Barcelona - Kiosko Universal + Cacao Sampaka

I arrived in Barcelona around 9 am local time. Too early to to check into my hotel, I dropped off my luggage and headed straight to La Boqueria. I wandered around for a bit, still in a post-travel daze, snapping photos as I tried to decide where to eat. I'm not ashamed to admit that I got a little lost  I bypassed El Quim and the famous Pinotxo Bar for a seafood specialist, Kiosko Universal.


Barcelona - Cal Pep

Well, months later and I'm still blogging about Barcelona. There was just so much good food to tell you about. My biggest food splurge was at Cal Pep. I spent more money than I probably should have on more food than one person should probably eat. But it was all delicious and I was so full that I skipped dinner that evening. Cal Pep was on my maybe list leading up to the trip. I didn't decide to give it a shot until I met two friendly ladies from New York City while breakfasting at El Quim who absolutely raved about the place.

The restaurant is small, not much more than a long counter. It has, maybe, 20 seats, though if you plan ahead you can reserve a table in the small dining room at the back. Behind the counter a group of waiters and chefs put together small plates of ridiculously fresh seafood and Catalan favorites. There's not a set menu, tell your waiter what you like and he'll bring you dishes to fit your tastes. Alternatively, while you wait for a seat, (and you will wait) ogle the food being served around you and point at what you want when it's finally your turn.

Right off the bat I knew I wanted a bowl of the orange-slicked mussels and clams I saw being passed around. The mussels were to die for, so plump so juicy. The clams were lovely as well, though not quite as tender-sweet as the serving I had later in the week at Kiosko Universal. The bivalves were prettily doused in a paprika infused olive oil that complemented without overpowering the seafood. Especially good when matched with a plate of chickpeas and spinach. The beans were creamy and the spinach made me feel like I was eating something relatively healthy.

This dish of monkfish had me a bit wary, but the slightly sweet cream sauce and flaky fish won me over. Not my favorite dish of the day, but quite good. I traded a taste of monkfish for a bit of squid from the lovely British ladies to my right. They were on the tail end of a short holiday from London. Despite practically overdosing on seafood, I couldn't leave without trying the gambas. These suckers were not cheap. Coated with salt then sizzled on la plancha, the giant prawns arrived bright red with sweet, tender meat hiding beneath the crunchy shell. Don't forget to suck out the funky liquified brains, that's the best part!

I finished off my meal with a lovely espresso, un cortado to be precise, the teeny fruit filled biscotti was a nice touch. Stuffed with seafood and slightly tipsy, I hit up the Picasso Museum and Santa Maria del Mar Basilica, both just around the corner. The Picasso Museum was smaller than I expected, just an hour or two worth of works to browse. Though it was crowded, the wait was short and it was a nice, manageable, museum. As I left, I wandered past El Xampayet, a tapas bar known for their cheap, house made cava. It was packed and I'd already imbibed two flute-fulls (and the bonus remains of the bottle, thanks Mr. Waiter) at Cal Pep so I didn't push my luck.

Pre-Cal Pep, I spent my morning at Palau Güell. It's another Gaudi masterpiece, designed for his longtime benefactor, Eusebi Güell. The mansion, one of Gaudi's first big projects, was recently restored and re-opened to the public. The centerpiece of the building is the amazing ceiling/skylight and more of Gaudi's crazy chimnies. My big mistake of the day was wearing a pair of new shoes for the day's sightseeing. Planning ahead, I purchased a new pair of, supposedly, comfy and versatile black flats. I thought I had broken them in pre-trip but my feet felt otherwise, bruised and bloodied by the end of the day. I couldn't wait to take them off and get a bit of a rest.


Barcelona - Tapas 24

Tapas24 is another Barcelona restaurant that has been blogged about all over. That's how I heard about it, and I'm so glad I did. I ate there twice. At the beginning of my trip, and on my last evening in Spain. Perhaps I should have ventured further afield, but the fact is, by that final Wednesday evening I was wiped out. As Tapas24 is located just blocks from the hostal where I stayed, it was a logical (and delicious) decision.

I never quite got used to the late Spanish dinner, so I arrived unfashionably early for both meals (before 8:30 pm.) If you don't want to wait, I suggest you do the same. By the time I left potential diners were lined up behind the counter and up the stairs. The majority of seats at this subterranean restaurant are located at a counter surrounding the kitchen, with a few larger tables near the walls. There are a few tables outside as well, but I wouldn't expect attentive service if this is where you choose to sit.

I found service to be a bit scattered at the bar, where the wait staff scurried in and out, making pan amb tomaquet on the fly and scooping up little bowls of olives. At times it was difficult to get their attention, especially when it was time to pay the bill (to be fair, this seems to be common to many restaurants in Barcelona.) Tapas are, of course, ideal for couples and groups dining together. I was alone, so two visits allowed me to try a greater variety of items. In fact, on my first visit, the couple sitting beside me had the oxtail with beans pictured below. They said it was a highlight of their meal and it was the first thing I thought of when I decided to make a second visit.

But first, meal number one. I started with some really excellent fruit juice. The sweet-tart berry juice was flavored with just enough mint to refresh without overwhelming. And the little bottles were so cute. Next was an order of boquerones al limone, fried anchovies marinated in lemon. Good, but not super memorable, I probably wouldn't order them again.

The patatas bravas though, they were fantastic. The wedges of potato very nicely fried before receiving a healthy douse of garlicky allioli and a spicy tomato sauce. I miss them. I finished up with a satisfying bowl of lentils and smokey chorizo. It was a simple brothy soup but the combo of slighly chewy sausage and tender beans was just what I wanted. I didn't try for dessert, the small restaurant was packed and I was beat (and so full.)

Before meal number two I spent a sunny day wandering around Park Guell. It was packed, the crowds inescapable. It's a must-see in most guidebooks, but I preferred Gaudi's more intimate Casa Mila and, frankly, stunning Sagrada Familia.

Still, I had fun taking photos and admiring Gaudi's curious creations. But before long the sun and stairs had me ready for a relaxing meal.

I kicked off the meal with another fruit juice, apple mint this time around. It tasted like apple pie in beverage form, with teeny bits of apple suspended in a slightly spicy apple nectar. Paired unconventionally with my croquete de pernil iberico, aka delicious fried thing filled with fancy ham, it was quite good. The croquette itself was to die for, crisp exterior giving way to a molten filling of rich, creamy potato studded with salty ham.

Of course I ordered the oxtail, my fixation had not waned. And it was worthy. The creamy white beans soaked up the rich, wine-y braising liquid beautifully. The meat, tender and occasionally slightly gelatinous, was like pot roast on crack, so full of beefy goodness. On the side, an order of tomato bread, toasted and scraped with raw tomatoes and garlic then slicked with peppery olive oil. The fresh, tart tomato flavor was a nice foil to the richness of the oxtail.

I elected for dessert this time around, though I barely had room. I picked xocolata, and the three little ovoids of chocolate mousse were pure decadence. Drizzled with more of that peppery Spanish olive oil along with flecks of crunchy fleur de sel, the chocolate was creamy and dense, not too sweet. I could only get through about one and a half before offering the remainder to the friendly couple next to me. And then it was back to the hostal for a brief sleep before hours and hours of travel back to Bloomington. But I've still got more to food to post, so check back soon!


Happy Burger Day - my burger odyssey

So the internet tells me it is National Burger Day. I'll admit, I won't be indulging. Over the past year I've eaten more than my share of burgers. This post has been many months in the making. Last August I got the opportunity to work on an exciting project, writing and photographing a round up of burgers in Bloomington.

My article was published in the April/May issue of Bloom Magazine. I'm thrilled with the result, the article is even longer than I expected and features photos of many of the burgers. It's pretty awesome going into restaurants and stores around town and seeing piles of the magazine. All told, I sampled over 50 different burgers at 36 restaurants. Below are some outtake shots and some thank yous. I got a lot of help.
Read the whole article at the Bloom website (PDF, unfortunately.) The layout and colors are so lovely. It's even better in print, all glossy and real. Burger porn ahoy. The lead photo is the tasty Spoon burger from Runcible Spoon. Next is Uptown's elegant yet substantial New Yorker burger, it is excellent.

Upland Brewing Co's Bad Elmer's Burger, it's just not right without the beer

Nick's makes an excellent burger

One of my faves, a double cheeseburger at Trojan Horse

My first Hinkle's hamburger 

A cheeseburger at the new Macri's Deli

A pair of very good burgers at Wee Willie's

Scholar's Inn Bakehouse has $3 burgers on Wednesdays

Meatless no longer, Roots now serves a burger

Thanks to Jessica and Christine and Mariann for burger crawling with me. Thanks to Ginny for sharing multiple burgers, some good, some just okay. And especially for finishing a few off when I just couldn't take another bite of ground beef and bun.
Thanks to my mom and dad who drove me to the far away burger spots and helped me out for lunch. And Carly who gets almost all of the credit really, she knows why ;)
And most of all thanks to Katy who doesn't even eat beef. Despite her mostly burgerless diet, Katy came with me on nearly all of my burger adventures. Sometimes just keeping me company, other times helping me out with the veggie burgers.

In conclusion, I'm taking a break from burgers.
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