There are countless reasons to visit Barcelona, that bustling, churning seaside city in the Northeast corner of Spain. There is, of course, the architecture. Gaudi’s buildings alone are reason enough to sojourn there, and the Gothic district’s buildings and 14th century churches are also a historic marvel. Then there is the art: the MACBA, an important contemporary museum, the remarkable graffiti art, and the Picasso Museum–which roars with the ghost of its namesake. If you didn’t get Picasso before touring this museum, you will certainly, if not love, at least admire the artist and his oeuvre after a visit. Then there is the gastronomy. Traditional and edgy food styles will delight your senses, and the wine, especially the local bottles, you can’t help but drink in their entirety. But of all the places to discover what it must feel like to truly be a Barcelonian, there is one wine and tapas restaurant to which you must make a pilgrimage: Bar del Pla.
This writer found her way to this inviting and nearly hidden spot through a friend of friend, who is a native of Barcelona. My restaurant request was for a cheap and cheerful local’s spot in the neighborhood of El Born. He came back with only one answer. So to Bar del Pla I went.
What makes this restaurant so good, having dined there on two separate occasions, are a combination of factors. Number one, there are the tapas and main dishes, traditional and modern, in Catalan style with a chef’s imaginative flair. Number two is the wine (it is a wine bar, after all). Several members of the staff are trained sommeliers, so whatever you’re drinking is going to be local and outstanding, because they love and respect their winemakers–many of whom are hard at work just outside the city. Number three is the whole awesome package, that hard-to-pin down feel, like the word umamai which is used to describe that ephemeral fifth taste. There is something about the combination of food, wine, atmosphere, convivial staff, and constant stream of regulars that elevate this restaurant above the countless other outstanding nosheries in Barcelona.
I was lucky enough to sit (and eat and drink) with the two guys who have run of the place, Sergi and Alejo. They are passionate about their restaurant, and especially its wine (side note: the two first met at sommelier school years ago). In fact, Sergi created his own first run of outstanding wine that he doles out at the restaurant–if you can get your hands on one of his limited run of bottles. The dynamic duo gave me a full run down of their favorite items on the Bar del Pla menu and the wines to try with them. I also got the scoop on a well-known (and beloved) local winemaker who makes a house Cava exclusively for the restaurant. As if you needed one more reason to go.
WHAT TO ORDER – FOOD & WINE
Mushroom & Wasabi – Thinly sliced portobello mushrooms with Basque country goat cheese, strawberries, asian mint, drizzled with a wasabi vinaigrette.
Wine to pair: Ros Marina – Free Style
Suckling Pig Taco” – Baby pig grilled then sliced (not pulled) with tomatoes, celery, onion, mayo, and a homemade barbeque sauce. With olive oil drizzled on top.
Wine to pair: Consulat Petit Priorat
Grilled Octopus – Whole cooked octopus with tomato and beer that’s macerated for 24 hours; it’s then cut into pieces and marinated with orange, herbs and finished by an oven roast and a few minutes on the grill. You can always pair it with some “Patatas Bravas” – grilled potatoes with olive oil, paprika and sea salt, because, yum.
Wine to pair: Terra Alta – Bar del Pla
Beef Cheeks – Slow cooked 16-18 hours served with seasonal, local mushrooms. With tomato flatbread, because you are in Spain, after all.
Wine to pair: 200 Monges Rioja
CAVA – MADE FOR & EXCLUSIVELY SOLD AT BAR DEL PLA
Cava is the Champagne of Spain. Same concept, different grapes. And because Bar del Pla has been around for decades, they’ve established long-standing friendships with many Catalonian winemakers, whose many wines are on offer at the restaurant. One of the more colorful wine personalities around Barcelona is Antonio Villanova Ruiz. And he makes a special house Cava exclusively for the restaurant.
His wine is a blend of Macabeu, Parellada, and Xarel.lo grapes made in Penedès, a coastal wine region less than an hour south of Barcelona. The wine tastes elegant and charming and celebratory, and I am going to go out on a limb here and say it’s pretty much the highest quality house Cava you’re ever going to find in Spain.
With so much to see and do in Barcelona, if you are a foodie or wino, or even just like good food and wine, do yourself a solid and make a stop at Bar del Pla. It’s the kind of restaurant that invites you in with its homey food and gulpable wines and then keeps you hanging around until closing because of the umami magic that’s happening between the customers, the regulars and the staff. Barcelona at its finest.