A Weekend in Terra Alta Wine Region

An hour into our drive, we’re already discussing our hypothetical country home. Nothing fancy. Just a modest converted farmhouse with exposed-stone walls and vaulted brick ceilings. And a little land to plant vegetables, and raise chickens and bees, and eat dinner al aire libre in the summer. I don’t ask for much.

Terra Alta Wine Region | Traveling To Taste

This happens every time we venture into the Catalan countryside. The rolling hills and blissful quiet make me momentarily forget that I love living in vibrant, noisy Barcelona. I remember what it’s like to see stars and hear crickets, and I’m ready to give it all up… at least for an occasional weekend.

Last Saturday, we rented a car and hightailed it out of town for an overnight trip to the Terra Alta region. About two hours west of Barcelona, and an hour inland from Tarragona, it’s still surprisingly wild wine country. You can drive for miles without encountering anything except vineyards, and the occasional house or village.

Wine Tasting | Traveling To Taste

Terra Alta isn’t far from the better-known Priorat or Montsant regions. Its wine is gaining a solid reputation (this Wine Enthusiast article gives a good overview), but it’s still very affordable. Most of the wine we loved had a price tag of less than 10 euros a bottle.

We had less than 36 hours in the area, but we managed to visit three wineries and eat three fantastic meals, while still feeling lazy and unrushed.

Getting There

You’ll need a car to explore the region. We’ve had positive experiences renting with Sixt, and this time we picked up the car at their location near the port (much easier than the chaos at Sants train station).

We visited three towns in the region – Batea, Gandesa and Vilalba dels Arcs. It takes about 15 minutes to drive from one to the next.

Where to Stay

Batea

Celler Piñol, a family-run winery offering organic wines, rents out four apartments above its administrative office, and around the corner from the cellar. We made our reservation through Booking.com. Our one-bedroom apartment was spotless, and featured a full kitchen, free Wi-Fi, air-conditioning and an interior patio – plus a welcome bottle of white wine. The town is tiny, so you can easily walk to other wineries, and street parking is free and plentiful.

Practical info:

Wineries to Visit

 

As with most wineries in Catalunya, you need to make reservations in advance for tours and tastings. I started sending emails on Monday for Saturday and Sunday appointments, and several places said they were either fully booked or unavailable at those times. For our next trip, I’ll plan with a bit more lead time.

Batea

 

Celler Piñol

The winemaker, Juanjo, had a weekend busy with family engagements but still found time to give us a private tour of the cellar. The space looks small from the street, but it actually extends far back, and down a few flights of stairs. The garnatxa blanca grape reigns supreme in Terra Alta, and my favorite wine from Celler Piñol was the l’Avi Arrufi: 100% garnatxa blanca from old vines, aged in barrels for seven months. Refreshing and light, but with a slight hint of oakiness.

Practical info:

  • Tours by reservation (he didn’t charge us for ours); Juanjo speaks Spanish, Catalan and English
  • Address: Av. Aragó, 9, 43786 Batea
  • Phone: +34 977 43 05 05
  • Email: info@cellerpinol.com

LaFou Celler

LaFou only opened in 2007, but the Roqueta family has a winemaking history that dates back to the 12th century. The winery is in a restored 18th-century home on Batea’s main square, and the tour leads you through the traditional and modern production areas. The tasting was in a lovely garden courtyard, and our guide, Joan, poured us generous samples of a white and two reds. We sat with a big chatty group of retirees from a nearby town, and the charming gentleman next to us wheedled a few extra pours for us all. My favorite here was the garnatxa blanca, Els Amelers, named after the almond trees planted among the vineyards.

La Fou Celler, Batea | Traveling To Taste

Practical info:

  • Tours by reservation (cost: 8 euros per person); they offer tours in Spanish, Catalan and English
  • Address: Plaça Catalunya 34, 43786 Batea
  • Phone: 34 646 85 02 77
  • Email: visites@lafou.net

La Fou Celler, Batea | Traveling To TasteLa Fou Celler, Batea | Traveling To Taste

 

Gandesa

Celler Cooperitiu Gandesa

I would recommend visiting this spectacular catedral del vino for the architecture alone; it’s a bonus that the wine is good. Our guide, Pilar, brought the winery’s history to life, describing how the residents of Gandesa – men, women and children – built it over the course of a year, from 1919 to 1920.

Celler Cooperatiu Gandesa | Traveling To Taste

Celler Cooperatiu Gandesa | Traveling To Taste

The Modernist architect, Cèsar Martinell, was a protege of Antoni Gaudí, and he designed a simple, functional and beautiful space using the limited resources the town had. We had the opportunity to taste four or five different Celler Gandesa wines, and I was impressed by the price-to-quality ratio. We bought several bottles of the garnatxa-macabeu blend, Somdinou, “a young wine produced with grapes from old vineyards” for around 5 euros a bottle.

Celler Cooperatiu Gandesa | Traveling To Taste

Celler Cooperatiu Gandesa | Traveling To Taste

Practical info: 

Where to Eat

 

These are all small towns, with only a few restaurants in each (Gandesa had the most options), so it’s wise to do a bit of advance planning.

Vilalba dels Arcs

Nou Moderno

After reading glowing TripAdvisor and Google reviews of Nou Moderno, I made a Saturday lunch reservation, but I was a little nervous that it was going to be overly fancy or pricey. We were pleased to find it was neither. The staff was warm, and there was a 12-euro menú del día, even on a Saturday. It included three courses (without drinks); a bottle of house-made white wine was an additional 12 euros. There was also a 20-euro tasting menu with a few more courses, but we weren’t quite up it.

Highlights:

The gazpacho was one of the best I’ve tasted; heavy on fresh tomatoes, and light on vinegar. The grilled meats were simply prepared but flavorful. The flan was super light and creamy; even Brian liked it, and he’s not usually a big fan.

Practical info: 

Gandesa

Sibarites

It was a happy accident that we ended up here on Saturday night. Our first choice in Batea was inexplicably closed when we arrived at 9:30, and the only other place serving food – packed during the Barça game – turned us away. We were starting to feel a little panicky, knowing that late dining options in rural areas can be few and far between. But Brian did some expert speed Googling (likely imagining the hangry monster I would become in an hour or two) and found Sibarites, which looked promising and was open till 11.

At this point, I would have been happy with some decent patatas bravas and chorizo, but we lucked out with Sibarites. Gourmet menu, fun ambiance, friendly staff. We each ordered the 20-euro menu, which included three courses and wine.

Highlights:

I don’t know where Sibarites’ octopus carpaccio has been all my life; thinly sliced, incredibly tender and generously coated in olive oil. Melt-in-your-mouth good. And then, fickle as I am, I forgot all about it when the beef cheeks arrived. The waitress told us it had been slow-cooking at very low heat for something like 30 hours. It fell apart when you got near it with a fork. We also licked the plates clean with both desserts: coconut ice cream, fresh fruit and ginger; molten chocolate cake with orange sorbet.

Practical info: 

Restaurante El Chef

El Chef is a casual restaurant around the corner from Celler Cooperatiu Gandesa, and we popped in for after our tour. Once the plates arrived, we realized we probably have ordered two instead of three… but I have no regrets. Each was between 6 and 9 euros, and a glass of house wine was only a euro.

I can’t resist buttery, garlicky escargots (caracoles or cargols here). These were plentiful and satisfying. The fideuá (thin noodles cooked in broth) with seafood was also good.

Practical info: 

Our whirlwind adventure in Terra Alta was just enough to give us a taste and leave us wanting more. We’ll be back for Round 2 soon.

 

Photo credit: Flickr/ angela_llop

 

Barcelona Day Trip: Craft Beer Tour & Tasting at Cervesa del Montseny

It’s no easy feat wrangling a group of Barcelona dwellers for an early (read: before 1 p.m.) excursion outside the city. If I were to suggest a 9 a.m. start time for, say, a day of hiking, I’m not sure how much enthusiasm I’d receive/have. But change that into a day of tasting local craft beer, and voilà! We all learn how to use alarm clocks on a Saturday.

Cervesa del Montseny: Catalan Craft Brewery

Cervesa del Montseny – a microbrewery about an hour by train from Barcelona – offers Saturday morning tours that are well worth the journey. Montseny is one of the earlier Catalan craft breweries, opened in 2007, and it produces an eclectic and well-balanced selection of beers.

Brian and I have visited twice – once on our own, and once with a group of friends – and both times we were impressed with the friendly, knowledgeable guides. The Saturday tours are only offered in Spanish or Catalan. I spoke with Ferran at the brewery, and he said the guides would do their best to help anglophones understand during the tour (and if you’ve ever visited a brewery or know how beer is made, you’ll be able to follow along just fine). If you have a large group, it may be possible to arrange a private tour in English; contact Montseny.

Tour & Tasting Info

Tours are held most Saturdays at 11 a.m. Look at the calendar on the Cervesa del Montseny website, and click on the day you’re interested in to see if there are spots available. If there are, you can send a reservation request through the web form. Tours tend to book up a few weeks in advance, so plan early.

Worth the early Saturday wake-up call @cervesamontseny

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The visit takes about 1 ½ to 2 hours; the price is 13 euros, which includes a tour of the production facility, generous pours of several beers, and snack platters of meat, cheese and bread. After the tasting, you can buy beer to bring home – mixing and matching bottles to create your own sampler.

Visit Cervesa del Montseny | Traveling To Taste

At our last tasting, we tried the Blat (a citrusy wheat), the Malta (a pale ale), the Negra (a stout), the Lupulus (a hoppier pale ale), the Aniversari (an IPA) and a Mala Vida (one of a trio of imperial stouts). If you’re lucky, you might even get a sample of one of their seasonal beers. Their Castanya (a brown ale made with chestnuts) is available for a limited time in the fall, and it’s my favorite.

Visit Cervesa del Montseny | Traveling To Taste

How to Get There

Take the R3 Rodalies train from Barcelona to the Balenyá-Tona-Seva station (not the Balenyá-Els Hostalets station, which is the one right before you get off):

The R3 leaves from six Barcelona stations:

  • Barcelona-Sants
  • Barcelona-Plaça Catalunya
  • Barcelona-Arc de Triomf
  • Barcelona-La Sagrera-Meridiana
  • Barcelona-Sant Andreu Arenal
  • Barcelona-Torre del Baró

Google Maps will tell you to walk 13 minutes on a roundabout route to get to the brewery. Ignore this, and carefully cut across the tracks to get there in two minutes. I am risk-averse, and I watched Fried Green Tomatoes a lot growing up, so this makes me nervous every time. But you can literally see the brewery from the station, and it’s more dangerous walking on a busy road with no shoulder.

Cervesa Montseny walking map

The current Rodalies schedule has you taking the 9:11 train from Catalunya, arriving a bit early at 10:27. There isn’t another train that will get you to the tour on time, so grab a cafe and wait outside the brewery with the rest of the eager beer enthusiasts.

PSA: Barcelona Beer Festival 2017 is this weekend!

Cervesa del Montseny will be there (it won best artisan brewery in the Barcelona Beer Challenge there last year). BBF is in a new location this year in La Farga in L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, and it’s supposed to be much more spacious.

Carrer Barcelona, 44, 08901 L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, Barcelona

  • Friday, March 24, 2017 (11:00-23:00)
  • Saturday, March 25, 2017 (11:00-23:00)
  • Sunday, March 26, 2017 (11:00-21:00)

Access:

  • L1 metro red line
  • R1 Rodalies train

Barcelona Day Trip: Cava Tasting by Train in Sant Sadurní d’Anoia

Sant Sadurní d’Anoia (or Cavalandia, as we dubbed it on our last trip there) is a beautiful little town less than an hour by train from Barcelona. It’s full of wineries where they produce cava, the delicious Spanish sparkling wine made using the champagne method.

sant-sadurni-danoia

Sant Sadurní d’Anoia is one of our favorite Barcelona day trips because:

  1. It’s so easy to get to (no DD’s necessary) and involves a day of walking from winery to winery to restaurant to winery
  2. It’s very affordable (full disclosure: my palate is not refined enough to appreciate expensive champagne, and I am very happy with a 5-euro bottle of cava brut nature)
  3. It’s a lot of fun with a group, especially folks visiting from out of town

I recommend calling or emailing wineries a few days in advance to reserve places if you want to take a tour. Or go for the DIY approach and take over a winery’s garden for a barbecue. More details on both methods below.

Barcelona Day Trip: Cava Tasting by Train in Sant Sadurní d'Anoia

How to Get to Sant Sadurní d’Anoia by Train

Take the RENFE suburban train (Rodalies) R4 toward Sant Vicenç de Calders. It stops in Barcelona Sants, Barcelona Plaça Catalunya, Barcelona La Sagrera-Meridiana and Barcelona Arc de Triomf, and you can buy tickets from the machines in the station (less than 9 euros round trip). The train goes directly to Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, no transfers, and the journey is about 45 minutes.

There are two trains an hour – but the times listed on the website and the real times trains actually arrive are often a few minutes off in either direction. Just to keep you on your toes. So arrive early to be safe.

You can also buy the Freixetren ticket from the machines at the station, which includes a round-trip train ticket and a tour of the Freixenet winery for 11 euros. If you’re interested in doing this, you still have to reserve a time for the tour on the Freixenet website.

Wineries to Visit in Sant Sadurní d’Anoia

Freixenet and Codorníu are the biggest wineries in the area, and they have a larger international footprint than some of the smaller cellars. Both have good English tours, though you don’t get the personalized experience you have at a smaller producer. Freixenet is definitely the easiest to reach; it’s right next to the train station. Codorníu is a gorgeous property with cool modernist architecture – but it’s not within walking distance, so you’ll have to spring for a cab ride (there are usually taxis in front of the station).

 

First #grapes of the #harvest

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The other wineries that we’ve visited have all been stellar and within a 15-minute walk of the train station:

Gramona: Make a reservation for the historic cellar (they also have a newer facility in a different location).  The staff is very nice and the tastings are excellent. (We’ve only done this tour in Spanish, and I’m not sure if they offer other languages.)

Solà Raventós: I love, love, love this place. It’s a one-man operation, and the proprietor is so nice and generous with his time (and cava) – showing you the caves, explaining each step of the process and letting you taste a wide selection of cava. We’ve visited twice and will go back again. (Tours in Spanish and Catalan.)

 

This weekend in the land of cava. More specifically, Solà Raventós.

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Recaredo: We had such a good experience here. We took Brian’s parents when they came to visit, and our guide took tons of time to show us around and let us enjoy a few glasses. (We did this tour in English.)

Where to Eat

Ticus is in the town center, and it has a great menu del día that never disappoints (plus lots of local cavas and wines to try).

DIY BBQ at Cava Jaume Giró i Giró

Cava Giró i Giró is a 12-minute walk from the train station, and it has a big shaded garden surrounded by long wooden tables and barbecues.

 

Beautiful Sunday for drinking cava and BBQing

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If you call a few days in advance (or perhaps even the day before; they were very patient with the million changes we made to our reservation – and we came with a group of nearly 20), you can reserve space to relax and grill for the day… all while drinking the winery’s chilled cava on demand. The winery provides glasses and wood for the barbecues, but you have to bring everything else you need to cook and eat.

 

Cava BBQ in the cava region ??????

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It’s one of the best ways to spend a sunny day – and you’ll leave with bellies full of cava and food for around 10 euros a person.

Open every day, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
2.50 euros per person for the space
6.40 euros per bottle of brut nature reserva cava (and a glass each to use)

 

We are goal-oriented.

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We also saw that the winery across from Cava Giró i Giró – Cava Blancher – has a similar barbecue setup, with interior and exterior tables available on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Guess it’s almost time for another trip out to Cavalandia…

 

Photo credit

La Rovira Brew Bar: Another Awesome Craft Beer Stop in Gràcia

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Last Monday, August 1o, La Rovira opened its doors and taps just in time for Festa Major de Gràcia. Since then, as far as we can tell, they’ve been killing it. One or both of us have been three times since the opening, partly because it’s minutes away from our place, but mainly because they have an incredible selection of craft beers from all over. La Rovira tap line up-traveling to taste La Rovira has 18 beers on tap from craft breweries far and wide and with many, many more in bottles. It’s enough to keep any beer enthusiast busy for a while. They are also serving their own beer called De La Vila, which was made just for the Festa Major. It’s a light session IPA with a citrus and floral nose and a slightly fruity taste with mild bitterness from the hops. Most standard IPAs have an ABV (alcohol by volume) in the 5.0-7.0% range (some are much higher); this one comes in at 4.7%, which means you can drink it all afternoon on a hot summer day and still find your way home.  

We are super pumped to have another great craft beer bar in the neighborhood, and La Rovira joins some other greats along Gràcia’s growing beer route like Chivuo’sCara B, El Col-leccionista, Catalluna and La Cervesera Artesana (and if you’re a homebrewer, there is Family Beer).

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to head back over to finish the rest of the 18 beers. See you there. Cheers.

La Rovira Brew Bar
Carrer de Rabassa, 23,
08024 Barcelona
+34 691 20 24 10
Metro:  Joanic I (L4/yellow line)

10 Barcelona Craft Beer Bars & Breweries

One of the many things I love about Barcelona is how vibrant its craft beer scene is. We have made it our mission to visit all the craft beer bars and breweries in the city (and eventually in Catalunya), but it’s tough when there are new spots opening all the time. No one said it was gonna be easy.

So consider this a first installment in an ongoing series on craft beer in Barcelona. Here are some of the fantastic places we’ve fallen in love with so far.

Barcelona-beer-bars

Craft Beer in Barcelona

1. Edge Brewing

Edge Brewing is an American craft brewery located in Poblenou – a cool warehouse district near the water that isn’t yet teeming with people. Two Americans, Alan and Scott, started the brewery in 2013, and I love everything about it. The beers are excellent and diverse (I’m partial to the Hoptimista IPA and the Padrino porter), the people are super friendly and knowledgeable, the space is open and welcoming.

For the last year, we’ve been going frequently to their “open doors” events on Friday nights – where you can buy a pint or two and eat food provided by local vendors. Sadly, they recently stopped doing these events, but they are now offering Saturday tours and tastings and private tours by reservation.

Edge Brewing
Carrer de Llull 62
08005 Barcelona
Metro : Bogatell (L4/yellow line)

Tour & Tasting
Saturdays
12:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
4:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.
€15 (cash)
Reserve in advance

Edge Brewing
Edge Brewing

2. Chivuo’s

Chivuo’s is an awesome street food and craft beer bar close to our apartment in Gràcia, and it takes all of my willpower not to stop in every time I walk by. Juan and Ale, the Venezuelan proprietors, are wonderful and take great care to offer a well-curated list of craft beers (10 rotating selections on tap) and excellent food.

There are only a few items on the food menu – hamburger, pulled pork sandwich, tuna melt, chicken sandwich, Philly cheesesteak, a few varieties of fries and patatas bravas – but everything from the buns to the BBQ sauce is homemade and delicious. The pulled pork and hamburger in particular are to die for. It’s a small place with a few tables and seating at the bar, so I like to go in the afternoon or early evening before it gets too busy. (They also have free Wi-Fi, but your productivity will probably plummet after a couple pints…)

Chivuo’s
Carrer del Torrent de l’Olla 175
08012 Barcelona
+34 932 185 134
Metro: Fontana (L3/green line)

Monday – Friday: 1:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m.
Saturday: 6:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m.
Sunday: Closed

Chivuo's
Chivuo’s

3. BlackLab Brewhouse

BlackLab just opened its doors in a beautiful space in Barceloneta, after several months of hosting smaller beer events around the city. I’m already looking forward to the summer when we can take advantage of its big outdoor tables. BlackLab is pretty much the brewpub I wish I had started. It was founded by Jing and Yuan, Galicians of Chinese origin, and Matt, an American, and it has a solid beer list (from BlackLab and other breweries) and excellent Asian-American food. The pork belly buns are insane. As is everything else we’ve tried.

BlackLab Brewhouse
Plaça Pau Vila 1-5
08039 Barcelona
+34 93 22 18 360
Metro: Barceloneta (L4/yellow line)

Monday – Thursday: 12:30 p.m. – 12:00 a.m.
Friday & Saturday: 12:30 p.m. – 2:00 a.m.
Sunday: 12:30 p.m. – 12:00 a.m.

4. Garage Beer

Garage is brand new, and we had the good fortune to check it out the day after it opened a few months ago. Since then, it’s been blowing up – hosting cool food and design events, experimenting with tasty new beers and being a generally cool spot to hang out.

Garage Beer Co.
Carrer Consell de Cent 261
08011 Barcelona
+34 93 52 85 989
Metro: Universitat (L1/red line)

Monday – Thursday: 5:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m.
Friday & Saturday: 5:00 pm – 2:30 am
Sunday: 6:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m.

Garage Beer
Garage Beer

5. Ale&Hop

Ale&Hop is a small bar in El Born with an impressive selection of beers from all over the world – on tap and bottled. As one of Barcelona’s well-known craft beer bars, it gets crowded, especially late and on weekends, but it’s worth checking out. We haven’t tried their food yet, but they serve pintxos on Thursday nights and brunch on the weekends.

Ale&Hop
Basses de Sant Pere 10 bis
08003 Barcelona
+ 34 93 12 69 094
Metro: Arc de Triomf (L1/red line), Jaume I (L4/yellow line)

Monday – Wednesday: 5:00 p.m. – 1:30 a.m.
Thursday: 5:00 p.m. – 2:30 a.m.
Friday: 5:00 p.m. – 3:00 a.m.
Saturday: 11:00 a.m. – 3:00 a.m.
Sunday: 11:00 a.m. – 1:30 a.m.

6. Cerveseria La Més Petita

As the name implies, La Més Petita is teeny tiny, but it boasts a massive chalkboard of beers on tap. Throw some ‘bows, find a spot and make some new friends while you drink.

Cerveseria la Més Petita
Carrer de la Diputació, 30
08015 Barcelona
+34 628 11 67 84
Metro: Rocafort (L1/red line)

Monday: Closed
Tuesday – Thursday: 6:00 p.m. – 1:00 a.m.
Friday: 6:00 p.m. – 2:30 a.m.
Saturday: 12:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. / 7:00 p.m. – 2:30 a.m.
Sunday: 12:00 – 2:30 p.m.

7. HomoSibaris

Alan and some of the other good people from Edge Brewing were kind enough to let us tag along to HomoSibaris one night after a BlackLab event at La Més Petita (if that gives you an idea of the fun craft beer scene here). It’s tucked away in a cute little plaza in Sants with eight beers on tap, specializing in those that are unfiltered and unpasteurized, and a small tapas menu.

HomoSibaris
Plaça Osca 4
08014 Barcelona
+ 34 93 18 56 693
Metro: Plaça de Sants (L1/red line, L5/blue line)

Monday – Thursday: 5:30 p.m. – 12:00 a.m.
Friday – Saturday: 12:00 p.m. – 2:00 a.m.
Sunday: 12:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m.

HomoSibaris
HomoSibaris

8. La Cerveteca

La Cerveteca, a cozy little bar in El Barri Gòtic, offers a diverse list of craft beers – many of which I hadn’t tried before.

La Cerveteca
Carrer Gignas 25
08002 Barcelona, Spain
+34 93 31 50 407
Metro: Jaume I or Barceloneta (L4/yellow line), Drassanes (L3/green line)

Monday: Closed
Tuesday – Thursday: 6:00 p.m. – 11:00 pm
Friday & Saturday: 12:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m./ 6:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m.
Sunday: 12:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.

9. Bar Mingus

I’m not sure if we ever would have found this place if it hadn’t been for our friend Matthias, a German beer fanatic. It’s a funky little gem in the Gòtic decorated more like a California surf bar than a craft beer bar. It’s open late and a welcome relief from some of the tourist traps in the neighborhood; but most importantly, it has an excellent selection of international craft beers.

Bar Mingus
Carrer Ataulf 6
08002 Barcelona

+ 34 63 09 01 690
Metro: Jaume I (L4/yellow line)

Monday – Wednesday: 7:30 p.m. – 1:30 a.m. 
Thursday: 7:30 p.m. – 2:30 a.m. 
Friday & Saturday: 7:30 p.m. – 3:00 a.m.
Sunday: Closed

Bar Mingus
Bar Mingus

10. BrewDog Bar Barcelona

The cool kids from Scotland’s BrewDog just opened their newest bar here in Barcelona, and it just happens to be a block away from Garage. Grab a seat at the bar for a pint and tapas, or reserve one of the bigger tables to have dinner and beers with friends.

BrewDog Bar Barcelona
Carrer Casanova 69
08011 Barcelona
+34 93 48 85 979
Metro: Universitat (L1/red line)

Every day: 12 p.m. – 12 a.m.

Our Go-To Pizza Place in Barcelona: Napoletani DOC

Before moving to Barcelona, we lived in Naples, Italy for three years and during that time, we ate pizza as if it were our job. We did not chronicle our pizza hobby as this guy did (who ate 365 pizzas over two years), but between the two of us, we did pretty well as connoisseurs in the birthplace of pizza. We ordered pizza from our neighborhood joint so many times that they knew us by name over the phone (this is still one of our proudest achievements to date).

We got spoiled by having amazing Neapolitan pizza at our beck and call all the time. We never had to travel more than a block or two to find a pizza restaurant, and within minutes we could have hot, crispy, oozy, delicious pizza that rarely cost more than 6-8€. It cannot be overstated that Neapolitans are SERIOUS about their pizza, and there are very specific rules for a pizza to be called “Vera Pizza Napoletana.” These rules dictate the diameter of the pizza (no more than 35 cm), the thickness in the center (1/3 cm), where the tomatoes must come from (San Marzano) and so and so forth. There is even an organization that governs the pizza regulations called the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana.

As we were getting ready to leave Naples, we knew that pizza would never be the same. It’s like growing up in Philadelphia and then trying to find a suitable Philly cheese steak anywhere else. We were worried, until we went to one of our favorite neighborhood restaurants called Osteria DOC. The family that runs the restaurant is very sweet, and after telling them our plans to move to Barcelona they said “Oh you need to go to our son’s restaurant there. He has a pizza place.”

HALLELUJAH!

We arrived in Barcelona, and like any normal person, I put on my Napoli jersey and we went to check it out. Let me tell you, it is FANTASTIC.

IMG_20140731_135210

Walking into this place is like walking into a pizza place back in Napoli; huge wood-fire pizza oven, pictures of Mount Vesuvius, as well as jerseys and scarfs from the SSC Napoli soccer team on every wall (they also have a whole page of pizzas named after the soccer players on the menu).

The pizza is spot on, too. The price is slightly higher than what you would find in Naples, but there is absolutely no difference in quality.

Hello beautiful.
Hello beautiful.

Pizzas come in the standard personal size (no more than 35 cm, if you recall) and are best eaten with a knife and fork. They have what seems like an endless list of pizzas (more than 30) which includes the classics (diavola, capricciosa, margarita, etc.) but some unique ones too (Spacca Napoli, for instance: mozzarela, butifarra, mushrooms, parmesan and basil). If you’re going with a group, consider getting the 1/2 meter, or if you’re really hungry, the 1-meter pizza. In both cases, you can choose more than one topping to accompany the metric measurement.

1-meter of pizza.
1-meter of pizza.

They have a considerable list of antipasti, primi and secondi, but our experience with these is limited.

It is, without question, our favorite pizza place in Barcelona. It is also the only one we go to, but I have a hard time believing a better one exists. Maybe someday we’ll branch out, but until then, I’ll have another capricciosa.


Napoletani D.O.C.

Metro: L1 Urgell
Calle Diputación, 101
Barcelona

Phone:+34 93 451 6902
http://www.napoletanidoc.com

Bertso Taberna: A Fantastic Barcelona Pintxos Bar

We took a week-long trip to Spain’s Basque country last spring, staying in San Sebastian and Bilbao. It is a beautiful and fascinating region with some of the best food I’ve ever eaten.

Our friends Dustin and Amaia hooked us up with a detailed list of places to get the best pintxos – Basque tapas – in both cities. Amaia is from a city near Bilbao, and these two have great taste in all things, so we followed their list like a treasure map. We ate so, so well.

pintxos-san-sebastian

I love that each pintxo is a tiny, flavorful work of art. Salmon, anchovies, tuna, jamón, bacalao, beef cheeks, foie, red peppers, olives, cheese… The combinations were inventive and endless. The pintxos crawl is the way I want to eat all the time:

  1. Go into a bar, where the counters are covered with platter after platter of tempting small bites.
  2. Order a glass of txakoli, the Basque white wine that is a tiny bit sparkling and very refreshing. (Also, the bartender pours it from about a foot in the air, and it’s fun to watch.)
  3. Grab a plate. You’ll probably serve yourself, and the bartender will add up your total later. (You can also order larger portions of hot dishes at a lot of places – some of which are definitely worth the effort.)
  4. Try to pace yourself. Fail.
  5. Pay up, walk next door and repeat… and repeat… and repeat.

We have found a couple of Basque tapas bars here in Barcelona, but the best one by far is another Amaia and Dustin discovery. They were in town in October, visiting us and other friends and family, and the apartment they rented just happened to be next door to a brand new pintxos bar. Coincidence? I think not.

bertso-taberna-pintxos

Bertso Taberna is in a quiet part of Gràcia, conveniently a short walk from our apartment, but it’s always bustling with people. The owner is very warm and welcoming, and the food is outstanding and affordable. We’ve tried a variety of the pintxos out on the bar, as well as the larger portions ordered from the kitchen, and everything is good. Give me all of the seafoody pintxos and extra heaping helpings of the octopus, the morcilla (blood sausage – don’t let the name deter you; it is so good – served with a sweet apple compote) and the meatballs, and I am a happy girl. We’re looking forward to becoming regulars. You should join us.

pulpo-bertso-taberna

Bertso Taberna
Metro: L4 Joanic, L3 Fontana
Carrer Torrent de les Flors, 113
Barcelona

Hours:
Monday & Tuesday: 7:30 p.m. – 11:30 p.m.
Wednesday – Saturday: 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
7:30 p.m. – 11:30 p.m.

Photo credit

Cavatast 2014: A Weekend in Penedès Wine Country

The capital of the cava region, Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, is just a stone’s throw away from Barcelona, a fact that makes me very, very happy.

You can hop on the regional train – Rodalies R4 line – at Plaça de Catalunya and be there in about 45 minutes. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you see the massive Freixenet cavaplex right next to the Sant Sadurní d’Anoia train station.

We have made it out to visit different wineries several times with friends, and for about the last eight months, we’ve been looking forward to Cavatast, the town’s annual cava festival held at the end of harvest season, this year from October 3 to 5:

Cavatast is a space for pairing the best cavas with the best food trends of the season. The exhibitors offer visitors an extraordinary range of products for tasting, savouring, enjoying and taking home.

That sounds good. I’ll have that.

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Our awesome friends Kyle and Arianna were visiting from California, so it was only fitting that we head to the cava fest to take the place by storm. Kyle and I should have started some sort of Sonoma County cheer to represent for our own wine country (next time).

We got to Cavatast in the early afternoon on Saturday, walking the 10 minutes from the train station up to the street hosting the festival, and I was surprised by how uncrowded and laidback it was. A few weeks ago, Brian and I went with friends to a wine and cava festival in Barcelona during La Mercè (the festivities for the patron saint of the city), and it was a lot of fun but packed with people. The scene in Sant Sadurní d’Anoia was much more serene during the day, with no lines and plenty of standing table space, though it did get more crowded as the night went on. Yes, we were there all day.

The prices were super reasonable, and this is what we bought for each person:

Cava and glass (4 tickets + 1 glass) 6.50 €
Additional cava (4 tickets) 5.00 €
Food (4 tickets) 6.00 €
Total: 17.50 €

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Each of the 30-some wineries with a stand at Cavatast offered several different types of cava, for a price of one to four tickets. We stuck within the one to two-ticket range and got to try a great selection of cavas. Two of the favorites were the brut nature from Mont Marçal and Fonpinet (we bought three bottles of each at the end of the night) – subtly dry and flavorful. We also sampled some excellent food from Restaurant Cal Blay – bacallà (cod), fideuà (noodle dish similar to paella), cannelloni with mushroom bechamel sauce and a stew with botifarra negra (Catalan sausage).

cavatast

cavatast

cavatast

It was a long and trying day, making so many difficult decisions about what type of cava to try next. We took a late train back to Vilafranca del Penedès, 10 minutes away, where we stayed the night and regained our strength.

On Sunday, we took the train to Lavern-Subirats – next to Sant Sadurní d’Anoia – to have lunch with friends at the spectacular Cal Pere del Maset, which is a quick cab ride from the station in the town of Sant Pau d’Ordal. Our friend Joan’s family owns the restaurant, and the food is nothing short of amazing. Course after course of seasonal, perfectly prepared dishes.

A few favorites that I now dream about: crepes filled with chicken and covered in foie gras sauce and mushrooms, hake cooked to perfection served with romesco sauce, perfectly rare solomillo (best steak ever) with foie gras and truffle sauce, chocolette croquetas with bitter orange sauce. It was gourmet gastronomic experience with an insane wine selection (seriously, the wine list is bigger than dictionaries I’ve owned), fantastic service and a beautiful setting for very reasonable prices for the quality you receive. A meal like this in California would have cost far more, and Cal Pere del Maset is well worth the day trip from Barcelona. We will find an excuse to go back very soon.

cal pere del maset

All in all, Cavatast 2014 was a great experience, and heading to the festival is going to be an annual tradition. Who’s in for Cavatast 2015?

This is what we signed up for.

beets beets beets beets
CSA Experiment #1

As previously reported,  we recently joined a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). We had a couple of reasons for doing so, but one of them was to push ourselves into cooking with things we don’t normally buy.

Challenge number one: Beets.

Neither of us had any experience with buying and/or cooking beets, so when basket #1 arrived with two of them we did what reasonable people do: we left them on the counter for days hoping they would prepare themselves to be eaten.

This did not work, and eventually we took to the interwebs to look for creative solutions, and I was surprised to find there are lots of amazing-looking dishes to be made using beets.

Not really following any one of them in particular, the beet preparation went like this:

Beet and Goat Cheese Crostini

Ingredients

  • Beets
  • Olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Goat cheese
  • Salt and pepper
  • Sliced bread

Instructions

  1. Heat a small frying pan with a little olive oil
  2. Trim the skin off of the beets (beware, this will make your hands and your cutting surface red)
  3. Cut beets into small cubes
  4. Sauté on low heat until the beets are tender (about 40 minutes)
  5. Remove tender beets and add a few heavy dashes of salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar and olive oil
  6. Use an immersion blender (or food processor or blender) to purée until smooth
  7. On a piece of sliced bread, add a splash of balsamic vinegar, spread a hearty portion of goat cheese, and then spread the beet purée
  8. Consume and repeat step seven until you run out of one or all of the ingredients
  9. (Several recipes suggest wrapping the beets in aluminum foil and baking in place of sautéing, and I’m sure there are merits to both.)
http://www.travelingtotaste.com/2014/09/13/this-is-what-we-signed-up-for/

The end result is pictured above and turned out surprisingly well.

The moral of the story is get out there and try cooking with something new, even (or especially) if you don’t know where to start with it. It doesn’t need to be fancy or complicated, but playing with a new ingredient can open the door to a variety of other ways to prepare it.

Now I’m actually looking forward to the next time beets show up in the basket so we can make something crazy, like beet and goat cheese ravioli.

Joining a CSA in Barcelona

I have a very important announcement to make. Brian and I just joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). It’s just a few blocks away from our apartment in the Gràcia neighborhood of Barcelona, I walk by it every day and I can’t believe it’s taken us so long to sign up.

Every Tuesday will henceforth be known as “Christmas.”

CSA in Barcelona

Els Bandolers de Gràcia
El Carrer Verdi 12
08012 Barcelona
Phone: 93 217 27 85
elsbandolersalcamp@gmail.com

Hours:
Monday to Thursday: 11:00 – 22:00
Friday and Saturday: 11:00 – 15:00, 17:00 – 22:00. Closed Sundays.

Els Bandolers de Gràcia is a great little store where you can buy produce and local artisan products, such as wine, beer, honey and chocolate. The produce comes from local and organic farms in Catalunya, and the CSA is a fantastic deal. Here’s how it works:

1. You sign up and pay a 30-euro registration fee, which includes two baskets – cestas – (you trade an empty one for a magically full one each week).
2. You choose either Tuesdays or Thursdays to pick up your cesta.
3. You pay each week when you get your basket. We signed up for the pequeña, which is still a ton of food for two people and costs 13 euros. The media is 18.50 euros and the grande is 28 euros.

We are only two weeks into our membership, and I already notice an improvement in our enthusiasm and creativity with preparing fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s like a game show: race against the clock to figure out A) what things are and B) how to combine them in an edible fashion.

Mystery greens? Braise them with pancetta, olive oil and balsamic! Potatoes and onions? Breakfast fries! Insanely delicious ripe plums? Eat as many as you can in one sitting, then make a quick stovetop jam with the rest before they go bad! Everything else? Throw it in a pot, you’ve got yourself a stew!

If you’re looking for a CSA in Barcelona, this place is glorious.