Casa Amatller and Hot Chocolate

Not far from La Pedrera is Casa Amatller, the former home of chocolatier Antoni Amatller and his daughter Teresa. It's a beautiful building that housed his artwork and showcased the architectural style of the time. The architect was Josep Puig i Cadafalch and similar to Gaudí's Casa Mila, it's in the neo-Gothic modernist style. The house had many cutting edge technologies for a residential house of the time like electrical lights and an elevator!

Amatller was a collector of art and antiquities. Many of his acquisitions are still showcased in the house to this day.

At the end of our tour, we were treated to a cup of traditional Spanish hot chocolate. Thick and rich, it isn't meant as a drink but more as a sauce to dip bread or churros in. We tried both hot and cold varieties which were a nice little afternoon snack.

RAÓ Bar and Restaurant

Dinner after our La Pedrera visit was at RAÓ Bar and Restaurant for a new spin on old tapas dishes. Our server was from Scotland and was great in guiding us through the menu. We started with smoked burrata with butternut squash, a simple plate of ibérico ham, a refreshing tomato salad, patatas bravas, and catalan cristal bread which tomato sauce.

Next, the main dishes. We had scallops, roast beef with mustard ice cream (amazing!), roasted duck breast, and pork cheeks. We ended the savory portion of the meal with a tasty seafood paella.

For dessert, we had bread pudding and catalan cream. The kitchen was also able to scare up a simple chocolate ice cream with whip cream at my daughter's request. We were also served two nice digestifs. One was El Afilador which was herby and similar to a Fernet-Branca. The other was a milky liquor, similar to Kahlúa. Overall, a great experience with super friendly service.

Brunch and La Pedrera

We took a break from hotel breakfast and ventured out into the city. We found a great "American" style brunch spot called Milk Bar and Bistro. The menu definitely had familiar names like huevos rancheros but also some more European style dishes like Turkish Eggs and Mediterranean Eggs. Portion sizes were HUGE!

We left to grab some coffee at a local 3rd wave joint called Black Remedy. Their cold brew was excellent and really hit the spot on the hot and humid day.

The rest of the day was spent touring La Pedrera. It's a super weird and cool building, very indicative of Gaudí's style. Definitely worth a visit if you love neo-Gothic art and Catalan Modernism.

La Sagrada Familia (kind of) and Lokal Bar

We had visited La Sagrada Familia years ago on our first visit to Barcelona. I remembered it being much easier to get into but now requires reservations in advance. Since we had none, we had to settle for an external view. We did have reservations for later this week so will post updated photos then.

After our quick outer tour, we grabbed dinner nearby at Lokal Bar. Smaller and less frenetic than other tapas bars, the food was more refined. The place had a musical themed decor with old cellos and guitars that were converted into wine racks. 

On to the food. Sangria (red and white) were superb. I appreciate that they didn't offer us the pitcher because they said the ice would melt and water down the drink before we could finish it. We did glasses instead and the white was my favorite. Next, we ordered a few starters including super creamy guacamole, refreshing gazpacho, not so spicy padron peppers, and a smoked goat cheese salad. The two entrees we had were the very tender octopus and ox tail wrapped in phyllo dough. We then had Catalan cream and a brownie for dessert with a cappuccino.

Before we left, our server offered us a complimentary glass of his family's Țuică, a plum based high alcohol content liquor. Usually made and bottled in the same year, his family instead ages their Țuică for almost a year in oak barrels, then buries them in the ground for an additional 11 years. The result is a much more mellow drink that doesn't burn and leaves a really long finish. A great way to end the meal.

El Nacional - Tapas Meets Dim Sum

Spent the day walking La Rambla and seeing the waterfront at Port Vell. A parent from school suggested the Mission Barcelona kids scavenger hunt book and this was Mission #1 and #2 for us. Definitely a fun way for kids to experience the city and gives them something to read up on and look forward to before they arrive.

Dinner was at El Nacional, a huge space with multiple restaurants inside. It reminds me a little of a Las Vegas high end hotel lobby (in a good way) with the many different restaurants laid out in front of you. The vibe/energy here is amazing.

We opted for the tapas bar, La Taperia, and were surprised to be served dim sum style. They call it "singing tapas" with servers walking around with specific tapas plates, hawking their selection. It was an amazing way to see more than a menu could ever tell you. Food was excellent and service was great.

We started with some wine and cava to go along with our fava beans. Then calamari, meatballs stewed with mushrooms, cheese fritters, amazing jamón ibérico, patatas bravas, a mini seafood paella, and pickled peppers with anchovy. For dessert we got a thick flan and a ice cream sandwich. Come early as they will run out of certain dishes. We missed out on squid ink paella and steamed razor clams but no complaints about any of the dishes we got.

First meal in Barcelona

We found a local tapas bar near our hotel for a late night snack. L’Olivera is open until 1am, great for weary jet lagged travelers. We started with a nice cava sangria.

Next up was a steady stream of great tapas. Tomatoes with burrata, patatas bravas, chicken and cheese croquettes, tasty steak with chimichurri sauce and a fried egg, anchovies on toast, arugula with more of that great burrata, and olives at the end as a palate cleanser. A great start to the trip.

Farewell to Japan

A new tradition is emerging for me on the last night before we leave Japan. We usually try to get our gift buying done the last days we are on a trip so we don’t have to lug them around. There were a few sweets that we wanted to get and the only place open late (besides convenience stores) was Donki (Don Quijote). For those who have never been, Donki is somewhere in between a dollar store and Target - taking the best of both worlds. Last year, I bought an extra piece of luggage to carry back my whiskey and this time I got some mochi and Kit Kats. If you ever find yourself needing some random item, check out Donki. There's usually one in every major city.

Our hotel was about a kilometer away from the store and it afforded me the opportunity to see Ginza at night. It was a beautiful, crisp, Friday night and many office workers were stumbling out of restaurants and bars, slightly tipsy. The streets were lit with the neon of Ginza and a lone saxophone player was performing. We’ll leave Japan with many happy memories, eager for the next trip back.

Ramen Street @ Tokyo Station

As our trip was coming to an end, we spent the last day doing a bunch of shopping in and around Tokyo Station. The station itself is massive with shops and restaurants inside. You could spend a full day here and still not see everything. Once we completed our gift buying, it was time to eat and of course, we couldn't leave Japan without having some ramen. Luckily, there is Ramen Street inside Tokyo Station where 8 ramen shops are located. A sign at the entrance to Ramen Street shows you where each shop is and what style of ramen they serve. We wanted to get some good tonkotsu style ramen so decided on Oreshiki Jun.

These shops are designed for fast service so you order outside at a vending machine, then hand your ticket over to the host who finds you a seat when one becomes available. Your food is then brought over and you're expected to eat very quickly and make room for the next person. Quite honestly, the whole process was fairly confusing and unless you can read Japanese it's hard to tell which ramen shop you're ordering from. Unfortunately for us, we ended up going into the wrong line and ordering from another ramen shop that wasn't quite up to par. We quickly ate but left feeling pretty unsatisfied.

Undeterred, I eventually was able to find Oreshiki Jun and we were not disappointed. Great broth, amazing soft boiled eggs (Japan really does this well), melt in your mouth char siu, and noodles that were perfectly made/cooked. All was forgotten after I finished that bowl!

Tsukiji Fish Market and Nigiri Sushi @ Shou

The iconic Tsukiji Fish Market, in its current from, will be closing. Though they keep pushing the date back, we wanted to make sure we got to see it one more time, just in case it changes the next time we return. We didn't tour the inner market this time but instead spent our time in the outer market checking out food stalls and buying some kitchen implements. A must visit is Onigiri-ya Murotoyo. Get the one with a perfectly soft-boiled egg inside which was a favorite of the wife's.

My daughter also wanted some nigiri sushi so we decided to go to a different restaurant than the one we visited the first time. There are two very popular sushi bars in the outer market, Daiwa Zushi and Sushi Dai. I’m sure both are good but given the long waits and hurried nature of dining, we opted to go with an equally well reviewed sushi bar next door, Shou. We still had to wait about 15 minutes but better than an hour or more at the other two. We ended up ordering omakase (12 course for wife and I, 8 course for my daughter). Below are the photos of mine (the difference is the wife received mantis prawn instead of squid). The line up was:

Snapper, Maguro, Hamachi, Spanish Mackerel, Otoro, Aji, Octopus, Scallop, Uni, Baby Scallop, Squid, Anago, Tamago, and lastly a Vegetable Roll

Each piece was expertly made and the quality of the fish was top notch. It's no surprise given their proximity to probably the best fish market in the world. The chef was extremely friendly and gave us background on every piece of fish. It was a great experience in a very casual setting. I'd put their nigiri up against any of the high end omakase restaurants back in San Francisco.