First of all, the restaurant itself is historic and amazing and gorgeous. It is nestled in the oldest part of the city, the Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter) and it is the oldest restaurant in the city. It was established in 1786. Can you believe that?
(By the way, the photos I put here today are not mine. I found them all with a Google search.)
The inside of the restaurant is much larger than you would think when you first walk in. There are at least three separate dining areas. We were taken to the largest of the three, a magnificent room filled with many little tables and dominated by a huge painting on the back wall that shows the restaurant and a street scene from the 1700s. There are many other paintings, too. There are also hundreds of framed photos and sketches of dignitaries and celebrities who have eaten at the restaurant over the centuries.
Mom, Lizzie and I were treated to lunch here by my mom's cousin Ferran. He is a wonderful man with a big personality. He speaks English and we were perfectly delighted to spend some time with him. Mostly he chatted with my mom in Catalan, which was fine with me. I loved hearing them talk and I had lots of time to look around the restaurant and sip my beer.
I think I have established that the atmosphere and the company was great, but let's talk about the real star of the show - the food. Not only is the restaurant itself wonderful, but the food was divine also.
We had the standard three course meal: primero, segundo, y postre (starter, second course and dessert). All of us started with the same thing: canelones. How can I describe this lovely dish that is so dear to my heart? I'll try to describe it from the inside out. The filling is typically meat - chicken or maybe pork or a combination - that is chopped very finely and flavored with a little onion, salt and pepper. Simple. The meat filling is wrapped in a light pasta-like covering. I say that it's like pasta, but different. It is very light and doesn't require much chewing. The rolls are then put in a pan and covered with a creamy bechamel-type sauce and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and baked with a quick broil at the end to brown the cheese on top.
Looking back in my journal about the meal, here is what I wrote:
My God. The first bite nearly brought a tear to my eye. The bechamel-type sauce was thick and rich and creamy. The meat was tasty. The whole bite was divine. It could not have been better.
Honestly, thinking back on it even now makes my mouth water. I would have been fine if that was the beginning and end of the meal. My second course was very good, but did not come close to bringing me the enjoyment and satisfaction of the first course. I probably didn't get the right second course to be honest. I got a steak, and like I said, it was very good. It was perfectly seasoned and cooked just how I like it. I have no complaints except that I should have got what my mom and Ferran had which was calamares a la romana.
Calamare, of course, is squid. What I like about these calamares is that there are no legs, just perfect circles of tender squid fried in a light batter. You get a slightly spicy romescu sauce in which to dip the calamares. I would repeatedly make the mistake of not ordering the calamares throughout the trip, one of my few regrets. The good thing is that my mom almost always ordered the calamares and she was very kind about sharing one or two circles of squiddy goodness with me. Next time I'm in Barcelona, I will definitely eat more calamares a la romana.
Are you curious about romescu sauce? You should be. It's pretty unique. I found a recipe that is probably pretty accurate that says the sauce is made with mild chili peppers, tomatoes, garlic and ground almonds along with a bit of olive oil and vinegar. I've never had anything like it.
Both the canelones and the calamares with romescu are very typical dishes from the Catalan region. My grandmother made excellent canelones. My mom's canelones are delicious as well. I've never even tried to make them. The pasta-like wrapper is a special order thing . I'm sure I could find it on a Spanish food website, but I'm a bit nervous to try to make them myself. I may have to suck it up and give it a try, though. To me, they are a special occasion treat.
For dessert, I had a lemon mousse cake. It was light and topped off the meal wonderfully. I'm a fan of citrus-y desserts.
There you have it - a three course, typical Catalan meal in one of the coolest restaurants in the city. If you are ever in Barcelona, I highly recommend that you give Can Culleretes a try. Get a reservation. They get very busy, but it is worth taking the time.