July 28, 2004

Eating

The food here is fairly good, but you have to know where to look---and when to look for it.

During the conference, the main problem with finding food was that our schedules were off. Our morning sessions typically started before 9am, and there is simply nothing to be found before then. Our lunch breaks started around noon, and ended at 1 or 1:30, at which time the locals are just beginning to think about lunch, and the eateries are just beginning to open. Operating on this American eating schedule, we're getting pretty hungry by 7 or so, but dinner isn't really served until 9 or 10 at night. Really, things would've been a lot better if they'd just added one and a half or two hours to every time on the conference schedule.

Due largely to our messed up scheduling, it took a while to get the hang of getting good food around here. We were also confounded by the location of the Forum. This thing is in the back of beyond, relatively speaking, and there is very little around. After the opening reception, we got "dinner" at a little sidewalk cafe that really was not geared to dinner; I ended up with something that resembled an American country breakfast, with eggs and bacon. For the first several days of the conference, we were under the impression that the only available lunch food was on the Forum grounds, in kiosks that were overpriced and had much too small portions. It wasn't until Sunday that I discovered the food court of the mall across the street, which has at least one excellent sandwich shop---a chain, but at least a local one.

For dinner, we got the hang of it faster. The first actual night of the conference, a bunch of us arranged to meet at the Jaume I metro stop, from which we wandered and eventually found a place that served fantastic paella. The second night was the banquet, where the food was basically adequate, if not especially impressive. (The location, the Llótja, was much moreso. (·) (·) (·) (·) (·))

The closing night of the main conference, Saturday, we went to a place in Eixample that we accidentally discovered when I was reading my guidebook and asked, "what could they possibly mean by a 'distinctively gay restaurant'?" At which point someone looked over my shoulder and said "Well, presumably the drag queens and trapezes have something to do with it." Someone else pipes up: "They have trapezes?? We have to go there." And so we did. We got a table at La Miranda right as it opened, at 9 (see? I told you), and ordered our food. Most of the options for the main dish were, in fact, raw, but that didn't really bother most of us. (My veal carpaccio was, in fact, quite good.) What made it distinctively gay? Well, the waitstaff seemed to entirely consist of skinny guys wearing tight t-shirts and jeans, but the main tipoff was, in fact, the drag queens (and attendant trapeze). A little after ten, the lights went out, disco-ish music starts playing, and at either end of the aisle was a waiter waving a big flashlight. Onto the runway steps a really impressive drag queen who proceeds to lipsynch to the song, dancing up and down the aisle and slowly stripping to her lingerie. This engendered a lively debate as to whether she was, in fact, "just" a drag queen or an actual woman (this latter category including both post-op transsexuals and born women). About a half hour later the waiters came and asked one of us to move so they could lower the trapeze (and by this they mean a metre-diameter ring hanging by a chain from the ceiling); again, the lights went down, music started, and a different performer comes out and does this elabourate trapeze act involving balancing in this ring and hanging from feet and hands. Again, a debate started, this time with different people coming down on each side. Finally, the original dancer came out for a third number, where she lip-synched to a song "Spanish Rose", in English, badly, wearing a big red wig and a floral print dress. More people agreed this time that she was, in fact, a drag queen, although there were still holdouts. In any case, regardless, the entertainment along with the excellent food made this quite the memorable experience.

Sunday, the quest was a little trickier because a lot of places are closed Sunday evenings. Nevertheless, we found a perfectly good little restaurant off a plaça in La Ribera that served Basque cuisine; I got to eat another new thing here, as they served, of all things, pigeon. It was pretty good, actually, although the legs have so little meat that it's rather more work than it's worth. The brest meat was surprisingly tender, which leads me to believe that these were probably farm-raised in a small cage, but I'm at least happy I got to try it. The other notable thing about our trip to this restaurant was the prevalence of apples: nearly everything came with something apple-related, at least as a garnish. (The pigeon had an apple-flavoured chestnut sauce that was a lot like really thick, really tasty apple butter.) Must be a, you know, thing. For dessert I had the arroz con leche, which was a bit runnier than I expected, but John Hale really was the winner when he took a shot of some liqueur (and gave us a taste)---powerful stuff, with a heavy kick and just a hint of apple to it. I thought about ordering one myself after that.

Monday night we sought a tapas bar, figuring we ought to before we left, but we were unsuccessful given that we were in Barceloneta near the beach---they were all seafood restaurants. It was apparently very good seafood, although as a Midwesterner I really don't have the taste for it. I had the bream, and it was fine. I was amused that others at the table seemed rather more bothered than I that the fish was served with the head, tail, and eyes intact. I mean, seriously, you just work around them. I can't end this paragraph without mentioning the sangría, though: it was incredibly good, both the regular (red wine) sangría and the sangría de cava, made from the locally made sparkling white.

So basically, I've had some pretty good food experiences here. I definitely recommend not trying to skimp on the food if you visit; try a variety of restaurants. On the other hand, the food is probably not so special that it's worth scheduling a trip for. With apologies to Baker's Square: come for the architecture, stay for the food.

Posted by blahedo at 12:22am on 28 Jul 2004
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