The next day being Monday, the museum was closed, as was the buffet in the café, in its case, due to a lack of guests. However I could have whatever I wanted and as much as I wanted from the menu –coffee, croissant, eggs with ham, yogurt and muesli.
I have a friend in Barcelona who is exceptionally discerning on the subjects of restaurants and tenors, indeed, on anything about opera. He had suggested a restaurant, Rekondo, specifying that it was exceptional, a bit expensive and not to be missed. If P says a restaurant is exceptional, it’s a Michelin two to three star. I found it on my paper map and decided I could walk there.
Leaving the hotel I took off in the direction opposite to that I had been heading for the last three days, this time toward Igeldo, the promontory on the opposing horn of the crescent bay. On a whim I turned inland and found myself climbing stairs, if my phone is tallying truthfully, fourteen flights.
As I started up I noted a man doing his morning exercise by running up several flights and then walking down; cheaper than a gym, it certainly looked effective judging by the sweaty patch between his shoulder blades. The views out to the Concha, the bay, were fine but as interesting were the views of houses, their terraces. One looked up at them, down at them, out at them from all levels. Some were primly tidy with flowering plants and chairs drawn up to umbrellaed tables. Others were a bit blousy, straggling geraniums gone to seed or overwhelmed by blooming weeds with faded canvas chairs, or rusty tables on loose tiles. 19th century grace and 20th century modernity jostled each other up the hill.
At the top and along the way were a few 19th century villas muffled in undergrowth. They are probably too costly to renovate. Things became quieter, no cars; often I was alone with birds and trees looking down at that perfect bay. I took a street that turned down toward the Miramar Palace once the summer home of Queen Maria Christina, much loved here because she supported the town. Now a convention center, it has lots of turrets and roofs which make it interesting from a distance but it becomes less attractive as one gets closer and its resemblance to a 19th century suburban villa on growth serum becomes more evident.
It is surrounded by a park that pitches abruptly down the hill. As I left the bulk of the Miramar Palace I passed a clutch of men gathered about a group of cameras on tripods. On a bench in their midst, and I thought associated with them, was a white haired man in a blue plaid flannel shirt and a blue quilted vest. I am not sure why I noticed him; perhaps there was something authoritative about him.
I was able to follow my map to Igeldo Passealekua, the road on which the restaurant was located, through first an attractive small shopping center and then streets of recent bourgeois two story homes with carefully but not imaginatively planted front yards. It had that comfortable, solid look the middle class is so good at creating. But once past these I started up hill again through much less orderly surroundings, fewer houses and those often unkempt. Views of the bay were over scrubby trees and unpretentious buildings. There was a marginal feeling to this land, unkempt edge of city land.
I began to wonder how far away this restaurant was. There were, however, hotels that I passed, that were a comfort, and then there was a big sign, Rekondo, and a parking lot full of cars, next to a wide terrace looking down to the ocean shaded by a big tree.
I walked in and there was the white haired man I had seen among the cameras. I thought he must be another solitary dinner. I explained to the woman who greeted me that since I was alone I had made no reservation and hoped that was all right. She seated me and gave me a large menu with a selection of Basque and other dishes. Slowly I realized the man in the vest was the owner and that I was sitting in the wrong direction, looking into the restaurant rather than out to the terrace.
I decided to skip the first course. One of the main courses was venison, which I have not had in many years. It is not something that one sees on a Barcelona menu.
It was served with pears poached in a luscious brown sauce of great depth of flavor with fruit high lights. I have come to think of brown sauces or gravies as ambushes. They look innocuous but can be pools of grave disaster tasting of half cooked flour and burned vegetables. This was ambrosial. As I ate slowly, becoming enveloped by that luminous sense of bien être a superb meal gives you, the restaurant filled.
To my right was a room filling with a couple with a baby in an ultra modern pram, a pair of athletic looking middle aged business men and an older couple but behind me on the terrace there were young people, quite a large crowd of them chatting, going to the bar to order drinks in a celebratory mood. Directly behind me were two women in their fifties or sixties whom I could only glimpse. One was plain, a bit stodgy but the other had flair and was wearing a navy blue, soft, silk suit piped and cuffed in brilliant pink. I was disappointed to have my back to her.
As is true of most people my age I don’t usually have dessert but I realized that in this circumstance it would be depravity to be abstemious with such a kitchen available. I ordered a mille-feuille of thin, brittle layers redolent of almonds with vanilla cream between them and a papaya sorbet to one side, heaven with a café con leche.
P is never wrong.
This quality of food is rare these days anywhere in the world. Shanghai Tang’s restaurant in Hong Kong and the Thai restaurant in the Oriental in Bangkok are up to this standard, although neither are purveyors of Western cuisine.
When I was 24, pregnant and traveling through France with my husband who only ate steak and French fries because he was in a foreign country, it was possible to, from time to time, I am thinking specifically of a restaurant called Trencavel in Carcassonne, have a meal like this every couple of days as one drove across France. In that restaurant, this is a memory now 60 years old, they recognized I liked food and, ignoring my husband, went into conference with me before each meal. I had never been treated like this and I reveled in the attention. I ordered one evening a trout with mussels and tiny shrimp. Madame, bent over me solicitously and advised, “But after that you must have something simple, a little chicken perhaps.”
The trout was celestial, the chicken not far down the hierarchical scale. The memory of that trout has stayed with me all these years as one of the high points of my gastronomic life. The venison and mille-feuille have been entered in the same file in my memory.
A further digression. Trencavel is the name of the viscounts of Carcassonne, Béziers, Albi and Razès. Raymond-Roger Trencavel died after the capture of Carcassonne in 1209 by Simon de Montfort. The restaurant was named for the family. A French friend filled in the historical background.
My inner person beaming I walked down hill to the bay and then along the shore turning in at the cathedral, which is 19th century but has a reputation for beauty. However, despite signs stating that it was open from 8 to 8, it was not. Thinking I knew what I was doing I wandered off and became lost and entangled in rail lines and children coming home from school. I finally stopped at a gas station to ask my way.
It is always a good idea to get lost. In this case I saw a more plebeian section of town, more family oriented than where I was staying. Parents with dogs were picking up children bringing home satchels of books or paintings to be acclaimed by mothers. The streets were choked with young life being directed across streets by crossing guards. I stopped by one, mid street, and asked my way again. But I did get home.
I made a mental note to thank P for his recommendation. Tomorrow I was planning a return to the museum.