Inopia es utopia
I am back from my travels, but my thoughts keep returning to a great restaurant that I ate at in Barcelona’s Eixample district. Inopia is owned by Albert Adria, brother of the well-known pastry chef, Ferran Adria of El Bulli, on the Costa Brava. Albert’s restaurant is a tapas bar with an edge. It explores traditional Catalan cuisine, but with a fresh, clean approach to the food. The presentation and quality of ingredients is a step above the tapas that you find on Las Ramblas and because of it, patrons are clamoring for more. It probably hasn’t hurt that Gwyneth Paltrow and Mario Batali visited and gave it a big thumbs up in their book, Spain, A Culinary Road Trip. Our wait seemed short compared to the people who were turned away and asked to come back the next evening. It wasn’t until we were inside that we saw why this was a little gem worth waiting for.
The restaurant is made up of a counter that wraps around the bar and then continues around the outside perimeter of the room. The only seating is stools (without backs, I might add), which sounds uncomfortable, but you feel like you want to stay forever as long as they keep the delicious food and drinks coming. You face a wall that has writing on it and you can add your own thoughts. As one patron put it, “El Picasso de la Cucina!” and I couldn’t agree more.
Inopia is filled with kinetic wait staff in black t-shirts rushing about, serving skewered tapas of fried gambas (shrimp), patatas bravas with spicy tomato sauce and allioli (aioli/mayonnaise), pimiento padron, or croquettas de jamon, and more. Whenever a dish went by that we thought looked good, we added it to our already stunning array of small plates that we had ordered. When our dessert arrived with a full jar of honey to drizzle over a delicious, but firm, ricotta-like cheese, we thought we had died and gone to heaven. We ate the cheese in small spoonfuls, as if every bite needed to be savored. A bowl of cherries might have gotten short shrift next to this cheese, but with color the shade of deep red wine and flavor so perfectly sweet, I think it was the juiciest, most delicious fruit I have ever tasted. The caramel flan wasn’t necessary, but it was the coup de gras; a divine ending to a spectacular meal.
Patatas Bravas with Spicy Tomato Sauce and Allioli
If patatas bravas isn’t the national dish of Spain, it should be. These tasty wedges of twice-cooked potatoes are heaven. The spicy tomato sauce is worth making an extra batch to serve on anything and everything.
4 large russet potatoes
2 cups vegetable oil for frying
salt to taste
Parboil the potatoes with their skins. The potatoes are finished boiling when you can put a knife in them and they are still slightly firm. Set the potatoes aside to cool. Note: You can do this step ahead and fry them when ready to serve.
Drain, peel and cut the potatoes into 1-inch cubes or quarter them into wedges. Deep fry or sauté in oil at medium heat until golden brown. Remove the potatoes from the oil and pat them dry. Salt while still hot.
Put the potatoes on a serving plate and spoon the salsa brava over the top, or if you prefer, on the side.
2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 Tbsp allioli (see recipe below)
Tbsp white vinegar
cayenne pepper or Tabasco sauce to taste
salt and pepper to taste
Sauté onions until translucent, then add the tomatoes and garlic. Sauté until there is no liquid and the tomato sauce is blended well. Add the white vinegar, paprika, cumin, salt and pepper to taste, then while still warm add the allioli to the sauce. It will lighten it and thicken it a little.
A Catalan mayonnaise without eggs. If you like, you can use your own aioli or a good tasting one from a jar.
3 cloves of garlic
1 cup olive oil
1 pinch salt
Peel the garlic, removing any green sprouts. Cut them lengthwise and add to a mortar and pestle. Add a pinch of salt and start pounding the pestle. Pound and mash the garlic and salt together until you have a very fine and smooth, sticky paste. Begin slowly adding the olive oil, drip by drip until you have a smooth consistency and the taste is the right balance of oil, salt and garlic.
– Recipe by Tricia O’Brien
Tricia O’Brien is a Glen Ellen resident, caterer, and food blogger. You can follow her at www.cafetrix.blogspot.com