31 July 2012

n.d.p. in barcelona: coure

There are myriad indicators of good hospitality in restaurants: prompt service, thoughtful suggestions, graceful reservation systems, etc. Perhaps the most outright challenging for a restaurant, however, is the time-limited meal, such as what my friend / colleague R and I were obliged to impose on Barcelona gastro-bistrot Coure at the tail end of our Barcelona trip last fall.

This is where the guest shows up, hastily states the name of his reservation, and then explains in the nicest possible terms that he's delighted be here but must leave in under an hour - and can the host or hostess kindly work that out with the waitstaff and kitchen staff? Given the often terse or restricted channels of communication between front-of-house and back-of-house staff in restaurants, this is more challenging than it may initially sound - sort of the triathalon of restaurant communication. I hated having to perform it back in Boston and Los Angeles restaurants, and I hate asking for it myself.

But R and I'd had twenty-four hours in the city without sitting at a table for a meal. We'd worked through the night, we needed lunch, and I'd heard nice things about Coure from my friend Cesar E. Castro Pou from Terroir Santo Domingo (at that time my one Barcelona connection). It seemed worth chancing a last minute sprint, even if it did involve running literally a mile with our suitcases to the restaurant.

We arrived with about 50 minutes to spare, and once I'd explained our situation we were sat promptly and without fuss in the downstairs dining room, which, we couldn't fail to note, was significantly less attractive than the upstairs bar area.

I thought we'd stumbled into a dentist's reception room. It was laughably jarring, and felt as though someone, probably long since emphatically fired, had blown the whole interior design budget on heavy wood and chain-link door ornaments before learning that the restaurant was to have a downstairs.

R and I received a comically large corner table beside a strange shelf system, at which point we became grateful for the dental lighting, without which the whole scene would have begun to feel uncomfortably romantic. I think it was something about the white tablecloths, a setting I seem to find fustier by the day. I'd go so far as to say that white tablecloths are the restaurant equivalent of wood interiors in cars. Or exteriors.

There followed a moment of intense anxiety, as R and I sat there at our romantic table on our strict timetable awaiting a server who wasn't quick in arriving. But arrive she did in the end, and from there the meal that followed was thoughtful, delicious, and above all, impressively timed.

If I were to nitpick, I'd advise chef and co-owner Albert Ventura not to serve his almond-garlic soup first. First is where it belongs. But it was such a mana-like masterpiece of pale milky flavours that it cast a very long shadow over the rest of the meal.

The most traditional thing we enjoyed, besides the anchovies, was probably a simple salad of bonito and tomato, which once again caused us to lament the unreasonably poor quality of Parisian tomatoes.

Paris might as well be the remote Norwegian fjords, for all the ripe Mediterranean tomatoes you can find.

A crudo dish had slightly too many ingredients and a beef tartare had not quite enough, but on the whole the cuisine was of a very admirable caliber. The wine list, by comparison, was a curious disappointment. It had the air of having been drafted by a rushed and inattentive consultant.

Fully 75% of the glass list hailed from outside of Spain, which tells me Coure serves primarily native clientele. And among the whites was an Arneis by bank-owned Piedmontese bore Fontanafredda, which tells me unsalutary things about wine familiarity of said native clientele.

Our ambitions for  lunch halted at the bottle list, so we just took glasses of the two available Spanish wines that would not turn our gums red. The Cava Brut Nature from the widely-distributed Celler Carles Andreu was perfectly enjoyable, clean yeasty green olive and white fruit, although I think in the case of this wine "Nature" refers only to bottle-fermentation and extended (36 months') aging, and not the sulfur avoidance anyone accustomed to reading this blog might expect.

On the way out to our taxi I noticed that the upstairs bar area, full when we entered, was mostly deserted. I reflected that it was a fairly typical thing, in countries that are not France, to eat speedy lunches. In the case of Coure's upstairs bar, this seemed a shame, as it, unlike the downstairs, was a place I could envision lingering.

PJ Marimon 20
Tel: +34 932 00 75 32

Related Links: 

An unsigned 2010 Condé Nast traveler feature including Coure @ CondéNastTraveler
An account of a June 2011 meal at Coure, which weirdly uses the same descriptive wording as the above CNT piece @ HungryInBangkok (I've met the HungryInBangkok fellow once, randomly. He's a food writer. So I suppose it's possible he wrote both pieces? Either way it's weird.) 
A short profile of Coure @ 60by80
A blurb on Coure @ Concierge.com, in which the author also notes the deathly décor

A long, pictorial 2010 blog feature on Coure @ ObservationGastronomica (in Spanish)
A 2010 blog piece on Coure @ Estocomo (in Spanish)
A 2008 blog piece on Coure @ Estocomo (in Spanish)

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