Saturday, October 22, 2011

Lip-smacking Tapas and Paella

Arola BarcelonaTapas and paella formed the mainstay of my lunch and dinner experiences during this trip. Dining can be fun and memorable for reasons other than the quality of food. This was particularly true during this trip: friends and colleagues from distant places, jugs of chilled sangria and the briny breeze from the Mediterranean Sea - they conspired to make the most insipid dishes seem interesting! That said, there were a couple of stand-out dining experiences I must describe to you.

The first was Merendero de la Mari, with its al fresco seating overlooking the picturesque marina. With its killer location, this restaurant is always packed in the evenings with tourists and locals alike. They have a number of menu options - all good; however, you definitely want to try the Arros Negre and the Zarzuela here.

Merendero de la Mari BarcelonaThey started us with small plates of fried chilli peppers, prawns tempura, and battered squid. Every dish without fail was a delight on the palate. We had some fun popping chilli peppers into our mouth not knowing how hot the next one would be - I had to stop after the fifth or the sixth one set my mouth on fire!

Merendero de la Mari
Merendero de la Mari
Merendero de la MariArros Negre is a version of the popular paella with an unique twist: cuttlefish and squid ink gives the dish its unique flavor and deep blue-black color. The cherry colored Baigorri Crianza, a red wine from this region paired very well with this amazing rice dish.

Merendero de la MariThe Zarzuela, with a fine selection of seafood baked in fresh tomato sauce was another instant winner. The dish was characterized by the simplicity of its ingredients and highlighted the abundance of locally sourced sea-food.

Merendero de la Mari
Merendero de la MariFinally, for dessert, we ordered the Pijama 2011. This turned out to be a flan. Intrigued by the name, we asked the waitress who came back with the sous chef. He said the name came from the fact that this dessert used to be served in a large multi-layered portion. The joke was that if you finished the dish, you would be donning your pajamas soon: in the hospital or to take a nap!

Merendero de la MariThe other outstanding place was the high-end tapas bar at the Ritz-Carlton. Chef Sergi Arola's eponymous restaurant takes traditional Catalan tapas offerings to a new high. With chic dining spaces in white and blue, five-star service and food reflecting of the chef's Michelin stars, this was an uniquely satisfying tapas experience for me.

Arola BarcelonaThey started us off by bringing toasted bread, fresh tomatoes, pods of garlic and olive oil. We then learnt how to rub the garlic and tomato pulp on to the bread, add a drop of olive oil to turn these simple ingredients into a very tasty appetizer.

Arola BarcelonaThe minced crab with homemade toast, candied sardines in olive oil, and the white shrimps accompanied by minced vegetables and guacamole were all very nice.

Arola Barcelona
Arola BarcelonaThen came plates of Filet Mignon tartar with a soy infusion and ginger, pork slices in dry sherry marinated with onions and sprouts, and the ubiquitous Iberian ham but in the form of mini-croquettes fried in olive-oil.

Arola Barcelona
Arola Barcelona
Arola Barcelona
We ordered a dish of octopus along with the 'Arola Bravas' potatoes fried and filled with chilli sauce and garlic mayonnaise and cod fritters.

We ended this fabulous dinner with a dessert of white chocolate cream with passion yogurt and melon followed by Coffee and Bailey's: Bailey's cream, coffee ice-cream and black chocolate sauce.

Previously in this series: Tasting Ferran Adria
Next in this series: Barcelona's Gothic Quarters

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