MagoGuide just cannot understand why The New York Times hates us. Unlike the Cat Fur Foodie Rag, which will forever remain beneath our contempt for their pre-emptive mendacity during MagoGuide’s recent swing through the Crescent City (see A NOLA Dust-Up: MagoGuide vs. Saveur in the Big Easy), we not only subscribe to the NYT, we even defend much of its reportage and many of its editorial positions from the withering attacks of our many conservative (and otherwise sane) friends. Yet, The Gray Lady has twice recently seen fit to print hasty and shallow (albeit decently written) explorations of identical venues covered in-depth and with the inimitable style that the reader of MagoGuide has come to expect. More importantly, she has seen fit to print these culinary caricatures before MagoGuide has been able to publish its clearly superior efforts based on carefully gathered local knowledge as opposed to gastronomic drive-bys.
First there was by John O’Connor’s scoop of our oyster orgy on Florida’s Emerald Coast (see Redneck Riviera: Scooped Again), and while we fully admit to liking the cut of Mr. O’Connor’s culinary jib, he evidently drove the length and breadth of his assigned territory in the amount of time it takes MagoGuide to finish its first two dozen oysters and order the next three in a single restaurant on the first visit. Now, The Frugal Traveler, aka Seth Kugel, blows into Barcelona for a mere four days, declares that he is “not in town to write about food” and proceeds to produce an entire column about, uh, food (see Going Vegetarian in Tapas-Happy Barcelona, New York Times, May 21, 2013). Blaming jet lag, Mr. Kugel decides that he can only eat vegetarian fare at Barcelona’s tapas bars and then churns out a series of culinary quickies that overlap with all but a few of the tapas bars that MagoGuide spent a month courting properly before consummating our gastronomic nuptials with vows to renew our relationship at frequent intervals over the years to come. Let’s start with Mr. Kugel’s central premise that “a tapas-loving vegetarian in this pig-and-shellfish crazy city, is a bit like a rock fanatic who won’t listen to guitars.” “Bovis stercus” scoffed Fulvia when she read this claim. Indeed, the Frugal Traveler clearly has only a nodding acquaintance with the classification vegetarian. He seems to think that vegetarians can be divided into vegans and lacto-ovarians and be done with it. Though an extreme omnivore, Lucullus has long cooked for and located restaurants for the full spectrum of vegetarians, which includes, in addition to Kugel’s categories, raw vegans (nothing cooked), lacto-arians (no eggs), pescatarians (no meat), baconarians (bacon is a vegetable), and my personal favorite atremisarians, who only eat meat or fish that they have personally sourced or killed. And by Addephagia Seth, every last one of them can eat well in Barcelona.
Telephone: +34 933 18 19 97
Hours of operation: Monday to Sunday from 8AM -1:30AM
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Rostra rating: 4
So a Frugal Traveler walks into a tapas bar, in this instance Ciudad Condal, looks at “trays loaded with Iberian ham and chorizo and octopus and razor clams” and thinks “What a nightmare this would be for my vegetarian friends.” Or they might just read the menu, an English version of which is furnished without even having to ask. Doing so reveals sixteen vegetarian dishes as Kugel defines the genre. Some freakin’ nightmare.
During the same month that Mr. Kugel was speed dating his way through tapasville, Fulvia, Diodorus Siculus, and Lucullus made several leisurely excursions to Ciudad Condal. While admittedly less focused on vegetarian fare than he was, we believe that MagoGuide’s take on their traditional tapas offerings is far more useful to travelers (frugal or otherwise). Herewith our recommendations:
Fried bait (pescadito frito): Incredibly fresh headless baby sardines fried a la minute in minimal batter. These minners easily passed the “I could eat my body weight” test.
Grilled baby octopus: Again, amazingly fresh with a perfect blend of garlic and olive oil. The octopi were grilled just long enough to impart crunch, char, and release intense liquidy flavorage.
Chiparones andaluz (fried baby squid): Lucullus firmly believes that this dish is the test of any tapas bar and these were excellent. In fact, these squidlings tied with those at Escriba (see our review at Escriba). They were less salty and less crisply fried but had better squid flavor, a nice contrast with those served up at the mother of all xiringuitos.
Pintxos with ham and green peppers: Quite good for a non-Basque establishment. The very fresh and crusty bread base had a tomato and olive oil smear on the bottom that boosted flavor and mouth feel. The jamon was good but not great, the peppers correctly cooked and mild.
Flauta (small sandwich, a large one is called a bocadillo) with anchovies, roasted red pepper, and grilled eggplant: Quite edible. The bread made the dish. Once again it came smeared on the inside with grated tomato and olive oil. The vegies were too cold (just out of the fridge?) but the anchovies were great, salt cured then marinated in olive oil imparting a wonderful saline/umami flavor.
Flauta Veget Holandes (Dutch vegetables): Strange name, great sandwich with three kinds of cheese, blue, brie, and gouda on shredded lettuce and mayonnaise.
Bottom line: Ciudad Condal is good VFM given its location on La Ramblas di Catalunya (you would think that Mr. “Seeing the World on a Budget” might have mentioned this). There is no extra charge for eating outside, which is very pleasant on a nice day. The wine pours are generous and significantly cheaper than a lot of nearby establishments (ditto beer), and tapas prices seemed in line with most other traditional places in far less frequented parts of the city. The staff is busy but quite friendly given the hordes that descend on the place daily. Fulvia and Lucullus saw two spaces at the bar while waiting for a table, asked if we could sit there, and were immediately seated. The bar is a much better location than the table seating, which is in another room, because you can peruse the offerings and watch the preparation. Jump to interactive map
Telephone: +34 932 16 03 68
Hours of operation: Monday to Friday 8AM-1:30AM, Saturday and Sunday 9AM to 1:30PM
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Rostra rating: 3
Mr. Kugel affects persecution in his allegedly quixotic quest, complaining rather petulantly about “the blank stare I got when I told the bartender at Cervecería Catalana that I didn’t eat meat or fish.” Well maybe he was thinking, “why doesn’t this guy read the menu?” If the maven of budget travel had even bothered to peruse the weblink in his article for Cervecería Catalana (presumably inserted by his editor) he would have learned that the same family as Ciudad Condal owns it, which means—as MogoGuide could have told him—that the extensive menu is very much the same and thus there are well over a dozen vegetarian dishes on offer. Or perhaps the bartender was a bit harried due to Mr. Kugel’s choice of dining time.
Mago tip: Tapas bars thin out between 4:30 and 7 pm. This is a good time to get not only a seat, but a good seat at the bar. Staff will be cleaning the bar areas and replenishing the big stacks of tapas ingredients so you can watch as they return pristine and topped off with much fresher fare than one would have encountered a mere half hour earlier. Also the staff does not seem as harried during this lull and their English is better/extant.
MagoGuide’s take on Cervecería Catalana is that despite the familial connection, you should go to nearby Ciudad Condal if you are interested in food. If you are more interested in beer, then Cervecería Catalana is the place to go. There are several types on tap (as opposed to just one at Ciudad Condal) and a very large selection of interesting bottled beers. You will not be trading down too far in terms of food, but Team Mago found the difference noticeable. Two iconic tapas comparisons go to the heart of the matter:
Chiparones andaluz: Good but not as good as Ciudad Condal. The calamaretti were not as fresh and a touch undercooked in somewhat overused oil.
Fried artichokes (a vegan dish right there on the website from your article, Seth): These did not measure up to the gold standard at Cal Pep (see A Tale of Two Tapas Bars) and were cut a bit thicker and cooked just a tad less than their brethren at Ciudad Condal. Speaking of fried artichokes, Mr. Kugel ignores, dismisses, or outright disses the choices that vegetarians can count on finding at least 95% of the time in a Barcelona tapas bar. Nowhere in his article does he mention pimentos al pardon, even though these delicious green, mildly bitter peppers served slightly blackened in olive oil with flaked sea salt are also invariably one of the least expensive selections. Then there are patatas bravas, mentioned once and then chucked down the Orwellian memory hole. So for those frugal vegetarians that just might want to sample the best of this admittedly ubiquitous and often poorly executed tapa head for: Jump to interactive map
Telephone: +34 932 21 36 38
Hours of operation: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday 11:00AM – 3:00AM, Tuesday 6:00PM – 3:00AM, Friday, Saturday, Sunday 11:00AM – 3:30AM
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Rostra rating: 4
Known primarily for stocking 20 different types of absinthe and its 1960’s acid trip décor accompanied by period music, this Barceloneta hangout serves some of the best patatas bravas in the city. They are invariably perfectly cooked, more like freshly roasted potatoes than the far more common fried variants. But it is the secret sauce that puts these taters over the top. The aioli is always very fresh and garlicky, however the bravas hot sauce is what keeps Team Mago coming back. It has multiple layers of both heat and flavor, constituting a perfect foil for the crunchy-on-the-outside-soft-on-the-inside tubers and the unctuous tongue coating garlictude of the aioli. After a close encounter with Sazeracs in March of this year, Fulvia is well over her lifetime absinthe quota, but the wine pours are generous and well priced for Barceloneta. The outside seating area is pleasant, especially in the evening, but avoid the tables adjacent to the street-side drain, which can be odiferous in hot weather.
Telephone: +34 932 03 10 77
Hours of operation: Monday-Saturday 12:00–4:00PM, 6:00PM–10:00PM
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Rostra rating: 3.5
This dive is located counter-intuitively in the well-healed Sarria neighborhood. The patatas bravas are worth the bus ride or, as Fulvia and Lucullus prefer given what they are about to ingest, two hour plus walk from central Barcelona—as well as the grouchy bar staff right out of central casting. Considered the best bravas in this spiral arm of the galaxy, they are the unprotected sex version of this preparation.
The spuds are fried to a greasy splendor and then topped with an aioli boasting an off-the-scale ratio of garlic-to-oil. The universal solvent masquerading as the salsa brava is actually infused olive oil turned a fiery red by long acquaintance with very hot peppers. These taters have been compared to ambrosia and crack, but they should not be the only things that you eat at Bar Tomas. The fryolater is king at this joint and it turns out exemplary if rather unhealthy empanadas and croquettes, both of which can be ordered with non-meat innards as well as (paying attention yet, Seth?) very edible fried artichokes. The staff will eventually bring you San Miguel beer served a notch or two above kelvin and they will also give you a separate ration of hot sauce with which to enliven any of the food on offer. If you are really into acquired tastes, try the local shandy variant composed of half beer and half Fanta (yucko bucko, but each to his own).
Mago Tip: The fryolater is apparently only in operation between noon and 3 pm and then again between 6 pm and 9 pm. This can explain why some people have found the bravas to be less than delectable toward the end of opening hours. In order to avoid the scrum, which can be intense at the weekend, get there early in the fry cycle.
Most astonishing of all, however, is Mr. Kugel’s complete and wholly inadequate dismissal of the entire tortilla mini-cuisine. The reader is simply informed that he despises Spanish omelets “for some reason” that is never revealed. OK dude, I guess I don’t find it necessary to explain my immune response to beer diluted with fizzy orangeade, but that is not really quite the same thing as abruptly slagging off one of the best and readily available lacto-ovarian options in Barcelona. And it’s not like all tortillas are created equally despicable either. Although they almost always contain eggs and potatoes, there are major differences in terms of appearance and taste to be had. At the market restaurants, one often finds the two inch version which is basically a potato gateau wrapped in a few microns of egg, while much eggier versions—often leavened with additional vegetarian-friendly ingredients—are on offer at tapas bars throughout the city.
Finally, there is Cal Pep’s incomparable take, consisting of potatoes slow cooked in oil until they have almost completely broken down. Then they are added to about one and a half beaten eggs and cooked just long enough for the surface to stiffen, then flipped for a ten second count and turned out on a plate with a criss-cross of aioli from a squirt bottle on top. In the runny gooey interior, potatoes are indistinguishable from eggs forming a delicious hybrid of intense eggitude. Given Mr. Kugel’s abrupt and unexplained rejection of such varied, sublime, and healthy food, I can only quote Sam Gamgee’s immortal riposte to the vile Gollum on the subject of fish and chips, to wit “you are hopeless.”
This rather summary judgment, I am afraid to say is further confirmed by the Frugal Traveler’s lament that “Quite often I’d spot an otherwise gorgeous eggplant or cheese or sun-dried tomato creation, only to realize on closer inspection that it had been sullied by an artful ribbon of anchovy.” Shit dude, did you even try asking the server to make you a non-anchovy version? Team Mago’s experience has been, especially during off-peak hours, that Catalans are very accommodating to vegetarians. But that would contradict Mr. Kugel’s whole persecution narrative, which comes off as mildly offensive to both Catalans and vegetarians.
In fact, the lovely consort of Diodorus Siculus, an empathic and ethical vegetarian, frequently points out that she has a much easier time finding non-meat and non-fish dishes in Barcelona than in her hometown of Palermo. At one lunch in the Santa Caterina market, upon receiving Fulvia’s order the waitress without any prompting whatsoever informed her that the dish she was usually made with fish but could be served as a fully vegan entre. Finally, I know many vegetarians who would not see anything wrong with removing that offending artful ribbon from their tapa and offering it to their less constrained dining companions. Indeed, this is precisely how Fulvia helps Lucullus meet his daily ‘chovy quota in Barcelona.
Mr. Kugel’s four-day Barcelona blitz was apparently discovery driven. First he ferreted out the escalivada, which he claims is both “rare” and “usually more expensive than other dishes (6 or 7 euros).” In fact, this goat cheese, roasted pepper, and eggplant ensemble is both ubiquitous and not really that spendy. For example (our last swipe at this particular equus mortuus, we promise) the menu at the very first tapas bar he visited has an escalivada priced at 4.50 Euro.
Next, he discovered “Sésamo — an actual vegetarian restaurant”—the implication, nicely aligning with the overall narrative hook for his column, being that such establishments are rare in Barcelona. It turns out that Fulvia is not alone in her dismissal of this precept. A large number of Mr. Kugel’s readers who took umbrage, the overwhelming majority of whom are Catalan or otherwise residents of Barcelona and/or Spain, reacted to this ridiculous assertion by naming numerous other vegetarian restaurants in Barcelona. Mr. Kugel’s real problem, at least for this particular article, is that he is research averse—preferring to wander into an establishment and try to find vegetarian dishes by sight and limited speech alone (strange for a Portuguese speaker, who almost certainly can also communicate in Castillian if not Catalan). One knowledgeable respondent suggested the onerous and difficult process of going to the Happy Cow website, which lists 44 vegan, vegetarian, and vegetarian friendly restaurants in Barcelona. Now not all these establishments fall within the Frugal Traveler’s definition of tapas bars, but then again Sesamo doesn’t either (sauce for the gooseberry, Seth).
Taberna Blai Tonight
Telephone: +34 648 73 32 00
Hours of operation: Monday-Friday 6PM - 1AM Saturday-Sunday 12:30PM - 1AM
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Rostra rating: 3
Mr. Kugel singles out Taberna Blai Tonight as one of the “few” places on this lively pedestrian street in the artsy Poble Sec neighborhood that offer “decent” vegetarian “options.” We’ll get to the veracity of that by now tired assertion in a bit, but Team Mago must agree whole heartedly for once with the Frugal Traveler that this is a great little tapas bar specializing in at least 20 varieties of pintxos, each costing only 1 Euro. MagoGuide can corroborate Seth’s praise for the inventive use of very good quality of cheese, as well as point out that there are several meatless/fishless croquettes on offer. For non-vegetarians, Lucullus was very taken with the blood sausage and onion combination. The spicy mineral flavor of the sanguinary offal tube paired quite nicely with the sweet caramelized onions. Also, the baby Galician eels were if not to die for then at least elicited a swoon from Diodorus Siculus, who was also quite taken by the semi-pintxos sliders.
Mago tip: When settling up at Blai Tonight, hit the head before you lay out your bread. Due to the quality and price of the grub at this 20-something owned and run bar, it is almost always packed. If you try to pay standing three deep in front of the bar it will take the better part of a half hour to get noticed, but if you go to the restroom at the back of the establishment, you then walk right past the register upon returning. Stand there for the ten seconds it takes for one of the staff to use the register and then pay your bill. This approach makes the youngsters happy while sending us oldsters on our way with an empty bladder and ready for the next debauch.
Telephone: +34 934 24 63 83
Hours of operation: Monday-Sunday 10AM-12AM
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Rostra rating: 3
Another of Seth’s “discoveries” that we can wholeheartedly endorse is Rekons, an Argentinian empanada emporium in the Eixample. This endorsement includes letting pass his dubious twin assertions that empanadas and tapas are equivalent and that the vegetarian empanadas on offer at Rekons are more “interesting” than their meat filled rivals. The ridiculous claim, however, that two empanadas make a meal cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged. A couple of these puppies provides a nice snack, but I defy Mr. Kugel to find a single Catalan that would declare two empanadas, no matter how delicious, to be a meal. Indeed a search of multiple dictionaries, to include the OED, does not yield any association of the word frugal with the notion of calorie privation.
More problematically, MagoGuide would caution the Frugal Traveler as to his classification of these empanadas as vegetarian based solely on their fillings. Team Mago did not inquire as to the ingredient that makes Rekons’ empanadas stand above all the others sampled during our month in Barcelona (perhaps the NYT’s representative did, but he gives no indication). Lucullus is inclined to argue that their exquisite crust could well derive from an admixture of lard. The Argentines after all are not known for being animal fat averse. Even should those incredible empanadas prove to be sullied by lard, however, Rekons serves many types of vegetarian sandwiches and salads, as well as killer desserts—something else you would not learn from Seth’s column.
Telephone: +34 932 68 75 69
Hours of operation: Opens at 1PM everyday but Sunday when it opens at 7:30PM, closes at 12:30AM Monday-Wednesday and Sunday, 1AM on Thursday and 2:30AM on Friday and Saturday
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Rostra rating: 3
Since Mr. Kugel felt obliged to define empanadas as tapas because they “would be a crime for vegetarians to ignore,” MagoGuide would suggest another vegetarian-friendly cuisine that he unfortunately ignored in his jet lag-befogged haste: tapas exoticas. It is hardly surprising that a small plate-driven culinary culture will be attracted by similar fare with unfamiliar ingredients, which explains the profusion of sushi and dim sum restaurants in the Catalan capital. In the spirit of seeing the world on a budget (mostly) adhered to by The Frugal Traveler, MagoGuide humbly nominates Mosquito.
If you linger long enough in Barcelona to grow tired of Catalan, Basque, and Castilian tapas (lucky bastards!!), or if—like the MagoGuide Montana delegation—you have to travel hundreds if not thousands of miles for decent asian food of any kind, then this is the place to gundge a few pot stickers and pound some decent brewkis. Also, in keeping with Seth’s disingenuous difficult-for-vegetarians-in-Barcelona theme, this pan-Asian dumpling and noodle bar is recommended by Happy Cow as vegetarian friendly. Team Mago found the vegan cold eggplant in sesame sauce quite authentic, the made-to-order pork dumplings excellent specimens of the genre, and the beef Sichuan with rice a very decent effort that needed just a little more heat. Of equal importance, in a city dominated by draft Estella Damm, Moritz ,and San Miguel, Mosquito has several German Furstenberg beers on tap and a redoubtable list of Belgian bottled beers.
Quimet y Quimet
Apparently even Frugal Travelers eventually find it obligatory to try one of Barcelona’s high-end tapas bars. Mr. Kugel chose “the celebrated and minuscule tapas bar Quimet y Quimet.” Here once again MagoGuide must part company with the Gray Lady’s imminence frugal. This is not an issue of cost or cuisine. Lucullus will gladly take out a payday loan to fund a meal at any number of gourmet temples, but he prefers to sit, if not recline, and to bring food to his mouth with minimal effort. Neither of these is ever possible at Quimet y Quimet as far as Team Mago was able to determine over the course of a month spent reconnoitering this foodie forever scrum (think consuming ambrosia and nectar in a phone booth with twenty ravenous strangers). There are, however, high-end tapas to be had in Barcelona sans demophobia. Indeed, this type of dining could be classified as high-end frugal (appeal to NYT food and travel editor: MagoGuide will write such a themed column for half of what you pay Seth, how ‘bout it dude?), because many of these places are celebrity chef outlets whose flagship restaurants would run you an order of magnitude more for a meal. During our Barcelona binge, Team Mago spent more time at two of these establishments than the entire time Mr. Kugel spent researching his column. Herewith our recommendations:
Telephone: +34 934 88 09 77
Hours of operation: Monday-Saturday 8AM-12AM
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Rostra rating: 3
Tapas 24 is part of Carles Adellan’s 24 empire. A made man in Ferran Adria’s molecular mafia, the bill at his Comerç 24 flagship or the newer Bravo at the W Hotel could stimulate the Catalan economy to the tune of a statistically verifiable increase in the region’s GDP. Tapas 24 ain’t cheap, but it is a very reasonable way to sample Adellan’s creative take on small bites.
Vegetarians will have no problem finding something to eat at Tapas 24, but they need to be aware that there are tricksy chef twists on otherwise vegetarian fare (e.g., the tortilla is laced with chorizo, which of course makes it quite good but out of bounds for herbivores). The fried artichokes are actually artichips, a nice change of texture from the usual approach.
Lucullus felt that the lack of an accompanying dip detracted from the dish until he noticed that Fulvia availed herself of the aioli supplied with the rabbit ribs—so if your dietary restrictions allow, order the two in tandem. Adellan’s take on patatas bravas is also quite good (although they are cheaper and better at Absenta and Bar Tomas). The tapa d’or is a dipping salsa containing fresh crushed tomatoes, sherry vinegar, Maldon sea salt flakes, and extra virgin olive oil. It is the perfect accompaniment to Tapas 24’s version of pa ab tomaquet. Reading the English menu (ouch, sorry Trigger), one learns that ous estrellas al gus (scrambled eggs on fried potatoes) can be ordered without meat for a lacto-ovarian mini-feast rounded out by requesting the famous bikini Commerc 24 sans jamon Iberico resulting in a wonderful grilled cheese sandwich of buffalo mozzarella and black truffle bits (truffles are vegetables right?). Finally, the chocolate mousse with thin disks of crisp bread, olive oil, and sea salt is Lucullus’ favorite vegetarian dish on the menu.
Since neither Fulvia nor Diodorus Siculus are fans of innovative anything, especially tapas, we also were interested in how Tapas 24 handled more traditional approaches. Adellan did not try very hard on the ubiquitous bomba di Barceloneta, an arancina made with mashed potatoes. The fluffy taters had a nice thin crisp crust and the aioli was quite good, but the ground meat inside was bland and the bravas sauce needed heat. As the name suggests, you can get much better versions in Barceloneta, particularly at Cova Fumada (see a Tale of Two Tapas) where the bomba was allegedly invented, for about a third of the price. The fried rabbit ribs, however, were excellent. The cornmeal breading with herbs worked perfectly, resulting in meat that was tender and juicy but also adorned with tiny crunchy bits. Lucullus gave them the body weight award. In general, Team Mago found Tapas 24 to be very cheffy, spendy, and quite stingy on the wine pours for juice that was not any better than what was to be had at much more reasonable prices in larger volume just a few blocks away. Service was brusque and inefficient even though we purposefully arrived off-peak. Based on our experience, outside seating in less-than-good weather is obviously stranyieri land.
Mago tip: Insist on/wait for a seat at the bar to watch the action and see what looks good in front of you. The staff all pretty much speak English when forced and they make you wait on the steps, which is awkward (maybe they want to give the impression that the place is always packed?).
Telephone: +34 934 24 52 31
Hours of operation: Tuesday and Wednesday 7PM to 12AM, Thursday 7PM to 2AM, Friday and Saturday 1PM to 4PM and 7PM to 2:30AM
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Rostra rating: 4.5
The celebrity chef hybrid Lolita Taperia was MagoGuide’s favorite tapas bar during our 2013 Barcelona tour. Originally called Inopia, it was co-owned by Albert Adria (brother of Ferran) and Joan Martinez. When Albert decamped to join his brother at Tickets, Martinez reopened the space as Lolita. Located two blocks away but a culinary universe distant from the Adria’s molecular theme park masquerading as a jumped up tapas bar, Lolita is if not old school then approachable and genuinely Catalan. Not only is it much cheaper than Tickets (which is “affordable” only when juxtaposed with what it used to cost at El Buli), but you can eat there before the actuarial tables run out.
With respect to the Frugal Traveler’s supposedly semi-hopeless task of locating vegetarian tapas in Barcelona, there are nineteen such dishes at Lolita (including seven desserts), many of which we found nowhere else. These included baby fava beans with truffles; avocado, and quail eggs; burrata with mustard sprouts, arugula, semi-dried tomato and black tapenade; and fried eggplant with cane molasses. Lolita also serves a vegan esclavida, eschewing even the bread underpinning (a very rare find indeed if we are to believe Mr. All the News that’s Fit to Print). They even have a vegetarian spinach turnover (empanada by another name) that is almost as good as Rekons, and which did not move the needle on Lucullus’ lardometer at all.
The patatas bravas, strangely, were the weakest dish we encountered at Lolita. The hot sauce had layered bbq-like flavors driven by excellent peppers, but the aioli was merely OK and the taters were thin scallops that were slightly undercooked. Lucullus would have been inclined to blame the fryolater operator, but the croquettes sampled on the same visit were superb (see below). Vegetarians should stick to the perfectly executed bespoke potato chips served with the house hot sauce, while pescatarians ought to opt for the version overlaid with excellent anchovies. Non-vegetarian MagoGuide faves from Lolita:
Fried rabbit rib chops: Lolita’s version tied with Tapas 24, but there were differences in approach. Lolita employed thicker and heavier breading than 24 resulting in a juicier dish with more rabbit flavor but none of those wonderful crispy bits.
Salad of canned belly tuna with spring onions and tomatoes: Excellent canned tuna complimented by great olive oil and sea salt and, unlike Quimet y Quimet Seth, you can eat it sitting down. The onions had a nice mild flavor that did not overwhelm but enhanced the other components. The tomatoes had been blanched and peeled, a nice touch, but they were a bit mealy and could have had better flavor judging by what I bought repeatedly in the markets that month.
La Matrimonia: A marriage made in Poseidon’s paradise consisting of a fresh anchovy filet on top of salt cured one with a little olive oil. A perfect two bite experience. Nostra Croqueta: Best ever, essentially a deep fried cylinder of béchamel (maybe a little potato but Diodorus Siculus doubted it) with amazing jamon flavor, deep and clean—no lard aftertaste at all
Puca de la Costa: Another triumph consisting of two fresh raw sardine filets on highly latticed, crusty, and perfectly toasted bread served with an intense tomato jam.
Mago tip: Get seats at the outside bar area for a great view of the kitchen. The line cook when we were there was intense and very good. Also, Chef Martinez was there during every one of our visits. Try finding either Carles Adellan or the Adria brothers at any of their restaurants more than once in a blue moon! Lolita is also the place for cocktails if you are tired of wine or beer with tapas. Diodorus Siculus ordered a great gin and tonic made with Hendriks gin and a slice of cucumber that arrived in a swimming pool-sized glass. It was exemplary and certainly should have been given that it cost ten freakin’ Euro. The house wines are great and the list is extensive and reasonably priced. The house cava, Juve y Camps, is both potable and reasonable at 3 Euro a flute. We had the draft Moritz beer and did not like it. The Moritz brewery is in the neighborhood and a lot of nearby tapas places take advantage of its freshness to which we can attest. Perhaps it’s a Montana thang (Diodorus had no problems with Moritz), but we tired Moritz a lot and found it inferior to Estella Damm or St. Miguel.
Also, there is evidently a Cinderella-like transformation at Lolita ‘round midnight. At some point in the wee hours it morphs into a disco and while they continue to sell drinks until closing, at some point the tapas may dry up. If any one can stay up late enough to find out when that happens, please let us know (but send us an e-mail the next day, don’t call us with the news in real-time OK?).
So other than envying his large readership, popularity, and the opportunity to work with one of the truly great media institutions in an era when the terms “news” and “entertainment” are becoming increasingly synonymous, what does MagoGuide really have against Mr. Kugel? At its source, our critique is basically methodological and therefore something over which he has little or no control; indeed Seth took over The Frugal Traveler when it was already a long-established niche in the Grey Lady’s travel writing ecosystem. In fact, if the NYT were to rename his column The Budget Conscious Tourist then MagoGuide would have no truck with him or his newspaper whatsoever.
The fundamental problem is that The Frugal Traveler is not a traveler; he is a tourist. You simply cannot spend a mere four days in a city as culinarily diverse as Barcelona pursuing a topic as complex as vegetarian tapas and call yourself a traveler. The proof is in Mr. Kugel’s ridiculous (jet lag accepted) assertions that the Catalan capital has only “a handful of vegetarian restaurants” or that it is necessary to “choose your spots carefully” in order to eat varied and interesting vegetarian tapas. The fact that he lumps “self-catering” in with Barcelona’s notoriously mediocre pizzerias, confirms our opinion that Seth is really a thrifty tourist rather than a frugal traveler. The first place that he should have headed was to any one of Barcelona’s fantastic traditional markets, of which there are over forty. Here he would have found not only abundant vegetarian produce and prepared takeaway dishes, but also at least one and usually more embedded restaurants that serve vegetarian tapas (as he defines them) made with incredibly fresh ingredients at prices equal to and often lower than most of the establishments he reviewed for his column. The long and the short of it is that Mr. Kugel is providing an important service for time and cash strapped tourists, but he should not pretend to be doing a damn thing for real travelers. That sir, is MagoGuide’s job and we do it quite well. So here’s the deal Seth, next time the Grey Lady inserts you into Barcelona, Rome, or most anywhere in and around Sicily with an impossible task to be accomplished in the blink of an eye on a shoe string, call the pros because MagoGuide is here to help. We will give you plenty of grist for your deadline-encumbered mill; and you can live up to the title of your column and help genuine travelers stretch their ducats for once. And relax; tell your editors it’s on us.