29425 Chagrin Blvd
Beachwood, OH 44122
by Beau Cadiyo
It was my last night in Barcelona, and all I wanted was patatas bravas from Bar Tomás.
Well, I wanted other things, too, but those were all but guaranteed. The problem was the bravas. My girlfriend, Francesca, and I had arrived in Sarriá at sunset, and Bar Tomás was already closing down – being a family institution, they kept their own hours sometimes, and this was one of those times. Bravas, or fried potatoes topped with a garlic/mayonnaise sauce and a dash of hot sauce, are a national dish in Spain. Bar Tomás was regularly acknowledged as the best place in the peninsula to get them, and their doors were closing, the customers heading home, the waiters wiping tables and sweeping under chairs.
They would have to wait, though, for my beautiful and determined French/Spanish novia. She slipped in through the door and confronted the barman; all I could see was her big blonde hair and, when she turned to indicate me, the smile that I’d first noticed months earlier – the fullness in the middle and the upturned ends moving into perfectly symmetrical dimples. The barman looked out at me, looked back at her, listened again to her Daisy Buchanan voice and a few moments later she poked her head out of the door, smiling, and blew me a kiss. We ate on a bench just up the street, and when we were done we went on a long, hand-holding, glance-darting, bittersweet walk through the hills above the city. She pointed out an acacia tree and we broke off a green, low-hanging twig. She took one end and I took the other and we snapped it in two, making simultaneous wishes and tucking our pieces away. I don’t think I was the only one who wished that they would someday be reunited.
The next morning, she used her tricks and connections to get a fake stewardess boarding pass which let her into the terminal. I’ve said “I love you” to a lot of girls in my life, but I’ve never meant it as much as when I said it to her, for the first and last time, before walking onto my plane.
I was reminded of Francesca when I threw out my wallet recently – a gift from another ex – and started using the wallet I’d had that night in Sarriá. Tucked inside the billfold was the sprig of acacia. I found a stash of Restaurants.com coupons the very next day; one was for Marbella, and I figured that maybe it was a sign that I should try some Spanish food in the US.
Within three minutes of sitting down, I wasn’t so sure it was a good idea. When asked if they had bravas, the waiter didn’t understand what I was saying. Patatas bravas? Bravas? Patatas? Anyways, no, he’d never heard of them. Un bocadillo de tortilla de patata? No, sorry, he had no tortillas, and he started to look uncomfortable. Well then, the hamburger is good? He crinkled his nose and pursed his lips. The tilapia sandwich is better. The tilapia, please, y thank you.
After an excellent cabbage soup starter, it went downhill from there. This wasn’t the Spanish food I ate in Spain. Aside from the bravas, most of my restaurant-bought meals consisted of potatoes, bread, eggs, ham and vegetables. I certainly never had a fried fish sandwich, much less tilapia, from Pans & Co. or any neighborhood bar. A burger? Certainly never at a real Spanish establishment. Tilapia? Nothing about tilapia is particularly Spanish. A deep-fried fish sandwich? Never – maybe tuna in oil, but not anything else.
These aberrations could possibly have been forgiven if the fish had been exceptionally good. Possibly. The bread had a good crust and a soft marrow. However, the fish was dry and gummed to my teeth; the breading, meanwhile, was soaked with oil, which pooled on the plate. The tomatoes on top were green and hard, and the fish sauce in a ramekin on the side wasn’t enough to spread across one side of the bun. A huge pile of chips filled the rest of the plate. The only chips I had in Spain were Doritos, and while these were tasty, I would have preferred a side more stereotypically Spanish. The coffee was weak, about on par with Denny’s. A mix of excellence and detritus, it wasn’t Spanish food – it was American, and it was only barely passable.
I’ll fortunately be going back to Barcelona in November. In just three months I’ll be walking through Gracia and stopping by the ham shop up the street from DiR. I’ll take the metro to Entenca and stop for a bocadillo de tortilla de patata in Pans & Co. and then, across the street, get a better one at the bar run by the older couple and their single, middle-aged, overweight and sexually frustrated daughter. I’ll take the street car to Villa Olimpica and stop for a café solo at the restaurant two blocks down from my old apartment. And I’ll jump on the Ferrocarril to Sarriá, walk through the side streets and once again open the big wood-and-glass doors to Bar Tomás.
And, needless to say, someone will be waiting for me there.