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As told to Elaine Glusac
A tranquil moment at the Plaza Real in the Gothic Quarter
OUR GUIDE, RYAN POLI: Chef/partner, Tavernita
Poli has worked in Spain twice—in 2003 and 2007—and spent most of the second stint in Barcelona, his favorite food city in the country.
GO NOW: May offers high temperatures in the 70s and a chance to catch the perennially strong soccer team FC Barcelona. The city is also a popular cruise port and the home base for several ships, including the new Carnival Breeze.
Barcelona appeals to a younger generation. It has incredible architecture. It’s more fashionable than other cities in the country. And it’s easy to get around—you can make your way around the city on foot, but the trains are convenient too. The mild weather reminds me of Southern California, but Barcelona also offers amazing restaurants, design, and culture. The streets are clean and the people are friendly—like Chicago. I really enjoy walking along the beach to clear my head and exploring the pedestrian corridor of Las Ramblas. You can turn down all these little alleys with great boutiques and gelato shops. When you’re in Barcelona, don’t try to do too much. Step back once in a while and just sit down.
Over the years, I have fallen in love with the communal style of eating and the energy you get from the restaurants. The camaraderie between chefs is unbelievable. They’re all friends; they all share recipes. The French don’t share. But in Spain it’s, “Here is my recipe book; if you have any questions, let me know.” Another thing I like about Barcelona is it’s not stuffy. You can eat at a Michelin restaurant in jeans and tennis shoes.
Ten of us from Tavernita traveled to Barcelona last May and couldn’t get a reservation at Tickets, the new restaurant from Ferran Adrià, the man behind El Bulli, and his brother, Albert. So we went to their bar next door and ended up talking to the bartender about the fact that we were visiting from Chicago to research our new restaurant. He found out I’d worked for Spanish chefs, including Joan Roca and Martín Berasategui, and all of a sudden Albert showed up. When we finished our drinks, Albert came back and said he had a table ready—for all ten of us. We were just dying. But that’s Barcelona. You never know what will happen next.
Photograph: (Gothic Quarter) Dorothea Schmid/Laif/Redux