It's hard to talk about food in this part of Spain without mention of Ferran Adrià, whose reign over El Bulli set the pace for ultramodern culinary innovation. But as much as Adrià's influence has loomed large (his restaurant was in the country, but his recipe "lab" was in Barcelona), it overshadowed—at least for the myopic foreign press—the excitement of what's been going on in other kitchens across the city. These spots capture this creativity in every beautiful bite.
Catalan cuisine is summed up by two seemingly contradictory things—the tapas tradition and the wildly inventive school of molecular gastronomy as forged by Adrià. At Comerç, 24, Chef Carles Abellán, who worked with Adrià for 15 years, combines those two things in the most extraordinary way.
Put yourself in Abellán's capable and creative hands for the set menu, and you're in for the meal of a lifetime. The only hefty thing in sight is the €84 bill (about $105 as of press time) for the seven-course tasting menu, which features light delicacies such as consommé with truffle, Parmesan, and egg pearls; monkfish with black sesame; and a teeny "pizza" with anchovy, strawberries, and wild baby herbs.
This restaurant offers more than 50 tapas options (as opposed to the typical 20 you'll find elsewhere). The long bar is set with an almost bewildering array of montaditos (little open sandwiches). Have prawns and langoustines cooked to order. Or try one of the myriad salads and vegetables, such as braised fennel, wild field mushrooms with baby onions, or pimientos de padrón (tiny green peppers with an unpredictable kick). (011-34-933-181-997)
La Boqueria Mercat
Barcelona's beautiful central market is an overwhelming sensual feast, and it's a fascinating slice of life into which the city's chefs and home cooks descend daily to select whatever's best for today's meals.
There's been a market in this spot since the 13th century, and most of its merchants are third- or fourth-generation. Stupendous displays house more types of fish and seafood than you ever knew existed, as well as bright, fresh produce, nose-to-tail meat cuts, breads, spices, and snails.
La Mar Salada
Lunch (typically eaten between 2 and 4 p.m.) is the most important meal in Spain, and a menu del dia, or set lunch, is the ideal way to sample the best food at bargain prices. At La Mar Salada, the options are modern and creative, seasonal and healthy Catalan dishes with an emphasis on sustainable seafood. Enjoy three courses and wine for €15 (about $18 as of press time) on a terrace overlooking the harbor.
Cook & Taste Cooking School
Start in the Boqueria for a shopping tour, and then head to the school to learn how to make four dishes. The list changes depending on market offerings but almost always includes a variation of paella and Catalan classics such as romesco sauce and tortilla. Courses are conducted in English and cost €65 (about $81 as of press time), including wine with your meal.