Restaurant Moo

(Barcelona, SPAIN) — Our annual Christmas tradition is to travel. We’ve been to Rome, Phoenix, and Paris the last few years and although we try to limit our overseas excursions to every other year, we felt compelled to explore a new region this year: Spain. Barcelona, with its seaside location, design-minded vibe, and foodie cred (El Bulli, anyone?), seemed ideal. Weeks before we left, we pored over many restaurant reviews and top ten lists before making reservations for some dinners ahead of time. First up? Restaurante Moo at Hotel Omm (cute, yes?). We left our hotel on a sunny, upper 50’s late afternoon and made a series of zigzags on our stroll to Christmas dinner...

He Fed:

I can tell immediately this will be a great experience. The hotel lobby is wide open and modern, while the similarly open bar and restaurant are deeper inside, in plain view. Already, I am regretting having booked us at a cheaper hotel. Everything here is white and angular, with Asian influence in organic shapes and sculptures on the walls and ceiling. There is a faux garden courtyard near the back that lets in natural light. We are handed off from one friendly hostess to another, then shown to a spacious private table near the back. Our server hands us the prix fixe menu, rounds up some sparkling water, then pours glasses of delightfully dry and less carbonated organic cava.

On our menu, the first entry is “Apertifs” and we mistakenly assume this refers to the sparkling wine. Not so. It’s really a series of amuse bouche we are delivered at the onset: a curved, flat plate with thin, transparent strips of crunchy potato brittle, mallow-like discs of cheese, and a crunchy wafer of rye; a splashy-designed bowl with puffy wafers of truffled cheese; and an artichoke shell filled with cuttlefish and fleshy, artichoke mush. These munchies help reset the palate to neutral, in preparation for the coming parade of courses.

First up is a traditional Catalan Christmas soup called Escudella. It’s an exquisitely composed shallow bowl of broth over fresh, lightly steamed local vegetables like pearl onion, carrot, and brussel sprout with chunks of blood sausage and other meat. I am thrilled by the simple preparation and deep, satisfying flavors.

My favorite dish arrives next. Homemade cannelloni, pasta like soft drapery rolled after being laundered then filled with roasted meats and drizzled with both a light white sauce and some of the meat reduction. The first forkful resonates; you can tell the rich, slightly oily filling is a combination of many different animals, and probably just a smidge of liver too. They are the best cannelloni I’ve ever had. By now, we’ve moved on from the cava to a bottle of 2002 Mas de Masos from the Priorat region. It is the perfect match for the pasta, since it resembles a really good Barolo: dry, velvety, and a bit tart on the back of the tongue.

Then I am presented with my least favorite dish. What a mood swing! A beautifully carved hunk of wild sea bass sits in a bouillabaisse broth. Floating in the soup are clams, mussels, and— Oh my starz... What is that? Uni? A dollop of orangish stuff blobs around in the liquid. It sure looks like the goop that Anthony Bourdain waxes poetic over. Could it be? I try a forkful with the bass and the fishy flavors are intensified, though not in a bad way. There is almost a sweet/bitter power struggle going on. I’ve never had anything quite like it. However, it’s enough to engage my mental “fish wall” and I have to push the dish away, half-eaten. Juliet is much more brave, digging into a fleshy chunk that looks like it was growing on a rock in some undersea cave.

Now, if you’ve never had confit anything, do yourself a favor and close your computer now, then go out and find some. Something cooked in its own juices can’t be a bad thing, right? Right. The lamb shoulder rosemary confit with potato puree that arrives as our final meat course is a very good thing, indeed. It practically falls apart to the touch, redolent of herbaceous, freshly-picked rosemary (but not too much) and the richness dialed back by the puree.

Finally, we embark upon the dessert courses. Yep, more than one. The caramelized apple tart and vanilla ice cream just screams traditional but both the presentation and the taste are done with artful touches. Then we enjoy some coffee and Petit Fours including mini nougat cakes, chunks of fudge, and crispy wafer tubes filled with chocolate. It’s all a tad conservative for what has occurred before, though we’re kind of glad. It’s been a whirlwind tour around Catalan cuisine and it’s nice to be on familiar ground at the end.

While not inexpensive, we find Restaurante Moo to be worth every penny. I haven’t seen this level of preparation and decorum since French Laundry. We watch the rest of the patrons—mostly families celebrating the holidays together—slowly finish up and filter out, then we follow, satisfied and full. Merry Christmas!
She Fed:

It’s our first full day in Barcelona, the sun is shining and it seems like the perfect time to get outside. We spend well over an hour walking around the city, getting our bearings and developing our senses of direction before our mid-afternoon dinner reservation. Nearly everything is closed today (not unexpected), and the general pace of foot traffic seems less rushed.

The restaurant is easy to find. As we enter, the hostess greets us with “bona tarda”, Catalan for “good afternoon”. The language of choice in Barcelona is Catalan, which the rest of Spain considers a more base version of Spanish. (Spaniards joke that to get by in Barcelona, just speak Spanish but drop the last syllable off each word.) In any case, the locals clearly understand and humor our efforts to communicate in Spanish. We quickly learn that “Merry Christmas” is not “Feliz Navidad” but “Bon Nadal”.

We are seated in an intimate corner table and presented with English menus, though we don’t need them. It’s a set menu with five courses that we found online during our trip research. What follows is nearly three hours of leisurely tasting on a beautiful Christmas day.

As we sip a glass of cava, a darling plate of small bites is presented as “cheesy, crispy, and black”. The first has the texture of a slighty dry marshmallow but is ripe and pungent with stilton. The second is wafer thin and clear, like the slimmest piece of peanut brittle ever and it tastes slightly nutty. The third is essentially a small rye biscuit. All fun little nibbles, easy to enjoy with the bubbles.

An amuse bouche of a whole artichoke heart with mushroom foam and cuttlefish arrives. I adore artichokes and mushrooms and gobble it up quickly, pushing the cuttlefish aside. Cuttlefish aren’t actually fish, but mollusks. In past, have found them to be unpleasant and slippery.

“Escudella” is the first of five courses. It’s billed as a traditional Catalan Christmas soup. Beautiful baby veggies and tiny meatballs arrive, soon swimming in a brothy bath as the servers pour the soup tableside. That’s when I notice two thin slices of black truffle float to the top of my soup. It’s warm and delicious, with crisp-tender veg and silky meatballs. I save a bite of a brussel sprout with truffle slice for the very end.

Next is roasted meat cannelloni topped with a thick bechamel. The pasta is housemade, the meat filling slightly wild tasting, the cream sauce luxuriant. There’s nothing that makes me feel more like a bull in a china shop than trying to work with the sommelier on selecting a bottle of wine in a foreign country. Luckily Jeremy is braver than me and he decides on a bottle of Mas de Masos from Capafos-Osso, a Catalan winery. It’s complex and structured with hints of chocolate and clove, and it’s begging for more cannelloni, just like me.

The third course is sea bass in bouillabaisse broth accompanied by clam, oyster, and mushroom. The seabass is good, but it’s all overly fishy smelling to me. It’s not working fabulously with the wine and I wonder why they placed a fish course in the middle of two red meat courses without offering a by-the-glass pairing option. I decide to man up and try what I think is a mushroom only to find it’s some kind of tubular sea creature. It’s rubbery and not enjoyable though a big gulp of wine helps.

Our final savory plate is a confit of rosemary lamb shoulder with pureed potatoes. The lamb is just perfect—tender and rich without being too fatty or gamey. It’s served with three pearl onions, though our server called them shallots, which are incredibly tasty after stewing with the lamb all day. Despite being quite full, I finish the dish and briefly consider licking the plate, but refrain for fear of embarrassing my country.

We enjoy a latte with dessert of caramelized apples in a pastry that’s a hybrid of a cookie and pie topped with vanilla ice cream. There’s also a plate of scrumptious little cookies, nougats, and fudge brought to the table. Much like a first day in a foreign city, the meal is fantastic but all a bit much. Time for us to toddle back to the hotel. Bon Nadal, indeed.

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