Barcelona Part 2
Nothing is more quintessential Barcelona than a day full of Gaudi’s architecture and good food and wine, right? Although G previously visited both Casa Milà and Sagrada Família, he was more than game to go again with me, so off we went!
Originally built as a home for Roser Segimon and Pere Milà, Casa Milà evolved into apartments and fell into disrepair from the 1940s-1980s. In 1987, it was restored and is now a top tourist attraction in Barcelona.
Although I detest (detest!) standing in lines, we only waited a little under an hour before snaking our way into the interior of the complex. I chose to forego the audio tour in favor of just soaking in the architecture (as I often/always do in museums) and fell in love with the wonky, fluid design.
The rooftop, of course, was my favorite space, though I couldn’t imagine throwing a party up there for the fear that someone would fall over the very low railing. Even for a tourist attraction not much was in place to keep visitors from plunging to their deaths–so not something you’d see anywhere in America.
It was also fascinating to think about all the people whose balconies and windows look directly onto Casa Milà–I mean, what would it be like to look out on a UNESCO World Heritage Site? It’s one of those things that always baffles me when I’m in Europe–art and world class architecture are everywhere. Do people take it for granted or truly appreciate it? Do they find it overrated?
And speaking of overrated, our main meal for the day was at Tapas 24, the forward-thinking tapas restaurant lauded by the New York Times in 2010. It wasn’t that the food wasn’t good–in fact, it generally was–but it did feel a little blown out of proportion, perhaps because of the huge tourist crowd and the harried servers.
We were able to grab two stools at the bar–every table inside and out was taken–and while I did love the chance to look in at the kitchen while everyone worked, the vibe was a little too hectic for me to really enjoy the meal. Our server was very friendly and translated the menu for us (nothing is in English so translation is necessary), but she did forget to serve us the pan de tomat we ordered and wine refills were hard to come by.
Unfortunately our dishes were not served in a sensible fashion (in addition to not getting the tomato bread) and the two heaviest dishes we ate were served first: the Bikini Comerc 24 and the McFoie Burger.
The McFoie Burger (pictured left) featured an incredibly rare thin beef patty (it must have been seared for mere seconds on the grill) in a crusty bun. The creamy foie is served on the side and you dip or spread a bit on each bite. Yes, it’s rich and you feel a little deviant enjoying it (let them eat cake!), and, yes, it’s quite delicious, but it just wasn’t all that. I don’t know, maybe it was that issue of something being so hyped that it just can’t live up to expectations.
I found the Bikini Comerc 24 to be a bit more enjoyable (‘bikini’ is simply the name for a ham and cheese sandwich in Catalonia)–a jamon iberico, black truffle, and buffalo mozzerela sandwich served between pieces of crustless white bread. Grilled, it’s the ultimate little sandwich–salty, rich, earthy…I could have eaten quite of a few of these little triangles.
I felt like the restaurant really hit its stride with the fresher dishes, however. This salad of tomato, onion, almond, arugula, and balsamic was simple with layers of crisp, beautiful flavors. The tomatoes were melon balled for eye appeal with shaved onion and marcona almonds arranged on top with the arugula. A simple balsamic and olive oil dressing pooled at the base. Although the weather was chill, the salad was the perfect embodiment of early summer and would have been the perfect start to the meal.
Similarly, I adored this white asparagus dish. The fat, tender white asparagus shoots were poached and served chilled with a citrus-miso aioli and edible flowers. Not only was the dish beautiful (almost too beautiful to eat!), it was perfectly balanced with the umami from the miso to the tang of citrus and sweetness of the edible flowers and honey. While the tomato salad was a harbinger of summer, this asparagus reminded us that we were still in the throes of spring. Again, a dish I’d order any time it was available.
The other part of the day, though, was visiting the Sagrada Família, Gaudi’s infamous basilica that he started building in 1883. By the time of his death in 1926, less than one-quarter of the project was completed. Since then, at least five architects have presided over the design and building of the basilica which lends a slightly off-kilter tone to the entire building. Some of it is pure Gaudi, other parts interpretations of what Gaudi may have wanted or simply what the architect of the day designed.
We didn’t stand in line to go up to the top of the tower as I figured the view from Casa Milà was more than good enough for the day, but there was plenty to see on the inside. The basilica is actually very completed in the interior (consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 for religious use), and I was in awe of the soaring white marble, intricate stained glass, and extreme modernism of the entire thing. In contrast to all the older cathedrals and churches throughout Europe, this one feels solidly 20th century or even 21st, but without all the trappings of the modern Evangelical movement. It’s holy and art all at the same time.
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