Three nights in Barcelona. Three different kosher restaurants. Who knew? Truth is, I don’t usually eat out every night. There were extenuating circumstances. Kinda.
Day 1 – Delicias
I ate here last year. I thought it was the only kosher restaurant in Barcelona and I was going to save it for the middle of the week. I was planning on going back to my apartment after the first day of the show and settle in with some tuna, some crackers, some salt and vinegar crisps and a chunky Kit Kat. But then I waited over 90 minutes for a taxi despite starting at the sign that said “30 minutes from here”. Once I was in the taxi, I told the driver to take me straight to Delicias. I ordered the ribs because ribs always sounds exciting, but they turned out to be lamb chops. Lamb chops are fine, great even, but there’s always the hope that one day I’ll order ribs and they’ll bring something so enormous to the table that it will tip the whole thing over like in the opening credits of The Flintstones.
So the lamb chops were OK. Not as good as they used to be growing up. Thursday night was lamb chops night in our house. My mother couldn’t bear the smell of the lamb fat bubbling on the bone so it was one of the first foods I learned to cook myself. There wasn’t much to it. Take the chops out of the freezer put them in the oven under the grill. Douse them in Lea & Perrins’ Worcestershire sauce. Er… that’s it. Ivor Silverman, the kosher butcher, used to cut his chops a bit thicker than Delicias and he was very generous with the fatty bits too. Yum.
Later we realized that Lea & Perrins had anchovies in it and we really shouldn’t be putting it on lamb chops, but by then Thursday night chops wasn’t such a regular thing. Mum found some non-anchovy version of worcestershire sauce, but it sat, unloved, in the larder for a long time.
Score: Main dish 6/10; Chips – long, thin, plentiful – 7/10
The best thing about Delicias was that it was only about a kilometre from my apartment, so I walked home after supper. There is nothing like walking an unfamiliar city at night. It’s one of the few pleasures of traveling for business.
Day 2 – Shalom Kosher Grill
After my first night out, I was definitely planning a quiet night in, but then I bumped into someone I knew at the show and he suggested that we meet for dinner. I resigned myself to heading back to the same place as the first night, but he told me that there were now more kosher restaurants to choose from which is how I ended up that evening in La Rambla, the cool part of Barcelona that I had never seen. We met in a restaurant called the Shalom Kosher Grill. If you imagine the amount of time it took them to come up with that name and divide by two, that’s how inspiring the food was.
I should never have ordered a starter. Apart from chopped liver or, in the right setting, chicken wings, I’m not very good at starters. They’re usually heavy on the vegetables or hummus-based. Not for me. But my dining companion had ordered the soup and it seemed churlish just to ask for more bread so I took the spanish omelette. I had never had one before. I didn’t know what to expect. It was essentially a fat wedge of potato kugel. I have clearly lead a very sheltered life. I can pretty much handle any kind of dish you can concoct around the humble spud. But this was a little ‘meh’ even for my dulled buds.
For my main dish I ordered fish and chips. Maybe I thought I would get some ice cream on the way home. Considering how fussy I am with everything else I eat, I’m surprisingly unbothered by the type of fish I eat. Even less so when it’s battered and fried. This was Bacala. I don’t know what that means, but it was yummy and there was enough of it. I drenched it in lemon juice and enjoyed it very much.
Score: Starter – pointless and tasteless – 4/10; Main dish 7/10; Chips – stubby and crispy – 7/10
Day 3 – Maccabi
I decided that I wanted to go back to La Rambla and have a walk around the Gothic Quarter. There was a lot going on but it was too dark to really get a sense of the architecture. I mooched along some back alleys which opened into some startling plazas, but it just made me want to go back during the day. With my wife.
I went back to the main strip where two doors up from the previous night’s venue was another kosher restaurant called Maccabi. Three nights in a row in restaurants was really pushing the boat out so I kept things simple and ordered the hamburger. I made sure that the waiter understood that I didn’t want any ketchup or tomatoes in my burger. Just the burger. In the bun. Oh, and do you have fried onions? They did.
When my burger arrived I was skeptical. They had committed the first mistake of burger serving which is cutting the burger in half. I get that there may be some people out there with tiny hands and tiny mouths who prefer their burger served in two parts, but, for me, the whole joy of the burger is picking up the brute with two hands and planning your assault.
Fortunately the flavour of the burger more than made up for this culinary insult. The meat was held together with a marbling of something green, perhaps the most green I ate all month. It was juicy and tangy. The bun was toasted to perfection so that every bite had the right amount of crunch. It was all jolly tasty.
Score: Main dish 8/10; Chips – cubed but crisp – 7/10
I had planned on bringing the second season of House of Cards with me to Barcelona and watch it during the long Spanish nights (las largas noches españolas). But I ended up bingeing through it and finishing it at 2 in the morning on the day I flew. The second season didn’t have the novelty of the first. It wasn’t quite as intriguing. The plot twists were just a little too batshit crazy this time around, but it was still impossible to look away.
If Kevin Spacey was on autopilot this time around, Robin Wright was as luminous as she has ever been. And every outfit she wore looked like it had been designed using her fabulous mid-40s body as the tailor’s mannequin. House of Cards season two was rubbish and I loved it.
I can’t stop watching pilots however much they disappoint me, but this week I saw two that I kinda enjoyed.
Growing Up Fisher is a 22-minute sitcom about a family where the kids have to cope with the parents getting a divorce. Except rather than run through a bunch of cliches about how the kids are being made miserable, in this show, everyone kinda loves everyone. Dad is played by J. K. Simmons who has been consistently one of my favourite character actors of the past few years. He was a bastard in Oz and an effective J. Jonah Jameson in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies, but his best role was as Juno’s dad in Juno. In Growing Up Fisher, he plays a dad again, but this time he’s blind.
Growing Up Fisher also has Jenna Elfman as the mom. I heart Jenna Elfman. She’s tall and dreamy. I’m pleased she is not my mom because that would be way awkward.
The other new show I caught was called Mind Games. It’s got Christian Slater and Steve Zahn as brothers. I’ve never been fully on board with Steve Zahn, but I have mad love for Christian Slater. Have done ever since Heathers. And when you throw in Pump Up The Volume and True Romance, Mr. Slater can pretty much do whatever he wants and I’ll still believe he’s ice cool.
Mind Games is like the mixed-up lovechild of Lie To Me and Leverage. It’s got silly science. It’s got caper-type stuff going on. It’s got a liberal attitude to mental illness. I enjoyed the pilot, but I can’t see it lasting. You’ll probably never watch it, so watch this instead:
I’m a bit behind on my movies but I just fast forwarded through Homefront with Jason Statham. I’ve watched a ton of Jason Statham movies. I like the way he fights. Homefront is odd because it has a serious supporting cast – James Franco, Winona Ryder (talking of Heathers), Kate Bosworth and the great Clancy Brown. None of them make the slightest bit of difference. It’s got a screenplay by Sylvester Stallone, only the third man in history after Charlie Chaplin and Orson Welles to be Oscar nominated for Best Actor and Best Screenwriter in the same film. It’s not Sly’s finest work. It’s not even a good Jason Statham movie.
We went to see Romeo & Juliet last night. It was a touring production out of the UK. The six-person cast played all the roles. I won’t say it was a great production and the delivery was all terribly actorly and stilted rather than sounding like real speech and flowing naturally as the best productions manage, but it still beats staying at home playing Candy Crush. We brought kids two and three with. I think they even appreciated it.
I read bits of Civilization every night in Barcelona and finished the last ten pages on the flight home. I think I understood the premise of the book and even some of the ideas within, but it was pretty treacly at times and hard to pin down. Maybe it worked better as a TV series where the arguments aren’t expected to cohere quite so much.
Right after that, somewhere over the Mediterranean, I started Stoner by John Williams. I first read about the book when Ian McEwan mentioned it in a interview. It was published in 1965 and had almost completely disappeared from the public conscious. It appears that it was rediscovered and republished in 2007 from where its reputation as a great lost novel grew. Last year Waterstones named it their book of the year and when I was back in London last month WH Smith had filled a whole wall with copies of the book.
I went through it in 36 hours. It’s a quiet book that remind me of the best Thomas Hardy novels. William Stoner is a man who rises up from his promised life of agriculture and manual labor to become a man of literature and a teacher. I’m not sure there’s anything I could say to do it justice. I loved it to bits, but I’m always looking for Victorian novels that I haven’t read before. Stoner is a lost Victorian novel from 1965, which makes about as much sense as its rediscovery and recent success. Let me know if you want to borrow it.
Right after Stoner, I started Killer’s Payoff by Ed McBain. It’s a new project I began last year, to read all of McBain’s 87th Precinct novels in order of publication. This is the 6th in the series and it’s from 1958. The 54th and final book in the series was published in 2005. This is right up my alley. If I do 3-4 of them a year, I shall finish the series before I turn 60.
Now because you’ve been patient, here’s that early trailer for Juno just to remind you to go and watch it again. I’m for sure gonna.