Barcelona, Spain / July 22, 2009 / lunch
Winederlust Rating (details below): 7.5 out of 10 / Winederlust Worthy: Yes
Jay and I had been wanting to go to Cal Pep for years. Seven years, in fact – since the last time we visited Barcelona. At that time, we actually wandered by the restaurant (one of the top-rated tapas places in the city) several times, but first were put off by the long lines outside of it, and then when we actually went in, totally intimidated by the lack of a menu. With our poor to non-existent Spanish, we weren’t sure how we would order beyond pointing at the glorious seafood piled in the cases behind the counter.
This time, nerves steeled and Spanish restaurant ordering practiced over nearly a week in the country, we decided to give it another shot. Luckily, there wasn’t even a line outside the place, maybe because we arrived around 3pm, rather on the late side for lunch (Cal Pep only serves lunch from 1pm till 3:30pm). Though there was a line inside, it was fairly short and moved quickly (giving us a few minutes to chat with the couple from San Francisco waiting behind us). We got seated in about 10 minutes on stools at the cramped, narrow counter. (Apparently there’s a restaurant in back that takes reservations and serves less tapas and more full plates – good to know for next time!)
Of course, we still had no idea what to order. For good or bad, our server asked (in Spanish) whether we wanted him to serve us a selection of the house specialties, which sounded like a good idea. We also were able to communicate (again in broken Spanish) that we only wanted to try seafood, no meat, and that we wanted a white wine – of course, though we meant two glasses, we were served an entire bottle of a wine from Catalonia (a 2008 Sumarroca Blanc de Blanc from Penedes, a light and fruity blend of macabeu, xarel-lo, parellada, and muscat), which we ended up polishing off all the same. It’s surprisingly easy to get used to drinking a bottle of wine with lunch and another with dinner.
All the while, Pep (we knew by the name tag) wandered behind the counter clearing and delivering plates, speaking in a gravely Spanish that sounded oddly like Kermit the Frog.
As part of our “specialties of the house,” we were started off with traditional tomato bread (pan con tomate) with tons of olive oil.
Next came one of my favorite dishes of the evening, the clams – yummy with lots of flavor and heavy garlic and olive oil.
We also had a dish of padron peppers, blistered on the grill, lightly smoked with sea salt and olive oil.
The clams and peppers were followed by too many fried things – first, fried artichokes, and then a huge plate of fried seafood: calamari, shrimp, little fish, bigger fish. The shrimp were the best because they still retained their flavor despite being fried, but we would have preferred something grilled.
Too Many Fried Things (calamari, shrimp, fish).
Since we were sitting directly opposite the grill, we saw lots of seafood being prepared and knew we had to take action.
View from our Seats.
We ordered two gambas (shrimp), which ended up being juicy and yummy – not quite the same quality as Etxebarri, but still good.
Grilled Shrimp (Gambas).
Our last plate was chickpeas grilled with baby squid – also very tasty, and one of our favorite dishes of the evening.
Chickpeas Grilled with Baby Squid.
Overall, this could be a great dining experience if you order right. We should have been bolder and tried to order just grilled seafood – there were also delicious-looking razor clams, octopus, and more. Just another reason for us to return to Barcelona, one of our favorite cities.
– by Liz Humphreys, Winederlust Eater in Chief
Winederlust Rating Details (out of 10):
Food: 7.5 (preparation, presentation & taste)
Wine: 6.0 (selection, recommendations, pairings & taste)
Service: 8.5 (helpfulness, attentiveness, knowledge & pacing)
Place: 7.5 (location, view, decor & vibe)
Price Range: $-$$ (Inexpensive to Moderate)
Cal Pep / Placa de las Olles, 8 08003, Barcelona, Spain [map]
Direct Line: (34) 933 107 961
Open Tuesday to Saturday for lunch from 1-3:45pm (from 1:15-3:45pm on Saturday); open Monday to Friday for dinner from 7:30-11:30pm. Closed Sunday. No reservations for counter-seating, but rumor has it that they take reservations for the back room.