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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

La Llar de L'all i Oli

Inspired by a couple of opera colleagues who are in Barcelona right now, I thought I'd add a little review of what is easily my favorite restaurant in or near Barcelona--indeed the only one I tried that I would take any trouble to return to--La Llar de L'all i Oli in Badalona.

In its way, this place is a monument to good ingredients. The cooking is simple and, from what little I know about Catalan cooking, utterly traditional. The obvious care that goes into the preparation results in food that is much greater than the sum of its parts. Standard on every table are a slice or two of toasted bread, some ripe tomatoes (probably from a nearby--or on site--garden) and a cruet of olive oil to make one of the most inspired snacks on earth, pa amb tomàquet. This is accompanied by a little pot of all i oli (garlic mayonnaise, made with garlic and olive oil ONLY--palpably homemade, as is everything here, and stupendous... it is so light it's almost fluffy, if you can imagine that). I began my first meal with a sopa caselona, which turned out to be a rich chicken broth with fideus (noodles). I don't know how they did it, but it was the most delicious soup of that sort I think I've ever had. This was followed by a paletilla de Huesca, which was a whole leg of baby lamb that had been coated with chopped fresh herbs and finely diced vegetables and baked in the oven. It's difficult not to keep harping on the high quality and freshness of the ingredients--the accompanying potatoes HAD to be from someone's garden there... simply done, and unbelievably delicious. I couldn't resist trying crema catalana in such a place and it was, predictably, the best I have ever tried.

I went back the very next night and had another equally wonderful meal, this time beginning with a simple grilled chorizo, but naturally of the highest quality, accompanied by more of those marvelous potatoes. Somehow, this truly transcended the sum of its parts, don't ask me how. This was followed by galtes a la brasa, or grilled pork cheeks. The only adjective for this is "wonderful"...I'm at a loss to describe them--they just need to be experienced. The house wine is, fortunately, just fine (and often the only sensible option for the perpetually solo diner like myself).

Badalona is an easy 15-minute train ride (on the number 1 RENFE cercanía line) from the center of Barcelona. As you exit the front of the Badalona train station, turn left and go 4 or 5 blocks until you reach carrer Conquesta, and turn right. The restaurant is about 3 blocks up, on the left. Closed Sunday nights and Mondays, it's a good idea to call ahead and reserve, especially on the weekends: 93 383 53 07.

(Ed. Oct. 2013: The only reason I even knew about this restaurant at all was because of Jim Leff, from the old Chowhound days. Apparently, this very blog post inspired him to revisit La Llar de L'all i Oli last month specifically to try the galtes a la brasa. There is a nice picture of them included in his post about it, and some pics of pa amb tomàquet and the signature pot of all i oli in an earlier photo essay of his. I love the "coming full circle" aspect of this.)

La Llar de L'all i Oli
c/Conquesta, 87 - Badalona 08912
(+34) 93 383 53 07

Monday, March 1, 2010

Welcome Inn

Any serious maven of off-the-beaten-track food owes a big debt--probably too seldom acknowledged--to the folks over at Chowhound. They find and discuss the great ethnic holes-in-the-wall before almost anyone else... in fact, that was the first place I ever posted any restaurant info on the internet. Of course, I soon left when Jim Leff's rather draconian unwritten "house rules" became apparent (I had several of my posts deleted for no other apparent reason than that I had the temerity to--extremely politely--disagree with him) and found greener pastures at eGullet. But in recent years the focus there has been trending more and more to high-end restaurants, so... here I am.

But I digress... Chowhound remains an incredible source of useful information--for the itinerant eater especially. So when my gig in Syracuse came up, that was the first place I checked. A couple of posters there mentioned a small, family-run place that served great homemade Ukrainian food called Welcome Inn. I immediately thought it sounded like my kind of place, and it was.

My only regret is that I was only able to get there for one meal. Although I wanted to try, oh, EVERYTHING on the menu, that was impossible and I was forced to choose. Somehow, I finally settled on pyrohy (pierogies) and, since the owner calls himself "Pitmaster Big Papa John", a smoked pork butt sandwich. The pyrohy were perfect--the best I have had in years. And after some decidedly mediocre barbecue at the original Dinosaur the evening before, I was hoping for something better... I was not disappointed. I'm in love with the bar, too--comfortable, homey, and a wide selection of Polish and Ukrainian beers.

The kitchen hours are somewhat limited: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 5 p.m.-8 p.m. Wednesday through Friday (I had the impression these hours are somewhat changeable--probably best to call ahead).

From the high quality of the pyrohy, I believe I can infer great things about the kiełbasa (made and smoked in-house, of course) and the holubchi (stuffed cabbage). Oh, well--something to look forward to my next trip!

Welcome Inn
501 Tully St., Syracuse, NY 13204