Friday, July 6, 2007

Delicious budget dining in Barcelona: La Mar Salada (The Savory Sea)


A good friend treated me to a delicious lunch yesterday. This particular friend and I have a habit of seeking out good places to eat economically, and the place we visited is certainly one of the best we have found.
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While we were enjoying our meal I was reminded of an article from the New York Times that someone recently emailed me. It was written by a young man who had visited Barcelona and complained that it was not a good place to visit for a person on a limited budget. My response to the person who emailed me the article was, "That guy just didn't know where to go!"
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As someone who lives here I can say that Barcelona offers opportunities for all sorts of budgets, from luxury to mid-range to back-packer. For example, yesterday's spot is a place I believe most visitors in the backpacker range could afford and diners on any budget would enjoy.
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La Mar Salada (The Savory Sea) is a lovely little restaurant in my neighborhood, Barceloneta. It is situated on Passeig Joan de Borbo (which I have nicknamed "Paella Row" because it is dotted with restaurants offering varieties of this delicious rice dish) and has a bright, comfortable dining room as well as a clean canopy covered terrace.
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We sat on the terrace and ordered from the "menu of the day" ("menu del día"), which is the selection of specially priced set menus that most Spanish restaurants have each day. In Spanish these offerings are often simply referred to as "el menu." (What we English speakers refer to as "the menu" is "la carta" in Spanish.) Spanish "menus" typically include bread, a starter dish, a main dish, a desert, a drink (bottled water, wine, beer or a soft drink) and a choice of desert or coffee.
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Yesterday's "menu" offerings were varied. Catalan Salad (which included the local 'butifara' sausage), Steamed Mussels, Swiss Chard Au Gratin and Lasagna were some of the choices for the first dish. Options for the second included Paella Mixta, Baked Gilthead Bream, Fillet Steak and Roast Sirloin.
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I opted for the Swiss Chard Au Gratin to start with while my friend selected the Mussels. Not too long after placing the order, two large steaming dishes were delivered to our table. My companion's plate was piled high with beautiful black shells offering up the almost golden meat inside. My dish was about as big as a loaf of bread and as warm and tasty as a freshly made dish should be. It had a light brown crust covering layers of greens baked in a tangy cheese sauce.
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Neither of us could pass up the Paella Mixta, so soon after we finished our "starters" we were served two hot platters full of saffron colored rice doused with shrimp, mussels, clams, scallops, sausage, chicken, sweet pepper, onion, garlic... It had just the right mix of a smoky saffron taste balanced by the spicy blend of seafood and meat flavors. Talk about good!!
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It was hard to believe, but, we still had dessert to come! We bypassed the fresh melon and the Neapolitan ice cream for items made in the kitchen. My friend chose a cake that had a cheese base and a strawberry sauce topping. (I took a bite and it was very tasty.) I had the homemade yogurt, which was exquisite: a goblet shaped dish filled with a cloud of rich, creamy, white yogurt that was perfectly sweet. A scrumptious end to a delicious meal.
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The price for this superbly satisfying meal? Only 9 euros a piece! And that's the price of the "menu del día" at La Mar Salada each weekday at lunch time. So, there you have it -- good value and excellent quality in a great location.
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La Mar Salada
Passeig Joan de Borbo, 58-59
93 221 21 27
Lunch: 1pm - 4:30pm; Dinner: 8pm - 11pm; Closed Tuesdays

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