Thursday, September 18, 2014


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With so many restaurants in the city of Barcelona, it is truly difficult to make a selection. Certainly you can check out review sites or some suggestions from bloggers who live there, but the most reliable indicator of a good restaurant, for me is to take a look at what's on the tables and if it's at all possible, try to inhale the aromas.  Smell is such a strong component of taste, I find myself relying on it more and more. This, however, is not what drew me to MariscCo in the Placa Real, just off La Rambla. It was a starter that caught my eye, a Zucchini Mille Feuille with Hummus.


The eye appeal alone caused one woman to stop at our table and ask what it was that I had ordered. It did not take long to refocus my attention and take the first bite. It was surprising. The thinly cut zucchini strips wrapped the hummus into two basket weave bundles on the plate, with diced, marinated tomatoes added for color as well as flavor. The olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and dried oregano marinade had been evident upon visual inspection, but the cumin, added with a light touch, was the punctuation needed to make sense of the chef's intention in this Middle Eastern, Mediterranean fusion salad. 

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MariscCo's gazpacho was as good as any other we have tried this week, accompanied by the traditional condiments of croutons, onions, and bell peppers. It was their Patatas Bravas that stood out from the others we had ordered; finally there was enough heat in the sauce which was a combination of a pepper sauce and mayonnaise drizzled on separately. The potatoes were especially tasty because of the oil that had been used in their frying process.


Their Ensalada Altun was traditional rather than inspired and could have been better with something other than balsamic vinegar. We have yet to see a wine or sherry vinegar in Barcelona, and considering the proximity to Banyuls, just over the border in France, we haven't seen Banyuls vinegar either. The balsamic adds a sweetness that doesn't work especially well with the tuna.

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Because it was hot and humid, I opted for a tuna carpaccio with avocado. Served with micro greens, black sesame seeds and honey, this didn't quite work either. What is the attraction of pairing tuna with something sweet? Giving it a chance, my position was only strengthened. Once I eliminated the honey which was mercifully drizzled on the other side of the plate, the dish was much better. The carpaccio was actually a tartare with inclusions of green olive and carrot, neither of which made any perceptible difference in taste, though they did improve the texture. Served with baguette toast, it was refreshing and perfectly suited for warm weather.

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Dessert was a simple and small Creme Catalan; I've never seen a smaller baking dish. It amounted to an under cooked Creme Brûlée, less rich with a texture more like pudding than custard, so the size turned out to be advantageous.

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On another afternoon we returned with family members to try the Lobster Paella, which we had seen being served on our first visit. The paella tasted as memorable as it had smelled, and we were happy to have been lured back to MariscCo by this traditional Catalan paella. The waiter even seemed proud to be serving this signature dish of the restaurant.


The Galician Octopus, dressed in olive oil and paprika, with a sprinkling of course sea salt, seemed slightly undercooked, though flavorful. The skin was gelatinous and a bit off putting in texture, so the less adventurous of us at the table ceased trying it after one nibble. As a classic Spanish tapa, it would be well worth a try. Others we tried during the trip were cooked longer than this example and were delicious.


Although the steak was cooked to order and medium rare as requested, it was cut about half as thin as we had expected. It was a decent enough value, but I was reminded that I've seldom been pleased with steaks in Europe with the exception of Chianina beef in Florence.


Although dining al fresco along the porticos Placa Real was our preference, I took a walk inside the large dining room and discovered an “art piece” of Salvador Dali riding a baby rhino. It was as surreal as anything he had created especially in situ. A mention was made of it in the menu and it seems he once butchered a tiger here when the building space was a taxidermy shop, then commissioned the dissection of a baby rhino. Knowledge of this may have hindered the enjoyment of our meals had we been sitting in the dining room.

MarisCo Menu

Placa Real 8  
Barcelona, Spain 08002  
+93 412 4536  

Sunday, September 14, 2014


On the first evening of our most recent trip to Barcelona, we wandered, in a jet lag induced haze, to La Rambla, hoping the hyper activity of the area would help us to stay awake until a normal bedtime. Not wanting a heavy meal, we opted for a simple sandwich at Viena. As we walked into the Modernista era space and sat at the long, U shaped counter, we noticed that there were few patrons in the restaurant. Though that made it easy for taking photos,  for such a busy area, this seemed a negative indication of the quality we might expect. Even so we held our ground. In truth, we were too exhausted to give up our seats.

The service couldn't have been swifter and when I looked up, after taking my first bite of the Iberico entrapan, that was literally melting in my mouth, the place was so crowded, it wasn't entirely clear that we could get to the exit, which was less than ten feet away. An entrapan is unlike a bocadillo in the respect that it's bread is a baguette.

This particular sandwich was made with several types of Iberian ham including "jamon" made from pigs that had been fed acorns. This pork product had a characteristically sweet taste and a lush, velvety mouth feel that melted on the tongue. It was also riddled with streaks of fat. We spent the next few days looking for this same kind of Jamon Iberico  designated at Ballota, because it was so delicious and made sense of the Spanish fervor for "jamon".

Friday, May 30, 2014

Trattoria Bella Venezia in Venice

After reading a reputable restaurant guide to Venice, and seeing Bella Venezia praised as a good restaurant and not a tourist trap, among the many on Lista di Spagna, I decided to give it a try. I didn't even look at a fixed price menu, because I know those are always disappointing.


My mantra for dining in Italy is: Your best indication of a good restaurant is to follow your nose. After being seated in what was an entirely empty restaurant, and noticing the absence of not only other patrons, but also the lack of any aromas wafting through from the kitchen, my expectations suffered a bit. Then the bread basket arrived with bread rolls that did not appeal in looks nor taste.
Since they're traditionally used as a vehicle for getting sauce into one's mouth, any criticism would be entirely premature.

We ordered  fritto misto, composed of calamari with shrimp that was ordinary, as well as bland. It didn't include any other fish, like most fritto misto plates do, and was quite small in portion. "Ordinary" is not high praise in Venice.

My fish in porcini sauce was average and in Venice, "average" is not very good either. It had no eye appeal and came with nothing, not even a garnish unless you count the squiggle of balsamic that appeared on 2 of our 3 plates. It was unappetizing to look at and the porcini tasted more like frozen than fresh while the Italian word for frozen (surgelato) was not indicated on the menu.

The service was slow, there was only one waiter, but we were the only table being served. We struck up a conversation and I learned that the owners were not Italian, the waiter was Egyptian, and as I passed the kitchen on my way to the WC, I peeked in to see several microwave ovens and a lone Pakistani, possibly the person who microwaved the sauces and boiled the pasta. There was no indication of cooking on the stove or prep work, even with more  patrons inside the restaurant. This was my only time looking into a professional kitchen where I didn't see at least 3 employees. I regretted having looked.

My niece's lobster was actually decent, but for the price it should have been.
I have a belief based on experience, that cuisines often suffer when they are cooked by someone who has not grown up in the culture or has not had daily exposure to the nuances of the food, unless professionally trained.  After this experience and another in Venice, where we were served a Carbonara where the eggs were scrambled by an inexperienced cook, I now ask if the chef is Italian and make a point to eat regional dishes when traveling in Italy.

If a restaurant is using microwaves, chances are they heat a prepared item as it is ordered.  There were also no other patrons, so I could not listen to other patrons talking. The best restaurants are filled with people speaking the local language. Oh, and don't bother with restaurants that look half empty with an employee holding a menu in their hand, outside the front door.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Ai Promessi Sposi


One can find many spots to try cichetti  in Venice. Calle D'Oca, which becomes a lively place in the evening, is one of my favorites. That is so, not because it is the  very best, but because of what I recall of it from previous visits. 


It wasn't the salads, fried sardines, or even the small meatballs (polpettini), but the atmosphere of this very narrow street that drew me one block north of the Strada Nova near the Ca D'Oro vaporetto stop. We were introduced to this street not because of a guide book, but because of a small recessed light beaming from the door of Osteria al Bomba where we stood and saw the street extending by about 2 blocks.

The fog made the mood romantic and enticed us down the street, where we spotted Ai Promessi Sposi. I'm not even certain that it has  the same or an entirely different owner, but it remains charming and crowded. In those days, there were no more than 4 tables, because cichetti are generally eaten while standing at the bar. Their case of cichetti seemed much fuller and varied than what is being served now. 45 RPM records, in a variety of colors, acted as the primary decor. Now the restaurant has expanded into the building next door with a full dining room serving complete meals including  primi and secondo courses. Instead of old men, it's  packed with millenials.

Both beer and wine are available and the final tab is reasonable. Admittedly, I preferred the old decor. When was the last time you saw a wall of 45 RPM records?

Osteria La Bottega Ai Promessi Sposi
Calle D’Oca 4367 – Cannaregio
Closed Mon. lunch and Wed.

Ristorante Vittoria


When deciding what to do on a rainy day in Venice, nothing could be better than finding shelter and a good lunch. But that is not exactly how we found, perhaps, the most authentic Italian restaurant on Lista di Spagna. 

After several very disappointing and expensive dining experiences on Lista di Spagna in Venice, I decided to not eat anywhere that didn't have an Italian chef. When asking the waiter outside the corner restaurant at Ponte Guglie, if the chef was Italian, I must have hit a nerve, since he sent me packing to Trattoria Vittoria.

The waiter at Trattoria Vittoria laughed when I asked, and answered "Of course, would you like to meet him?" As we were seated, I could hear other diners speaking Italian; always a good sign. Before we knew it, the waiter was serving us a plain focaccia with lightly cooked San Marzano tomatoes on top, compliments of the chef. It was unexpected and delicious, drizzled in olive oil.

As a starter, we ordered the charcuterie plate filled with pancetta, salami, and prosciutto. It was so large it easily could have fed a family of four, but being two, we needed to finish it ourselves, and we were happy to do so.

At about that time, a torrential rainstorm started and we had a ringside seat, watching everyone scatter in all directions. Soon after, the chef arrived at our table to greet us and asked if we were enjoying his food. We were indeed.

Our main course consisted of Linguine Vongole and Pappardelle with Duck Sauce. Both were all we had hoped for and better. 

This was among the best meals we had eaten on this particular trip to Venice. The service was attentive, the ambiance very pleasant, and the chef participated in the experience, making it far from average, by interacting with his guests. We'll be back on our next visit to Venice.

I forgot to mention that we were served the best bread that we had found in Venice.

Trattoria Vittoria Website 

Cannaregio, Venice
Campo San Geremia
Vaporetto stop: Ponte Guglie