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As I wrote about last week, I took a quick trip to Barcelona and Madrid recently to celebrate my birthday (not that I need an excuse to visit Spain) with friends who live in Spain. I normally just stay in Madrid, but this time I wanted to go to Barcelona for a night to get a taste of the city that so many people love and I had never visited.
So I decided to use 12,000 Starwood points for a night at Le Meridien Barcelona, which is centrally located on La Rambla. There is a new W, but it’s further from the action and for my first time in Barca, I wanted to be able to walk everywhere and get a sense of the vibe. I may try out the W when I go back to Barcelona and Sitges this summer.
We arrived at the hotel around noon and were greeted with a big smile and welcome from the front desk agent. She diligently typed away and even commented on my birthday which was three days prior to our check-in. Sweet! In my mind I was already hoping that extra bit of information would help me secure a suite upgrade, which is a standard part of the Starwood Platinum benefits. However, some hotels are known for trying to deny that benefit even when suites are available.
Fortunately, on this trip, I wouldn’t have to worry about any shenanigans. Without prodding, the agent offered me immediate check-in (which was most appreciated) to a very nice junior suite. She also explained the numerous benefits that Platinum guests were entitled to, including free internet, choice of amenity (500 points or bottle of wine), 4pm late check-out, free cappuccino at the Illy cafe, free passes to MACBA (Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art), and a paella tasting with the GM of the hotel which began soon after we arrived. Overall, I was extremely pleased at the friendliness and competency of the agent and was happily on my way to the junior suite, which in my opinion should have been called a regular suite because it had two separate rooms.
The furnishings were modern and comfortable. I especially liked the Bose iPod dock and spacious bathroom, including a heavenly shower that had jets from the ceiling and from the side – there’s nothing like a jet-lag reducing hot shower for a travel-weary guest.
After a full day of walking, we realized we didn’t have restaurant reservations. Upon the recommendation of friends and some basic research, I was told to go to Commerc 24 – if I could get a reservation. At around 4pm I asked the concierge for a 9:15pm or later reservation for the same day and he laughed and said they normally book several days in advance. Nevertheless, he called and surprisingly they were able to accomodate us for 9:15pm, which is still early in Spain.
We took a cab to the non-descript restaurant and I was immediately impressed by the openness of the kitchen – encased in glass and a part of the restaurant. We were given the choice of a 3+ hour tasting menu or a la carte. We chose the latter, mostly because we had just done a 5 hour French Laundry tasting menu less than two weeks earlier. Honestly, as much as I have open tastes, I do like choosing the things I am going to eat because I know they will at least be in line with what I like. I feel like I am always disappointed in one way or another with tasting menus, no matter how hard the chef tries.
The menu was very much seafood-dominated. We decided to order several starters and mains to share:
Oyster with Iberian Pork Belly and Graus Truffle
Monkfish with black garlic and black sesame
Dashi with sea urchin and cockles
Tuna Sashimi Pizzettes
Peas with squid
Cod with miso, chard and chickpeas
Rice with duck and foie gras
Before our food came, we were presented with several types of delicious breads and 3 types of olive oil. The one olive oil was so savory and delicious that I asked if it had truffle in it (it did not). I haven’t tried to research it yet, but I’m definitely going to track down a bottle or two – it was the best olive oil I’ve ever had!
Then came the food:
Oysters – I’m a HUGE oyster aficianado. My favorite are raw, East coast (Blue Point), and briny. I also like oysters any other way; chowder, po boy, salad – you name it. At French Laundry, they had an oyster with caviar that was probably my favorite dish on the menu. The Commerc 24 oyster, however, nearly made me gag. The pork belly (which I also love in just about every variation) had a mealy, gamey taste which totally ruined the dish. It was pretty much a disaster in every way and didn’t set the meal off on the right foot.
Dashi with Sea Urchin and Cockles -This dish was pretty interesting, especially since I don’t think I’ve ever ordered anything with cockles at a restaurant (cue snarky comments), but it was a light, refreshing escape from the oyster.
Tuna Tartare pizza – was good. Nothing earth shattering, but not bad in any way.
And then came the biggest disaster of the evening. I really love duck, so I was hoping for a nice sized piece with rice and maybe a little foie gras. Instead it was three huge dollops of extra rich foie gras and rice that was supposed to have duck in it (I couldn’t find it or taste it). The foie gras was so rich, it felt like eating a stick of butter. In fact, I thought the dish looked like a litter box from the get-go, so I had a hard time enjoying it. I’m not sure what the chef was thinking – it must be against some health code to consume so much foie!
Luckily the meal ended on a high note with chocolate mousse and olive oils – a savory and sweet end to a turbulent meal.
Overall, I was disappointed with the meal, especially since it was hyped up, has a Michelin star, and was not inexpensive (I think we paid $230 total, though we did have a bottle of cheaper wine). Would I go back again? No. But I’m satisfied that I tried something new and I really enjoyed the atmosphere of the restaurant.
We savored the rest of the night out and actually bumped into friends from New York who were there because they took advantage of the cheap flight deal that I had posted about – small world!
One day was not enough in Barcelona, but I now know why people love the city – there’s so much charm and the city itself is clean and very pedestrian friendly. I look forward to returning sometime soon!