March 15, 2013

Tapas and Flamenco in Barcelona

El Xampanyet

Of course, like other cities in Spain, Barcelona is home to many, many tapas bars.

Cava and tapas at El Xampanyet

On our first evening we had dinner in el Barrio Gothic (the Gothic Quarter). Here we began at El Xampanyet, a small tapas bar specializing in cava (Spanish sparkling wine, similar to champagne), anchovies, and other canned seafood. The place was packed, but the staff helped find a small table for us. We ordered two glasses of cava and a variety of anchovies, canned mussels, and other preserved fish with a few sun-dried tomatoes. The seafood was nothing like I expected. Like the anchovies we had in San Sebastián, these were bigger than the variety Americans have become accustomed to hating on pizza and had a delicate pickled flavor. The canned mussels were preserved with pimentón (Spanish paprika), had a more meaty texture than a fresh cooked mussel, and tasted like smoke and sea. There was also some delicious salmon and the sun-dried tomatoes were some of the best I've ever had. And everything went perfectly with the cava.

The second tapas bar we visited, Tapeo.

After eating our small tasting plate, enjoying our cava, and watching the crowd at El Xampanyet, we headed to the next stop on our tapas crawl. While our first stop was planned, the remainder of our evening was serendipitous. As we walked out into the street, Tapeo, another tapas bar across the street and caddy-corner caught our eye. After checking the menu we went inside and took a seat at the bar. This place focused more on gourmet or artisan versions of traditional Spanish tapas.

Vino tinto y pan con tomate
(Red wine and Catalan bread with tomato)

To begin at Tapeo, we ordered glasses of local red wine from the Cataluña region. Next, we got pan con tomate (a traditional Cataluña bread rubbed with tomatoes, drizzled with olive oil, and seasoned with a bit of salt). While in this region of Spain I became accustomed to having this delicious bread with every meal except breakfast! We also ordered asparagus with romesco sauce. This is a sauce made with almonds or hazelnuts, roasted peppers, garlic, olive oil, and sometimes tomato. And, last, Jonathan ordered butifarra, a dish made with white beans and sausage. (The version of this dish here was served with truffle aioli.) The romesco sauce excellent and tasted of rich hazelnuts and sweet peppers with a subtle bit of garlic. It was perfect with the asparagus, wine, and bread. Jonathan thoroughly enjoyed - and ate every bit - of his beans and sausage.

Asparagus with romesco sauce
Butifarra (white beans and sausage)

After our tapas, we headed back out into the maze of streets that is Barcelona's Barrio Gothic. Soon another serendipitous event occurred. A caller at the door of a dimly lit performance space suggested we attend their flamenco show. Seeing this type of music and dance live had been on Jonathan's list of things to do, so we halted our tapas crawl and went to the show.

The theater / performance space (Espai Barroc) was in the courtyard and foyer of building that probably dated from medieval times. Inside the theater, several people were settling into chairs around a small stage. We found two empty seats close to the stage, got a glass of wine that was complementary with our admission, and settled in to await the start of the show. Luckily our timing was perfect and a few minutes later the lights dimmed and the performers emerged on the stage.

Snippets of the flamenco performance.

The musicians - guitar player and percussionist - began to play. Rhythm and melody filled the room. A singer soon joined with the haunting lyrics of the flamenco gypsy ballads. After some time the highlighted performers of the show joined the musicians on stage - the dancers. There was a pause in the music and then the male and female dancer began the sensual steps that make up flamenco. Their movements conveyed energy and emotion. Their focus and precise steps captivated the audience, including me. And their feet became part of the music.

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