Barcelona Eats: Teòric
After not visiting Barcelona for a couple years, suddenly I've been going to Barcelona a bunch recently - and it all started last with a trip with my roommate to see the RuPaul Werq The World Tour in town last November! So this post is quite a bit delayed, but I was reminded of this restaurant when I was making a list of restaurant recommendations for Barcelona - and Teòric definitely made the list.
I had heard of Teòric from a friend, who had come across it on a blog. The main focus of Teòric is traditional Catalan food made with local ingredients, perhaps even some forgotten dishes, presented in a modern way. Sounded good.
Plus, it was not too far from the Passeig de Gracia where we were staying, so decided it would be a good choice for a late lunch. They were very quick with responding to a reservation inquiry when I emailed them the same morning of the day I wanted to have lunch. When I ate there in November, I don't remember it having any sort of ranking on TripAdvisor (or perhaps I didn't look), but when I made up my list of restaurants for my friend, it was the #1 restaurant in Barcelona! So for sure, reservations would be advisable, perhaps further in advance nowadays!
They only had seating outdoor by the time I emailed, which was fine. The interior looked pretty cute, though, so we missed out on that. A lovely basket of nice bread came out with some olive oil to start.
We started with the sorell i pastanaga - translated from Catalan, mackerel and wild carrot. The mackerel was cured - firm and fishy - while the wild carrot was kind of like a sauce on the bottom. I usually wouldn't order mackerel, but this turned out to be a decent start.
The croquetes mar i muntanya i safra were more up my alley. These were surf and turf croquetas with saffron, with a combination of prawns and chicken. Surf and turf is an interesting hallmark of Catalan cuisine, as I learned in my cooking class in Palamós up the coast, where we made two dishes that combined squid and sausage (link to my blog post about it here).
Then we had the patates, romesco picant i all i oli fumat, or their version of patatas bravas, with spicy romesco sauce and smoked aioli. This was actually a bit disappointing to me, because the potatoes were a bit too moist, making for a rather watery dish. I like it when the potatoes are well-fried, and in that way the sauce clings to the potatoes a bit better.
The alberginia, by contrast, was a hit. This was eggplant that was cooked to a soft custardy consistency, reminding me of a Japanese preparation.
The pop, papada i trinxat was also delicious. It was another surf and turf composition, with octopus squaring off against fatty pork jowl this time. These two were nicely charred, and served on top of their interpretation of trinxat, a typical side dish which includes potatoes and cabbage, presented here as a puree.
The final dish that we ordered for the two of us (portions are meant for sharing a bunch), was the most eye-opening. This was a special, an arroz meloso (soupy rice) with cuttlefish, tinged green with seaweed. When I tasted it, I had a sudden sense of I got the strangest feeling of déjà vu where I was transported immediately back to my childhood. And then it hit me: the flavor reminded me of the yellow croaker fried in laver batter (taitiao huangyu 苔條黃魚), which I had so many years ago in New York Chinatown! It was that taste of the sea from the seafood, the creamy consistency, and especially the distinctive taste of the laver seaweed. Just amazing how tastes can unite across three continents.
For dessert, we had the ametlla, canyella i llimona, literally almond, cinnamon, and lemon. Basically, this was a deconstruction of the usual flavors of a torró de Xixona, or turrón of Jijona in Spanish. I should have already known that I wouldn't love this dessert, because I actually hate turrón of Jijona, a typical confection popular especially around Christmastime made from ground almonds and occasionally scented with cinnamon and lemon zest. Now, I can honestly say that I hate very, very few foods in the world, and it is especially surprising for this nut-lover to actually not like something made with or flavored of nuts. But turrón is simply over-the-top unctuous and greasy for me. On top of that, cinnamon and lemon zest is a combination that I also associate with leche merengada, the Spanish milky slushie with those two flavors. Another dessert that I avoid.
But, the waiter really was enthusiastic about it, and it did seem to be the most interesting dessert of the bunch. The almond was transformed into a gooey coulant - that part was fine, if a bit sweet. The lemon took the shape of the ice cream, and the cinnamon the crunchy gravel, and so that side of the dessert was exactly like a frozen leche merengada, the aforementioned slushie. Instead of eating all three components, which is what I think you're supposed to do to get that "turrón" experience, I concentrated on the almond coulant. So while I personally didn't like the dessert because of the particular flavor combinations, that is a personal preference, and it was a well-executed end to the meal.
So is this restaurant worthy of a #1 ranking on TripAdvisor? It's certainly not undeserving: it in a country that seems to be obsessed with fusion (I would like to see just one menu without tataki something, ají something, ceviche, red curry albondigas, or "bao"), making dishes traditional should be applauded, especially if they commit to using local ingredients as Teòric does. On top of that, the waiter was knowledgeable (something that can be rare, at least in Valencia), and the food was great, and beautifully presented. Water, nicely served chilled in a carafe, was complimentary - also unexpected. Finally, the price I considered very reasonable for the quality: the bill for the two of us was 48€.
But I've since been back to Barcelona a few more times since this visit, and there are just so many restaurants to choose from - it's really hard to say what should be #1 out of so many. Recently I've been quite drawn to Ca L'Estevet which is more of a buttoned-up traditional Catalan restaurant, liking it enough for a repeat visit (dinner review here, and lunch review here). I guess that's one of the beauties of Barcelona: you really are spoiled for choice in this town!