Sor Rita Bar, Barcelona, Spain

There’s a hilarious pun afoot in this convivial and wonderfully designed little drinking establishment in the Barrio Gótico.  I’m not going to unravel it here for you, though.  Just feast your eyes on the stiletto-heeled décor, Barbie doll chandeliers, and numerous homages to pop culture’s most gorgeous femme fatales adorning the walls.  But, wait!  What’s with all the portraits of nuns?

The locals are friendly, the bartenders hilarious and efficient, the music on point, and the space gorgeous.  What more could you ask for?!

Sor Rita Bar, Carrer de la Mercé, 27, 08002 Barcelona, Spain

Casa de Tapes Cañota, Barcelona, Spain

There is one specific reason to come here:  navajas.  But not the razor clams you’re used to.  Rather, Navajas!!Navajas!!Navajas!! 

This rather non-descript little spot, tucked away at the intersection of Sant Antoni and El Poble-Sec neighborhoods, is a semi-hidden gem.  Not exactly on the tourist studded path, you’ll be pleased you made the trek.  Serving excellent versions of many Spanish and Catalan classics, it’s the Galician-style navajas a la plancha (grilled razor clams) that will captivate your tongue and imagination.  My companion, who had recently spent a month eating her way through several villages on the Galician coast while on holiday, attested that the bright green garlic, olive oil, and parsley brine coating the clams was indeed at least as good as anything she had on Spain’s northern coast.  Probably better.

At a relatively friendly price point, including for the wines, this jovial and informal spot should be high on your list of places for a great meal.  And, yes, you should get that second order of navajas.

Casa de Tapes Cañota, Carrer de Lleida 7, 08004 Barcelona, Spain   

El Nacional BCN, Barcelona, Spain

Welcome to the amusement park of Catalan gastronomy!  One of the coolest places in all of Barcelona.  For such a large space, it’s not the easiest place in the world to find.  Built inside of a restored factory, it has all the gorgeous iron work and design details one imagines in the Barcelona of your memories and dreams.  Inside there are four distinct restaurants and four distinct specialty bars, all under the same roof:  Beer Bar; Wine Bar; Oyster Bar; Cocktail Bar; La Braseria (specializing in steak); La Llotja (fresh fish cooked your way); La Taperia (tapas); La Paradeta (deli and baked goods).  All of the bars serve exquisite renditions of traditional Catalan cold tapas.  Think the most gorgeous, upscale, high design food court that your brain can conceive of, crank it up two notches, and then you’re close.

The first couple of times that I went was with a Barcelona native who had been hearing the rumors and was dying to try it.  It was like getting a grand tour of Catalonian gastronomy – from the Costa Brava to Girona, Priorat down to Valencia, all under one roof.  Our first stop was at the beer and tapes (that’s “tapas” in Catalan, friend) counter, the first little island in the middle of the place.  My companion took the excellent and chatty bartender, Colombian by birth (friendly Colombians:  there’s a theme here), on a tour of his own wares, netting us fresh tins of anchovies L’Escala; a version of your grandpa’s favorite delicacy unparalleled by any other coast.  So much yum!

Honestly, I could swoon here for paragraphs.  But I’ll spare you.  Just do yourself a favor and go, and go hungry.  Everything is on point:  from the wine selections to the fish preparations, the balanced cocktails to the perfectly shucked oysters – just do it.

El Nacional BCN, Passéig de Gracia 24 bis (down an alley between Carrer de la Diputació and Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes), Barcelona, Spain

Sushi Dokku, Chicago, IL

Get the oyster shooter.  Get.  It.  I know you don’t like them and I don’t care.  Really.  Perhaps it was the quail egg.  Or perhaps it was the sezchuan pepper tickling the throat as it went down.  Maybe the perfect balance of spice, umami, and salty oyster flavors.  Or I could have just been caught up in a moment with my awesome companion (hi, Doc!).  Doesn’t matter.  Everything we had here was great, from the ice cold Sapporo, to the delicious Hamachi preparation (me ecanta ha-MASH-iiii!!), to aforementioned oyster shooter.  Just go.  If you are sushi friendly at all, go.  And did I mention that you should order the oyster shooter?

Sushi Dokku, 823 West Randolph Str., Chicago, IL  60607

Puntiapart 2009 – Empordá, Spain

Concentrated cherries, leather, currant, and violets on the nose.  Nice, crisp red fruit greets the front pallet, with roses and more leather.  Soft tannins bring along cocoa and tarry tobacco flavors, with just a hint of smoke on the tight, somewhat tart finish.  Echoes of balsamic notes typical of the region on the finish.  A lovely, concentrated wine that’s gorgeous alone or with rich seafood preparations, a la Catalan.  I picked this one up at a great little wine shop in Louisville, Kentucky called The Wine Rack with the help of the proprietor, John.  Full stop.

  • Rating: Impressive
  • Name: Puntiapart 2009
  • Winery: La Vinyeta
  • Region: Empordá
  • Country: Spain
  • Varietals: 85% Cabernet, 15% Samsó (Carignan)
  • Price: $22
  • Where to Buy: The Wine Rack


Dogtown Coffee, Santa Monica, CA

acaiSomething seems rather familiar at this place.  Perhaps it’s the bright airbrush paintings on the wall, the friendly hipster-cum-athleisure suited patrons, the sassy Sicilian guy taking my order, or all the years I spent hanging out with the X-gamer crowd.  Naaaaah, it’s the best açai bowl I’ve had since those two summers living in Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro.  This is a great little coffee spot, rife with hearty breakfasty and snacky items – it really is tough to choose and I look forward to several more mornings’ deliberations.  But that açai bowl – the right balance of granola, strawberries, banana, and just a sprinkling of coconut shavings on top.  My old Polisucos guy in Rio would be proud.  Oh, and the coffee’s good too, served with a return smile.

Dogtown Coffee, 2003 Main St., Santa Monica, CA  90405

Borsao Berola 2011 – Campo de Borja, Spain

This one starts with musty mushrooms blended with lots of red fruit preserves and blackberries.  Strawberry and fresh sour plum hit the front of the palate, with white chocolate and hazelnuts following.  Everything comes together with a soft airy tannin finish reminiscent of burnt sugar, with hints of cocoa and coffee.  I’m putting this one as an everyday wine, though it borders on impressive.

  • Rating: Everyday Red
  • Name: Berola 2011
  • Winery: Borsao Bodegas
  • Region: Campo de Borja
  • Country: Spain
  • Varietals: 70% Garnacha, 20% Syrah, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Price: $16
  • Where to Buy: Calvert Woodley Wines & Spirits