Tempura-Ya: Orthodox

Ain't no fake sushi masters hidden behind this door.

Ain’t no fake sushi masters hidden behind this door.

Do you remember the time when you might find yourself craving for sushi? Sounds unbelievable now that you can find it at your supermarket, your gym, your gas station and soon your dentist. Finding good sushi is a whole other challenge; if you are in Barcelona, you will hardly be let down by Tempura-Ya.

The Art of Compliance

Forget the usual lump of gluey rice with sloppy, savourless toppings. Sushi is exactly what it is supposed to be at Tempura-Ya. So many dishes are worth trying beyond it, though, since this is one of those rare places you can rely on for a wide array of orthodox Japanese specialties. Having tried and enjoyed several of them, I can confirm its offer stretches the boundaries of its medium-high price range upwards, providing more authentic taste and experience than that sort of money (30-50 euros – sorry for being so vague, but it is all about the fish and wine) can usually buy. I have gone several times and will certainly return; there might be even better places, but this is definitely good – and affordable – enough.

UPS Score (Utmost Perfection Scale): 8/10

31 July update: I went back to the restaurant last night, and I have to report the experience was totally different. As in bad. I am not sure what happened – has the ownership changed? Is the usual team on holiday? Was it just a bad Monday? – but the sushi was absolutely ordinary, the fish was not too fresh, and the tempura was heavy on the stomach. I would regret to paint a big black cross on this place so guess I will give it one more try, but for the moment I would say: approach with caution!

Tempura-YaMuntaner 153 (Eixample Izquierdo) – BCN – +34 934 193 182 –  Qype page

2012 Grec Festival: Long-awaited

Another year, another Grec

Another year, another Grec

Give it a try if… What Barcelona offers in terms of world-class performing arts leaves you hungry for more.

Steer clear if… Your main concern in summer is where to get the best bikini wax.

Every year, as I climb the steps leading up to Teatre Grec and reach its impeccable gardens, two feelings invariably take over: I am grateful for having the chance to savour its magic one more time, and bewilder at the idea that someone might not even know it exists. If you are one of them, wait no longer.

Out in the Open

Built on Montjuic in 1929, when the prettier sister of the current economic crisis was raging, Teatre Grec was modeled after a classic open-air Greek amphitheatre. It has turned into a symbol of the performing arts in Barcelona, and every summer it opens its doors to host part of the events of a festival which has widened its scope in the years by adding more and more locations in town. Theatre, music, dance, circus and more: several recognized international productions, complemented by a selection of top-class national projects, enrich the program of this festival, considered by many the peak of the cultural season in Barcelona. A responsive audience – mostly locals, joined by a solid expat segment – usually flocks to the Grec without reserve. They hardly forget to reach the gardens in advance to enjoy some food or a glass of cava and do some gossiping, catwalking or hunting for this year’s summer romance, making this a social event as much as a cultural one.

A stage that may frighten, but often inspires (photo by Josep Aznar)

A stage that may frighten, but often inspires (photo by Josep Aznar)

A Subprime Edition?

The crisis seems to have left its mark on this year’s edition. The 2012 Grec Festival will only last for the whole month of July, one or two weeks less than usual – and the prestige of some shows is perhaps a bit less patent, an inevitable reflection of a tighter budget. While a quick online check suggests that both Jane Birkin and Toquinho may have lost a bit of their shine lately, relative newcomers like Esperanza Spalding and respected veterans like Pascal Comelade ennoble a program that otherwise struggles to fly high in the musical department. Theatre looks more promising, with an ambitious production of “The Master and Margarita” and an Icelandic take on Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” at Teatre Lliure among the jewels of the crown. Circus shows have apparently been emphasized (see “Le Grand C”), while dance proposals verge on the weak side, apart from shows like “Poppea//Poppea” at Mercat de Les Flors or “Concierto/Concepto” (do not miss either!).

A still image from the bizarrely titled "Poppea//Poppea" (photo by Regina Brocke)

A still image from the bizarrely titled “Poppea//Poppea” (photo by Regina Brocke)

Keep the Faith

The festival management – led by newly-appointed director Ramon Simó – has generally lowered prices this year, but also reduced some discounts (just 20% off any show if you see three or more), conceived an irritating redesign of price areas and allowed Tiquet Ramblas to turn the buying process at the box-office into a disgraceful obstacle race in which every possible detail has become a hassle. Yet as I said, never mind! It is always worth making the effort to work your way up to the Grec as often as you can afford – and the other locations are definitely worth a visit.  So do your homework by studying the program (usually published in the second half of May, this time at the beginning of June), and buy the tickets with your most interesting and dependable friends a.s.a.p. to get good seats. Get there early on the chosen night/s, bringing a light jacket just in case; as you wait for the performance, pick a sandwich bar or a café in the gardens and let the summer in. Or even better, book a table with significant advance at the slightly upscale associated restaurant, which boasts amazing views and interesting food at a premium price. See you up there!

UPS Score (Utmost Perfection Scale): 8 out of 10.

Visit Grec Festival – Official website.

Vespres Inedit’s: Refreshing

Not a bad way to start a late spring evening

Not a bad way to start a late spring evening

Give it a try if…
You would like to take an exclusive perspective on Barcelona.

Steer clear if… You are easily scared of heights, or gourmet tapas, or both.

Being in Barcelona at this time of year and not spending the proper amount of time on some terrace is absolutely insane. And how would I ever want you to go insane, my friend – especially with such a great summer ahead. So let me tell you about Vespres Inedit’s.

Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on You

As you prepare to strive for access to a terrace party – the topic of a bold upcoming post – let me suggest you to have a cocktail at the panoramic bar of a cool hotel. Until 22 June, fourteen upscale hotels in different areas of the city (from Casa Fuster to Hotel Me, Majestic and Mandarin Oriental – download the PDF map) are opening their terrace every day from 18h to 21h. Twenty euros will buy you a bottle of Inedit beer and three tapas, or you can simply pay for the cocktails you order. Perfect both as an afterwork option with mates or a romantic weekend treat.

Have one on me...

Have one on me…

The Magic of High Places

I have only visited Hotel Cram’s terrace so far, and found it small but quite relaxing and sophisticated (loved the elegant pool). Who cares if the proposed micro-tapas are a bit useless and ferranadrially pretentious? The magic of such places invites the wittiest conversations, and the sunset washes away the hassles of the day better than Crème de la mer. Considering the wide choice, I will certainly visit other locations on the coming days. Who would miss the most politically correct opportunity to look down on the whole city?

UPS Score (Utmost Perfection Scale): 8 out of 10 + wow!

Visit the official website of Vespres Inedit’s (including a list of the tapas proposed by each venue).’

Download the PDF map of participating hotels.

Cerveseria Moritz: Promising

No, I am not reporting on a new metro station.

No, I am not reporting on a new metro station.

Give it a try if… You like to try out new places in town that strive to make an impact.

Steer clear if… You like cozy, quiet places with dim lights and a rigorous menu.

Strange but true: despite the tough times Spain lives in, someone has had the courage to dream big enough to bring an ambitious, world-class project to life in Barcelona. The conversion of the historic Moritz brewery, founded in 1856, into a modern, multi-tasking commercial temple (part restaurant, part brewery, part stage, part anything that may carry the “cool” label) actually took ten years, so whoever conceived is likely to regret such bad timing. Yet six months after its opening, as the initially patchy renovation proceeds and the different spaces designed by Jean Nouvel take a clearer shape, people’s appreciation is so unequivocal that Cerveseria Moritz looks set to become one of the city’s mainstays.

Just why on Earth did they have to put the catwalks upside down

Just why on Earth did they have to put the catwalks upside down

This Is What I Call Mainstream

I have only visited the restaurant so far, so that is all I can comment on. A place like this would probably appeal to but hardly surprise more European cities like Hamburg or even Milan, while it does make an impression in Barcelona – and a welcome one at that. A bit crowded, but not too much; a bit noisy, but not too much either; most suitable for friends’ nights out, but even a couple might find unexpected intimacy by getting lost under the neon lights and riding the buzz. An ideal place to stop by after a movie or to kick off a Saturday evening – nor would I mind trying its breakfasts or (hopefully soon?) brunches. One of those places that this city really missed so far.

"Wait, I'm still at page 37..."

“Wait, I’m still at page 37…”

Treat or Treat

From tapas to deep-fried specialties – Tutto Fritto, yeah! – to elaborate proposals or Alsatian dishes, the menu bursts with ideas and a pinch of fuzziness. How else could the menu resemble a phone book so closely, leading the management to send you home with a pocket-sized version to browse and study. The output of this money-making factory is of the “hits and misses” kind – good esqueixada and effective Flammkuchen (despite the “wrong creeeam” alert), uninspired fried squids and despicable anise buñuelos, which succesfully conjugate the verb to fry in the past perfect tense – but since it is not all about the food, and there is so much left to explore, this is definitely a place I will visit again and again. Care to join?

UPS Score (Utmost Perfection Scale): 7+/10

Cerveseria MoritzRonda de Sant Antoni 39 (Sant Antoni) – BCN – +34 934 260 050 – open every day from 6 am to 3 am –  official website (still missing detailed info about the restaurant)

Meeting Strangers: Cool

"Meet me up, before you go-go..."

“Meet me up, before you go-go…”

Give it a try if… You would rather make one last effort to find the right people in your city than pack up and leave.

Steer clear if… You have just one more rerun of the whole “Sex and the City” to watch.

Remember the days when you were unsure about confessing your desire to make new friends, fearing people would see you as a loser? That is a secret you can now shout with pride: signing up to meet a bunch of strangers is suddenly cool, and it might just be waiting for you to join the trend.

Get a life. Get a Meetup.

Meetup has been around for a while. This platform for interest groups has followed an uneven growth pattern in the world, but it recently seems to have found fertile ground in Barcelona (as, for obvious reasons, in other cities with a high expat rate). If you are tired of exchanging views with your sofa, you will surely find one or more groups to join. From yoga to classical music, from language exchange to freesbee… or perhaps your own group, if you have the guts to expose yourself that much. There are currently over 75 groups in this city, some of which have about 2,000 members. Both a great place to start and a relieving last resort.

Odd One In

The founders’ great idea was a disruptive change of perspective: a lonely person is not a sad weirdo whom nobody wants to spend time with, it is a proactive urban soul with well-defined passions and time to invest in meeting new, interesting people. How does that sound now? Importantly, this is not another self-referential e-something digital plastic toy: meetup groups are unmistakably focused on regular real-life events, making this a welcome revenge of the offline world (yeepee!).

Hallelujah

Although I have heard slightly mixed comments from people attending meetups in Barcelona – apparently some groups are so large they end up spreading themselves a bit too far – judging from my experience I cannot but sing the loudest praises of this new form of connection. I have been a part of only one group for a few months, and I have found a fair number of promising new acquaintances and a couple of people who can make me cry for their outstanding contribution to this planet. Having a strong common interest certainly helps, as does the shared determination to “Save yourself! Go outside! Do Something!!!”. My clearest impression so far? This is an experience from which you are likely to get at least as much as you give – so open your mind, be generous and share the love. If I have been this lucky, why should you be less so.

UPS Score (Utmost Perfection Scale): 8 out of 10.

For a different take on the subject, read a great post on how to make friends in a new city from one of my favourite blogs, The Naked Envelope.

Visit Meetup.

Club TR3SC: Wise

The 3 Cs: Curious, Cultivated, Cunning.

The 3 Cs: Curious, Cultivated, Cunning.

Give it a try if… You meet culture in Barcelona at least twice a month.

Steer clear if…  Theatre? You would not recognize one if you saw one.

Some of my friends cannot stop sneering as I redeem the latest online voucher or pull out yet another card: “Here, we can get 20% discount on this.” Apparently they do not understand that if one likes movies, concerts and shows but already spends more than one earns, one simply must find a way to stop one’s budget from bearing a grudge on one. As for me, I made some peace by getting a TR3SC card.

Join and Enjoy

Do not be put off by the curiously Catalan-only website: ask a local neighbour to sign you up to the Club TR3SC, if you need to, and you will not regret it. From concerts to movie theaters, art galleries and dance shows, theatre shows, museums, CDs, books, and the opera; showing your TR3SC Card upon payment or entering your data at the appropriate online vendors will often grant you (and your partner, friend or even blind date – as in, save to impress!) a discount that may reach up to 50%, or even 100% in some special cases. You can either choose Basic or TR3SC mode (respectively paying €32 and €50 per year, as of this writing); the latter includes free tickets for a show you may choose in the course of the year out of a decent enough list.

Encore!

Encore!

Promises Kept

Eight months after signing up, I can confirm: between permanent discounts at several venues or museums and special offers, the TR3SC card is really some bargain. Courtesy of a couple of concerts at the Auditori (20% off), I needed less than a month for my savings to offset the yearly fee. After such a promising start, I have often been surprised to find so many of the best shows in town offering tickets at 50% off their original prices. Movie theatres make a pretty dismal icing on the cake, sometimes discounting as little as one euro; yet I shall not be the one to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Saving Is the New Black

In the end, why pay more? I dare anyone who enjoys art and culture to find a good reason why not to become a part of Club TR3SC (in case you are wondering, by the way, the 3 stands for an E and TRESC stands for “3 Cs”). I would say the only problem with this card is if you also think wallets are so 1987, you need to always remind yourself to carry it with you. On the upside, the frequent newsletters – provided you are not the type who gets easily annoyed – are a great tool to be updated on cultural events. All in all, a real no-brainer.

UPS (Utmost Perfection Scale): 9 out of 10 + wow!

Visit Club Tr3SC – Official Website

Le Cucine Mandarosso: Italian-proof

Those delicacies are for sale - unfortunately the chef isn't.

Those delicacies are for sale – unfortunately the chef isn’t.

Give it a try if… You want to taste the best home-made Italian food you can get at a restaurant in Barcelona.

Steer clear if… You have already been here three nights in a row and are starting to put on weight.

This post is dedicated to those witless outrépreneurs who dare ascribe the sad empty tables at their restaurants to 2012’s cheapest excuse for just about anything: the economic crisis. Are they too busy nurturing their self-serving bias to notice that place just a few steps away, invariably bursting with avid guests and thriving on their swelling wallets? Meet Le Cucine Mandarosso: another one of those few establishments to which this never-ending downturn looks as insignificant as anything with the name Jennifer Lopez on it.

Love at First Bite

In fact, you’d better call in advance to reserve a table at this Italian restaurant if you don’t want to leave your mouth watering. The ambience – typical Born/Ribera brick walls with carefully chosen retro details – is both charming and cozy, which reflects the two-sided culinary style: nothing but traditional Italian dishes (mainly with a southern, Neapolitan touch), but so well executed they turn into sophisticated gems – which justifies the slight premium price. Such an appealing mix that had I found a place like this while I was still living in Italy, I would surely have become a repeat and proudly referring customer.

"Pancia mia, fatti capanna"

“Pancia mia, fatti capanna”

Who Needs Mamma Now

After you sit at one of the cute marble tables, the waiters will bring you a small blackboard to illustrate the menu for that day. Do not skip the delicious antipasti (like the tasty verdurine) nor the gorgeous desserts (including freshly baked pastiera and cannoli), but be aware that pasta rules, with dressings that span from a wonderful tomato and mozzarella sauce to consistenly stunning fish specialties. You can even buy an amazing pasta for your home experiments, coupled with other carefully chosen delicacies. I confess I had to cut down on my visits after a while, since I was embarassed to reserve for the umpteenth time and some waiters were clearly seeing me more often than their significant others. Your turn now.

Le Cucine Mandarosso: Carrer de Verdaguer i Callís, 4 (La Ribera) – BCN +34 932 690 380 – closed: sundays all day (except for the aperitivo in the evening), mondays all day

UPS Perfection Score: 9/10 + wow!