Food, glorious food. It was all around us at TBEX in Girona, but my deep dive into Catalan Cuisine began with the 3-day blog trip through Costa Brava, which followed.
We had a busy itinerary, yet somehow there was always enough time for a multi-hour, multi-course lunch with bottomless glasses of wine.
Being a glutton never felt so good. And if ever there was a country worth getting to know through its food, it's Spain.
Lunch in Tossa de Mar
We were welcomed with a glass of sangria de cava and a choice of canapes, like the salmon one pictured above.
Cava is a Spanish sparkling wine, their version of French champagne.
Every dish served showed close attention to detail, and there were a lot of dishes that afternoon.
An array of sausages and cheeses arrived next. Cured meats, including sausage and serrano ham, are a staple in Catalan cuisine.
I only wish I were a bigger fan of both so I could appreciate them more.
For the main course, we had a choice of either sea bass or duck. Seeing as how we were dining by the water, most of us chose the fish.
Dessert was a parfait of ratafia with wild berries sauce. The heat of the day had it melting on the plate before me; thus, it looked like a big gloppy mess.
It tasted fine, but it wasn't very photogenic.
Dinner in Blanes
Later that night, we had another beachside meal. This time, it was dinner at the chic Restaurant Es Blanc in Blanes.
As often was the case, our meal began with olives and Spanish tomato toast, lightly toasted bread smeared with fresh tomatoes, and drizzled with olive oil.
A fresh, simple, tasty way to dress up bread.
The rice with spider crab was a house specialty, so that's what we ordered. It's not the most photogenic dish, but it was full of flavor.
I much prefer to eat crab when it's removed from the shell. I'm not one of those guys who can sit down in front of a bucket of Maryland crabs and go to town cracking shells and sucking the meat out.
Es Blanc is also known for its wide array of gins. I had a gin and tonic with dinner, but I can't recall which one.
As if the two substantial meals of the day weren't enough, I couldn't resist finding out what was behind the “chocolate semi-sphere” on the menu.
It's safe to say if I were living in Spain, France, Italy, or any other western European country, I'd be on cholesterol medication by now.
September 25: Birthday Lunch in Lloret de Mar
The following day, we headed to Lloret de Mar, one of the biggest beach destinations in Spain.
It attracts one million visitors per year, which is hard to believe given how small it appeared.
We settled into another big lunch at Restaurant La Mar Blanca after a relaxed walk through the nearby Santa Clotilde's Botanical Gardens. And this lunch happened to fall on my 36th birthday, making it a special occasion (at least for me).
Before the main event, we were served an array of starters, including cheese bread with anchovies.
I would eat more anchovies in Costa Brava than the rest of my life combined. If you couldn't tell by now, seafood factors heavily into Catalan cuisine, and I didn't want to miss out.
Another dish I usually wouldn't order, if left to my own devices, is the octopus. But, the large meaty pieces served on potatoes turned out to be quite tasty. When cooked properly, I've found octopus to be a food I enjoy.
As I mentioned earlier, Spanish seafood paella was the main event. Cooked in a large, paella-specific dish, it featured fresh lobster and mussels.
Mouth-wateringly good, it's a wonder any of us were able to carry on with the rest of our day.
Did I mention we were all drinking wine throughout the service?
Dessert was a regional favorite, crema Catalana, a Spanish custard very similar to creme brulee.
And because it was my birthday, I was also surprised with a chocolate brownie immersed in whip cream, complete with candles. Yea, I ate that too.
Happy Hour at Cala Banys
Later that evening, as the sun was setting, we rolled into Bar Cala Banys for happy hour cocktails by the sea.
We had the place to ourselves and grabbed a table and chairs right by the water's edge. Waves crashing into the rocky shoreline below, we relaxed with our favorite cocktails.
I opted for a gin and tonic, which was served with juniper berries. I experienced this nice touch for the first time in my life a few days earlier at a bar in Girona. I've never seen it done outside of Spain.
Birthday Dinner in Lloret de Mar
My 36th birthday came to a close with a 6-course, gourmet meal at FREU Restaurant in the Hotel Guitart Monterrey.
I barely had room for another large meal by this point in the day and trip, but I soldiered on. Luckily, the portion sizes were small.
I even managed to gobble down another blogger's dessert, in addition to my own.
Believe it or not, there was still another full day to our trip, but I'm going to end this introduction to Catalan cuisine on a high note, or rather, a sweet one.
I visited these restaurants as a guest of the Costa Brava Tourism Board.