A Worthwhile Wait in Barcelona

Photo: Nick Cook

After meandering through the narrow allies of Barcelona’s Barri Gòtic, passing scores of nameless tapas bars, your Correspondent finally found Plaça de les Olles, home of the well-known Cal Pep.  Your Correspondent had been warned that there is always a line at Cal Pep and so he joined the queue and waited his turn.   Your Correspondent visited Cal Pep on a slow day, where he waited 15 minutes for a table.  And what a valuable 15 minutes it was, seeing what the customers were ordering (and their reactions upon eating the food).

Just blocks from the port, the seafood at Cal Pep is as fresh as it comes.  Seeing the abundance of fresh seafood behind the counter, your Correspondent decided on a dish of fried calamari.  The calamari at Cal Pep is breaded in front of you before being dunked in the fryer. When you pop the crisp morsels of nautical ambrosia, one immediately notices that they are tender as only fresh calamari can be – they lack that rubbery texture found when chewing on previously frozen calamari.

For his next dish, your Correspondent ordered a serving of pimientos de Padron.  While your Correspondent was introduced to pimientos de Padron at a tapas bar in London, it was only at Cal Pep that your Correspondent came to truly appreciate the simple elegance of the dish.  Pimientos de Padron are small, sweet heirloom peppers from Galicia, the northeast corner of Spain.  The peppers are flash fried in olive oil (just until the skin bubbles and darkens slightly).  They are then plated and salted with coarse sea salt.  Pimientos de Padron are eaten whole (except for the stem).  They make a wonderful snack in Barcelona’s hot and humid afternoon and go perfectly with an Estrella beer.

After the calamari, pimientos de Padron and a bowl of fresh clams, your Correspondent and his wife shared a magical dish of monk fish that demonstrated the perfect amount of restraint, allowing the main ingredient to speak for itself.  The monk fish appeared to be poached in olive oil and lightly seasoned with salt and slices of sautéed garlic.  The garlic was not overpowering by any means and the fish was not overly oiled.    The monk fish was accompanied by a small portion of potatoes gratin (sans cream/cheese) and a tomato salsa.  A filling, yet light meal that your Correspondent will surely enjoy again on his next visit to Barcelona.

Your Correspondent regrets not ordering the tuna tartar – it looked refreshing and delicious. On his next visit, he intends to order two so as to make up for his previous visit.

Wait in line for a seat at the bar.  While reservations are available for parties of 4 or more, they are only for the dining room (and all the fun happens behind the bar).

Cal Pep
Plaça de les Olles, 8
08003 Barcelona
+34 933 10 79 61

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Correspondent:Nick Cook

Originally from the Midwest, Nick has spent the last decade living in Washington, DC, Kiribati, Sao Paulo and London. Wherever he goes, Nick enjoys starting a meal with a wheated bourbon and finishing it with a tawny port. Nick is currently based in London with his Omahanian wife where he spends his weekdays lawyering and his weekends searching wineshops for malbecs to wash down his favorite cheeses from Neil's Yard Dairy.