Without further ado, remarks on some of the places we dined in Spain.
Via Laietana, 41
We wandered into this place on our first night in town. It turned out to be a perfectly serviceable tapas restaurant, and a very satisfying meal after the exhausting flight. Our eyes were a bit bigger than our stomachs: we ordered a paella for two, buñuelos de bacalao (codfish fritters), mussels, calamari, a salad, and the local staple pan amb tomaquet (bread rubbed with tomato).
Hostal de la Rita
This one was recommended by a friend, and has good reviews on VirtualTourist. It was clearly popular and we waited about 15 minutes for a table. The menu was only in Spanish and Catalan, but I enjoyed the challenge and the authenticity--the crowd seemed entirely local. When we ordered the waiter asked if it might be too much, but before I could respond he said "no, ees okay." We had gotten into the whole tapas thing, you see, but it turned out that this was not actually a tapas restaurant. It gradually became clear that we had ordered four appetizers and three entrees. We made the best of the situation and ate at least some of everything, and all of some things. We had tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, an asparagus dish, an arugula salad, a tuna steak, a 'filet iberic' with patatas bravas, and a beef steak "paris style." The food was good enough, but it was in a very international style when I was looking more for cuisines unique to Spain.
Plaça Reial, 8
This was a desperate move. We were walking up the Ramblas after a frantic final day in Barcelona, very tired and hungry. The Plaça Reial was pleasant at dusk and the Taxidermista was a familiar name from my readings. It's right next to Les Quinze Nits, which regularly draws insane lines that stretch halfway across the plaza. This easily avoidable situation is clearly perpetuated by the restaurant, catering to people who have come to expect that everything they do on their trip should require a wait in line. Taxidermista is then presumably a barnacle on its hull, absorbing those defeated by the line. We had lamb and roast duck, neither of which was very good.
On our last night before coming home we decided to try Tapaç24, the newer and more casual restaurant from the proprietor of Comerç24. It was extremely popular and we were lucky to be seated quickly. The menu, printed on paper bags that held napkins and silverware, along with a chalkboard of specials, was the most indecipherable of all that we faced, for not only was it in Catalan, but it followed the trendy practice of giving the dishes smart-alecky names that do not always tell you much about what they are made of. The waitress was willing to answer questions, such as "what is this?", but she was so busy that there were a limited number we could ask before she zipped off again. Here are the names of the dishes we ordered, and explanations: Croquetes de pernil iberic (bread stuffed with ham and cheese), Bombes de la Barceloneta (codfish fritters--Barceloneta is the old fishing village by the port), Bikini Ç24 (triangular ham and cheese sandwiches), Tomaquet amb "huevas" de Tonyina (tomato with "eggs" of tuna), Pebrots Padron (fried hot peppers), Calamares (whole grilled squid from the day's catch), Coca Tomaquet (something with tomato, I have no memory what). Some of the dishes were more pedestrian than their names suggested, while others were amazing, in particular the Bombes, the hot peppers, and the squid. Some of the menu items we didn't try: Tapa d'or, McFoie Burger, Russa amb "regañas", "Boquerones al limon", Truita de trempo. It's hard to know what to make of the scare quotes.
Casa Bodega Montaña
José Benlliure, 69
This was the essentially the best restaurant in Valencia that was open during our trip. It's a small place not far from the beach, with beautiful décor and a casual atmosphere. We ate there once for lunch and once for dinner. Among other things, we had: Salmorejo, an awesome cold tomato and bread soup; Lomo, paper-thin slices of pork loin; Torta Serena, melty cheese on a slice of baguette; Chorizo chunks in cider; Clochinas, steamed small mussels; Boquerones, or anchovies, three ways: fried, in vinegar, and whole; and more whole grilled squid. Our meals were uniformly excellent. It perhaps bears mentioning that these boquerones/anchovies are nothing like the ones we get on pizza here. They are marinated in a mixture of olive oil, white wine vinegar, garlic, and other spices. A packaged version imported from Spain has been available at Zabar's on Saturdays for a while now, and I'd been enjoying them tremendously for a few months before the trip.
Conde Altea, 51
This was the best surprise of the trip. Almost nothing else was open, so we weren't expecting much. The atmosphere was casual and unfussy, just a nice neighborhood place. I'd never been to an Argentinian steakhouse before, so excuse my naiveté, but goddamn do they know how to cook steak! We weren't familiar with any of the cuts on the menu--every culture does it a bit differently I gather--so we asked the waitress for guidance and were not disappointed. The steaks were brought on little mini-grill boxes to keep them warm. They had a much more naturalistic shape than the flat slabs we are used to. They were perfectly cooked and had an amazing and intense flavor. I've been meaning to find out how they do this. My only guess is that it involves a lot of marination and precise management of heat.
This place had some good reviews on the web, so we tried it for dinner, though it took a few tries to get there when they were actually open and serving food. The concept is innovative tapas and a combination of Italian and Spanish, but the execution is lacking. Most of what we had was just plain weird. This included a dish with avocado and apple slices--an unfortunate mix of textures--and an entree of cod with way too much honey. Plenty of other people there seemed to be having a good time, so we concluded one might have to be a regular to get the most out of it. That, or just drink a lot.