Can Pineda Restaurant – My absolute and a local favorite off Barcelona’s beaten path

Restaurant Can Pineda

As most of you know, I am living in an empty house, with just a few kitchen utensils, waiting on my impending move to Madrid.  Eating out has become more of a necessity rather than a luxury.  But, all that said, Can Pineda is a luxury only reserved for special occasions, such as birthdays, anniversary’s etc.  It isn’t somewhere you can make it to everyday, or once a month even.  Your wallet and your waistline would suffer, that I can assure.  It most definitely is somewhere you HAVE to go one time, or 3 as I have been.

This time around the special occasion was my birthday a few weeks ago.  Paolo introduced me to this place way back in 2009, and go ever so often to whet our appetites when we can.

Again, Can Pineda did not disappoint.  One look at the menu and I knew I was in culinary heaven.  Being truffle season, the menu did not disappoint.   We decided to go the full monty, and order whatever tuber-inspired item was on there, with a good measure of Chuleton!

The place itself is fantastic.  Packed with knowing locals, who return time after time, it is a nice change from my neighborhood, which caters mostly to tourists.  The decoration is slightly kitsch bordering on outdated, more like your grandmother’s kitchen, rather than culinary hotspot.  But, all those insignificant details are forgiven the moment you place your first forkful in your mouth.

Our first plate was a simple, and the only way it should be really, yet perfect plate of Tagliatelle with White Truffle-

White Truffle Pasta

 

Butter, pepper and a small fortune of the good stuff, Tuber Magnatum, or better known as White Truffle from Alba.  The reigning queen of the truffles.  We decided to share all of our dishes, so we could taste more than just two, and I was left wanting more.  Not that the portion was small, it was perfect, it’s just that I don’t get to eat white truffle very often so I wanted to go all Miss Piggy on it.

Next up, is a Can Pineda classic.  None other than the orgasm inducing Poached egg, Seared Foie Gras, Shaved Black Truffle over a bed of blood sausage.

Poached egg, foie gras, black truffle

 

This is what I call paradise.  The egg, that humble ingredient, is totally elevated to royal status in the company of foie and truffle.  For being a half sized portion, this was enormous.  We each got a whole egg, (otherwise, how do you separate a poached egg?)  Loaded with the good stuff, there was nary a crumb left when we finished.

Up next, a Catalan classic, meatballs in a wild mushroom ragout –

Iphone 2012 599

 

The meatballs were as soft as pillows, the ragout was rich and unctuous.  This is Catalan food through and through, these flavors are unmistakable.

And our final plate, the pièce de résistanceChuleton de Vaca Vieja,  which is basically bone in prime rib from “old cow”.

Iphone 2012 601

 

And no, we don’t eat it this rare, we were brought our own very personal hot stone to cook it on, which I love.  Paolo likes his very rare, and I medium rare.  That way, each of us gets our way!

Iphone 2012 600

 

Iphone 2012 602

 

Can Pineda will always be one of those places that we return to on our visits back to Barcelona.  And it should be on the top of your list too, whenever you come!

Carla

Can Pineda

Calle Sant Joan de Malta 55

08018 Barcelona

+34 93 308 3081

http://www.canpineda.com

 

 

Restaurant La Estrella – A fantastic surprise in Barcelona’s Borne Neighborhood

Restaurante La Estrella

I have lived in Barcelona for 10 years.  Currently, I live in the Borne neighborhood, in the heart of the city’s old town, where tourists out number the locals.  Restaurants in this area generally cater to the former, so as a local it is almost impossible to find some place that isn’t completely overrun by snappy waiters bringing you over priced and totally under-whelming food.

Not so in this case.  Tucked in a side street next to La Estacion de Francia, you would pass by this place and not even give it a second thought.  I myself have passed by about a thousand times, and only because a very good friend of mine, whom I trust completely when it comes to food and restaurants, told me that this was a pretty spectacular place.   Last night, Paolo and I decided to try it, because it was close to home and we really didn’t feel like cooking.  From the look of it on the outside, I honestly expected very normal food, more like these places you go to that have some salads, some croquetas, some beef, some fish but nothing out of this world.  One look at the menu, and boy, how wrong I was.

The first thing I realized, that if you like cod, this is the place to go.  Barcelona is a city that adores its cod.  You can find it in so many different ways, from fritters to salads, to croquetas and then more than 20 main dishes.  Stuffed with foie, “a la llauna” which loosely translates in the can, but that just means it’s braised in sauce in an earthenware dish, al pil pil….the list goes on.  La Estrella had about 6 different dishes paying homage to this humble yet delicious fish.

The Maitre, Jordi, came to our table, and started to explain all the dishes that were off the menu that night.  First of all, let me tell you it is a true joy to go to a restaurant that has no Michelin stars and find such impeccable and truly passionate service.  You can tell that this is what he loves to do, and it comes through.  After he explained the aforementioned, we chose 3 dishes off menu.  How could we not?  We were completely enthralled and practically salivating at the descriptions.  And I kid you not, they surpassed our expectations.

After we placed our order, I chose one of my favorite white wines.  Vallegarcia Viognier, from Castilla- La Mancha.  He replied that it was an excellent selection, and promptly brought out a very large decanter on ice.  I was incredibly thrilled, because not many restaurants decant white wine for you, and I thought it was a wonderful touch.

Vallegarcia ViognierJordi explained that he loves decanting this wine, because it changes as it breathes.  I wholeheartedly agree.

We were brought out an amuse bouche of Codfish Brandade, very popular here in Catalonia and also in Southern France, it’s a smooth mousse of cod baked in cream and spices.  Rich, decadent and delicious.

Codfish Brandade

 

It’s more common incarnations is actually stuffed in piquillo peppers, but I love the stuff, and was very happy that it was schmeared on some buttery toast.  Perfect small bite that was a harbinger of the rest of our amazing meal.

Our first appetizer was razor clams from the delta of the Ebro river with walnuts sautéed in olive oil.

Razor Clams

 

Our maitre explained that these razor clams from the delta, are much smaller than the ocean variety that you find here.  Also, being much sweeter and fatter on the inside, the one very big difference is that they contain no sand.  We were pleasantly surprised to find he was right, not a trace to be found.  The walnuts were a perfect match, giving it umami, and not even salt was necessary since the razor clams were super sweet and tender.  I personally devoured about 8 of them in the matter of minutes.

Next up is one of the house classic specialties, Gratineed Asparagus with Cabrales cheese and sautéed walnuts.

Gratineed Asparagus with Cabrales Cheese and Walnuts

 

Cabrales cheese is a very strong blue cheese from Asturia.  On its own it can be overwhelming in taste.  Combined with the nuttiness of the asparagus and the walnuts that tempered it, it became softer and more nuanced.  Something that needs to be mentioned, is that the asparagus were cooked to perfection.  Perfectly crispy.  There is nothing more horrible than limp watery asparagus.  This dish is meant to be eaten with some bread, because you will be mopping up the cheese after you’ve eaten all the asparagus.

Now on to our main dishes.

I went for another reiteration of “Surf and Turf”, this time with something that I just started eating this year.  Pigs trotters.

Pigs Trotters with Porcini mushroom and shrimp sauce

 

What a fabulous combination!  Completely de-boned pigs trotters, lightly crusted with bread crumbs, with porcini mushrooms and a shrimp sauce.  This is Catalan food at its best.  Taking one of the most unassuming and honestly peasant like foods and pairing it with royalty, the porcini and a smooth veloute of shrimp.  The layers of flavors is amazing, the brininess of the shrimp veloute, then you get a punch of the smokiness of the trotters, lastly being rounded out with the earthy umami of the porcini’s.  I was glad that we chose off menu.

The star of the night, in my and Paolo’s opinion was the tuna.

Yellowfin Tuna with smoked salt and tomato confit

 

The über fresh (brought it at 9pm that night) Yellowfin Tuna, with a touch of smoked sea salt and tomato confit.  One bite and fireworks went off in our mouths.  The tuna, being so fresh, was treated like any fresh fish should, let it sing on its own.  The smoked salt elevated the tuna, and the tomato confit was the perfect partner in this amazing duo.  I secretly wished I had ordered this, not because mine wasn’t amazing, but I just know that tuna this fresh and perfect is hard to come by.

Now, on to our desserts.  By this time, I realized that the chef, a.k.a, the Maitre’s wife, had attended the same culinary school that I did.  That basically means, the desserts are going to be spectacular.

Tiramisu with chestnut ice cream

 

Tiramisu with home-made Chestnut Ice Cream.  It was delicious.  One of the best tiramisu’s I have tried here in Barcelona.  The Mascarpone was creamy and light, the biscuits soaked in espresso were dense and moist without falling apart.  The addition of chestnut ice cream was an excellent choice.

Paolo chose the homemade Salted Caramel ice cream.

Salted Caramel ice cream

 

Whoa Nelly!!!  I love caramel.  I love salted caramel.  I kept on going back between the two and uttering “Oh my God, it’s so good.”  Honestly, they were both amazing.   I can’t wait to go back because they have all these other desserts that I want to try, like a six layer homage to chocolate in different textures, a cactus and lemon sorbet, goat cheese ice cream….and a few more that I can’t remember but I know that when he mentioned them, I wanted to eat them all.

This is an absolute “must go” restaurant in Barcelona.  Service, food and wine all impeccable.  Go with an empty stomach, you won’t want to leave a thing on your plate!

Restaurant La Estrella

www.rst-laestrella.com

Calle Ocata, 6

08003 Barcelona

+34 93 310 2768

 

Coca de Escalivada at Cal Marquet : Catalan flat bread in the Mountains

This weekend was a friend of mine’s 40th birthday.  As per tradition, he celebrates it in his brother’s Macia (farm house) in Manresa, 60km outside of Barcelona. His brother raises and breeds pheasants, but he also has a zoo licence due to all the animals he keeps there.  I love going there, because it is very close to the city, but you feel as if you are in the middle of nowhere.  It’s an hours drive and one treacherous 2km dirt road up the mountain to reach Cal Marquet, but truly worth it, just for the views alone.  The actual building is almost 300 years old.  The family have kept the structure intact, but modernized all the rooms.  There’s an infinity pool, a sauna and a jacuzzi too.  So, coming up here is a real treat!

The view from the front terrace, where we had our dinner.

This year he asked me to cater Friday nights dinner, and I immediately thought we should do it family style because it was 25 of us, and I didn’t feel like being in the kitchen the whole night and missing the party.  I decided to make the Coca de Escalivada, because it is a very Catalan dish, and most of the guests were Catalan.  There are many types of Coca, from savoury to sweet.  Each city or region has its own version.  I decided on this one because it is easy to make, since I was also doing Beef empanadas, cheese borek (turkish style patties), spring rolls, jerk chicken wings and blue cheese and caramelized onion sliders.

Coca is actually very easy to make, with very little proofing.  The most laborious part really, is grilling the vegetables and peeling them.  But honestly, I will definitely make this recipe again, maybe using different toppings, but it was delicious and so easy.

So here’s what you’re going to need:

300g bread flour

1 packet instant yeast

2 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

50g shortening (not vegetable, lard, basically)

3 tbsp olive oil

120ml warm water

1 large red bell pepper

1 small eggplant

1 onion (I didn’t use it due to the birthday boy’s aversion to them)

1 can oil packed tuna, drained

6 large anchovy fillets

1 clove garlic

1 small sprig of thyme

1 tbsp parsley, chopped

pinch of salt

3 table spoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp pimenton (smoky paprika)

In the bowl of a stand up mixer, combine the flour, yeast, salt and sugar.  Add the shortening, olive oil and water and mix with the paddle attachment on low-speed, until the dough just comes together.  Now, switch to the dough hook, and mix on medium speed for 10 minutes.  (If you don’t have a mixer, then place the dough on a floured work surface and knead for 15 minutes.)  The dough should be smooth and pliable but spring back when it touched.  Place in a large, well oiled bowl and cover with a tea towel.  Put it in a warm oven (50 C) and let rest for at least an hour, or until doubled in size.

In the meantime, grill your vegetables.  I put my eggplant directly over the burner, because it gives it an amazing smoky flavour.

Do this until the veggies are completely charred on the outside.  Then place them in a plastic bag and let them sweat for about 10 minutes.  When they are cool to the touch, peel them, and slice into 1 inch long slices.  Set aside.

In a mortar, place the garlic clove, thyme, parsley and the pinch of salt, and mash to form a paste.  Add the olive oil and paprika and mix well.  Set aside.

When the hour is up, take the dough out of the oven, and raise the heat to 220 C.  On a well floured work surface, roll out the dough to a rectangle, the same size as your baking pan.  Lightly oil the baking pan, and place the dough on top, cover it tightly with plastic wrap and let rest another 30 minutes.

Unwrap the dough, and place the red pepper and eggplant slices on top, in an alternating pattern.

This actually resembles the Catalan flag.  Now, brush the top with the garlic paprika oil.  Wait a few seconds and give it a second coat, using up almost all the oil, making sure the garlic and herbs are evenly distributed.  Leave just a bit to brush after it’s out of the oven.

Place in the 220 C oven, and bake for 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven, and place the tuna and anchovies on top in alternating rows, and then brush with the remaining oil.  Serve hot, warm or cold.  It’s super versatile!

And now, here are some pics of the farm animals!

Catalan Donkey…..forgot his name but he’s soooo cute.

The cockatoo that says “Roberto”

Peacock strutting his stuff for his harem of hens

And he had all his ducks and geese, lined up in a row…..sort of.

Carmela de Espana, the Tibetan Goat.

Miss Piggy. Yes, that is her actual name.

Pegasus, the (non) flying horse.

View of Montserrat on the drive back home.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla