La Bodegueta – Barcelona, Spain

Ever since I turned 18 and left small town Nebraska for Spain, I’ve become a bit of a nomad.  I’ll always be a red-blooded American but when people ask, “Where are you from?” it gets harder to answer with each passing year.  So, to compensate for this lack of real “home” I’ve collected a short list of places I return to when visiting a particular city.  In DC, it’s the Old Ebbit Grill.  In Rovijn it’s the Puntalina.  However, of all the places in the world, one place towers above all the rest and feels as much like home as sitting on my couch.  That place is La Bodegueta in Barcelona, Spain.

Resting on a nondescript corner in the Eixample area of the city, la Bodegueta is, to me, one of the best places on earth.  I’ve been there probably 20 times and am only blogging about it now because I want to do it justice.  But this deed has shaped up to be as difficult as, say, writing a post entitled, “Why I Love My Mom.”  Where do you start?

I’ll start with a short description:  La Bodegueta is an old wine bodega down a few steps on the aforementioned corner.  But it’s much more than that.  It’s the place where I was reminded that it’s not “el menu,” it’s “la carta.”  It’s where the big earthenware jug on the bar holds olives that seem to magically appear.  There are the shelves of wine on the wall that seem one bottle short of completely collapsing under their own weight.  There’s the gritty, smoky, dusty whole of it.  Yes, it’s one of the greatest places on earth.

As soon as you walk in, you’ll see the tile floor and short tables that seem to be from a time when Europeans were really short.  My wife discovered Pimientos de Padrón here.  We tried them on our first visit and we’ve had them every other time they’ve ever been on a menu (or carta) anywhere.  There are the heady cañas, endless glasses of dry red wine and the zip of sherry to round out the meal.  This is where I get to hear a wine described as “la hostia!”  Yeah, stuff like that makes me pretty happy.

Finally, there’s the matron saint of La Bodegueta.  I won’t tell you her name because it’s not my place, but if you go, you’ll recognize her.  I bummed a Marlboro Red from her a few years back when looking for the perfect end to a long, caña soaked tapas extravaganza.  We struck up a conversation.  Since then, I have made it a point to pay her a visit every time I’m in Barcelona.  She embodies everything that La Bodegueta is.  She now knows everyone one in my immediate family by their first name.  I consider her a friend.  That’s hard not to like, too.

I’ve had the incredible good fortune to visit this place with my child, wife, parents and brother.  One time I even got to visit with all but one of them at once.  It’s a place where I go and inevitably end up taking stock of my life.  What has changed since my last visit?  What will I be like the next time I come?  Who will be with me?

It’s little pit stops like these in the middle of life that make you savor the passing days; places like the Bodegueta make that possible.

They say you can never go back home.  Maybe, but as long as La Bodegueta exists, I’ll be pretty sure that I can get awfully darn close.  I’m pretty sure that having been there, my mom would agree.

Alcachofas Laminadas (Fried Artichokes) at Ciutat Comtal – Barcelona, Spain

Sometimes, all it takes is one plate of something to justify a blog post. On my latest trip to Ciutat Comtal in Barcelona, Alcachofas Laminadas were that plate. It is a dish that only the Spaniards could pull off. It’s completely simple (artichokes, salt and oil), but so full of flavor and head-scratchingly brilliant in execution that it has to be applauded. The warm plate, which sort of resembles tiny crabs or sci-fi aliens, contains a crispy, salty, rich snack that is not to be missed. As a matter of fact, it’s a wonder that somebody hasn’t come up with the idea to bag these up and sell them at the gas station.

Wait, I just did.

La Vinya del Senyor – Barcelona, Spain

Every time I go to Barcelona, I print out a paper list of my favorite places in the city.  The majority of the time that I’m there, I am showing a few other people around, so it helps to be a little type “A” and have the printed list in my back pocket – complete with days/hours of operation as well as phone numbers.  One of the bars that has been on the list since its inception is La Vinya del Senyor in “El Born” or the “Barri Gòtic” of Barcelona.  La V del S is one of the reasons that Barcelona is as great as it is.

The wine bar is located across from the Santa Maria del Mar Cathedral and sits on the very quaint Plaça Santa Maria.  Tables are outside and offer great people watching and wine sipping al fresco.  However, due to the time of the year of my travels, I’ve spent most of my time there bellied up to the bar inside.  The people watching there is the best and the cozy atmosphere makes a nice contrast to the cool marble bar that produces some delicious wines and rustic, no frills meat and cheese tapas.  The wine card itself is nearly twice the size of the Magna Carta and way more interesting.  Wines from around the world are available.  However, if you’re like me, you’ll probably be fine with the 10-15 wines in the “featured” selection that is appended to the full menu.  Wines from around the world are offered as well as several gems from Spain.

Spanish wine is underrated and really unknown to most connoisseurs.   Luckily, La Vinya del Senyor does a great job of highlighting some good wines that pair especially well with the tapas on order.  Granted, it’s not your typical tapas bar fare.  They offer good mixes of cured meats, cheeses and “Topnotch Scroggin.”  Gotta love that.

Funny names aside, this is a wine bar not to be missed in Barcelona.  The staff behind the bar is friendly and, like many places in Spain, forgiving and appreciative of those who at least make an honest effort to order in Spanish.  What I should say is, the stare from behind the bar is not quite as icy as the one served up at el Tempranillo.   In fact, on my last visit I managed to get a couple of smiles.  Of course, that could have just been them reciprocating the expression that was plastered all over my face.  La Vinya del Senyor does that to me.

What I Did On My Winter Vacation

As February drew to a close, I was quite happy to see the month come to an end. It has been a cold winter and with the advent of March, the mind starts to churn with the coming promise of spring. Even if the temperatures don’t reach much above 40°F here, the sun has come out and melted all of that blasted, dirty snow.

I’ve been hibernating somewhat.  The Spain trip broke up the time but the rest has been work.  Except for the beautiful shades of green at either end of this post.  Yes, the promise of the green of spring.  Green.  Spring.  Green.

Those are Pimientos de Padrón.  The start and the finish.  Straight from Barcelona.  I cooked them myself.  I only wish I would have been the only one eating them.

Spring is springing.  Stay tuned.

Headed to Spain… Not Soon Enough

There are lots of places in this world that I love to go but the only one that makes me more excited to travel to than Texas is Spain.  I spent a year in Spain as a foreign exchange student way back when and the luster if the Iberian peninsula has never faded for me.  I speak the language so it’s a bit like going home.

To make things even more interesting, Little NH and I sat in front of the TV this evening streaming Flamenco dancing videos from YouTube on the big screen.  She danced, twirled, and clapped along.  After each one, without fail, she said, “I want to go to Spain, Daddy!”  When I explained that our plane doesn’t leave for another day she burst into tears.  Now that I think about it, I don’t blame her a bit.

The good news is, we’ll be in Barcelona eating, drinking, dancing and ogling mobile phones (well, only I’ll be doing the last one) very soon.  Expect a smattering of reports from the road and a whole lotta restaurant reviews when we return.  Hasta entonces.

El Xampanyet

dueno

As a grubby American expat living overseas, there are few trips home.  They’re long, expensive journeys that seem too long when you’re planning them and too short when you get there.  However, I’ve found a home away from home on the Iberian peninsula.  As a matter of fact, with just one trip, you’d feel like it was home as well.  The welcome is warm, the jokes are well-worn, the food is delicious and the drink is, well, El Xampanyet.

Just a few steps down the street from the Picasso Museum in Barcelona is my home away from home.  It’s not much when you pass by.  Just some “botes” hanging from the doorway, and a glimpse of tile and nice white marble bar.  However, a cursory walk by misses what lives at the heart of El Xampanyet.  It’s the soul of the family the runs it.  (The owner and patriarch is pictured above.)  At least three generations are there, manning the bar, serving up sardines that explode in your mouth like  M-80s and delightful cherry bombs of goat cheese stuffed red peppers.  The house drink is, of course, El Xampanyet (a sort of Cava-spritzer) but everything else is available with which to satisfy your thirst.

There’s rarely a place to stand and it’s even harder to find a place to sit.  Crowds come in before going for the big night out.  Every night.  During our last trip there, we shared the area in front of the bar with everyone from trade show tourists to self proclaimed Spanish royalty.  The funny thing was, they gave drinks to everyone at the same speed.  They were gracious, did their best to remember our last visit, and made sure the lady with us did not go thirsty. ( Really, she tried to, but they wouldn’t have it.   I’ve never seen club soda forced on anyone.)

The Spanish proverbs that hang on the wall just add to the ambiance.  Loosely translated, one says, “When feeling ill, inject platelets of jamón and red wine.”  Sage advice – heeded. When you’re there, you feel like an honorary Spaniard.  There’s no pretense, just tons of good food, very little elbow room and a cold, glistening silver tap to make sure your caña is never empty.  ¡Viva El Xampanyet!