Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Barcelona's Hotel NERI Restaurant offers a refind setting, modern Catalan cuisine and superb service all in style (8-22-13)

Our next day in Barcelona we were invited to the intimate Relais et Chateaux Hotel NERI (www.hotelneri.com) located in the old Gothic Quarter just blocks from the Cathedral. The hotel
could easily be missed (I have been by it twice before without noticing) as it is two old buildings modestly marked and clearly met to blend in with its surroundings. Inside, it's a different story with
modern d├ęcor and real flair. The dining room offers outdoor terrace eating on a small almost private square in the rear of the hotel on San Felipe Neri Square (Placa Sant Felip Neri in Catalan). Inside is a cozy, cushy setting elegant for fine dining or even our luscious lunch. The General Manager dined with us, but I saw everyone getting excellent service from the well trained staff. Our server, Moncie (short for the very common
Catalan name, Montserrat) was a gem and when we first mentioned that we disliked the local sparkling Vichy Catalan water, she immediately produced bottles of Badoit, our favorite; we were already happy.
Will went to the local beers and I tried the DESIG Xarel-lo which has some oak and would work for any meal on a hot day. Breads(sunflower and honey-roasted) arrived with a small tray with Arbequina Olive Oil, Himalayan Pink Salt. If you dipped the bread in the oil and then a touch of salt, the sulfur reaction made it taste like "a Spanish fried egg" according to our host; it was amazing. Tapas of olives with marinated anchovies arrived, which of course, Sam skipped as he enjoyed the bread, and we were off to a brilliant start,
Another "amuse" arrived in the form of a shot glass filled with a taste of a drink the hotel has coined as "Bloody Sherry." Just think Bloody Mary with sherry instead of vodka, and it's an Andalusian version of the traditional treat.
I should preface the fact that the NERI has a set price for this lunch of 22Euros ($29) which is beyond belief as it includes all the above, a monstrous plate of THREE starters, choice of main course and dessert.
A larger 37Euro menu is available should you wish to dine for hours!
The "starter" plate arrived and we were truly impressed; it was enough for a lunch at home easily. CUCUMBER & YOGURT SOUP was a green version of gazpacho that was cool and refreshing and the Salad was far from simple mixed with tuna and a hard boiled quail egg, but it was the VEAL TARTAR that blew us away. Sam was none too interested in these options so he begged for a pasta with tomato sauce.
The 22Euro menu offers a choice of Lamb with wheat risotto, vegetables and rosemary, which we did not have, or the CODFISH with SEAWEED BROTH which was tasty, flavorful and light, yet elevated by leeks and a local delicacy, SEA CUCUMBER (thing bigger than clam, but chewy a bit). Our host insisted we try two of the items that are served on this menu with a surcharge, but are on the 37Euro menu as well. The SCALLOPS with FOIE GRAS and SEAFOOD SOUP was divine. Just a small bit of the foie under a scallop in a broth bursting with flavor made this dish irresistible. However, the hit dish of the day which even Sam declared fabulous was the RABBIT RIBS with SHERRY, TRUFFLE and POTATO. Small delicate ribs with meat (think chicken wings) were a bit messy, but a bowl with a small dehydrated towel sponge appeared and Moncie ceremoniously poured a dab of hot water on it as it expanded into a full towelette to wipe off our messy dainty fingers. (Where was this the night before after the messy lobster paella?).
At this time I had moved on to a wonderful medium bodied FULANITO Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero. I also learned that locally they call Tempranillo Tinta Finca; how confusing is that?
Dessert was a PASSION FRUIT MOUSSE with mint and Iced MOSCOBADO sugar, which really is best described as a layered mousse cake with a top film of gelled mint and a Moscobado(sweet grape) snow cone on the side. It was as refreshing as could be, even for me who is not a mint maven.
More came with coffee in the form of CARQUINYOLI, local almond biscuits, chocolate truffles, anise sticks (avoided these), small chocolates like M&M's with almond and hazelnut and just to fill you up that last extra bit for the road, Moscobado ShortCake, which was a thick chocolate-looking cake actually closer to a dark sweet grape honey cake.
Again I remind you that while we had two extra courses, this menu without the scallop or rabbit is 22 Euros, which are respectively a surcharge or 5 or 7Euros only!
Who wouldn't love this and in such a fine setting with such superb service.