Irati


(Barcelona, SPAIN) — Our final culinary adventure found us wandering the twisty alleyways of the Gothic quarter, window-shopping on our way to a place called Irati. Guidebooks proclaimed the restaurant to be a feast for the senses, an endless parade of toothpick-speared tapas that you must compete against others to acquire. After nearly a week of rubbing shoulders with fellow tourists, we were ready for a little relaxation in the back of the house...

He Fed:

There is a throng of people at Irati Taverna Basca when we arrive. They are all here, crammed against the tapas bar, awaiting the next plate to arrive piled high with steaming goodies from the kitchen. (Only later do I find out the pintxos bar serves all day long, including breakfast, appetizers, lunch or informal dinner.) We hustle our way inside, toward the rear of the restaurant and check in with the hostess. Our table is not quite prepared so we are given a few minutes to watch the gaggle of hungry patrons as they talk, laugh, eat and drink. Finally, we are shown to a table in a smallish dining room that is brightly lit and cheerful, yet rustic.

We begin with sparkling water and a nice bottle of 2006 Contino Reserva Rioja. The wine is dense but plush, not too sweet. It tastes as though it will stand up to meat very well. We find out soon enough as, along with our tomato bread, a couple “toothpicks” (spears, more like it) are presented to us on a plate: chorizo stuffed dates. Our server, Elisabeth, overheard our admiration for the tapas out front and brought us some to try. They are amazing, of course, and artfully presented. While we try to pace ourselves by not asking for more, we watch a nearby table being presented a sizzling fish. It’s like dinner theater!

Juliet cannot resist the foie mi cuit—which looks stunningly delicious, served on a slate platter—while I try my luck with the Raviolis Caseros. They are little pouches of dough filled with artichoke and ricotta, topped with crispy biscuits of melted cheese. For an appetizer, they are a bit heavy but I’m not complaining. The pasta exterior is flaky, golden while inside is gooey, hot, and earthy. Simply incredible.

For a main, I’m mulling over the sucking pig belly but Juliet beats me to it. No matter; I had a second choice all lined up and I figure we can share. I get the lamb shoulder instead. Shoulder is no joke. The plate arrives with a gnarl of bone and meat leaning on a bed of potatoes as if to say, “Oh yeah? You think you’re gonna eat ME?” It’s a dish with attitude, for sure...somewhat intimidating. I grab my knife and fork, launching into the tender, browned flesh. My first bite is filled with rosemary and lamb, but it tastes almost like a succulent pork chop, rather than the slightly gamey, greasy preparation I’m used to. This is the best lamb I’ve ever had. So good, in fact, it entices me to order another bottle of wine to enjoy with it.

At the end, there is no room for dessert, sadly. We tip way too generously, as if to make up for all the times we didn’t tip earlier that week, then stumble out into the night, seeking our hotel through a fog of wondrous food and fine wine. In the not too far future, we’ll be bidding adieu to Barcelona. At least, for now.
She Fed:

Irati is highly recommended by a business colleague and fellow foodie so I have no doubt we are in for a solid meal. It takes a bit of time to find the place, but the GPS and Jeremy’s perseverance prevail . Our mood is elevated, no doubt enhanced by a rioja-soaked luncheon and few cava stops throughout the afternoon. I had wanted to come to Irati for lunch when the front of the house is a strolling buffet of tapas. Servers wander the room carrying trays of various toothpicked tapas. At the end of your meal they charge you by final number of toothpicks you have. I love that! But after hearing the rumor they serve suckling pig in the back of the restaurant, we know we’ll skip the toothpicks and make this our big fancy pants dinner of the vacation.

As we’re led through the standing room only front, I can’t but help eyeball the tapas as I pass. Each tray holds something distinctly different and each is absolutely beautiful. But pork beckons so I soldier onward to our table in the back.

We order a bottle of Catalan rioja and it’s the best red I’ve had on this vacation. It’s deep and velvety with cocoa, tobacco and berries on the tongue. Jeremy obviously enjoys it too because at some point we order a second bottle.

Skewers of chorizo-stuffed dates are presented as an amuse bouche to stimulate appetite.The spicy heat of chorizo mingling with sticky sweet date meat is delicious. I’ve made these at home for cocktail parties, but never this good.

We order starters, Jeremy the house ravioli and me the foie gras. It’s served with a tiny dice of apples, cooked slightly and reminiscent of apple pie, cubes sauternes gelee, mixed greens and toasts. The sweetness of the fruit and sauternes cut through the fatty richness of the foie and before long I’ve gobbled it up.

While I predictably order the suckling pig, Jeremy uncharacteristically orders the lamb. He’s never been a big lamb guy, but I think the bites of mine he’s tried this week have changed his mind. My piggy arrives looking very much like pork belly, two shiny perfect rectangles of loveliness atop mushrooms and cabbage tendrils. It’s an artfully arranged, nearly precious looking dish whereas Jeremy’s plate looks like an Easter buffet collapsed on it.

We end up sharing, unable to choose, both delectable. The pork is luscious and succulent while the lamb is crispy yet medium rare. The rioja pairs well with both meats, but soon we find ourselves waving off the dessert menu. Today's many excesses topped off with a fabulous late night dinner have taken their toll. Irati is not to be missed, but these tourists are ready for a stroll back to hotel and a good night's sleep.

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