where we stayed in Barcelona

Having only two nights in Barcelona, we were torn between staying at a standard Starwood property or (we thought) upgrading to swankier place like the ME Barcelona. In the end, swanky won out but we were a little disappointed in the actual experience.

We had an ocean view room on the 15th floor and although the view was true to it’s word, the room design left something to be desired. The curtains were on an automated system that was not well explained and when we finally got the heavy curtains opened, there was only a 4 foot wide view that wasn’t blocked by the television or metal decor.

the view from the bed (very narrow)
the sea view from our bed

our view from the 15th floor
the sea/city view

Thankfully, the bed was comfy and the amenities were as advertised. Our room was well-sized and the bathroom had a good size soaking tub as well as a shower. Unfortunately, the bath took approximately 30 minutes to fill-up.

Overall the service was a bit sloppy. For example, we were told we could print our boarding passes in the business office, but when we went there the printers weren’t turned on and there was no staffing the office to ask for help. After a call to the front desk we emailed a PDF of the tickets to the reception desk for printing but it was an unnecessary extra step. The breakfast service was a bit slow although the food was fine.

The location was quite a bit far from many of our favorite spots and the area wasn’t as active as we had hoped. Next time we would stay closer to the Gothic Quarter so we could spend less time commuting.

drinks and tapas in Barcelona

La Vinya del Senyor—This little place is right next to the La Seu Cathedral in the Gothic Quarter. On our first visit we were lucky (early) enough to score two stools at the bar and enjoy two glasses of wine. The atmosphere grows more lively later in the evening, so I can imagine when the weather is warmer that the ample outdoor seating would be completely full also.

Bosc de les Fades Cafe—We visited this bar primarily for the unique atmosphere, but we also found the sangria (on tap!) to be quite tasty. The pub is part of the wax museum and attached to the gift shop. Unfortunately, our camera was unable to capture the proper mood because it was so dim. At one point, there was artificial lightning, thunder and wind sounds which only added to the grotto-like feel of the place.

bosc de los fades cafe

Lonja de Tapas—We stopped in here for a brief snack and glass of wine to get out of the rain and fill our bellies before an afternoon siesta. It was fairly full for 3pm and the croquettes were good. Please note that the bread with tomato and olive oil they bring you (without asking) is not complimentary. Made me miss Madrid with their complimentary tapas a little bit.

Tapeo—Before heading out for the evening, Eric found a street in the Gothic Quarter that we hadn’t explored yet, so we researched a few tapas places and this one was high on the list. We scored a table right by the bar and while the service was a bit slow, the owner was full of information about the history of beer in Spain and various menu items. The croquettes were delicious and the wine was well priced. There was no official  “wine list,” you just looked up on a shelf that ran the length of the restaurant to spot bottles with prices on them.

our wines @ Tapeo

Taller de Tapas—We ate dinner here one night and returned for dessert the following evening since Eric loved their chocolate profiteroles! Dinner was tasty – the dessert even better and we got to sit outside with the heat lamps and sip fantastic dessert wines. This restaurant is very popular but worth the wait for a table.

Taller de Tapas

a weekend in Barcelona

While we were on our two-week Asia trip, American Airlines announced a double qualifying miles promotion through the end of Jan 2012. These EQMs are how we qualify for frequent flier perks like early boarding, free checked bags, upgrades, etc. So after our return stateside ,Eric started looking around for a trip so we could take advantage of the promotion and found some well-priced and well-timed tickets to Barcelona at the end of January.

street art

We spent a week in Barcelona in June 2008 and it’s been one of our favorite cities ever since. However, we’ve traveled quite a bit since then, so we were a little concerned that it wouldn’t live up to our memories. Thankfully we had just as much fun this time around!

As before, our favorite section was the Barri Gòtic, the Gothic Quarter, where narrow cobblestone streets lead to winding alleys and lots of restaurants and shops.

typical street in Gothic Quarter

La Seu Cathedral was across the street from a wine bar we enjoyed so we ducked inside to warm up a bit and check out the interior.

La Seu Cathedral

Leandra had good luck clothes shopping in Madrid, so on Saturday we headed up to Passeig de Gracia, the famous shopping street of Barcelona. Once again Leandra found a couple shirts at Shana and a new pair of walking shoes from Camper.  As most of the stores in this area are aimed at women, at least Eric had interesting architecture to admire.

Casa Mila
Gaudi’s Casa Mila on Passeig de Gracia

Santa Caterina market
Santa Caterina market

out and about in Madrid

We spent quite a bit of time getting from place to place in Madrid – its a large city! The public transportation, while extensive, was also a massive undertaking in terms of walking. There were times where we walked for almost close to ten minutes just to transfer to another line without ever leaving the underground station. That said, we did manage to see (and photograph) a few of the more scenic sites around the city.

Our schedule was breakfast first thing, then walking around for a while in Old Town, retiring to our room mid-afternoon for a foot break/nap then heading out for drinks and dinner. I could get used to that.

Palacio de Cristal in Retiro Park
Glass house in Park Retiro

botanical garden tulips
colorful tulips at the Madrid Botanical Gardens

Palace grounds

street scene near Palace
Madrid street scene near the Palace

Decisions, decisions
have you ever seen that much ham in one place?!?!

Reina Sofia and the Prado

We couldn’t pass up a chance to visit to visit two of the top museums in Europe on our trip to Madrid, so we hit the Reina Sofia on Saturday afternoon (free after 2:30pm!) and the Prado on Sunday afternoon. We both ultimately preferred the modern art museum due to our love of Dali and the large collection of his was a pleasant surprise. While Picasso’s Guernica was suitably large and emotional, the crowds and ropes made it hard to enjoy fully. The Erro work below was one of my favorites.

Gudmundsson Erro, The Victors of Leningrad Supported by the Colour-Blind Monster Matisse

Erro (selection)
Gudmundsson Erro, detail

Salvador Dali, Cenicitas (Little Ashes)

Three Graces
Peter Paul Rubens, Three Graces

I could have sat in front of this painting all day. The whole hall was filled with works illustrating mythology and Gods, very intriguing.  Both museums were absolutely worth the price of admission.

how Amalah helped me perfect my patatas bravas

Last year Amy Storch (amalah.com) and her husband Jason (dcfoodies.com) appeared on an episode of Throwdown with Bobby Flay as judges. The challenge was moules frites and there are not many things on this Earth I like more than moules frites (except maybe steak frites, but wait, is my Midwest meat-and-potatoes root stock showing?) So, essentially the only reason I knew about this episode was because I read about it on Amy’s blog. (Which is generally really funny, you should check it out especially if you have young kids.)

During the show, the chef at Granville Moore’s in Washington DC revealed his secret for getting his frites super-crispy and delicious. He freezes the potatoes first! Let’s be honest, I make tater tots all the time (you’re welcome, Eric) but it never occured to me to freeze fresh cut potatoes before frying them.

After returning from Barcelona, my several attempts at patatas bravas were met with just okay results. I could not get the potatoes crispy enough on the first round of frying. However, after cutting them up into 1/2 inch chunks and sticking them in the freezer for an hour or so, success! It still takes a bit of trial and error to get the oil temperature constant but I usually fry them for about 8 minutes total so the inside in soft/cooked and the outside is golden brown/crispy.

To finish them off, saute one Tbsp of green garlic or shallots in 1 Tbsp olive oil until they start to color, then stir in 1 Tbsp smoked paprika (yes, it has to be the smoked kind, preferably Spanish). Combine this mixture with about 1/4 cup of each ketchup and mayo, mix well, then drizzle over plate of potatoes. It’s like being back in Spain. Yum.

More interested in the mussels? Here’s a video of the moules preparation.

a little taste of Spain

Paella Valencia (my version)

2 Tbsps extra-virgin olive oil
16 ounces boneless chicken thighs, cut into chunks
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup onion, julienned
8 ounces white wine
10 ounces petite canned diced tomatoes, drained
1/2 Tbsp smoked paprika
pinch saffron (crush before adding)
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
10 ounces uncooked short grain rice
20 ounces chicken broth
about 10 medium shrimp (peeled and deveined)
about 12 bay scallops
1/2 lemon, cut into 8 wedges

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a paella pan, heat the olive oil and saute the chicken until it is golden. Add garlic, bay leaf and onion. Saute until onions are transparent. Add white wine, tomatoes, saffron, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil for 3 minutes. Then, add rice and chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add seafood and cover the paella pan with foil and bake in oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Garnish with sliced lemon wedges and serve.

Results: The rice turned out great, but I definitely needed to use more spice overall, so I upped the numbers in the ingredient list above. The seafood was cooked fine; I would probably use sea scallops quartered next time just because I Like their flavor better. Not too shabby for my first attempt! :)

Note: We borrowed a friend’s paella pan for this as you really need a flat bottomed pan to make sure the rice cooks evenly.