Best of Barcelona: Tapas, Wine & Cocktails


Barcelona is a bit of an enigma, a chic European city that somehow maintains the vibe of a laid back seaside town.  A mix of extraordinary architecture and culinary excellence, particularly when it comes to seafood. In between exploring soul-stirring masterpieces like the Sagrada Família and Casa Batlló by the city’s most revered son, Antoni Gaudí, take some time to immerse yourself in the culinary artistry that awaits seemingly around every corner … if you know where to look.  Below are some of my “can’t miss” highlights.  

Best Gourmet Market in Barcelona

My favorite place to start an exploration of any new city is the central market.  To me, there is no other way to quickly dig into the language, social customs and culture of a new place.  Barcelona counts perhaps the best market in the world, Mercado de La Boqueria, as one of its crown jewels.  You can spend hours meandering around the various stalls, sampling Spanish cheeses, olives and jamón, but be sure to allocate enough time to actually take a seat at one of the food stalls and settle into Spanish daily life.  Peaking at what the locals are ordering and following suit is almost always a fool-proof plan. One of the best stalls in the market is Pinotxo BarWhite Beans and Baby Squid at Pinotxo Bar in La Boqueria Barcelona SpainTheir house speciality is the chickpeas (which we missed twice, so arrive around opening time to have a fighting chance to try them), but everything is extraordinary.  Order a crisp glass of cava and pair it with a hearty dish of white beans and baby squid; wild mushrooms with Iberian pork sausage; or grilled shrimp with butter and garlic — or maybe all three like I did!  From there nestle in at nearby Ramblero for impossibly fresh and expertly prepared seafood. Order the “pescadito frito” — tiny little fish fried into ethereal briny bites (pictured above) — with a squeeze of fresh lemon.  You won’t believe it when you finish the whole basket. 

Great Tapas Bars in Barcelona

Of course, no review of Barcelona’s food scene would be complete without a mention of the city’s incredible tapas bars.  It would take a lifetime to give them all their fair due.  So let’s just agree to settle on two that won’t disappoint. Don’t let the descent into the basement fool you, a surprisingly convivial atmosphere awaits at the other end at Tapas 24.  Lots of beautiful Spanish wine available by the glass.  Bikini Tapa at Tapas 24 in Barcelona SpainPair a nice glass of Ribera del Duero with the “bikini,” a tiny little Spanish ham and cheese sandwich cut into triangles and hot-pressed to a golden crispness; mind-bending flavor in a seemingly humble bite.  The housemade cheesecake — baked to a bubbly brown and nothing like what you’ve had outside of Spain — is equally intoxicating. Baby Clams with White Wine Garlic and Herbs at Cal Pep in Barcelona SpainThen, head on over to Cal Pep.  Don’t be discouraged by the long line; grab a drink from the bar and start studying what those before you seem to be enjoying.  Order a plate of the teeny tiny clams with white wine and garlic and slurp your way to seafood nirvana. 

Best Cocktail Bar in Barcelona (and Maybe the World!) 

I don’t say this lightly: I had THE best cocktail of my life at Paradiso, crowned one of The World’s Best 50 Bars.  Pass through the tiny storefront pastrami shop and traverse through the freezer door (cynics note: yes, just do it).  A carved-wood tropical utopia awaits on the other side. Grab a seat at the bar, and let the cocktail spectacle unfold before your eyes.  If the “Aire de Jalisco” is still on the menu, consider yourself a lottery winner: premium silver tequila with coriander, fresh mustard and daikon sprouts, toasted corn syrup, lemon, ginger, red pepper, chili, cinnamon bitters and apple air.  West-central Mexico in a glass.  

Great Restaurant in Barcelona 

Not too far from Paradiso in the funky El Born neighborhood, you’ll find Llamber.  A sit-down restaurant with a relaxed atmosphere for those that need a break from the frenzy of the tapas bars.  We had a front-row view into the open kitchen and every single dish was an eye-catcher, evoking exclamations of “ooh, what’s that one?!” Smoked Sardines and Figs at Llamber in Barcelona SpainStandout dishes were smoked sardines with yogurt and caramelized figs; beet carpaccio with king prawns, raspberries and pistachios; and the seared beef entrecôte with mini potatoes in dill butter.  The young Italian bartender at Paradiso — who insisted we go to Llamber —declared this restaurant to be the producer of the best gnocchi outside Italy.  

Best Wine Bar in Barcelona

If you are a foodie like me (and I assume if you are reading this you are), there is nothing that sends a warm wave of euphoria through your body like stumbling upon a hidden gem like Bodega MaestrazgoScreen Shot 2020-02-23 at 5.21.43 PMAn unassuming little wine shop and bar in the heart of the El Born that’s been pouring curated glasses of wine since 1952.  Thousands of bottles line the walls and lead the way to the rustic wooden tables at the back. Nearby, the butcher expertly carves perfect slices of jamón Ibérico.  Candles flicker.  Service is friendly.  Everyone is smiling. This is the kind of place you can linger for hours, sampling an array of Spanish wines by the glass paired with generous platters of cured meats and cheese.  

Great Coffee Shop in Barcelona

Ironically, selecting Satan’s Coffee Corner for my list is probably the antithesis of the ethos of this establishment, which proudly displays a sign that snarkily proclaims “fuck Yelp and TripAdvisor” (among other things) near the front door.  Satan had me at hello. But if the coffee sucked, it would have been a distant memory. It doesn’t. Go.

Satan's Coffee Corner Barcelona Spain

Best Chocolate Shop / Bakery in Barcelona 

On an afternoon stroll intended to distract us from nonstop eating so we’d be ready for our next meal, a chance encounter with Chök The Chocolate Kitchen crushed those plans (at least temporarily).The smell of melting chocolate and toasting pastry is intoxicating.  An homage to the mighty cacao, the chocolate bars are some of the best I tasted in our multi-city tour of Spain.  Buy a stack of them for gifts; if you’re lucky you’ll have at least one to actually give away (they are pretty much irresistible on long-haul flights).  

Chök The Chocolate Kitchen Barcelona Spain

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Taste of Adventure 


Rebel of Paso Robles – Clos Solène Winemaker Blends Old World Tradition with New World Style


Clos Solène Bottles

“I don’t want to sound too French-y.” That was the moment of self-deprecation from the young winemaker, Guillaume Fabre of Clos Solène, that officially won over the room of tasters — assuming there were any that had not already been enchanted at the first sip of his 2015 Hommage Blanc (Wine Advocate 94 points), a crisp white Rhône-style blend of citrus and wet stone.

A third-generation winemaker from the South of France, Fabre spent his childhood through his early 20’s on the family winery tending to the grapes and learning the old world rituals behind producing exceptional wine. After graduating with a major in winemaking, enology and vineyard management at the Lycée Charlemagne, Fabre took an internship with acclaimed winery L’Aventure in Paso Robles in 2004.  His goals were simple: to learn English and perfect his craft.  Following his internship, and a brief stint at his parents’ property in Bordeaux, Fabre returned to Paso Robles with his muse, a young woman named Solène (now his wife), and a dream to make his own wine.  Again, his goal was simple: to make impeccable wine, his way.

Guillaume Fabre of Clos Solène

Doing things his unique way is Fabre’s calling card. An artist, Fabre is less concerned with “how it has always been done” — though he absolutely respects the traditions he was steeped in as a child and young man — and more focused on how it can be done to produce the finest product.  While the classic trinity of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre (“GSM”) is the hallmark of Côtes du Rhône-style wines, Fabre has been known to blend in a hint of white varietals like Viognier to give his red blends a pop of acidity that make them more food friendly and drinkable at an earlier age. And while the Paso Robles AVA is best-known for its heritage Zinfandel and Rhône varieties, Fabre’s appropriately named Cabernet Sauvignon, L’Insolent (Wine Advocate awarded the 2015 vintage 95 points), is as fine an expression as any of its Napa Valley cousins.

Indeed, even Fabre’s approach to wine sales and marketing is outside the box. He works with recreational wine enthusiasts to organize small “pop-up” tastings, many in private homes. And Fabre’s wine club allows customers to select for themselves the wines they will receive — a far cry from the ubiquitous “take what you get” model many clubs use as a producer’s clearing house for less desirable bottles.

When I curiously observed that his Rhône-style reds were not bottled in the typical, fatter, Burgundy-like bottles, he matter-of-factly quipped, “I think the [tall, straight Bordeaux-style] bottles are much more elegant.” However, the uncommon shape of the vessel became irrelevant the moment I tasted Fabre’s 2014 Harmonie (Wine Advocate 93 points) — the epitome of Châteauneuf-du-Pape with its velvety and complex parade of herbs and dark fruit, and as drinkable a GSM blend many vintages its senior.

Guillaume Fabre

So, what’s next for the talented Fabre and Clos Solène, currently a two person-operation assisted by some strategically placed electric blankets to help keep select barrels warm at night? Simple: purchasing his own piece of Paso Robles vineyard. I plan to buy a few extra bottles to help him get there.

Tastings can be arranged by appointment.

— Taste of Adventure