Jon and I really enjoyed most of our meals in Barcelona, but the stand-out for us was dinner at Gresca. This July 2008 NYT article on “bistronomia” described the restaurant thus: “Gresca practices bistronomia, which means it’s one of a growing number of Barcelona restaurants dedicated to offering high quality, contemporary — and yes, occasionally clever — cooking at reasonable prices.”
How could I resist? An elegant break from tapas and seafood at reasonable prices – I rang up right away and booked for 10 pm on Saturday.
I’m glad we showed up at 10, not only because I wanted to eat when the locals eat, but also because I doubt anyone in the kitchen was concentrating on much except football earlier that evening. *Everyone* in Barcelona was watching the Barcelona-Madrid football match. It was, after all, El Clasico.
Without being anywhere near a TV, Jon and I felt like we’d watched the game with every groan and cheer that we’d hear coming from homes and bars in Barcelona. And lucky for us, Barcelona won, which I think put everyone (including the kitchen) in a happy mood by the time we arrived at the restaurant for dinner.
45 euros per person buys you a treat of a tasting menu, which included the beautiful egg white souffle pictured at the top of this post. An egg white, whipped up and somehow baked and stuffed with a runny yolk, on top of a bed of fresh, firm vegetables. It was both simple and a big surprise. And delicious. Runny yolks and fresh veg make a perfect partnership, and the souffle added a bit of magic and wonder. And that’s how I’d describe most of the dishes at Gresca – classic, good-tasting combinations, but prepared in a sometimes-surprising and interesting way.
Things got off to a strong start with a single grilled sardine covered in a thin layer of translucent pancetta fat and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. Meaty, nutty, salty. You’d never know you’d eaten a fish.
There was no mistaking the salt-marinated mackerel as fish, though its oiliness blended well with crumbled bits of egg yolk to create a soft, cream mayonnaise taste (which I suppose makes sense – egg yolks + oil = mayo). I liked that simply crumbling egg yolk into crumbs made it unrecognizable at first. I thought they’d be pop rocks or some other gimmicky ingredient. But no, just rich, soft yolk.
The mushroom “ravioli” was beautiful. They looked like calla lilies and fittingly tasted delicate. Light wonton-style skills perfumed by fresh, high-quality mushrooms. It both looked and tasted wonderful.
This dish – a version of French onion soup – looked kind of scary. The dark blob in the middle (that looked a bit sea monster-ish) was a whole mushroom, which added a chewy earthiness to the soup and covered a wonderful chunk of melting cheese. The tangy-sweet onion broth, the cheese, the rich mushroom – all combined to create the most intense french onion soup, but in an elegant-looking way. I watched the well-dressed, older guy next to us tip his bowl into his mouth to make sure he didn’t miss a single sip.
The single, enormous scallop was excellent. Sweet and seared the way I love – crunchy brown on top, warm, pink and intensely sweet inside. The crispy, fried baby shrimps added saltiness and crunch to balance out the scallop. I must confess all those pairs of little black, beady eyes were mildly disturbing, but not for long. Someone should sell those things in a bag – they’re perfect for snacking.
By the time the meat courses started arriving, I was flagging. But when the sweetbreads showed up, I knew stopping would be a travesty. The inside was that nice creamy meat flavor you get from offal, without the heaviness of, say, foie, and the delicate slices of scallion and coriander lightened things up further.
Pigeon. Rat of the sky. My favorite. Again, beautifully cooked. Juicy and rare with a crisp, salty skin. But thank god it was the last savoury course. I must be getting old, because I don’t see why, at 10 pm, I couldn’t easily polish off all this food.
When the sorbet course arrived, I was, at first, horrified. At quick glance, it looked like another fish course, covered in pistachio and garnished with onion. But no, thank goodness it was a light lemon sorbet with a good bite to it thanks to the preserved lemon.
And we ended dinner on another playful, refreshing note. The restaurant’s version of a pina colada. That’s a crunchy milk chocolate crust you see, filled with coconut and pineapple sorbet and liquer, I think.
At 45 euros a person, people should be pounding down the door at this place. Gresca isn’t big, so book. And enjoy.
Gresca, Carrer de Provenca, +34 93 451 61 93; Eixample district; closest metro station: Diagonal
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