When I asked my chef friend Tracy (who happens to have just soft-opened her own Japanese-Spanish restaurant PAGU in Cambridge this week!) where to dine in Barcelona, she immediately replied “Dos Palillos”. It was by far one of her favorite restaurants in Barcelona. This hot, hard-to-book restaurant from Albert Raurich (former head chef of El Bulli) serves creative dishes that are a fusion of Spanish and Japanese cuisine.
I tried to make a reservation at Dos Palillos within a week of my visit with little luck. Alas, the restaurant was fully booked that evening. However, they cheerfully advised to me (over email) to dine at the bar, which serves the same menu but a la carte style (versus a tasting menu). The bar is first-come-first-serve, and thus if I showed up early (she suggested 7:30PM, right at opening), I should be able to get a seat.
I showed up at around 7:10AM and saw at least two other people waiting in line. By the time the doors opened, there was a sizeable crowd of about 10 people waiting at the door. A handful had reservations, but most were there to nab bar seats. Shortly after 7:30PM, the bar was completely full.
I dined solo because Bryan had a business dinner that night. One the one hand, dining at the bar solo was really special because I ended up chatting quite a bit with those around me. The crowd that dines at Dos Palillos is quite international. Our server said he speaks English 80% of the time. To my left was a woman from Malaysia. To my right was a couple from San Diego. Coincidentally, the husband was attending the same conference Bryan was attending, and the couple’s daughter went to Harvard (which meant we ended up talking at length about the dining scene in Cambridge).
It’s fun to sit at the bar because you always meet interesting people. In most certainly made for a much less lonely night.
On the other hand, dining at the bar meant I couldn’t do the tasting menu. That meant I had to order individual dishes, many of which are designed to be shared. One order of dumplings came with 4 pieces, when I could have easily done with just one. Thankfully all of the dishes are still small plates, and thus I was still able to try many. They recommend ordering 4-6 dishes. I ordered 7 (!) plus sampled a couple bites from those sitting around me (thanks, new friends!).
Here’s a look at some of the fun dishes I tried.
From the Snacks section of the menu, I ordered thai lily pads, a fun dessert that reminded me of a Northern Thai dish made with betel leaves. This version (described surreptitiously as “fresh, crisp, acid” on the menu) uses lily pads as the leaf and tops it with coriander sprouts (“fresh”), lemon plus a sweet citrus flavored sauce (“acid), pork rind (“crisp”), and a sprinkling of the Japanese spice togarashi.
I loved it. It was consistent with the Thai food philosophy of balancing all four flavors: sweet, savory, spicy, and acid.
From the Cold Bites section I had three colors of soy (5,80 Euros), a fascinating dish that combined soy milk ice cream, fresh soy beans (edamame), aged soy sauce, and a dark smoky sauce made from charred edamame shells.
It was very, very interesting. I liked how the ice cream was only barely sweet, pairing perfectly with the 3-year (!) aged soy sauce (which was intensely deep, dark, and rich in flavor), the smoky charred sauce, and the simple edamame.
From the Fried section, I tried the lovely cherry tomato tempura, perfectly executed breaded and deep fried cherry tomatoes served with just a simple a grating of fresh wasabi which made all the difference. It was fantastic. I loved how wasabi enhanced the simple tomato tempura. The woman next to me liked it so much that she ended up ordering it as a finishing course after she had eaten a few dessert courses.
The Malaysian woman next to me had ordered the Noumifu of Lamb Brains (5,60 Euros). Her friend was freaked out and wasn’t sure if she wanted to try one. She offered me a piece, and I gladly took on the challenge.
It was surprisingly delicious! The flavors of the sweet and sour sauce were actually very nice, more sour than sweet, and accented with chopped herbs and a bit of spice. The tartness from the sauce did a great job of contrasting the richness of the brain.
When asked by the squeamish friend what it was like eating the brains, I said “fat” while her friend said “mashed potatoes.” She decided she was comfortable with pretending to eat mashed potatoes, and proceeded to try the tasty dish.
There is a Sushi section that I chose to skip, but which includes a toro temaki, chargrilled eel tamaki (highly recommended by the server), and an interesting black garlic niguiri.
From the Steamed part of the menu, I ordered the simple steamed vegetable dumplings (6,90 Euros), which used handmade potato starch skins around a clean tasting mixture of spinach, shitake mushrooms, and bok choy. The execution of the dumpling was excellent, reminding me of the quality of dumplings you’d see in a high-end restaurant in Hong Kong.
The flavors were subtle and it’s a lot less salty than a typical Chinese dumpling. However, I still thought it was delicious because the inherent flavors from the vegetables really came through. Plus, there was a light sesame oilv flavored sauce covering the dumplings that I loved. I have a feeling if Bryan had been there, though, he would have thought it was bland.
From the Grill section, I ordered one of their signature dishes, a Nippon burger. This cute slider consisted of Japanese-seasoned beef, ginger, cucumber, and shredded shiso leaves between two fresh handmade Chinese steamed buns.
The beef was lovely (super tender, almost like tartare), and the flavors were delicious. I really liked the herbaceous addition of the shiso.
There is a Wok section that includes some simple stir fried dishes, such as baby vegetables or squid and vegetables for around 10 -11 Euros a plate. I did not order from this section either.
Finally there is a Chargrill section that includes many types of grilled meats that cost around 10-12 Euros (e.g., the highly recommended 16-hour braised Iberian pork jowl with Cantonese sauce, Galician dry-aged beef tataki, or bone marrow teriyaki). I tried a bite of my neighbor’s Iberian pork tataki, tandoori styled, which was excellent.
I ended up ordering two desserts. The server laughed and assured me that once I saw them, I wouldn’t regret it. He was right – they were both quite small and reasonably light.
Thai Coconut (5.60 Euros) came with coconut served three ways (“fresh, spicy, creamy” according to the menu). Out came a fresh coconut shell with whipped coconut cream, flat breakable sheets, and something that was shaped a bit like sea corral.
Our server said to mix all three together, eat it, and then halfway through chew on the kaffir lime leaf (which was covered with a sweet and tart glaze of sorts). The coconut mixture was very light, but actually had some heat! When it started to feel slightly spicy, I took a bite of the leaf (just bite, don’t swallow – it’s quite tough), which really changed the bite in a nice way.
I really enjoyed the Iberian caramelized pork rind with spicy ginger ice cream (4.90 Euros). I loved the sweet and salty, crunchy and soft, contrasting textures, flavors, and even temperatures all in one dish. I did not complain at all that I could eat this whole thing my myself (ha ha!).
At this point I was quite full. I could have kept on going, but I decided it was time to stop while I was feeling pretty good. It’s a fun menu to explore, and it would have been fun to be here with another person, and thus have the chance to try double the number of dishes.
My entire meal was only 42 Euros, which included a glass of cava and a bottle of sparkling water. I thought it was a great value for the creativity and quality of the dishes that I enjoyed. Superb value for a 1-Michelin star restaurant. I would easily come back, maybe try the tasting menu next time!
Dos Palillos Barcelona
Carrer d’Elisabets, 9