A Midmost Rating of Bar Raval and Why Justin Trudeau Would Make A Promising Food Reviewer

 

I think food blogging is a bit like being a  member of parliament.  First, you have the liberty of being able to say whatever you want but with the knowledge that somebody is going to publicly disagree with your opinion.  In fact, some of them will just be nasty about it.  I remember writing a rather negative review of Hudson Kitchen shortly after all the TIFF sightings a couple of years back only to have a reader tell me how wrong I was (for the record I need to point out that Hudson Kitchen is now closed so I wasn’t that far off) and suggesting that I was not a blog to follow.  Second, like politics,  there is an element of responsibility with any kind of blogging.  I’m not saying what I write is going to make or break a restaurant, but what I say is very public and readily accessible so I try to be extremely careful even if I don’t like a place.  It is never my intention to shit on a chef or their restaurant because it’s like shitting on their character. At the same time, however, I shouldn’t be crapped on as a patron either.  Third, I have to consider not only my opinion but also the opinions of friends and colleagues I respect much like a politician has to respect his or her constituents.

For these reasons, I think Justin Trudeau would be a good food reviewer.  Consider the following:

  1. He has a sizable following on social media . For example, he has 1.2 million twitter followers which means his omnipotent opinion would be read (and maybe even retweeted)  by the masses.
  2. Many of those who read food blogs are his target audience…the entitled generation.   His election win was driven by, among others, those who believe that social injustices of the world can be solved by T-shirts, tattoos and that eating ethnic food is a symbol of global solidarity.
  3. He can post his pretty profile pic along with his reviews because that face can’t lie, right?
  4. Since both yelp and zomato use a 5 point Likert scale to rank restaurants, he can rate everything 4. That way we could count on his nauseating neutrality knowing he doesn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings or show favouritism, even if they deserve it.
  5. He can change his opinion whenever it’s convenient.  Even if his initial review makes absolutely no sense and sounds like it came out his ass, he can always revisit things under different circumstances and use reasons beyond his control  to justify changing his mind…again and again.

So how does all of this relate to Bar Raval? I have two colleagues who I respect as good judges of restaurants.  That said, they differ on a few  and Bar Raval is one of them.  One found it charming and delightful and other thought it was crowded, over hyped and served marginal food. Keeping in mind that one experience doesn’t necessarily reflect the overall quality of a place, I felt like I was going to be the tie breaker.

One of the early criticisms I heard about Bar Raval was its tiny size and no reservation policy which obviously makes it difficult to ensure a spot upon arrival.  A few months ago, when patio season was still feasible, I decided to go in the mid afternoon to grab a drink and an early dinner.  I wasn’t sure what to expect because viewing their menu online is more difficult than playing Myst.

Having secured a corner patio seat, I did a quick survey of my surrounding and realized I was in hipster haven.  In fact, one of the many hipsters ended up being my waitress for the afternoon. Drink wise, I was drawn to the Gothic quarter ($13).  I was a bit excited because, although I’m far from a world traveler, I HAVE been to the Gothic quarter in Barcelona and thought I was REALLY cool to have this namesake drink.  As scripted, however, it was pink ( I have this habit of ordering pink drinks regardless of what the description is). I can swallow my manhood and say it was a decent and despite its appearance, even a little bit manly.

Gothic Quarter $13
Gothic Quarter $13

Since I was solo that afternoon and most of the  came in pairs,  I spent a good amount of time wondering how I was going to spend my finite gut capacity yet still get a good flavour of the place. The problem was solved when the waitress indicated I could order singles of any of the pintxos on the menu.  As I was deciding, I ordered some delicious aged Mahon cheese ($8) with some bread ($2) which I easily consumed while deciding on the rest.

Aged Mahon Cheese $8 with Bread $2
Aged Mahon Cheese $8 with Bread $2

I ordered singles of the tuna pickle gilda, the stracciatella with boquerones, the morcilla with egg and the cojunado.  As an afterthought, I’ll admit they were not the most diverse choices but I love tuna, lovingly remember the boquerones from Bar Isabel and can’t turn down an egg on anything. Plus, I wasn’t about to crack a can or sardines without somebody else helping me. Ranging from about $3.50 to $4.50 per piece, each dish was representative of what I remember from both Barcelona and other Spanish tribute restaurants such as Coqueta in San Francisco and Amada in Philadelphia.  My favorite had to be the morcilla. Flavourwise, it was balanced and seasoned nicely and had an enjoyable, crumbly texture which complimented the perfectly cooked quail egg.

 

My Take 

Many factors dictate a good or bad experience and n=1 is not always indicative of a restaurant’s overall semblance which is a big reason that the opinions of others are important.  My experience was in between bad and terrific.  In other words,  it was good. On one hand, I’m keen to come back and admire the Gaudiesque interior while sipping coffees or signature cocktails while eating pastries, pintxos, the raw bar or some other type of tapas  I didn’t get to try this time.  On the other hand, the thought of being crammed shoulder to shoulder with hipsters in close quarters like the sardines I’m eating is far from appealing. However, in the end, I will side with optimistic  neutrality give Bar Raval a very Justinesque “4”. This wishy-washy, indecisive and up the middle denouement  leads me to conclude that not only do I sound like a politician…I also sound like  a liberal.

Bar Raval Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The 39 year-old Virgin: Adventures in Barcelona.

Yes, this is my first trip to Europe as I wasn’t privy to travel in my younger years. So, after almost 4 decades, I crossed the Atlantic, landing in Barcelona, Spain. Having spent the better part of two days there, I made the following observations:

1. People in Spain walk slow.
2. Wifi is difficult to find.
3. Everybody wears scarves.
4. A beer and sandwich combo is cheaper than a soda and sandwich combo at the airport.
5. The architecture is fantastic.
6. You need your room key to turn on your lights.
7. You can buy almost anything on the street including beer, umbrellas, street food, flowers etc.
8.The food is pretty good.

Since this is a food blog, I will focus on the latter. The food choices are endless. Every nook and cranny is jammed with small eateries, each promising a special variety of decor, personality and of course, food. The restaurants range from off the menu to choosing off a tray under a pane of glass. I can best describe it as simple. No garnish, no explanation, just the food.

A Tale of Two Tapas.

Ciudad Condal had a long wait but I was seated within 30 minutes.

Their flauta was probably the simplest yet the best thing I ate in the two days I was in Barcelona. Simply, it’s  chorizo inside a small loaf of bread for about three euros. The crunch of the bread followed by the rich chorizo was perfect. I put a little machego cheese inside my second one which added some saltiness as well.

The patatas bravas are Spain’s version of poutine. They are basically potatoes covered in a creamy aioli and hot sauce. Also of honourable mention were the fried Padron peppers, simply prepared with salt and olive oil. The nature of these  peppers are generally mild but a few on the plate pack a hot punch, leading to the term “Unos Picans Otros No” meaning some are hot, some are not. I was lucky to get a few biters.  A great dish was the potatoes topped with fried eggs (Huevos Cabreados).  It is a simple but delicious dish; matchstick fried potatoes topped with soft fried eggs cut table side.

I’m a huge flan fan. The creamy spanish flan was a nice ending  and was not overly sweet despite the abundant caramelized sugar.

The service was fast, friendly and efficient.

Chorizo Flautas at Ciudad
Patatas Bravas
Padron Peppers at Ciudad
Huevos Cabreados (Matchstick Potatoes with Egg-Yum)
Caramel Flan at Ciudad

I’m always drawn by places with good reputations and high Zagat ratings. Tapas 24 fit the category in both regards. Much different than Ciudad Condal, Tapas 24 is situated in a basement just off the beaten path of the tourist section.  It was about 11 pm and the place was packed. When I was seated I noticed a much smaller, yet more expensive menu than Ciudad. It was certainly more run down but was filled with character. I was seated at the bar so I could see the open kitchen which was run old school, with orders called from paper tickets stuck on magnetic boards and run like a well-oiled machine.

I started with the standard patatas bravas which were shaped like fries and looked a bit a bit dismal compared to the chunky potatoes at Ciudad.  It was  followed by the bikini (a bit of an ironic name given it’s a grilled ham and cheese sandwich). In this case if was flavoured with some shaved black truffle which was subtle as opposed to overpowering (it’s a fine line when it come to truffle). However, it was a bit imbalanced since the smoked ham I so enjoy was drowned out by the buffalo mozzarella. It was basically  a nine Euro fancy grilled cheese. I finished with calamares (squid) recommended by a guy who looked and dressed like he should don a red cape and run away from bulls. It was simply presented, seasoned with olive oil and when mixed with the bitter, leaking squid ink provided  a good balance. Not sure it was worth 16 euro, but it was certainly unique.

Tapas 24 Patatas Flauvas
Tapas 24 Bikini Sandwich
Tapas 24 Calamares (Baby Squid)

I didn’t realize Spain would have such good ice cream. In particular was a place called Belgious. Situated in what seemed to be a shady back alley along the goth section of the ramblas (maybe it was also the fact it was past midnight), my broken Spanish saw the word exotic and ice cream together and I was sold. I was able to sample a number of flavours including gin and tonic, szechuan pepper, curry and cannibus..yes cannibus. I ended up settling on a combination of thyme (my favourite spice) and Modena vinegar with raspberries. Delish! No picture though..a bit too shady to pull the Blackberry out.

On another note, there are great markets in Barcelona. I managed to visit two during my travels.  La Concepcio is located not far from downtown Barcelona.  It’s a smaller market with a wonderful seafood selection (the meat and chicken isn’t bad either) . In fact, you don’t even smell the fish despite the fact you’re surrounded by it.   Both offered a wide variety of meats, chicken and some of the best fish I have ever seen. La Boqueria is perhaps the most well-known and busiest market and was certainly bustling when I was there.  Once again, the seafood was amazing, complete with huge oysters and fresh fish butchered on the spot. There was a variety of prepared foods such squid on a skewer and fresh juices.  I quenched my palate with a mango coconut juice for a couple of euros.

Oysters at the Market
Prawns at the Market
Produce at the Market
Squid on a Skewer at the Market

I hit the George Payne bar as well which offers great soccer, confusing drink specials and not so good food.