Ah, Barcelona. Even not seeing much of you, I can tell I quite like you. I love your architectural mix of modern and classical. I love your wide, pedestrian-friendly walkways. I love your style - varied and free. I even love your traffic patterns, with so many of your motorists on motorbikes and scooters. And yes, I love your food.
On the 26th, it was one of the orchestra member's birthdays. A couple of my fellow travellers had been to Barcelona a number of times, and every time they come, they try to make it for dinner at Los Caracoles. The name, which translates to "the snails", gives you an idea of the kind of cuisine at this deceptively large establishment. It's simple, sometimes rustic, food for the most part, with even lobster not being fancy. That's the thing about towns built on fishing, and the thing about local food in general. The closer you are to the source, the more reasonable the prices are likely to be, since there aren't expensive shipping costs built in.
We pretty much let the server guide our choices for the meal, starting with shared dishes of tapas, with everyone ordering their own main. The first wine we ordered was an absolutely big, beautiful, warm and round 2006 Roda I Rioja. For the starters, of course we had to have some of the eponymous snails. These were a little different to the escargot presentation I'm used to, in that they weren't already removed and neatened up before going back into the shell for plating. No, with these, you stuck a toothpick in and pulled out the whole animal, so you really knew you were eating a shelled slug. Delicious. Also simply presented and equally tasty were the whole baby squid, head and all. They'd been lightly battered and fried so you ended up with beautifully tender bits of squid dotted with their teeny black eyes.
There were also platters of grilled crawfish, garlic shrimp, a bread dish that was akin to a bruschetta, but more subtle, and the absolutely, without-a-doubt, best Serrano ham I've ever had the pleasure of putting in my mouth. As you can see from the picture below, it's cured in-house. Unlike other jamón I've had over the years, the salt cure on this was very mild, allowing the natural sweetness of the pork to come through. And it was silky soft. My mouth is currently watering with sense memory as I write this. I can now truly understand why, a few years ago, my father ordered himself a Christmas gift of a ¼ Serrano ham from Spain. It cost him a pretty penny, but if it came even close to this, it would have truly been worth it.
Since this was to be my last night in Spain, I had to have the seafood paella. HAD TO. And I wasn't disappointed. The rice was perfectly al dente, and even without being able to identify all the different bits of seafood in the dish, I was quite happy to let every tender morsel practically melt in my mouth. Even the mussels, and I generally hate mussels. But these incorporated into the dish fantastically, without any of that characteristic earthiness that has no place in a creature of the sea, in my opinion. Between the shrimp and crawfish starters and the crawfish in the paella, my antihistamine medication certainly had some work to do. But even if I'd gone into anaphylactic shock, I would have died a happy woman after that meal.
The next big stop is Paris, which both excites and terrifies me. Because we'll really only have a day there, and there is so much to see and eat, I fear I may suffer from option paralysis once I'm there. But we have a Parisian on the bus, and many who've been there before, so I will bow to the wisdom of experience. Allons-y!