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March 19, 2009

Heavenly city

Filed under: Coffee,Fish,Restaurants — Mr. Henry @ 3:28 pm

At this instant in Barcelona’s old city Mr. Henry is posting from the wifi at Cafe del Born Nou. Its beamed ceiling reaches as high as Mr. Henry’s spirits. Vintage Joe Cocker is playing on loud speakers without distortion, loud enough to highlight Cocker’s peerless growl but not loud enough to split Mr. Henry’s jet-lagged head. Sparkling cava light and bright in the glass welcomes the arrival of white anchovies on toast, first in a line of tapas that will stretch from evening until night.


Thirty years ago when a callow Mr. Henry first set foot here Barcelona was emerging from under Generalissimo Francisco Franco’ heavy boot. Each plaça exploded with folk singers shouting their long forbidden language. If you spoke Spanish in Catalunya, locals frowned.

Now Catalan cuisine has seized the vanguard. Foam overspreads the culinary world. In one day Mr. Henry has already eaten foam crema catalan and foam tempura soy dipping sauce.

As a mark of confidence in themselves today if you speak Spanish badly or Catalan barely at all, locals smile graciously and respond in beautifully phrased English.


Wandering down the Argenteria Mr. Henry found Café El Magnífico, purveyor of estate coffees so rich and so delicate that not only is their name not a boast, it is a sharp understatement. Its natty proprietor, Salvador Sans, launched into an eloquent disquisition on the virtues of drip coffee over the iniquities of espresso. An acolyte of Bostonian George Howell, “god of coffee,” Salvador argued that espresso method’s heat and pressure not only destroys subtle florals and aromatics but also transforms desirable bitter flavors into harsh metallic ones.

Mr. Henry appreciates the opinions of enlightened iconoclasts especially when their opinions bolster his own. For years he had hidden his preference for drip coffee over espresso fearing that to foist unwanted opinions on friends and relations might spoil their after-dinner happiness. No longer. Drippers unite! Take back the aromatics!


In an act of divine mercy deserving of his name, Salvador telephoned his favorite Catalan restaurant, Taverna del Clínic, to secure a table for the Henry party who passed an evening feasting on sea worms with artichokes, whole squid with its ink intact, and braised rabbit ribs no bigger than the wishbone of a quail. Desserts were created by a chef who in 2006 won best chocalatier in the world. Magnífico.


  1. Mr. Henry, you’re killing me! I can’t tell you how much I’d like to be in Barcelona right now, with the coffee and the cava and the tapas…have a wonderful trip!

    Comment by kit pollard — March 19, 2009 @ 8:24 pm

  2. You are in Spain? You must look up my friend who runs You two would get along like garlic and sausage.

    Comment by raincoaster — March 20, 2009 @ 7:50 am

  3. Also: the point about espresso flattening acidity is entirely correct. However, one has to start with some acidity in espresso, otherwise the product turns your mouth into a place old spiders go to die. I do not know why this is. But I do know, after seven years at a vilified, yet universally popular chain of espresso bars, that if you make espresso out of a Sumatra or a Sulawesi or something else that’s without acidity, you will have espresso that wouldn’t really outrank instant. You need to front-load the acidity in order to have a result that’s worthwhile, but the good Italians always knew that and leaned heavily on the Central American beans, with their natural brightness and acidity.

    True, the espresso process flattens that acidity. But it flattens it to a median point, and thus the resulting espresso is, while not coffee displaying the bean qualities to best advantage, something entirely worthy of respect.

    Coffee nerd out.

    Comment by raincoaster — March 20, 2009 @ 8:00 am

  4. *le sigh* I knew I did myself a disservice when I did not get to Barcelona when I visited Spain. The lovely city is still on my list of “must go and eat there” places. 🙂

    Comment by Babs — March 20, 2009 @ 11:19 am

  5. George Howell….wow that brings back many fond memories of the old Coffee Connection stores before they were acquired by by Charbucks.

    Comment by Phyllis — March 21, 2009 @ 7:36 pm

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