Review: Dem was at a new location today for school, and it was a bit outside my guidebook, so we were forced to employ our what-place-looks-good radar to find a good lunch spot. There is definitely a way to discern good, reasonably priced untouristy restaurants from the sell outs, which invariably serve crappy food at exorbitant prices. Here are a few ways to quickly identify the sell outs:
1. The menus are in English, or they have a tourist menu.
2. There are pictures in front of the restaurant explaining the menu.
3. Some guy is standing in front of the restaurant begging you like a puppy to come in.
4. There are flashing lights of bright colors in the advertisements.
5. You know every dish on the menu.
6. Lots of other patrons look like you.
Of course, there are many more sell out giveaways, but those are probably the six most prominent. (Oh, one more specific to gelato shops. If the gelato protrudes beyond the top of the display container, run like the wind. Not only will the gelato be of, at best, nominal quality, it will also be dry.)
Armed with these heuristics, we chose Bar Restaurant Novecento. After asking what was on the menu, it was written unabashedly in Spanish and Catalan, I began with the gazpacho.
I almost hate to admit this, but this is my first gazpacho. I've had a number of other cold soups, but they were all French in origin. This gazpacho was as duly impressive as it was refreshing. The tomatoes were obviously the most prominent flavor, although there was a hit of garlic and cucumber.
And then came the main course: hake steak cooked on a grate, served on a rake with my friend Drake. (Sorry, coulnd't resist.) No, but honestly, it's a hake steak cooked on the flat top accompanied by ratatouille.
Hake is a light white-fleshed fish. Flaky but it keeps its texture when cooked. And this hake was cooked well. Nice and juicy on the inside with a nice crust. Lemon, as it so often is with seafood, was the perfect sauce. And now the ratatouille. Oh my good golly. Amazing, and I don't really like squash, and I can take it or leave it with eggplant. This ratatouille was so well cooked that it essentially melted in the mouth. The tomatoes was the perfect acidic offset (which also made it a great accompaniment for the hake as well). It's not often one experience can completely change your perception of a dish, but this was one of those experiences. All ratatouilles eaten from this time forth will be compared against this gold standard.
Dem ordered a grilled beefsteak for her entree. It was also served with the aforementioned, heaven-sent ratatouille.
Good quality beef cooked simply, and pretty darn well to boot. I must say, portions were a beautiful medium rare, and then some thicker portions were rare in the middle. Either way works for me, but it really should have been evenly cooked throughout.
Oh, and Elliot liked the bread.
To finish the meal, we had pineapple and watermelon. I as hoping for a cooked dessert since the food had been so good throughout, but the fruit-only selection was great. The fruit was high-quality and unadorned. So satisfying on a hot summer day. (This is actually a great lesson for restaurants everywhere. If desserts are not in your wheelhouse, don't serve them. It's far better to do something yourself well than have desserts made out-of-house and trucked in.)
Rating: 8/10 on the strength of the ratatouille alone (5/10 is average).