Saturday, December 18, 2010

Spain: Bartolo

Carrer de Entença y Avinguda de Mistral
Barcelona, Espanya

by Beau Cadiyo

(Read Part I here.)

I landed on Saturday. Franco and his cousin, Marta, were at the airport to meet me; I recognized them immediately, even though Franco had shorter hair and Marta was older and prettier. We dropped my bags at his apartment and went around the corner to a bar, where everything was familiar: a long counter with plates of tapas, smoke rising from the glowing tips of cigarettes, an espresso machine, Barça half-heartedly destroying some other team 4-0 on the television in the back.

“Madrid is make shit in their pants,” Franco said. Madrid v. Barcelona, the biggest game of the year, was a week away, and the Catalans were in fine form.

Franco chatted with the barmaid and then we ordered. What did I want? There was no choice: a Spanish omelette sandwich and some fried potatoes.

Rather, a bocadillo de tortilla de patata and patatas bravas. She took the order, as well as an order from Franco for a cigarette, and we pulled tables up right in front of the screen to watch the game. Franco was preoccupied; it turned out that he had a problem, this one named Maria. As I learned about her, the food came: pig’s ears, croquetas, olives, the bravas and my bocadillo.

A tortilla de patata is, at its core, nothing more than a few common elements of a breakfast thrown together. Thinly sliced potatoes are first fried in olive oil in a small pan. Usually a sliced onion is thrown in and also browned. Then, a couple of eggs are beaten and added, and then you wait. When the eggs are brown on the bottom, you put a plate over the whole thing and flip it, so that the tortilla ends up runny-side down on the plate. You put the pan back on the burner and slide the tortilla back into the pan so that the uncooked side browns, too. It’s a delicate process and a rough one all at the same time. To make a bocadillo, a baguette is sliced length-wise. A tomato is cut in half and the innards are rubbed into the bread. Sometimes garlic is also rubbed in. Drizzle a little olive oil and sprinkle some salt on, slice the tortilla into pie-shaped wedges and assemble your sandwich.

There are some who cook the tortilla all the way through, but the general consensus is that the eggs should be browned on the outside and runny in the middle. The tortilla at Bartolo would have satisfied the majority: the potatoes were soft, the eggs both brown and runny. The bread was crispy on the outside and smoothly soft on the inside; while I’d been promised tomato, I found scant reference to it. The bravas were unremarkable – fried potato wedges, the likes of which one could find in the frozen food section of WalMart, with aioli and a mildly spicy sauce on top. I was hungry for Spanish food, though, and I polished off the bocadillo, two plates of the bravas, two plates of croquetas, one pig ear (washed down with half a beer) and more olives.

“It is not possible to get this food in Cleveland,” I said, thinking of Marbella.

“You do not have good food in Cleveland?”

“No - there is good food, there is very good food. The food in Cleveland is fantastic, is incredible. But there is not food like this food. There is food that has the face of Spanish food but” Barça scored again and the matter was dropped before I could talk gibberish. Seven to nothing. It looked like they were trying to avoid blowing this other team out, but they were so good that they couldn’t avoid scoring more goals.

After the game, Marta and her boyfriend Josep took me to a theater at the very end of the L2 metro to see a Serbian/Catalan rockabilly band sing songs in English. It was technically a theater and not a club, so there was no alcohol and no smoking. We went to a tiny bar around the corner to drink Four Roses with the bass player, a friend of Josep’s who had a beautiful pompadour and a girlfriend who knew English. Then we took the metro back into the city, met up with Franco at the bar where he works, and I got more drunk than I’ve been in years; at 4 a.m., when he finished, we went to a gay club with some girls he knew. Neither of us got anywhere with them, and on the Vespa ride home sunlight had begun to stream through the streets. I’d slept for three of the previous 44 hours and I wanted to go to bed.

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