It’s tiny and it’s mostly (but not totally) classic. Bodega 1900 is the most recent opening in Albert Adria’s growing empire of restaurants located around the Avinguda del Paral-lel between the Ciutat Vella and Montjuich. Situated within blocks of Tickets/41º, Pakta and the soon to open Yauarcan, the tiny Vermuteria is an homage to traditional Catalan and Spanish culture. The restaurant is named Bodega 1900 because it sits in a building built in that year and the food, drink and ambiance aims to reproduce or at least convey a sense of that era. Perhaps because of its traditional roots and its relatively unassuming presence, it might be considered to be the least interesting of all of Albert’s restaurant creations. To consider it as such or anything less than a truly outstanding restaurant regardless of its style, would be a very big mistake. The truth is, Bodega 1900 is pure, delicious and totally beguiling with its very nature the root of its magic.
Bodega 1900 is described and designed to be a Vermuteria, a traditional place to enjoy a fine aperitif and some food, a style of restaurant that may have been a precursor to more contemporary tapas restaurants. Here, the beverage, in this case Vermouth, was the main draw, as neighborhood people could come, sit, converse and sip, while also enjoying a few good nibbles to go with their beverages. With a homey decor filled with old photos and memorabilia from elBulli and the Adriá family archives, plenty of dark wood, marble table tops and all the trappings of a good neighborhood watering hole, Bodega 1900 provides just the right atmosphere to bridge generations and eras.
My son and I had arrived earlier that morning on the Ave train from Madrid, had checked into our hotel and hiked over from near the Plaza de Catalunya to have lunch at Bodega 1900. We were there to sample as much as we could while also keeping in mind that we had reservations for that evening to hit up the 41 course meal at 41º. We would need to modulate our intake.
On arrival we passed through the front of the Bodega, which is set up as a store to sell and prepare fabulous Spanish conservas and other products. People can and do eat and drink in that section, but the back room is the main room for this occupation. The room itself is compact with maybe a dozen tables, a bar along one wall and a small open kitchen in the rear. We were seated at a two-top along the wall across from the bar.
We started with what else, a Vermouth! This one was house made and dangerously delicious. Slightly sweet and citrusy, but with a nice bitter backbone, Bodega’s house Vermouth was a drink that we would have been happy to sip all day, all night and all weekend if we could have. Even if the food were only a fraction as good as it turned out to be, it would have been worth repeated visits just to sit and sip. The food, however, was even better.
Our first bites were a mix of tradition along with the Adriá signature style of creativity. Potato chips were freshly made and dotted with Vermouth sauce. Exquisite berberechos or cockles were prime examples of the Spanish art of canning. Their luscious softness stood in lovely contrast to the crispness of the chips as well as a bowl of crispy seaweed and a basket of fabulous chicharrones with hot spices. Both of the latter dishes bore the unmistakable Adriá imprint. They would not likely have been on the menu of a 1900-era Vermuteria, but the chips (likely still a novelty in 1900 having only recently before been invented in Saratoga Springs, NY) and the berberechos might have been.
Olives would almost certainly have been available in 1900, but not like these. The Adriá spherical olives, first popularized at elBulli and since widely copied, are to me, the prime example of what makes Vanguardist style great. The initial surprise of the olive juice bursting in one’s mouth is fun and entirely memorable, but what keeps these marvelous orbs from ever getting old is their sheer deliciousness – at least in the hands of the Adria’s. The first and every other time that I have had these, they were simply flavored as the most delicious, straightforward olives that I have ever had. They tasted like super olives. These, somehow, were even better, as Albert and his crew have managed to incorporate the flavor of superlative stuffed olives into their magic capsules. The darker green olives incorporated the flavor of anchovies. The briny combo was simply heavenly.
I enjoy a good anchovy stuffed olive, but none in my experience have ever tasted better than this. The second, more lightly colored spheres combined the flavors of gordal olives with Basque piparra peppers. Once again, I had never experienced a pepper stuffed olive with more or better flavor than this. I could eat either of these olives in multiples every day and they would never get old. Based on his expression, I would say that my son could as well.
Few countries or parts of the world (if any) have better or a wider selection of native shrimp than Spain. From the fantastic Deniá prawns to the miraculous deep red carabineros from the southeast and more, there is incredible diversity and exceptional quality. These prawns came from down the coast in Tarragona. They were handled simply and pristinely, having been briefly boiled then salted. With a quick twist off and sucking the juices from the heads then an attack on the tail, they were sweet and delicious in a way that only the finest shrimp can be.
Fresh sea urchin happens to be one of my favorite things to eat. It often works well when used as an ingredient with other items, but its best qualities often become shrouded. Really good sea urchin begs to be treated very simply and eaten with little or no embellishment. The Galician sea urchin at Bodega 1900 fell into that category and simply was just how it was served. The flavor and the texture were truly extraordinary and beyond my ability to adequately describe the detailed nuances present.
L.J. is not a huge sea urchin fan in general, but even he fell under their spell. One of the marks of a great chef and a great restaurant is knowing when to leave well enough alone. Sea urchin (and few things at all) does not get better than this.
The excellence continued with a combo of cured fish bites. The first was a dried mojama of tuna with a marcona almond. This was eaten rolled up. The second was mackerel that had been lightly smoked. The mojama was good, but the mackerel was sensationally intense and deeply delicious. It was yet another “wow!”
The next set of tastes were centered around seafood escabeches, which have received an acidic marinade. One, mussels, were served with a very savory “red” escabeche, while the other, razor clams, was served in a more citrusy “white” escabeche. Both were delicious with satisfying textures.
My son and I had enjoyed chanquetes or tiny fried fish at a number of places on this trip, including Sanlucar in the heart of Andalucia. While we had enjoyed them all, none of the preparations approached this one in terms of quality of product, frying technique, flavor and overall satisfaction. Perhaps it was the powdered dashi that had been sprinkled on top – not exactly Barcelona 1900, but a liberty that I’m happy was taken.
Joselito has ridden an association with the Adriá’s to widespread acclaim and is considered by many to be the premiere producer of Iberico products in Spain. While I don’t know that they are “the best,” their products are superb and it is not without reason that they have been embraced by Albert and Ferran. A sampling of a few of their products was not without merit. Despite a week touring Spanish Iberico pig country, this was the first time I had tasted coppa made from Iberico pigs.
The Iberico products were served with a Catalan staple – pa amb tomaquet – pan con tomate. As is typical, this was as good as it gets, which happens to be very, very delicious and satisfying. It is the product of using top quality product and paying attention to detail. The end result, even for something like this, which is typically very good, is just that much better.
The next bite was another new one for us. It was a “tartare” of jamon Iberico. This was served in a confit jar and mixed in front of us to distribute the layer of covering fat throughout the shredded ham. Though a touch salty, it was unctuous and beautiful spread on top of the fantastic bread served alongside it.
Though not transcendent like most of the rest of the meal, considering that it was the end of January, the simple tomato salad with olive oil from Jaen and a touch of salt was damn good with great flavor and acidity reminiscent of excellent summer tomatoes. The salad presented a nice counterpoint to the salty richness of the jamón.
Squid sandwiches are popular throughout Spain and at Bodega 1900, they do an outstanding one on soft mollete bread with aioli and a spicy sauce made with soy, chipotle and kim chee. This sandwich combined everything perfectly to achieve fabulous textural contrasts with plenty of crunch to offset the softness of the bread and deep and complex savory flavors balanced with a hint of sweetness and a touch of heat.
It was time for a bit of red wine and from an unexpected source. The house of Juvé y Camps is most well known for its Cavas, some of which are truly exceptional. I hadn’t even known that they make red wines. This Merlot was soft and well rounded without too much oak or alcohol (listed as 13.5%). It was an ideal accompaniment to what came next.
A week earlier, L.J. were in the midst of a truly sensational tour of Spanish Iberian pig country eating pretty much all of the spectacular Iberico de Bellota products, cured and fresh that we could. It was simply fantastic. This is as close to pork perfection as it gets, yet the very best of the fresh pork that we had during the entire trip and possibly ever, was the grilled pluma Iberico that we had at Bodega 1900. I really don’t know why it was the best that we had, but it was. The treatment was straight forward and simple. The result was intense and spectacular. This was pure carnivorous pleasure. It was also the final savory element of our meal.
The desserts continued the theme of understatement, simplicity and deliciousness. The first was a sesame cake adorned with sweet, small strawberries and drizzled at the table with chestnut honey. The honey was left at the table so that we could add more as we wished.
Fresh, perfect mango was supplemented with mango sorbet that tasted just as pure, albeit a bit colder and with a different texture than the fresh mango.
Washing the desserts down, was a house made, herbal Ratafía liqueur. Smooth and tasty, this was a marvelous way to finish a marvelous meal, especially with the wonderful wafer that accompanied it. A torta de chicharrones con azucar y piñones, it was crisp, savory and not too sweet. In short, like the rest of the meal it was right up my alley.
Albert Adriá is the main reason that Bodega 1900 exists, but even with such a brilliant person behind it, the restaurant can only be as good as the people running it. Albert Adriá has managed to put together superb teams of talented people and this was clearly the case here at Bodega 1900. The jefe de cocina is Pedro Asensio, a terrific cook and leader of this small kitchen. His work is exemplary and combines cutting edge technique along with simplicity and tradition in ways that are seamless and appear effortless. The food may not be quite what would have been served in a similar establishment in 1900, but so much the better for us today, as it certainly could not have been any better than than it is now.
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