Cal Pep: A Fading Love Story
One of my favorite restaurants in Barcelona is Cal Pep. My first visit was in 2013 and the food we ate actually helped inspire me to start writing about food. I came here with a few friends back in college and we had an especially memorable meal.
At the time of our first visit, Pep, a nickname for the chef and owner, carefully directed the activities of the open kitchen. His lively personality and contagious smile extended into their simple dishes consisting of carefully sourced ingredients meant to ensure freshness and quality. We loved dining here. After a few plates, we were even clinking beers with Pep himself! As 20 year old students, it was exciting to feel this kind of bond and hospitality in a foreign country.
At Cal Pep, there is no menu. You are asked what you feel like eating and if you have any allergies. Then, they bring out plates based on the meats and produce that are fresh that day. All dishes are meant to be shared tapas style. Cal Pep's tapas represent that flavors of Mediterranean cuisine with a focus on fish, shellfish, and vibrant vegetables.
PRO TIP: I recommend sitting at the bar, which overlooks the kitchen action, but you can also choose to sit in the dining room in the back if you'd like. If you visit Cal Pep, expect to wait a while for a seat. This place is very popular among tourists.
Steph and I came again in 2017. Unfortunately, we found out that Pep had retired in 2015. I was quite upset. Nevertheless, we waited for a table and enjoyed our meal. It was one of our favorite dinners! The borderline boring and somber demeanor of the staff can still be overlooked given the quality of the food, which hasn't deteriorated at all since our last visit. But, alas, the era of Pep is over.
The open kitchen facing the bar!
Just look at the staff... WHY are they so sad? Is it too much to ask for a smile?
I needed a beer in honor of Pep.
These crispy artichokes were a crowd favorite. Not too fried or oily. They were perfect. Seasoning was limited to a bit of salt.
This is the Foie Botifarra that changed my life. Botifarra is one of the most beloved dishes in Catalan cuisine. It's made with pork and has a nutty, rustic, peppery, and spicy taste. Cal Pep stuffs their sausage with foie gras to impart a rich, buttery, and fatty taste into each bite.
Next, we had some sauteed mushrooms with pesto. Again, the mushrooms were cooked very well. All the pieces were so juicy and flawless that we even ordered a second plate of this!
You can't go wrong with Shishito Peppers! Their crispy exteriors and subtly peppery flavor make for an addicting appetizer.
Cal Pep's turbot, an ugly ass fish, tastes quite good. Pronounced with a hard "t", this fish has firm, flaky white meat. It's mild in flavor so it's nice to get a good char on the meat.