Vinalium, Barcelona, Spain

Go here.  Wine shops are not all created equal, nor are they equally endowed with knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and patient owners that are happy to have an actual exchange about wine, rather than rush to sell you on whatever bottle they are getting margin on at the moment.  I knew I’d found a kindred spirit when we stumbled upon the subject of the prevailing wine rating system – Javi and I shared our mutual disdain for the commercial, silly 100-point system and how certain wine illuminati manage to warp the market with high-ranking reviews of often pedestrian offerings.

Yet I digress.  At Vinalium you will find a focused selection of wines from all regions of Spain, including some commercial favorites, all at friendly prices.  However, it’s in the sections devoted to regional offerings and smaller producers where you’ll find some exciting stuff.  From Cava to Penedés, Empordá to Montsant, Javi and Karen, his American partner and wife (whom I did not get to meet) have your number.  To top it off, they run a thriving online store that will deliver cheaply and quickly in Barcelona, as well as abroad.

So what are you waiting for – go!

Vinalium, Carrer de Casanova 33, 08011, Barcelona, Spain

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Arcano Restaurant, Barcelona, Spain

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Blink and you might miss the entrance to Arcano

The Argies are coming, the Argies are coming!!  And here you thought Messi was the only Argentinian of note in Barcelona.  Not so!  The Argentinian community in Barcelona should be proud to have Arcano as one of its standard bearers.

Sometimes you just need a steak.  I was feeling a bit run down from some intense workouts and non-stop travel, walking (and walking, and walking), and just feeling the general travel malaise that pops up after you’ve been mostly talking to yourself for days.  So I decided to go for the Palermo cure:  a perfectly cooked bife, served as only Argentinians can.

Now, I don’t normally recount my full experience in this space.  Rather, I prefer to just talk a bit about a place and tell you whether, and why, to go.  But Arcano is an exception.  Tucked away on one of El Born’s tiny, unassuming side streets, Arcano was a gorgeously appointed revelation, making grand use of its namesake Arches.  I walked in, solo, on a busy Friday night and without a reservation.  I’ve found that in Barcelona, not having a reservation is often an issue.  Not so at Arcano.  The staff asked my indulgence in taking one of their fantastic house beers at the bar for a few moments (a US-style summer ale, no less), while they prepared my table.  All the while, respectful, cordial, and expert in their attention to detail, as Argentinians often are.Arcos steak

As I said before, it was time to indulge.  So I went for the solomillo finished with a Pedro Ximenez reduction, topped with mushrooms and accompanied by a mushroom “cupcake.”  It was as extravagant as it was delicious.  It should be no surprise that the steak was a perfect medium rare, but the ballet of sweet, salty, and umami flavors created by the reduction and the mushrooms was just amazing.  A truly decadent experience worth every Euro I paid for it.  For the service, the gorgeous cave-like setting, and truly exceptional food, I highly recommend you pay Arcano a visit the next time you’re in El Born.

Arcano Restaurant, Mercaders 10, La Ribera-Born, Barcelona 

Bar Celta Pulperia, Barcelona, Spain

This is one bustling spot for lunch, and for good reason:  the service is excellent, the staff cordial and fast-moving, the pulpo (grilled octopus) and navajas (grilled razor clams) excellent, the beer cold, and the salads taste as if they were cut and prepped just before you ordered.

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Yes, octopus is in the name, but this is the real reason why I stopped:  navajas!

A great little stop off popular with the locals, it has an expansive, mostly, but not exclusively, seafood-based list of tapas to choose from.  If you are in the neighborhood of the Arc de Triomf or Parc Zoológic, it’s worth checking out.

Bar Celta Pulperia, Carrer de la Princesa 50 08003 Barcelona

Skybar, Barcelona, Spain

For a gorgeous introduction to nights and Barcelona, it doesn’t get much better than this.  If you come early enough, you can add a dip in the small pool to the night’s festivities.  Barring that, do like I did, bring some great friends, order from the gintonic menu, and forget that you’ve ever heard of the word “problem” – surely some form of rare rodent that lurks only in the caverns between the rooftops – only clear skies and bright hopes can you see!

Skybar at Grand Hotel Central, Via Laietana, 30, 08003 Barcelona, Spain

Mirablau, Barcelona, Spain

Tibidabo is the name of the small mountain looming over Barcelona like an ever-vigilant sentinel peering out to sea.  Part way up the side of it, through winding streets of former villages-turned-suburbs like Sarria and Vallcarca, you’ll find this small neighborhood bar and restaurant with the out-sized, sweeping views.  Really, this is a locals spot.

What you want to do here is order a gintonic from the extensive menu – I suggest Mare with pink peppercorn Schwepp’s – and sit talking about life, loves, dreams, and hopes for tomorrow and forever.  After all, as her name suggests, Tibidabo has the power to give them all to you.

Mirablau, Plaça del Doctor Andreu, 08035 Barcelona, Spain

Barraca, Barcelona, Spain

Rice.  You came for arroz.  At least, you want to have excellent paella while in Barcelona, and not from one of the tourist traps serving overcooked-to-mush shrimp rolling around in glow-in-the-dark irradiated yellow rice.  You came to the right place.

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Your fearless author pigging out!

Located perfectly, almost as if the traditional fisherman’s neighborhood of Barceloneta were a spear jutting into the sea, if you ask nicely you can score a table looking out onto Playa de Sant Sebastiá.  Bring a scarf so that you can leave the windows open; the briny sea breeze is the perfect seasoning for the rice.

But don’t rush to the rice too quickly!  The chef creates magnificent symphonies of mussel concoctions based on whatever is fresh that day.  On our day, my companion and I were simply blown away by a Szechuan pepper and lemongrass broth that was perfectly balanced, and not too spicy for my spice-shy dining partner.

As regards the service, I believe this little vignette will tell you all you need to know about Barraca’s standards and care for excellence:  on our first visit, we ordered a bottle of wine.  Normally I find the rote present label-open-present cork-taste-approve traditional wine service song and dance to be a gratuitously formalistic bore.  But, as any wine nerd can tell you, every now and then a cork goes bad or bottle gets mishandled, turning the otherwise good wine inside into something from a dare reality television show.  My poor Catalan companion was horrified when I sent the wine back.  She, and the waitress, both were noticeably nervous that I had somehow executed a breach of etiquette, the punishment for which was likely to be grave.  The owner, however, came to the table, nonchalantly poured a taste into his glass, and took 1.5 seconds to nod and declare the bottle a dud, removed it from the check and issued us a new wine.  No fuss at all.

So, for the location, the service, and the food, make this an afternoon stop for classic seafood rice (paella, that is) in the sun.

Barraca, Passeig Marítim Barceloneta, 1, 08003 Barcelona, Spain 

St. Remy, Barcelona, Spain

If you’ve never dined in a classic-style Spanish or Catalan restaurant, here is your opportunity to do it right.  From the moment you enter, the vaulted ceilings, stately décor, and impeccable service are on display.  Austere luxury, served up as only the Catalan’s can.  The white table-cloth, white glove service is simply perfect.  But, as with other entries in this blog, you came here for one specific thing:  sea urchin, or eriçó de mar.  I cannot honestly say that I’ve ever had sea urchin like this:  served in the hollowed out spiny shells of the creatures, the preparation is the thickest, richest, almost gravy-like, umami-packed preparation I’ve ever spooned into my mouth.  The effect of the deep richness is that you’ll feel like you just ate steak covered with melted gelato, or some other insanely indulgent concoction.

This is an amazing little date-night spot, even if Sarria is a bit of a hike from the city center.  If you’re lucky, your date will confuse the sea urchin-induced swoon in their belly for one in their heart.

St. Rémy, Carrer d’Iradier, 12, 08017 Barcelona, Spain   

Restaurante La Luna de Júpiter, Barcelona, Spain

Some nights when traveling, you just need to stretch out and enjoy a long, satisfying meal in a relaxing and quiet atmosphere.  This adorable, tiny spot sits on the somewhat hidden Traginers Plaza – a real oasis of quiet and relaxation in the middle of the often wild and wooly Barrio Gótico.  Snag an outside table if it’s warm enough and you can.  If not, I’m quite fond of the first table on the left.

Don’t bother being in a hurry.  The server and the kitchen won’t be, and you shouldn’t be either.  I know I’d happily sit starving for a couple of hours right now if it meant sinking my fork into a plate of their house-made gnocchi.  This is yet another discovery that I can claim no credit for:  all praise to my native Catalan friends.

Restaurante La Luna de Júpiter, Plaça dels Traginers, 8, 08002 Barcelona, Spain

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