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Field Notes — Barcelona

Before there was a Juliet, there was a trip to Barcelona. After there was a trip to Barcelona, there was a burning desire to share all things found there. There was a pop up restaurant…really more of a “temporary restaurant”, something we sort of pioneered along the way. Think pop up, but with a home address, regular staff, and credit with vendors; and an expiration date.

Appropriate for the themes of Barcelona…this pop up (Gitana) was ethereal, spontaneous, and frankly, perfect. Housed in the corridor of a music venue owned by a friend, Gitana reached out and grabbed our hearts, casting a spell that held our attention, until she was through with us…never to be heard from again. Until she was ready.

Of all the places we had seen and loved, that WERE incorporated into the development of Juliet and eventually this magazine, Barcelona laid quiet. That is until 2019 when she roared back into our awareness with a brand new dinner menu, Cuina Catalana: alchemy of tradition and innovation, as well as an entire new restaurant.

Peregrine, the second restaurant by Juliet + Company, was on the face of it, celebrating Sardinia. But what we found in Sardinia, led us directly back to Barcelona and largely, Catalonia. More on that later.

How perfect then, that the first installment of this guide, will finally put to use all of those long dormant notes, in so many ways at once:

Catalonia is technically, currently, in Spain. Mostly. But it is a place all of its own. With a cuisine all of its own. A cuisine that eventually evolved into something that changed restaurants forever. 

The modern tasting menu was born in Catalonia, at El Bulli. Well…depends who you ask. The tasting menu format in European restaurants was probably actually born in the mind of Paul Bocuse when he was exposed to Kaiseki style dining in Japan, and used the presentation and pacing to finally realize his mentor’s (Ferdnand Point) dream of reinventing French cuisine into something lighter than the classics it made famous.  (That’s another section)

In Catalonia…this format was used by Ferran and Albert Adria to create what we now call modernist cuisine. 

Ironically, the birthplace of modernist cuisine (foams, powders, things that explode and pop, and single bites of food magically suspended in the air) is the site of some of the simplest and most delicious in its simplicity cuisine anywhere. 

Jose Andres, disciple of the Adrias, Nobel Prize nominee, pre-eminent modernist cook himself (sometimes), and general all around super hero: 

“Chefs love to talk about respecting the product…in Spain they actually mean it. Most of what we’ve eaten this trip has been two ingredients: product and salt. No umami this or spicy that. No sauces or weird spices." (Grape Olive Pig, Matt Goulding")

This place has now fully embraced both styles, and continues to quietly influence cuisine and restaurants around the globe. 

Cuina Catalana is an homage to both. 

The largest city in Catalonia is Barcelona. This menu, introduced for the first time in 2019 is the first time Catalonian flavors and traditions have been overtly featured at Juliet, although some of them have long been baked into the foundations here, Barcelona was one of the sites of pilgrimage that led to the development of Juliet in the first place (in addition to Paris, Seville, and Nice). 

The timing of the introduction of this menu to Juliet is not at all random. Although Catalonia is MOSTLY in Spain, it is not exclusively in Spain. It stretches as far as the north of Sardinia, and its largest city, Alghero, which is called L’Algher in Catalan. 

The opening of Cuina is timed almost exactly with the opening of our second restaurant, Peregrine. Peregrine looks Italian, mostly on its surface, but the most specific Italian traditions at Peregrine are actually Sardinian (with some influence from neighbors Sicily and Corsica (France) thrown in), and in those Sardinian traditions are plenty of the Catalonian foundations of L’Algher. 

Catalonia has long been a place of magic and mystery, paired with a sort of nonchalant approach to eating, working, and living. Like the exploding olives on your plate for dinner are just another detail of the day, as ordinary as the simply grilled shellfish and lemons you had for late breakfast, or the jamon you had for lunch. 

Catalonia is the place of the Adria’s, but also Salvador Dali, and Gaudi. In Catalonia, churches melt, upwards from the ground, suspended in reverse (seriously, look it up), while the collective imagination, focused through the lens of its artists and chefs makes anything possible. 

Anything possible, indeed. The premier of Cuina Catalna at Juliet was also the moment that we stepped away from service for the first extended period, something we had held our heads in their hands not three years prior and said would never be possible. 

In Catalonia, anything is possible; never easy, rigorously challenging, and worth every minute. A perfect day in Catalonia begins and ends with "What if…”

Have fun. 

Oh, take your time with it. Leave room for discovery. Leave a little mystery. And don’t leave room for coffee. In Catalonia, you linger at the table. They have a word for it (everywhere in Spain, really), Sobremesa.

In greater Spain Sobremesa may involve discussion (animated of course, that to us would look like arguing), business deals, maybe a bit of singing or dancing in Andalusia.

In Catalonia…Sobremesa is a time of invention and possibility, a time for a look up at the stars, or deep into the collective history of the Earth. A time to hatch ideas, revolutions, or to make the impossible, possible. Offer the coffee.

 

Barcelona is a place to eat. As much and as often as possible.

Nevermind this is the place that invented food that explodes in your mouth and eats itself. The baseline, every day, grab and go, what everyone is eating, everywhere, that defines Barcelona dining and food culture is better than anywhere. else. on. Earth.

You almost can’t go wrong. Don’t eat with an ocean view unless you packed the food yourself OR you have a recommendation from a local. Don’t get us wrong, DO eat with an ocean view in Barcelona under these conditions. You can pack that picnic by stopping first at La Boqueria Market. There are something like hundreds of fresh food vendors ranging from fruit and vegetables to Jamon and other cured meats, to fresh butchers, and OF COURSE, literal tons of seafood. Good luck getting out of there still hungry though, the inner rings of the market are mostly counters serving food ready to eat…mostly fish and vegetables, all of it prepared “a la plancha”, and each bite of simple grilled meat, fish, and inexplicably flavorful produce, barely kissed with salt and lemon, will attempt to ruin your appetite for anything different, ever again.

Luckily though, this being Barcelona, there are plenty of spots ready to fix that problem for you. And each of them will succeed. You might shock yourself back to reality with a dose of the unimaginable. Albert Adria (younger brother to the ever famous Ferran) owns 3-5 restaurants in the city (yes, 3-5, it seems they are always growing and shrinking, changing like the city itself), the most notable of which would be Bodega 1900, where you can find simple dishes of marinated mussels, Jamon, and sea urchin, alongside modernist classics like those El Bulli olives you’ve heard of, OR Tickets, a high flying act of creativity and reinvention themed after the circus and acts of stage magic. Despite these modern leanings, and honest to god complete reinvention on how cuisine is produced, true to Barcelona roots…what you will find in these places is surprisingly simple and delicious, even as it is sometimes unrecognizable.

You came for the tapas, right. Well…sure you’ll find tapas bars all over, but in Barcelona it’s not quite what you might have heard. Food is big here. And on display. It is not all a [delicious] after thought to pouring a drink. So even in the tapas bars of Barcelona….we recommend visiting with an appetite. You’ll miss out if you don’t. Our favorite: Cal Pep. Just tell them how much you would like to eat and leave the rest to them. Enjoy the wine.

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