By the time I landed in Barcelona at 11 a.m., I had already set foot in three countries that morning. I hadn’t slept a wink and was still working off the excesses from the night before.
But, having just spent a week above the glacial line, I perked up to the balmy breeze on the sunny, Spanish coast. A breath of fresh air in February, it was a magnificent day.
I met up with The Godfather and headed straight to la Boqueria, Barcelona’s famous covered market, a mecca for food travelers, food writers, and chefs from around the world.
We bypassed Bar Pinotxo, perhaps the market’s most famous counter eatery, and found two seats right in front of Quim Márquez Durán, chef and owner of el Quim de la Boqueria.
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Here, on the border between the meat and seafood stalls at la Boqueria, Durán and his family have been cooking inventive Catalan “tapas” for over twenty years. Four cooks shuffle around the tight kitchen space at any one time, fenced in by a narrow ledge lined with eighteen stools, all of which are usually filled. Patient hopefuls circle relentlessly for open spots.
El Quim is cluttered and chaotic. The counter crowds with dishes – frittatas, paellas, and fresh seafood. Sausages and garlic hang from the eves. Orbited by a swirling mass of entropy, the tiny restaurant gets along amazingly well.
The menu is chalked up above the stove, although paper menus are available as well. There’s a lot of seafood, and some meat. There’s also a rotating list of seasonal specials, all of which come highly recommended.
Staring down a major dinner that night, we vowed to eat lightly and failed miserably.
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The two of us ordered whatever caught our fancy.
A plate of Bellota ham, ruby and waxy, arrived first, sweating with flavor (14.50€). Salty and nutty, Bellota offers an amazingly round, sweet finish – the benefit of an acorn diet. To me, it’s the ideal ham.
Quim is known for his fried egg, which he drops into a skillet of hot oil and watches carefully until a frilly white skirt puffs around the yolk. Two of these eggs, fresh from the fryer, come smothered under a mosaic of tender baby squid and a smokey pan sauce spiked with touch of chile heat (Huevos con Chiperones; 19€). The sauce thickens as you work your way across the plate, enriched by the warm, runny egg yolks. It’s one of el Quim’s most-requested dishes; a hearty breakfast favorite.
Caramelized foie gras with wild mushrooms and a fried egg sounded good (Salteado de Setas Variadas; 27€). It was remarkably so.
The mushrooms had been sauteed with leeks and lentils and sweetened with a dash of sugar. On top was a nicely griddled slice of foie gras, glazed with a crispy sheet of caramelized sugar (the work of a blowtorched) and sprinkled with sea salt. Sandwiched in between was Quim’s fried egg. Striped and circled with balsamic reduction, it was an unexpectedly successful meeting of savory and sweet, meaty and creamy, smoky and earthy.
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We also had plump gambas, sauteed with lots of garlic and chiles (Las Gambas; 19€). The pan was deglazed at the last moment with cava, giving the sauce a slightly sweet, toasty flavor that overlapped nicely with the sweetness in the shrimp.
There were meaty razor clams served naked on the shell, save a drizzle of olive oil and some salt (Navajas; 15€). These were wonderful, a testament to the freshness of the seafood at the market.
And there was a bowl of fried baby artichokes, perhaps my favorite order of them all (Chips de Alcachofas; 6.75€). Simply dusted with salt, the tender hearts sported lacy leaves, crisp and clean – not a hint of grease.* I pant for them now.
Just as we paid our bill, a steaming pan of paella alighted on the counter; an order for the couple next to us. The sight of it very nearly convinced us to stay for the afternoon so we could pick our way through the rest of menu. There were meats to be tried, more seafood to be had. The possibilities were overwhelming.
It’s understandable why chefs flock to eat here. The ingredient quality is extremely high – all fresh from the market. The execution is simple and solid. And the flavors are bold and true. Everything is cooked to order. Straightforward and comforting, this is the type of food that you love to eat and want to crave.
El Quim de la Boqueria: I highly recommend it.
To see all of the photos from this meal, CLICK HERE.
El Quim de la Boqueria
Mercat St. Joseph de la Boqueria
* Eating these baby artichokes along with the gambas and razor clams intensified the sweetness in the seafood noticeably.