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Monthly Archives: August 2011

Comerç 24 – a chic restaurant at a hip location – as some publications described this place. Friends and colleagues recommended this place too. We managed only a reservation for lunch. This place and several other “24” restaurants in the chain in Barcelona are very popular with tourists and locals alike. I believe this is where the “24” empire started – the name of the restaurant is its address, i.e., Carrer del Comerç No. 24, in El Born.

The chef – Carles Abellan – was a protege of Ferran Adria at El Bulli (just closed at the end of July 2011).  According to a book about him and his food that was lying around in the restaurant (an autobiography I assume), he wanted to be a rockstar. After many struggles and false starts, the story ends with him serving dinner to Mick Jagger during his Rolling Stone tour.

Although the restaurant is all at street level, it is all artificially lit (can’t tell day from night inside), a bit like a club.

We did not order from their set menu, instead we ordered à la carte.

This is a freebie appetizer but it was really tasty – it is a “cigar” with crisp spring roll skin with a basil leaflet at the end and soft fillings – the soup was also excellent.

There are many asian-influenced tapas at the creative or high-end restaurants in Barcelona.  Alkimia (the other restaurant we visited with a tasting menu) had a few Chinese-style dishes.

This is their specialty – egg shell filled with custard-like stuff that was truly full of flavors.

The staff cleaned the kitchen top to bottom after serving lunch – a truly dynamic kitchen as we witnessed all the frantic activities from prep to serve, and then scrub.

For this trip to Barcelona, we bought a 2-day ticket for those open-top tourist bus which circle the city.  There are three loops: one goes to the North as far as the city’s university and Camp Nou (FC Barcelona’s stadium); one goes west up to the Montjuic hills and comes back down near the harbor, and the third loops around the east side in a new part of the city – Diagonal Mar.  It is so named because the Avinguda Diagonal which cuts across the entire Barcelona from the Northwest, ends here where it meets the sea and the mouth of River Besos.  The area is captured by one of my pictures taken while we were landing.  Click to see a full screen version of the photo. The triangular Edifici Forum is clearly visible.

The area has undergone extensive re-development from a poor, industrial corner of Barcelona to a planned, open, mostly residential area.  When they ripped up the railway tracks in the industrial zone, some were left as sculpture on the median of one of its main streets.

The area is filled with new architecture, started by the Olympic village which was located here.  Then came the hotels on the beachfront designed by famous architects.  The area boasts several world class hotels, class A office buildings, a public park, the largest convention center and shopping center in Catalunya.

The low lying blue building above is the Edifici Forum, designed by Herzog & de Muron.  The white structure is very new and unknown to me.This building below I believe is a biomedical research center.

There are two towers joined by a large base that share this facade.

I wonder how the window frames work, it looks as if they are sliding and have blinds that can be adjusted.One of the hotels next to the conference center.

Edifici gas natural by Enric Miralles.  Notable for the horizontal block that sticks out.

One iconic sight we missed here is the fish sculpture by Frank Gehry which sits in front of the Hotel Arts on the beachfront.  I was inside one of his fish-inspired architecture last year in Berlin. Follow this link to the earlier blogpost.

A few more pix of the buildings.

Pavelló Mies van der Rohe was originally designed as the German Pavilion for the 1929 International Exposition.  It was rebuilt in 1986.  I came here the last time I visited Barcelona (in the 80’s) – I did not expect anything to change and nothing has changed.  Nor does the design look dated or any less modern in 2011.  Timeless design !

The architecture is very simple and yet its proportions, alignments, choice of materials are brought together perfectly to create a series of beautifully serene pristine spaces.

It really deserves its reputation as an icon of modern architecture. It also houses the Barcelona chair – another iconic piece.

Soon after we arrived, the sky opened up and it poured.  The pavilion is located at the bottom of the Montjuic hills.  The sights here are far apart and there were no shelter. So we were trapped and waited for almost an hour and a half before the rain subsided. We had time to slowly discover the magic of this space – one reason I liked it is that while it is modern, it does not feel cold or mechanical, rather it allows nature (or natural light) to come in from various directions, making the place feels humanly comfortable.

Standing around, staring at the sky or the empty spaces afforded by the minimalist architecture, the effect was a lack of visual clutter whichever way you look, which invited introspection.  I imagine that this effect is particularly meaningful for those who live in big cities, who are constantly bombarded by people, signs, etc. It feels weird thinking about this place which looks the same as it did before but I became a different (at least older) person already.

To kill time, we composed and recomposed our pictures of the details of the pavilion.  As the pavilion is of a minimalist design, we exhausted the details in a few minutes of shooting.

While we were waiting, Sue struck up a conversation with a couple from upstate New York.  The lady was from Central America and joking about her inability to understand any Catalan despite being fluent in Spanish. By chance, we met them a few days later at a museum downtown  (MACBA).  We also met a young backpacking American student who proudly announced that he is majoring in architecture at U Penn, and how wonderful is this design. Duh.

The book shop is in that corner.

Finally, when there was a pause in the downpour.  We ran out and up the hill to MNAC (the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya) and spent the rest of the day there.

Alkimia – one michelin star.  The name of the restaurant comes from the Arabic word “al-kimia” (the art).

We arrived at 8:45pm, 15 minutes after our reservation, having misjudged the distance from Vinçon.  Alkimia is located “midtown” in Barcelona.
So we were a bit out of breathe but the serene atmosphere and warm towels helped put us in the mood for a gastronomic experience.  The homemade bread sticks came as two long sticks resembling twigs in a vase.

We chose the menu Alkimia – their namesake tasting menu.  The lighting in the restaurant was awful for photos. Color balance is a disaster, so please bear with me.  Below is a sample of the dishes.

They started with three appetizers – all good but could not remember what they were at the end of the meal.

  • Spaghetini with seafood
  • Simple … white asparagus

  • Pickled oysters with glazed pork cheek, saute spinach

  • Cuttle fish with ink sauce and ginger
  • Prawn “a la mano” – roasted bayleaf and clove

  • Fish of the day with onion and black olive
  • Special chickpeas with “a la llauna” codfish

  • Morels stuffed with meat ball
  • Beef with spring vegetables and mustard seeds

  • Cream of carrot with orange
  • Baked apple with black chocolate and eucalyptus ice cream

This is not on the menu but every one in the restaurant got a plate.My overall impression, which was reinforced by a visit to another popular restaurant, is that the cuisine in this international city is at currently all about Asian flavors.  I enjoyed the taste but to me, it lacked novelty.  Nevertheless, Alkimia is definitely worth a visit.

While having lunch at Casa Danone (<– see earlier post) we noticed these designer-branded bottled water by Evian.  Since they were placed behind us on display, we took them down and photographed them against the white seatings.  Evian is one of the brands of water owned by Danone, their other well known brand being Volvic.  The co-branding exercise with Evian is interesting because Evian is already a well-known brand. To distinguish itself even more (?), it is associating itself with fashion designers, in opposed to sports superstar.  I imagine the concept here is Drink it for Beauty and not Drink it for Performance.

Paul Smith has a website to promote the above bottle –

Jean Paul Gaultier did it in 2009.

The designer’s input is obviously limited to the bottle, and only limited to the graphic design.  The shape of the bottle has not changed. I wondered who initiated the co-branding idea:  Evian or the designers, I say likely Evian or more accurately Danone.

Beside the Brumisateur shown below, Issey Miyake also has designed a graphic for the bottle but I did not see it in Casa Danone.  Apparently, if a customer spends more than 100,000 yen in a Issey Miyake store in Japan, the customer receives a free bottle.  Issey has a site devoted for their 2011 launch –

I can’t wait for the next marketing gimmick.  Perhaps, the year of the bottling can be used in marketing.  They are using one designer a year now.

Incidentally, Evian-les-Bains, the city where the spring which producers the mineral water is located only 25 minutes by boat from where we live (Lausanne). We should visit and drink their tap water for free.

Danone – the French yoghurt giant – runs a restaurant !  Actimel, Activia … their brands.

We were looking for a place for lunch in a business area of Barcelona (Av. Diagonal near Pl. Francesc Macià) and came across this place.  It was around 12ish and it was pretty empty because the Spanish don’t eat lunch until 2:30pm – it is the norm.

Obviously, it is a place designed to showcase its history, innovation and products.  A vintage delivery van was on display – never knew yoghurt was sold or delivered that way.  Somehow I expect the Swiss would have something like that.

By the look of the white spa-like decor, the food was expected to be light and healthy. It wasn’t that light but tasty it was. We really enjoyed our meal there.

Cute presentation of a risotto. Nouveau …

They even had a meat-and-potato dish that suited me.

Dessert, of course, was made with yoghurt. But I ate it before taking a picture.

They also sell different kinds of yoghurt (frozen, drinks, etc) with many choices of toppings.  Wish they open one near us.

Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família is the full name of this Barcelona landmark in Catalan.  Translated, it is essentially the Holy Family church.  It was consecrated and proclaimed a basilica by the pope in November 2010.  Construction started in 1883, Gaudi – the architect died in 1926, and the work has been continuing up to now.  The estimated completion date ranges from 2017 to 2026.

I visited this place in the late 1980’s and the interior of the church was non-existent. The picture above shows the Nativity Facade – one of the three entrances, the earliest completed entrance.  We used the new Passion Facade to enter this time while the third Glory Facade is still under construction.  Below is the door of the Passion Facade.

The inside is another world. Fantastical to say the least.  It is neither modern nor traditional; it is enigmatic.

The layout is traditional but the interior architectural elements are radical –  there is an interesting mix of Gaudi’s signature biomorphic styling, modern geometric floral shapes, traditional stained glass windows and arches.  No doubt that this is recognizably a church but it is full of surprises.

Looking up at the ceiling … the effect is mesmerizing !  I think the word kaleidoscopic does sum up the experience pretty well.

On one side of the transept is a stainless steel-glass elevator with exposed shaft and a stack of spiral staircase.  I think it can be used without much re-work as a part of an alien mothership in a sci-fi movie.

A closer look at the symbols on the ceiling – they are modern but I’m sorry, they reminded me of those symbols on tarot cards.

The alter is fenced off and above it is suspended a crucifix and a technicolor parachute.

So much has been written about the architecture and the history of this church so I will not repeat them here.
All I can say is that this church is awe-inspiring.  I will come back in another 20 years to see if it is finished.

We took a day-trip out of Barcelona to visit Salvador Dali’s museum in Figueras.  Down the street from Dali’s is a museum of toys (Museu del Joguet de Catalunya).  It is a fairly well run place with lots to see, including toys that belonged to famous Spanish people.

What startled us were the dolls from early 20th century that were on display in the museum.

Why are they all looking to one side ?

Chucky’s bride ?

Night at the Museum !

Just the opposite, the devil looked much less treacherous, almost hilarious.

They looked collectively paranoid with that distrustful, almost submissive, sideway glances.All of them have hands with out-strectched fingers (due to I presume primitive manufacturing) –  and they look menacing, as if they are about to grab or strangle someone.  The way they are displayed makes it look like they are levitating.

This doll looks stunned but she has a cool denim-like dress.

Even the toy pets looked dangerous or evil.

This is one of two urban stories that we want to share about Barcelona –  in both, we almost became a victim but luckily escaped.

Our return flight home was in the evening so we still had time to walk a few more miles in Barcelona before leaving for the airport.  IT had already left a day earlier. We initially decided to go and check out the aquarium by the port, but by the time we got there, we had about one hour or so before we had to leave for the airport.  Yes, we certainly could have done it.  One hour?  Hah!  It’s too much time: by now, we are used to fast paced walk and whipping our heads around to catch as much as we can at the same time.  However, we didn’t want to rush through the aquarium.  So we decided to sit outside on a bench, have an ice cream, soak in the sun and relax.  We sat on a bench you see in the picture below.

Then two girls approached us each holding a notepad.  One stood next to me (Sue) and the other next to Chris and started a conversation.  They asked where we were from, whether we were visiting Barcelona, etc.  Then the girl next to me showed me a note pad with two logos/pictures on top along with some explanation written in Spanish and English.  She explained that they work for an organization that helps poor children in the world and the handicapped people.  She pointed out the 2 logos on the paper (seriously terrible copies, by the way): a UNICEF logo and a picture of a person in a wheelchair.  Below the logos and the description of the “organization”, there were three columns:  Signature, Nationality, and a third one which she partially hid with her fingers, but I can see that it was Donation Amount.  To help the poor children in the world and the handicapped people, can we please sign and put our nationality next to the signature.

Are you serious?  Do we look like we were born yesterday?  UNICEF?

Before we can say “eff” off with a smile, the men selling purses on the street ran from one end of the plaza to the other in a rush.  It was a bit startling because the area was nice and peaceful then all of a sudden there’s yelling and 5 or 6 men all running in one direction with large sacs.  We all turned to look at the men running.  The girls stopped explaining, turned around, folded the notepad in half, stuffed it under their T-shirts and casually walked away from us.  Not even a good bye or talk to you in a little while, they just walked away as if we weren’t even having a conversation.  Then we notice a police cruiser slowly driving around the plaza.  By this time, the girls approached a snack stand and stood in line as if they were going to buy something.  When the cruiser drove away, the girls moved away from the snack stand and took out the notepad again.  Chris and I were laughing at this point.  Chris said “You should have told them you work for UNICEF” (we know where their HQ is in Geneva).  That would have been perfect, no?  Why didn’t I think of that?  Crap.  Anyway, we started to tracking their movements while continuing with our ice cream.

This man was their next mark.  He listened to their spiel but said no (see the hand gesture?) and walked away.  He wasn’t born yesterday either.

Then we saw the girls approach this nice Asian couple.  Unfortunately, they were born yesterday.  They handed over some cash to the girls.   Don’t give me any flack for not stopping the girls taking money from tourists.   By this time, we left the bench and was walking towards the subway – we had to retrieve our luggage and head to the airport.  The couple were far away and by the time we noticed the girls, they were already forking over the money.  But you know what?  The girls left smiling (duh!) and so did the couple, believing that they did some good for the poor children and handicapped people in the world.

Moral of the story?  When people ask for donation without proper ID  (e.g., holding a shoddy piece of paper with a photocopied logo of a charity on top), don’t give it to them. And don’t feel bad about not making a “donation”.