Wednesday, August 1, 2007

La Cova Fumada

Something has changed inside me. I’ve undergone a transformation. Before: hated Spanish food. After: like, enjoy, sometimes even crave Spanish food. This of course goes with the assumption it’s good Spanish food, really good. Not from one of the billions of restaurant/bars that have those ice cream signs from one of the three or so main brands with all the pictures of the red foot-shaped popsicles you can get, or with slot machine or other video game-esque machinery right inside the door. Those make me cringe.

It’s really quite depressing really, I don’t know why the whole country feels like it needs to furnish all of its bars in this way. Seriously. I was walking in the Eixample the other day and saw a cheese restaurant, French in influence, with all kinds of fondues and cheese plates, and hey, who could turn that down? We looked at the menu and fondues were starting around 30 euros, so it looked like a nice play…until we walked inside and they had a slot machine in the corner. Bleh.

So continues my search for the best restaurants in Barcelona, because when you do find good, homemade Spanish food, it’s great. I get tired of all the ham and pork based dishes, but there’s more to than that. Let me introduce La Cova Fumada, a little restaurant in the Barceloneta neighborhood right by the port and the beach, historically the old fisherman’s village. The good thing about Barcelona: the fresh seafood. The bad thing: the price.

Cova Fumada has great seafood, some fish you can come by pretty cheaply, and also other dishes that are not as pricey. It’s said to be the home of the bomba (a mixture of potato and ham, rolled into a ball, and then deep fried, usually served with a spicy mayonnaise), and although I do like the bomba, I don’t think theirs is the best. What makes my mouth water there is the bread. They have the usual pan con tomate (bread smothered with the inside of a tomato, sometimes dribbled with olive oil and a little salt, you find it at every restaurant here), but the best is their bread with alioli.

I hate mayonnaise, but if you find a great restaurant here (as opposed to one with slot machines and generic ice cream), they don’t plop on the jarred, store-bought Hellmann’s-like mayonnaise. Instead you get homemade alioli (garlic mayonnaise). Whenever I make alioli, it doesn’t look anything like Hellmann’s. It’s yellow and tastes of sharp garlic and smooth olive oil, and a bit of sour lemon juice.

Cova Fumada makes their own alioli, and although it’s not like mine, it’s definitely not Hellmann’s. It’s white, transparent, and garlicky (actually doesn’t look like the best thing to eat, but close your eyes, it’s so worth it). After grilling huge slices of bread, they messily spread alioli across and it melts into the light, crispy bread. It’s divine.

The bread might be my favorite part of the meal (I am into my carbohydrates) but they do some other great things, too. Most recently, we got a plate of mushrooms and some chickpeas with blood sausage. This is another thing I’m not a fan of, but after a while in Spain, I’ve kind of become immune to it. Because the chickpeas are so good, I just try and eat around the sausage (although I can’t avoid it all), but they come topped with a few pine nuts; I usually just try and forget that there’s blood sausage in the dish I’m eating and it goes down real easy.

I love mushrooms, I don’t think they’re too hard to mess up, but as simple as they may be, they’re great. And when they’ve all been eaten, there garlicky oil stays behind, to be intelligently applied to other foods that come. I also love shrimp. Being from America, we only have one word for shrimp: shrimp. It’s that simple. But in Spanish it’s not. There are camarones, gambas, and langostinos, all of which, as far as I can tell, are shrimp. The difference is where they come from and the size. I had heard some good reviews of the “prawns” from someone (apparently the Brits do differentiate between kinds of shrimp). So I tried for the gambas, and there were none, but the waiter told me they had langostinos. They came out on a plate, just simple boiled shrimp, heads on and everything. In addition to my immunity to blood sausage, I’ve become immune to food served with heads on it, or at least I’ve gotten accustomed to cutting the heads off my shrimp. This is where the leftover mushroom juices came in handy. Perfectly cooked shrimp, smeared around in some sauce and a smile on my face. They were extremely good, but 12 euros is a bit steep.

Dan went for seafood too, equally as tasty but more economical. I’ve gotten more into my fish here. Always have loved tuna, but now I’m getting into white fish, such as dorada, monkfish, and the caballa (or mackerel) that Dan had. Split down the middle, opened like a book, and served with the tail (no head present though) and covered in good things like garlic, parsley, oil, and nice and browned crispy on the outside, but soft on the inside. Really quite delicious.

They don’t need one of those cheap ice cream signs outside, no one would have room for it. We were stuffed. Cova Fumada doesn’t have a menu they hand you, I’ve come across many places like this in Spain, which can get annoying, but instead have a blackboard with the day’s offerings which is about 70% legible. It’s small, crowded during peak mealtimes, sometimes people wait outside or crowd around at the tiny bar to get their chance at the food. It’s loud, the waiters are running around like crazy, you might wait a bit before getting their attention. The tables are long and family style, you might be rubbing elbows with someone you don’t know, but it’s all part of the experience, the quality Spanish dining experience.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like you have had some great meals in Barcelona. However, have you tried any local Catalan cuisine, which is quite different from "Spanish" food?

Anonymous said...

thanks for the review. me and my buddy checked this place out and had one of the best dining experiences of our lives

Courtney said...

i have tried lots of local catalan food, i've lived here for about 3 years now, so i've gotten to try my fair share. do let me know if you have any suggestions of restaurants/dishes though, because i always like discovering new things.

and to the second 'anonymous', i'm glad yall liked it! it is a unique experience with some darn good food.

Roy J said...

three weeks in Barcelona and this was the best food we had anywhere, we made a point of returning to linger over lunch on our last day in Barcelona, I'm not normally a big fan of fish, but La Cova made a believer of me

also let me put in a plug for another memorable eatery in La Barceloneta, El Xiringo on C. Sant Carles near the beachward end of the street, unpretentious, friendly, and simply wonderful food by a young couple who've been open less than a year

Anonymous said...

Unbelievable food in a small, intimate family run place. Not even a sign on the door, but worth finding and lingering over the delicious plates. Do not skip the delicious bomba or the artichokes! Very helpful owner who speaks English will recommend the house specialities and I loved every dish!!