Let’s do lunch…in Barcelona

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.

Can you tell Kathleen enjoyed her lunch?

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

Let’s start with a sarcastic breakfast in Vancouver


If you saw my post from a few days ago you will know that I am going to start writing about our best food experiences over the 23 years that Kathleen and I have been together. Most of them have taken place all around the world so they kind of relate to travel.

To start organizing my memories, I made a list of my favorite dinner, lunch and breakfast experiences. So let’s start at the beginning of the day with breakfast. I love eating breakfast in a restaurant but we seldom do. Even on trips we often have breakfast someplace normal. For instance we spent five days in Barcelona and I am ashamed to say that we ate breakfast every day at a Starbucks a block from our hotel. I know, it’s sad. But in Barcelona there is so much great lunch and dinner food that we needed to watch our caloric intake.

Another reason we don’t have an amazing record with breakfast while on the road is that it is often hard to find a great breakfast place. If you Google “best breakfast in XXXXXX city” you really don’t get great places. I have actually seen Denny’s and IHOP show up as the best restaurant in random US cities. Now I have nothing against you grabbing a Moon over Mihami or a Rooti Tootie Fresh and Fruity, but that’s not for us.

To give you an idea of what I mean, my favorite thing to eat for breakfast is a dish called “Tom’s Favorite Breakfast” served at Lola, a Tom Douglas restaurant in downtown Seattle. The dish changes seasonally but always has octopus in it. So as you can see, I have strange taste when it comes to breakfast.

But this series is less about food than it is about eating experiences. And we have a doozy of a food and travel experience to start with. Sadly, this takes place in a restaurant that is no longer open, Vancouver BC’s Elbow Room. There is talk that it may be revived in another location someday but for now, it is closed.

Kathleen and I first discovered The Elbow Room on our second or third trip to Vancouver sometime in the late 90s. The restaurant first opened in 1983. I had read someplace that if you were looking for an unusual place to have breakfast in Vancouver  you had to try The Elbow Room. We went and we loved it. Not because of the food (which was PLENTIFUL and also delicious) but because of the experience.

The Elbow Room was a one-of-a-kind place because just going in the front door, you needed a very thick skin. Let me give you an example. On our first visit, we walked in and the server we encountered pointed at a table. Didn’t seat us, just pointed. A few minutes later he came by with water and asked if we had seen the specials on the chalkboard before we came in. We said we hadn’t and his response was, “Then go back out and read them!” Then he walked away without saying anything else. At this point (because we had heard about the place in advance) we knew we were in for a bumpy but fun ride.

Sure enough when he finally returned to the table, he brought us coffee and took our order. And along the way we had overheard him insulting or being snarky to pretty much everyone else in the place. He was the king of snark. It was truly fun to watch people who came in after us and had no clue what the place was about get insulted and mocked. Some were aghast and others got it in a few minutes.

When our waiter came back with our food we asked for more coffee. He pointed at the pot across the room (almost behind the counter) and said, “Get it yourself!” We had a good laugh over that one…after I got us more coffee. BTW: Not that it matters but every waiter working there has been flamboyantly gay except the one time when we were “served” by one of the owners (he’s the fellow on the left in the linked video below) who was just cantankerous even though he called himself a flaming queen.

The photo at the top of this article (taken during our best experience there ) is proof. The restaurant itself was a huge supporter of the LGBTQ community and even had a musical written about it. I have searched the web to find a copy of the “rules” of The Elbow Room which were printed on the back of the menu. They all pretty much came down to this: if you are thin-skinned and can’t take a joke, you are in the wrong place. You can kind of read them in this shot of their big blackboard. *8 always cracks me up.

If you would like to see what The Elbow Room was all about, Kathleen found this really cool short video. Warning, it has some salty language…but that’s The Elbow Room. You can click here to watch the short film from the National Screen Institute of Canada.

Besides the fun, the food was superb and this was our first of many visits to The Elbow Room. But the best experience didn’t come until June 2017. Our good friends Paul and Gail, from Leeds, England had flown in so that they, us and 14 other Martini Mates could take an Alaskan cruise together. P & G had flown in early and we had picked them up at YVR (airport designation for Vancouver) and went to tour Vancouver for a couple of days before doing the same in Seattle. On our second morning there we told them we had to have breakfast at The Elbow Room. Being the fun friends that they are, they loved it. Even when our waiter (you can see him in the photo above with Paul and I) started referring to Paul (who some may think of as vertically challenged) as Papa Smurf.

I cannot remember a single breakfast when the company has been so good, the service so snarky, funny and truly unique and the food so delicious. It’s one of those times I will remember. Especially since The Elbow Room is now gone. We will miss it.

There are different kinds of humor, some is sarcastic, some introspective. Introspective fit my personality better.—Rita Rudner

Rita would not have done well at The Elbow Room.