Here’s the second of my posts about our most memorable food experiences during our travel together. Since we started with breakfast last time, I thought we might try lunch this time. And if there is a memorable lunch, it’s the one we had at a marvelous restaurant in Barcelona, Spain—La Rita.
Part of the reason this experience was so good was the contrast to what had happened the day before, during our first full day in Barcelona. We had done a lot of touring and after we finished touring Gaudi’s Casa Mila, Kathleen decided it was time to eat. We had previously decided that lunch would be our big meal of each day as Barcelonians don’t eat dinner until well after 9:00 pm and that is just too late for us. It also seems that on every trip we have one really bad food experience and this lunch was to be that experience.
Poor planning on my part had put us in a part of the city that I had not done my research on any restaurants (which I usually do). So we wandered looking for something on a menu that not only looked good but that we could fathom what it was. As most of you know, I am a pretty adventurous eater but my lovely bride isn’t as much. Especially when it comes to fish that we don’t know (she has shellfish allergies).
After turning down a number of places due to their limited menu we finally found a small Italian place who had items on their menu (pastas, etc.) that we recognized. But after we were seated we found that those items weren’t available at lunch when only a fixed-price menu (two course for 8 euro) was served. We had a choice of four appetizers and four entrees. We both went with the simple side salad as our appetizer and I had the calamari as my entree while Kathleen chose what the menu called “beef higado.” The waiter mimed to us that this was a part of the cow that came from somewhere near the flank. We kind of assumed (you know the saying) that it would be flank steak or something close.
After the waiter had brought our salad I suddenly realized that where he had been pointing on his body to indicate the part of the cow the meat came from was a little higher than the flank. So I got out my iPhone and did a quick Google search that revealed (just as the entrees arrived) that higado is LIVER. Now Kathleen likes most beef but not liver and since she doesn’t eat calamari, swapping was out of the question. Besides the liver problem, my calamari was awful–over-breaded with no sauces or even lemon and served over a bunch of poorly cooked french fries. Needless to say we got the check and got the heck out of there with most of our lunch consisting of our appetizer salad and a fairly decent roll. (Looking back on it, this was OK as we got PLENTY to eat for the rest of the week.) So that was our not-awesome lunch experience that brought us to the next day.
Since we had such a bad experience the day before, I tried really hard to wind up in a part of Barcelona that had one of my well-researched restaurants nearby. It is important to note (that I kind of mentioned above) that even though we had experienced late dinners in Italy and France on prior European trips, Spanish restaurants serve dinner latest of all. Many don’t open until 9:00 pm for dinner. That means we would be eating at 10:00 and that’s something we just can’t do. So we had previously decided that we would eat our main meal at lunch and just snack for dinner. Today we promised ourselves we would lunch in one of the restaurants we had previously found online—La Rita. Now, websites promise a bunch but seldom deliver on it. La Rita and it’s sister restaurant (where we ate lunch the next day) came through for us big time.
We arrived as they opened at 1:00 pm (lunch time in Barcelona is 1:00 to 3:30). If we had been even 10 minutes later we would have had to wait at least 20-30 minutes. The place filled up in minutes and mostly with what looked like locals. Lunch exceeded our expectations on every level. The food was outstanding. The service cordial and quick. The menu (available in English) excellent.
Kathleen started with an appetizer vegetable pie with mushroom sauce. I got to taste and it was wonderful. I had a “vegetable stack” of red peppers, mushrooms and eggplant that was topped with melted manchego cheese. Ooooh la la!
For our main course, Kathleen had the a lamb tangine with couscous, raisins and pine nuts. I went for one of the best pieces of duck I have ever had in my life with mango and raspberry. I wish I had kept taking photos of the food but I just got too busy eating to shoot pics.
For dessert Kathleen can’t remember what she had but I struck it rich with one of the most outstanding desserts of my lifetime, the Catalunyan national dessert. I am still not sure what it is called but it consists of a coffee/nougat ice cream, floating in a wonderful dark chocolate sauce covered with custard. I did some Googling and found that it might be Mato de Peralbes.
People, believe me when I tell you, you have never had anything like this. A few years later we went to a San Francisco restaurant that had a similar dessert called “Slap Your Mama.” It was so named because if you ate it for the first time you wanted to “Slap your mama” for not every having served it to you before. This was the same kind of experience. If I was from Barcelona and had never eaten this dessert, I would have slapped my mama.
So from a lunch of some of the worst calamari and liver to this one at La Rita it made a huge difference in our feelings about Catalan cuisine. I truly believe that this lunch ranks in the top ten meals I have eaten in my lifetime. It was scrumptious. Or maybe it was the contrast to the day before.
And I should mention that the service and the ambience were outstanding. And here’s the good news, unlike our breakfast place (The Elbow Room in Vancouver, BC) that has since closed, you can still eat at La Rita. We plan on going there again the next time we are in Barcelona (in 2022).
I should add that La Rita is part of a restaurant group. A group is different than a chain—a chain is a bunch of identical restaurants but a group is owned by one set of owners but they are all different. The next day we ate at another of their restaurants, La Fonda. Food was on the same par but the experience was better at La Rita.
Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.—Orson Welles