I have a half written post on Vancouver but we’ve just come back from a relaxing holiday in Barcelona and we visited a fantastic Japanese cafe for the first time on our last night and I just needed to share it with you. It’s Usagui (Japanese for rabbit) in St Gervasi and we do love it so! The cafe is larger than I expected, taking up what appears to be a converted cellar. There’s plenty of seating, the music isn’t too loud, the food is excellent – it’s everything I need in a cafe!

We visited on a Saturday night – I, Blai, and Blai’s mother; it was quite busy but not especially crowded – this may be explained by it being holiday season. We started with tea. This was my kikucha (a green tea with stems) while Blai and his mother had hojicha (a roasted green tea). I was particularly impressed by the care the staff took to ensure that the water was at the correct temperature for each tea – hotter for the hojicha than the kikucha apparently).

Green tea tonight! This Japanese cafe (Usagui) in Barcelona is fantastic! They took great care to ensure that the hot water for the teapot top-ups was at the correct temperature for that particular tea.

Between the three of us, we split two dishes for supper. First there was an oyakodon, the classic chicken and egg donburi which was executed perfectly here, with the egg still a little on the runny side.

Their savoury food is all very comforting and delicious. Fabulous oyakodon.

There was also omusoba, listed on the menu as yakisoba with the optional egg, and again, here, it was fantastic.

Omusoba! They have a short menu but it's full of things I want to eat.

I wasn’t going to leave without trying some of their cake. Their matcha roll, filled with matcha cream and azuki bean paste, was light and fluffy and extremely moreish. And like many Japanese cakes, not too sweet – which was a very welcome respite from all the rich Christmas treats.

Dessert at Usagui tonight.

We took the last portion of the matcha cake and I was greatly tickled by the sad rabbit sign put up afterwards!

Dessert at Usagui tonight.

Mochi was also available and we went for the matcha mochi filled with azuki bean paste and whipped cream. This was amazingly fresh – all soft and chewy (chew well, folks!) and the whipped cream lightened the texture of the entire sweet.

One more from tonight - very fresh matcha mochi with azuki beans and whipped cream!

There’s a menu del dia at lunchtime and they’re also open in the evenings (but not till very late at night – best to check Google Maps for opening times on the day). We’ll be back for sure.

Usagui
Carrer de les Santjoanistes, 28
Barcelona
Catalonia

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When we’re in Barcelona for the summer, we always visit Blai’s extended family out in a village in the Alt Penedès. It’s wine country and everywhere you turn you’re surrounded by vineyards, vines dripping with white or red grapes. Quite often we’ll eat in Cal Padrí, a restaurant we’ve seen rise from what was originally a large chicken shed, and we’ve seen the restaurant grow in popularity since it opened, both with locals there for the weekday menú del dia or non-locals out for a special day with a special menu or lost tourists who are looking to retrace the cava route they planned. Yeah, I wasn’t there but Blai had to help out some lost tourists while he was having lunch there one day; lots of the wineries in the region now welcome visitors. And Cal Padrí is indeed a lovely place to stop for lunch if you’re in the area.

On our last visit, it was a Sunday and hence the menú del dia wasn’t available. There was a weekend menu or what we all opted for, the menú degustació. This tasting menu consisted of three first courses, two second courses and two desserts…and all for €26,50. And that included bread, water and the house wine. Definitely a bargain as you’ll soon see. And not everyone at the table even has to order it.

We started with a little snack of pa de vidre (rubbed with tomato and oil for pa amb tomàquet naturally) and topped with slices of fuet. A good and classic start.

Pa de vidre amb fuet

Then the tasting menu began proper. Amanida de perles de foie amb maduixa i reduccio de vinaigre – A salad of foie pearls with strawberry and vinegar reduction. I’ve never thought much about strawberries in salads but they were perfect in here, a lovely fresh and slightly sour foil to the rich foie.

Amanida de perles de foie amb maduixa i reduccio de vinaigre

Coca de farigola amb seito i ceps confitada – A thyme coca with anchovy and confited porcini mushrooms. This was wonderful. I love flatbreads and flatbreads topped with delicious things are always welcome.

Coca de farigola amb seito i ceps confitada

Raviolis de mascarpone i alfabrega amb daus de tomaquet fresc – Mascarpone and thyme ravioli with diced fresh tomatoes. Those tomatoes are certainly fresh as they have a kitchen garden on the other side of the parking lot!

Raviolis de mascarpone i alfabrega amb daus de tomaquet fresc

Llom de bacalla amb crema d’Idiazabal i patata xip violeta – Cod with Idiazabal cheese sauce and purple potato chip. This was one of my favourite dishes with lots of creamy cheesy sauce with the mild cod.

Llom de bacalla amb crema d'Idiazabal i patata xip violeta

Anec mut del Penedes criat a Cal Padri rostit amb prunes i pinyons. KM0 – Roasted Muscovy duck from the Penedès with prunes and pine nuts. This is the signature dish of the restaurant as it uses ducks they raise on the premises (the farm has been there for years). The cooking style is very Catalan – the duck is roasted in pieces in its own juices along with the fruit and nuts. It’s simple but very satisfying. The ‘KM0’ denotes the distance the ingredients have traveled!

Anec mut del Penedes criat a Cal Padri rostit amb prunes i pinyons. KM0

And then there were desserts! On the left is Copa de mousse de xocolata blanca amb gelatina de mango – A homemade cup of white chocolate mousse with mango jelly. On the right, “Ou sorpresa de Cal Padri” – their “Surprise Egg” of meringue with vanilla ice cream. Both simple but both good.

Postres

Overall, a tasty tasting menu and quite a fun way to dine if you’re here on a weekend.

I’ve been a few times already in the past and each time I’d had their menú del dia, the lunch menu of the day – made up always of two dishes (the first is usually a vegetable/rice/pasta and the second usually a meat/fish) plus dessert, bread, water, and wine. I’ve just highlighted some of the dishes they offer here. This is all very typical everyday Catalan eating and it’s all very well cooked here.

A typical Catalan amanida (salad)

Salad

A saltejat (think stir-fry or saute) of green beans with piquillo peppers

Saltejat de Mongeta Verda amb Pebrot Piquillo

A simple but typically Vilafranca/Catalan fideuà

Fideuà

Spaghetti with cherry tomatoes and basil

Spaguetis amb Tomaquet Xerri i Alfabrega

Chicken wings with garlic and potatoes

Alas de Pollastre al Allet amb Patata

Stewed lean beef with mushrooms

Daus de Carn Magra amb Bolets

Homemade yoghurt cake with chocolate sauce

Coca D'Iogurt amb Salsa Xocolata

Crema Catalana

Crema Catalana

Now there’s the matter of actually getting there. Cal Padrí’s address states that it’s in Castellvi de la Marca, which is really a municipality in the Alt Penedès. Technically, it’s in a village that’s really only made up of three houses. The proprietor said that everyone really finds the restaurant using Google Maps. And so I’ll recommend that too. Also, you’ll need a car or a taxi.

Cal Padrí

Cal Padrí
Masia Cal Gori s/n.
08732 Castellví de la Marca
(Barcelona)

The closest large town is Vilafranca del Penedès.

Happy new year, everyone! We’ve been spending the last week and a bit in Barcelona where we were relaxing and working and I was mainly playing tour guide to my brother who was also visiting. It was a hectic but a very good visit. Before all the craziness though, we did have a couple days to ourselves, of which one was used for a trip to the historic city of Ripoll.

It was a two hour train ride there, which we whiled away by staring out the window at the beautiful scenery and trying to pop our ears as the train rose with the elevation towards the Pyrenees. It was cold in the town when we arrived but from the station we went directly to its famous monastery – the Monestir de Santa Maria de Ripoll. It was founded in the 9th century by the amusingly named Wilfred the Hairy (Guifré el Pilós) and was the main centre of religion in Catalonia until the 15th century. A few of the great Counts of Barcelona are interred there.

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Of particular note in the monastery are the tower (above) and the portal (below). The portal is a beautiful example of Romanesque sculpture and there was a bid to have it recognised by UNESCO when we visited.

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It was lunchtime when we finished at the monastery. It being a Monday wasn’t exactly helpful as we discovered that many restaurants were closed; even the tourist office was closed on Mondays! We wandered until we found one that was open and that space for us two to squeeze in. That restaurant was Can Canaules, on the ground floor of a beautiful Modernista building.

Cafe Canuales

As is usual for us, we went for the menu del dia, that wonderful and affordable set lunch deal offered throughout Catalonia. Here their menu was €12.50 and consisted of two dishes, dessert, and bread. Instead of including a beverage like most other restaurants though, they included a glass of juice or a salad.

And as is usual when Blai and I eat together, we split all our dishes. The first was Escudella de galets i tall de pilota, the classic Christmas soup which here was executed perfectly and was such a lovely meat broth to slurp on that cold day. The slice of meatball, one of the usual components that is cooked up in the broth, was delicious.

Escudella de galets i tall de pilota

Rossejat de fideus amb trompetes de mort, llagostins, sèpia was a simple but good saute of short noodles with wild mushrooms (the black trumpets of death) and seafood.

Rossejat de fideus amb trompetes de mort, llagostins, sèpia

They forgot our salads (service was a bit shaky) but an inquiry ensured that they arrived on our table.

Amanida

Of our second dishes, the first was Xai del Ripollès a la brasa, lamb from Ripoll served grilled and here with a side of fries. These made for some fabulous gnawing at the bone.

Xai del Ripollès a la brasa

The second second dish was a stunner – Bacallà amb salsa de tomàquet natural i panses (salted cod with tomato sauce and raisins). The combination sounded strange at first but the raisins really did work well with the tomato sauce and the tender cod.

Bacallà amb salsa de tomàquet natural i panses

Desserts were pretty good if on the sweet side. Flam was homemade and executed well.

Flam

The Iogurt amb salsa de gerds (yogurt with raspberry sauce) was at first perplexing with its crunchy grains of sugar. It turns out they hadn’t melted into the raspberry puree and though this was a bit of a fail, I secretly enjoyed crunching on the sugar!

Iogurt amb salsa de gerds

Can Canuales
Plaça Gran, 20
17500 Ripoll
Girona, Spain

We hastened to see as much of the small town as we could but it was terribly chilly and not long after lunch, we were looking for a warm place to sit. We ended up back in front of the monastery where there was a patisserie with a cafe within. This was Pastissería Costa.

I resisted their pastries overstuffed with whipped cream and had a hot chocolate with melindros, the Catalan cakey fingers that a perfect for dunking in the thick drink. These melindros were the best I’d had in a while – soft and fresh and with a gentle lemon flavour.

Xocolata amb Melindros

The pastry Blai chose was topped with cabell d’angel, which translates to angel hair. This stringy (hairy!) looking sweet is made from pumpkin and you’ll find it in many Spanish and Catalan pastries. I need also mention that all their pastries were wonderfully fresh.

Pastry with Cabell d'Angel

On our way out, we also purchased a bag of moixaines, a biscuit that originated in Ripoll. The name translates to ‘caresses’ and it also goes by the name of carícies (‘fondles’). These little rolls are made with the same wafers as neules but these are filled with a hazelnut and almond paste. Yes, they’re as delicious as they sound!

I forgot to share this photo of moixaines from Ripoll. The name translates to 'caresses' and they are wafers filled with a hazelnut and almond paste.

Pastissería Costa
Plaça Sant Eudald, 7
17500 Ripoll
Girona, Spain

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Ripoll was a lovely town to visit in North Catalonia but if you do visit in the middle of winter, as we did, wrap up warmly! And to see more, perhaps time your visit not to occur on a Monday.

It was my first Easter in Barcelona and I was looking forward to trying out all the foods of the festival. As with most events and festivals in Catalonia, there are particular foods and dishes that are eaten and that are sometimes only available to buy at that time of the year.

Botifarra d’ou is available all year round but is particularly popular around Carnaval, the celebratory days before Lent (Quaresma in Catalan). This firm pork and egg sausage is eaten cold, sliced, and tastes just as you expect – of pork and egg. It’s tastier than it sounds!

Botifarra d'Ou

During Quaresma, bunyols de Quaresma are available at pastry shops and as desserts at restaurants. These fried sweet puffs of dough are airy on the inside (giving them their other name of bunyols de vent – “of wind”) and it’s difficult to stop at one!

Bunyols

What got Blai very excited though was the mona de Pasqua – an Easter cake that he hadn’t eaten for a number of years. This is a traditional mona – a ring of slightly sweet bread with hard boiled eggs embedded. Other shapes can be made too; there’s another popular variant where the eggs are piled in the middle of the ring like in a nest. They are usually given by godparents to their godchildren on Easter Sunday and the number of eggs on the mona would usually be the age of the child, usually up to about 12-13 eggs. Blai’s cousin told us of one mona with 30 eggs that he saw at one pastisseria – it covered an entire dining table!

A Traditional Mona de Pasqua

Nowadays though, these are less popular as people turn to cream cakes like the one below we shared with Blai’s family and extended family. The coloured feathers seem to be popular with all pastisseries in Barcelona.

Chocolate Mona Cake

Chocolate mones are also very popular – Blai remembers only chocolate houses being available when he was younger but today’s chocolate mones also reflect popular culture: the variety ranges from the ever popular Barcelona football team …

Chocolate Football

…to films like Tintin…

Tintin Boat!

…and all the way through to Spongebob Squarepants (he’s very popular in Spain and goes by the name Bob Esponja).

Spongebob's Pineapple

Overall, Catalans are not very religious but due to Spanish immigration from Andalucia to the city, there is still demand for religious processions such as the two I went to see on Good Friday (Divendres Sant) – one was dedicated to “Nuestra Señora de las Angustias” leaving from the Església de Sant Jaume and the other was for “la Hermandad de la Macarena” and “la de Jesús del Gran Poder” departing from the Església de San Agustín. The two processions met at the cathedral before returning to their initial churches. While they didn’t meet with the same wild reception they would have received in Andalucia, it was still interesting to watch.

Our Lady

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I’ll end this post with an Easter egg/chocolate mona I saw at Pastisseria Takashi Ochiai, a brilliant Japanese/Catalan pastry shop. It’s possibly the best Easter egg I’ve ever seen: it’s a ninja shark (with uh… smurfs)! Do also see his Totoro egg!

Ninja Shark Egg!