Inopia- Barcelona, Spain

“You know you are experiencing true creativity when you go to a restaurant and have the feeling that you’re eating in a country that you’ve never visited before”
- Ferran Adrià

While in Barcelona, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of strong yearning and sadness at the fact that I was so close to El Bulli, yet so far away.  When will I finally get my chance to dine at the best restaurant in the world?  To feel like I was at least a step closer to fulfilling my dream, I went to Inopia in Barcelona.

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Inopia is run by Alberto Adrià, the younger brother and partner of Ferran Adrià, the renowned and famous chef of El Bulli. During the 6 months that El Bulli is open for service, Alberto heads the pastry kitchen at El Bulli, but otherwise he mans the kitchen in his small casual tapas bar in Barcelona.

In stark contrast to El Bulli, this place is very casual and it’s almost hard to believe that it belongs to a chef of such pedigree.  Brightly colored red, orange and yellow Andalucian tiles, bare fluorescent lights and graffiti on the walls decorate this tiny neighborhood joint that only has 1 dining table.  IMG_6697Most patrons sit on the tiny stools by the bar or stand by the counters as they watch fútbol on TV.  In fact, this particular evening the whole city was buzzing with excitement as all eyes were glued to the TV to watch the 2009 UEFA Champions League finals.  In a country that is loco for fútbol, you can imagine the frenzy in the air as their beloved Barcelona team battled Manchester United.

Just as we sat down at the counter, Barcelona scored their 2nd goal and everybody, including the servers, started screaming and whistling.  Their team was on fire, and the place was buzzing with passion.  Many were wearing the red and blue jerseys and cheering on.

Although Inopia doesn’t have an English menu, the server was eager to explain the specials of the day in English to us.  All of the staff were extremely friendly and welcoming.  The menu, like most tapas bars in Barcelona, has a good selection of olives and canned seafood (conservas).  We opted for prepared items to see what Alberto Adrià could do.

The ensalada rusa was listed as an Inopia specialty, so we started with that.  The potato, mayonnaise, red pepper and olive salad was good, but…this was a specialty dish?  Really?  It’s something that I would make half-asleep with leftovers.

IMG_6691There’s a section of the menu called El mundo de la anchoa, or ‘the world of anchovies‘.  That evening there were 6 types of anchovies to choose from, and they were to be ordered by fillets.  Our server told us that the San Filippos, for 1.90 Euros a piece, were the best quality.  These anchoas del Cantábrico en salazón San Filippo were indeed meaty, perfectly fatty, and deliciously salty.

IMG_6693The Torrada Mallorquina was a really interesting take on bruschetta.  Chopped tomatoes, onions and olive oil were carefully spooned over a layer of sobrassada mallorquina, a spicy and smokey chorizo spread.  The ‘air bread’ that they used was crispy, light and delicate, and I could’ve eaten these all night with my glass of red wine.

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The moment of victory for Barcelona!

It was around this time that Team Barcelona officially became the champions of the 2009 UEFA League, and the place went crazy. Horns, crackers, shouting, whistling, singing and skyrockets went off outside in a mass celebration hysteria.  It was an amazing experience to be in the middle of this city-wide festivity and eating tapas while soaking it all in.

The plato frío de lomo de atún soasado con escabeche ligero, seared tuna belly with a Montserrat tomato side, drizzled with soy sauce and olive oil, was quite good.  I was surprised to be having this very Japonesque toro sashimi dish at this famous Barcelona digs.  The drizzle tasted almost exactly like ponzu.  The lightly seared tuna belly slices were extremely tender and delicate.

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The croquetas caseras de Jamón ibérico were piping hot, straight out of the deep fryer.  It took a whole 5 minutes until we could even get close to it.  The rich interior was creamy, hearty and decadent.  Although my dining partner enjoyed these, I wasn’t blown away.  However, for 1.90 Euros a piece, it’s not a bad deal.

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The big and meaty sardinas en escabeche were quite good, well infused with thyme and bay leaf aroma, but it wasn’t as good as the one that I had at Tapaç 24.

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The pincho moruno de cordero or lamb skewers, were really good.  Listed on their menu as one of the Inopia specialties, these tender and juicy pieces were delectably seasoned with fennel seed and parsley.  This was my favorite dish at Inopia.  IMG_6711

In another head to head competition, we ordered Inopia’s  Bikini de mozzarella y paletilla Ibérica hervida, the mozzarella and Iberico ham grilled sandwiches.  It wasn’t just the presence of black truffles that made Tapaç 24 the undoubted winner again, but also the quality of the bread and the way it was grilled.  IMG_6714

Although the service was great and the atmosphere on this particular victorious night was incomparable, the food was mediocre at best.  Perhaps I came in with too many expectations, but the food simply fell flat.  After all of the hype and rave reviews, I couldn’t believe that this was all that Inopia had to offer.  I wanted to give Inopia the benefit of the doubt, and thought that perhaps Alberto Adrià was not in house that evening.  But no, there he was, behind the bar and at the grill, and I even got to meet him and chat with him.  He was a charismatic man with a powerful intensity that was almost intimidating, but his food reflected none of that.

Alas, what I thought would be the closest thing to El Bulli ended up being the farthest thing from El Bulli.  Given the number of restaurants in Barcelona whose chefs have trained with the grand master Ferran Adrià, it’s probably better to go elsewhere for spectacular cuisine in Barcelona- Inopia is not worth your time.  Obviously, none of this would even be an issue if you’re one of the lucky few who have a reservation at El Bulli.  As for me, until that happens, I guess I’ll just keep drooling on my A Day at elBulli book.

Inopia

Carrer Tamarit 104

08015 Barcelona

Tel: 93 424 52 31

Tuesday to Saturday: 7pm-11pm

Random trivia:  Did you know that you can get something called clupeotoxin poisoning from eating anchovies contaminated with the toxin?  Death occurs in 50% of people poisoned by clupeotoxin.  If you experience a metallic taste in your mouth and your nose turns blue after eating anchovies, then you’re in trouble.

Tapaç 24 – Barcelona, Spain

IMG_7831As soon as I arrived in Barcelona, I made a bee-line for Tapaç 24, Catalan chef Carles Abellan’s casual and hip tapas bar.  After working at El Bulli with the master Ferran Adria, Abellan opened his hugely successful restaurant Comerç 24 in Barcelona.  Although I would love to explore Comerç 24 some day, I opted for the more casual Tapaç 24 on this Barcelona trip.

IMG_7834They’re open Monday through Saturday from 8am to midnight, allowing  enthusiastic patrons infinite opportunities to enjoy Abellan’s soulful food.  I went for dinner on my first night in Barcelona, and the place was bustling with great energy from an even mix of locals and tourists.  As expected, there was a long line that spilled out onto the sidewalk, but the turnover was very fast and we were seated at the bar tables within 15 minutes.  Although there are a few tables on the sidewalk that allow for al fresco dining in this beautiful and vibrant city, downstairs inside the restaurant is where all of the action is.

IMG_7845 The regular menu is printed on a brown paper bag that holds the silverware (similar to Mozza), but there are more daily special menu items on the chalkboards that are at each table.  Although the regular menu was written in Catalan which I couldn’t understand, the daily specials were in Spanish and some of the servers spoke English.  Everybody working there was in a jovial mood and they were more than happy to help make our experience wonderful.

We started off with the Bikini Commerç 24 sandwich, toasted Iberico ham and manchego cheese sandwiches with grated black truffles.  These warm sandwich triangles oozed with that familiar satisfying richness that grilled cheese sandwiches deliver, with the added decadence of truffle aroma.  Although this was good for dinner tapas, imagine the possibilities of what it could do for those late night munchies.  This would really hit the spot.

Unfortunately, they were out of boquerones al limón, fried anchovies with lemon, but we had a plate of chugetas that were probably just as good.  These small deep fried fish were the perfect little snacks to enjoy with our jar of champagne sangria.  With the perfect saltiness, crunchy texture and enhanced flavor from a squirt of fresh lemon juice, these little morsels were highly addictive.  It’s the kind of food where your hand automatically keeps moving from plate to mouth, and it’s impossible to stop eating.  We also had the requisite pan amb tomaquet, toasted bread with garlic, olive oil and tomatoes.

The rabo de toro, oxtail and bean stew, was excellent.  It was a hearty and comforting dish that I can imagine somebody’s mother cooking for hours over the fire.  The tender meat and gelatinous cartilage melted in my mouth in the most pleasant way, blending well with the richness of the full-bodied sauce.  Here I was in Barcelona, silently and happily gnawing away at an oxtail bone with sauce all over my fingers.  Perfect.

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As if the Bikini sandwiches couldn’t be a more ideal snack to satiate those late night munchies, here came a plate of Ous Estrellats al Gust (Catalan),  Huevos de payes estrellidas con butifarra negra (Spanish), or scrambled eggs, potato fries and blood sausage.  For the meat, you can choose from blood sausage, Jamón ibérico or chorizo, but we opted for the blood sausage, or butifarra, which is a local Catalan special.  It seemed heavy and oily at first glance and taste, but it was impossible to put my fork down.  There was something about it that made me become a voracious and greedy eater.

Our favorite dish of the evening was the Gambetas al Andaluz .  These fried shrimp were so fresh, that we ate the whole entire shrimp from antennae to tail.  They were garnished with just the right amount of salt to enhance the intense sweetness of the succulent flesh.  What a joy these shrimp were, and this was the moment when it really sunk in that I was in Spain, I was in Barcelona, and this was real tapas.  This dish said it all- fresh delicious seafood simply prepared with nothing more than love, passion, and soul.

The sardinas en escabeche were a hit as well.  The oily and tender flesh was delicately seasoned with olive oil, tomatoes and black peppercorns.  Absent in any fishiness whatsoever, these sardines rivaled its counterparts from the Tsukiji fish market in freshness and quality.  These sardines were so delicious that we ate everything on the plate, including the bones and the tails.

Xocolata Amb Pa, Oli, i Sal (Catalan), Chocolate con sal, aceite y pan (Spanish), or chocolate with bread, olive oil and salt, was perhaps one of the most delightful desserts that I’ve ever had.  We ordered this more out of curiosity as I couldn’t imagine what the dish would taste like, but it ended up being an amazing discovery.  The sweetness and richness of the chocolate ice cream was nicely balanced out by the sea salt, and perfectly smoothed out by the texture and aroma of the olive oil.  I love being pleasantly surprised by new flavor combinations, especially when it involves flavors that we are very familiar with and use almost daily.

Our second dessert was something that tasted like a mix between a cheesecake and flan, with a rich sweet berry sauce on top.  Honestly, the chocolate dessert was such a star that this berry dessert didn’t really leave an impression on me.  I can’t remember much about this dish.

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IMG_7836Tapaç 24 is one of those magical places that instantly sucks you in and makes you feel both excited and mesmerized.  The happy vibe,  smiling servers, colorful decor and cheerful music really set the mood for a fun night out.  The whole time I was there I was grinning from ear to ear, and I frequently stopped myself to look around and think, “Wow, I’m really in Barcelona.  This is amazing!”  The music makes you want to get up and dance, and the food and drinks make you want to hug your server.  Everybody there was having a great time, and and the spirit of Barcelona was very much alive.  I’ve already recommended this place to a few of my friends, as I knew they would have a great time there.

Tapaç 24

Comerç  24

269 Carrer Diputació, Barcelona 08007

934 880 977

Random trivia:  Traditionally, oxtail referred to the tail of an ox, or a castrated male.  However, these days it may come from steer or veal cows.