Sunday, January 22, 2012

La Cova Fumada

La Cova Fumada, in Barcelona, is one of my favorite restaurants in the world which I think is saying a lot seeing as I have lived in Italy for the past three years! We discovered the restaurant last year after reading about it on Food and Wine's website (FYI their website is a great place to find awesome restaurant recommendations). I have to say that if we had not read that recommendation we probably would not have gone in because the outside doesn't look like much...

Waiting out front of the Cova Fumada for a table. The wait isn't so bad when they have already served  you your first round of beer.

The inside doesn't look like much either, the whole restaurant including the kitchen is contained in one big, open room, but we knew it would be good by the crazy amount of people inside. Every seat in the place was occupied and there was a crowd of people standing around the small bar sipping Estrella Damm beer and eating and another crowd of people occupying any space they could while they waited for a coveted spot at one of the few tables.

This is the entire inside of the restaurant. The kitchen (pictured below) is just to the right and is completely open to the room.


The kitchen - I love the grandma looking lady in the apron.

The beer fridge - packed full with Estrella Damm.

When you order a beer here you don't say what kind you want you just say big or small.

Our meal was delicious. Like in many places in Barcelona, here they serve small plates of food so you can order and try a lot of different things. I think we must of ordered almost everything on the menu but some of our favorites included the small artichokes cooked alla plancia (the flat grill) and doused in butter (the butter dribbled down my hands and wrists while I ate), calamari also cooked alla plancia and mussels on the half shell served with a dollop of creamy, smooth garlic aioli atop each one. This place is also credited as being the creator of the Bomba - a mashed potato and ham mixture which is made into a ball and fried and served with the aforementioned garlic aioli and a fiery red sauce.

To finish off the meal and revive us from our food induced coma we always have a Pirata. It is a hot coffee drink created by the crew at the Cova Fumada which consists of a slice of lemon, an espresso shot and I think at least two different kinds of liquor (it was a little difficult to keep track at that point of exactly what was going into our drink).

The two gentlemen on the outside are both part of the family that runs the restaurant. The man who is second in on the right is named Peni. We met him last year during our first visit to La Cova Fumada and we were able to reconnect with him this year thanks to the man in the blue shirt and some great pantomiming from Andrea :)

Of course, we had to get a photo with the grandma.
We absolutely love this place. To us it feels like real Barcelona and a place we could easily imagine ourselves visiting with strict regularity if we lived in Barcelona. We love it so much that during the last year, after our first visit to La Cova Fumada, we often found ourselves saying that if we could find a cheap enough flight we would go to Barcelona just to have lunch at La Cova Fumada. In fact, it was at the top of our list of things to do when we returned to Barcelona and on our first full day of our vacation we found ourselves there enjoying a nice, leisurely and delicious four hour lunch.

If you find yourself in Barcelona, please pay these guys a visit and ENJOY!

Saturday, January 14, 2012


We took a bus from the airport in Girona into Barcelona. As the city came into view I started to look around excitedly and pick out the sights I remembered from last time. There was the Sagrada Familia and the Torre Agbar but then I saw a sign that read, "Benvinguts a Barcelona". Now, I do not remember much from my high school Spanish classes but that did not seem right and in fact it is not Spanish but Catalan. In Barcelona they speak two languages Spanish and Catalan and in our travels we heard a lot more of the latter than the former.

The people in Barcelona have a strong pride in their Catalan history and consider themselves first and foremost to be Catalonian and then Spanish. In fact, a man we met was quick to point out that Catalan has existed for one thousand years whereas Spain has only existed for five hundred. 

We learned a few phrases and words in Catalan during our trip. Good morning in Catalan is bon dia and it was amazing to watch the way people's faces lit up with warmth and surprise when we entered a shop and said, "bon dia". Next time we go to Barcelona, I will definitely study and learn a few more phrases in Catalan as I felt like it really opened the door into the true Barcelona.   

The feeling of respect and reverence for Catalonia is also evident in the presence of the Catalonian flag. It can be found flying alongside the Spanish and Barcelonian flags in front of every public building.

The Catalonian, Spanish and Barcelonian flag

The extreme pride and respect for their history and where they have come from is yet another reason why I love Barcelona and its people and why I look forward to returning.

All of the photos on the blog are taken by me unless otherwise noted. This is one of those times so the following are the sources for the above images: Photo 1, Photo 2

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Last night for my birthday dinner we went to Serghei.

It is a tiny, there are only seven tables in the whole place, family run restaurant. There was only one man running the front of the house and a few ladies in the kitchen - two of which appeared as though they could be the nonne (grandmas) of the family.

We had heard that the restaurant served home-style (think like your Italian grandma made it), traditional Bolognese food. Andrea had even heard from a local reporter that the tagliatelle con ragù was the best in Bologna. We went hungry and were excited to try this new to us restaurant.

The inside is decorated with knick knacks ranging from on old radio to a guitar propped in the corner and an old advertisement for a Singer sewing machine and many, many bottles of wine some which appear to be quite old. If the Italian grandma was suppose to be in the kitchen then the dining room felt like grandpa's den.

The decor was warm and welcoming. It immediately made us feel relaxed and at home.

This is one of those types of restaurants that do not have a printed menu, always a good sign that the food will be fresh. Before the waiter even had a chance to tell us any of the options for the first course, we ordered the tagliatelle con ragù (if you are not familiar, tagliatelle are long, flat noodles and the ragù is a meat sauce which outside of Bologna is referred to as Bolognese sauce). We had to try it to see if it lived up to the hype. Apparently, its reputation proceeds it because when we walked in each of the five people at the table next to us had a plate of tagliatelle in front of them. We also ordered the tortelloni di zucca (pumpkin) with a butter and sage sauce (always one of my favorites). And of course a bottle of red wine - a Barbera d'Alba (also a favorite of mine).  

The waiter was very nice and split the two pastas for us (tagliatelle is on the left and the tortelloni di zucca is on the right).

The tortelloni were delicate and refined. The texture of the pumpkin filling was silky as was the butter coating each piece of pasta. The sweetness of the filling contrasted perfectly with the saltiness of the parmiggiano.

The tagliatelle were perfectly cooked with a bit of a bite remaining. The slight variation in the width of the noodles revealed that they were most likely made by hand by the ladies in the kitchen (fatta a mano). The flavor of the ragù was full and round and it coated the noodles nicely without being oily.    

For the second course, Andrea ordered the roasted chicken and I ordered the stinco di maiale (which is the lower part of the pig's leg).

My stinco was so huge it absolutely dwarfed Andrea's chicken.

Andrea's chicken was good but not anything incredible. My stinco, however, was excellent. It had been braised in Barbera wine and as soon as I plunged my fork into it the meat fell off the bone. The meat was tender and juicy and full of flavor. The Bolognese know how to do pork!

I was very satisfied with my caveman portion of meat.

A little pause was definitely needed between the second course and dessert.

For dessert we ordered creme caramel and mascarpone with chocolate sauce, crumbles of almond cookie and Amaretto. 

The creme caramel was okay but could not hold a candle to the mascarpone (which actually had a candle in it when it arrived to the table due to Andrea's request). The mascarpone was amazing - perfectly smooth with little bursts of crunch due to the pieces of cookie. The chocolate sauce was rich and a little bitter providing a nice contrast to the buttery, rich flavor of the mascarpone. And then I found the pool of Amaretto, which I guess I had missed the waiter mentioning in the description of the dessert because it came as a very happy surprise to me, at the bottom of the cup and I had to refrain myself from loudly exclaiming "OH YUM"!

We were very happy with our dinner and we would gladly return again to celebrate another special occasion.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


Today is my 26th birthday!

You know how people often ask, "do you feel older?" Usually, I look at them blankly and reply, "Um, no," but this year I do. For the first time, I really feel like an adult. My decisions feel like they carry significant weight and life feels substantial and not like the game it felt like in the past years. I feel excited about the future but also scared by the reality that this is serious.

Ok, enough seriousness. After all it is my day to celebrate. Can I share with you my pictures from my birthday last year?

We went to Rimini - to the beach!

It was foggy and freezing but to me it felt like home. Plus it is nice to go to Rimini and walk along the beach without anyone else in sight and only the noise of the fog horn. For those who have never been to Rimini in the summer it looks like THIS.

We were totally encapsulated by the fog. It felt mystical and romantic.

After our foggy walk, we warmed up with a delicious seafood lunch of mussels, spaghetti allo scoglio and fritto misto of fish. And it wouldn't be a lunch at the beach without sparkling vino bianco and lemon sorbet with vodka to finish it all off.

Tonight, for my birthday, we are going to try a new restaurant in the center of Bologna. I will be back tomorrow with pictures and a review.

Monday, January 9, 2012


I love Barcelona!
Andrea and I have been fortunate enough to go there last January and to return again this year for a week over New Year's Eve.

We were not planning to go on a trip this holiday season but I recently joined a site called Trusted House Sitters which as it sounds is a place to find house sitting opportunities around the world. As the house sitter, I take care of the person's house and animals and in exchange I basically get to go on vacation for free. Pretty awesome, right? So I signed up and I have responded to a few people's ads asking for a house sitter but in general the response rate has been close to zero. When I emailed the family in Barcelona I figured it would be the same but to my surprise the family emailed back and within a few days we had a week trip to Barcelona planned. Once there our responsibilities included feeding their cat and dog, Elvis and Roxy respectively, twice a day and taking Roxy for at least one walk a day and in exchange we got to stay in their lovely apartment that was located only 5 minutes walk away from the beach and walking distance or a short metro ride from the center of Barcelona! We felt like we got a double bonus as we got a free place to stay and we got to have these two as our pets for the week...

Elvis and Roxy

Barcelona is very special to me as I feel like it possesses so many wonderful factors that are rarely found all together in one city. One of my favorite things about Barcelona is that it is truly a city for the people. The city seems to be planned and constructed in such a way that it encourages people to come out of their individual dwellings and to spend time together outside in the city.

There are benches and chairs all over the city (it doesn't hurt that often they are also beautifully designed).

There are playgrounds for children tucked all over the city.

Pedestrian walkways abound throughout the city and are heavily used by walkers, runners, bicyclists and rollerbladers.

There is also a palpable appreciation and respect for art in Barcelona. This trip we did not step foot inside a museum but I do not feel like we missed out as we were still able to experience so much wonderful art by just walking around the city. At times it feels like an art treasure hunt as often wonderfully beautiful pieces of art are tucked away in places that could be easily missed which makes it feel all the more special when you spot it.

a little dragon 

beautiful stained glass storefront
I am not usually one to notice architecture but in Barcelona it made me stop in my tracks. I love the intricate details on these windows.
a beautiful passageway between two buildings
a griffin atop one of the waterfront buildings 
Miró's circular tile mosaic on the Ramblas

Lichtenstein's El Cap de Barcelona

The colorfully tiled roof of one of the many markets in the city.

A striking nude in Placa Catalunya.

staircase statue

The fat cat. It is suppose to bring you luck if you climb on top of him unaided.

A completely random but captivating statue in the middle of the beach.

 And then of course there is Gaudi whose work always strikes me as dream like and other worldly.

The rooftop adornments at the Palau Güell.

This was the first Gaudi work I saw on our previous trip and I must admit my first thought was that they had decorated for Christmas. I quickly learned to recognize the playful colors and shapes as part of Gaudi's unique style.

A Gothic looking creature on the front of Gaudi's Palau Güell.

Casa Batlló

The colors and tiling on the front conjure up an image of dragon's skin.

The colorful roof of Casa Batlló.  

The Sagrada Familia

When I arrived in Barcelona for the first time and saw the Sagrada Familia and all of the cranes surrounding it, I thought, oh no it is under renovation. I did not realize that the church, which was started in 1882, was not yet complete. The construction passed the mid-point in 2010 and there is an anticipated completion date of 2026, for the centennial of Gaudi's death, but as the construction relies on private donations the date is tentative.

It is fun to see the church ever evolving and changing. To me it almost feels as if it were alive - growing similarly to a tree. I like to think that this would make Gaudi, who was largely inspired by nature, smile.

a close up of the Nativity Facade

the Passion Facade

The interior of the Sagrada Familia has brilliant rainbow colored stained glass

and columns that are reminiscent of trees. To me the interior feels more like a New Age worship center than a Roman Catholic church which was consecrated  by the Pope.

the main entrance to Park Güell

beautiful mosaic ceiling

the main terrace of Park Güell with more stunning mosaics 

the main terrace with views of the Sagrada Familia to the left and the sea

the view back towards the main entrance from the terrace

I love this structure in Park Güell. It looks like a sand castle which has begun to melt.

Are you ready for my absolute favorite place in Barcelona? Literally, I could spend hours there everyday and be so very happy.

The Mercat de la Boqueria!

This is the most wonderful market I have ever been to. It seems like there is everything you could want inside from fruits and vegetables, all kinds of meat (probably more kinds and pieces than you want to know about), legumes and grains, eggs (and not only chicken), seafood, the list is truly endless.

one of the seafood booths

all different kinds of shrimp

Dried chillies, fruits and vegetables.

I loved looking at the booths and seeing so many different kinds of fruits and vegetables that I had never seen before in my life.

The market is like a rainbow of colors and smells.

One of my favorite things to buy at the market is one of the fresh juices offered at many of the different fruit booths. They are only 1 euro and there are combinations like orange mango and coconut pineapple. Yum!

Barcelona is a wonderful city because of all of these things and it is made infinitely better by the fact that it is located on a long stretch of coast. There is a great neighborhood called Barceloneta that borders the sea and encompasses the laid back vibe of a beach town while still being part of the large city of Barcelona.

A street in Barceloneta with the many balconies facing the street and laundry flapping in the wind.

Along the beach there is a wonderful pedestrian walkway which provides a direct path from some of the outlying beach neighborhoods into downtown Barcelona. It is also a nice place to stroll and take in the sea breeze and there are plenty of restaurants and bars to choose from if a break or a cocktail is needed.

Last year, we spotted the ladies in the left of this picture casually walking on their stilts along the walkway.

Each day there are people along the beach creating intricate sand castles often complete with flowing water and fire (there was fire coming out of this castle at the top right).

Sunset over the harbor with Montjuic in the background.

Our last evening in Barcelona we took Roxy to the beach. We rolled up our jeans and walked in the water as the sun set in the distance. A perfect close to a very nice, unexpected trip and a great start to the New Year.

 Check back later this week for a post about our favorite restaurant in Barcelona (and possibly the world) and a post about what makes Barcelona different from other cities in Spain.