces of pineapple, mango, strawberry, melon, prune, goji berry, a cube of tofu-textured creamy coconut, macerated in a reduced anise-infused tea. Hey - is that a spherified something-or-other in the middle there? Nope - just a good old-fashioned lychee. The fruit salad was followed by a creamy yuzu ice cream, which just missed the mark for me.

Overall, while I enjoyed all of our meal, and a few items were truly excellent - the ankimo, the navajas, the tempura tomato in particular stand out - several others struck me as no more or less special than something I could get at my neighborhood izakaya (though in fairness, I happen to have an excellent izakaya pretty close to me despite the relative dearth of good Japanese food in Miami). There also wasn't all that much that really struck me as a real fusion or confluence of Asian and Spanish cookery - rather, this was pretty straight-ahead Chinese and Japanese for the most part. It's good eats, and I'd happily recommend it as a fun, satisfying, and fairly priced meal, but there's nothing particularly revolutionary going on here, which is something of a disappointment given the chef's resume.

I'm not sure how much to read into it, but it is interesting that both Raurich and Albert Adrià (creative director at El Bulli and brother of Ferran Adrià), who recently opened the relatively traditional tapas bar Inopia in Barcelona and even more recently announced he is leaving El Bulli, both appear to be retreating from the avant garde. One of the most remarkable things about reading A Day at El Bulli (once you get past the overwhelmingly self-congratulatory tone) is the incredible focus on the methodology of creativity. There can be little doubt that the level of creativity and innovation expected must be phenomenally demanding and draining. Sometimes you just want to serve some good simple food. Though "simple" may be understating the level of quality and flavor that many of Dos Palillos' dishes acheive, there's nothing wrong with that either.

Dos Palillos
Carrer Elisabets 9
Barcelona 08001
93 304 05 13