On Tapa

The search for La Barca seafood ended with oceanside consolation: roasted padrón peppers and faux baby eels in garlic (above), or “civelles” de surimi.

After an hour’s walk to the Sants Barcelona train station – past all the toothpicked tapas and sidewalk cafes, the soaring soccer stadium and beautiful old Gaudi-style buildings with the wrought iron-rimmed balconies – it was onto the train for a high-speed ride and a last-second dash to the door to disembark at a little town called Castadefels.

Suddenly I was a block away from destiny.

Gabe Georis, chronic visitor to Spain and owner of Barmel and tapas joint Mundaka in Carmel, told me La Barca de Castadefels is the best seafood restaurant in a country obsessed with seafood. Google Maps told me it was on the block I was now walking for a fifth lap, stopping to ask painters in splattered pants and the ladies running the shoe store if they had heard of the marisqueria.

Nada.

I quizzed restaurant workers standing out front for a Ducados smoke break, an adorable abuelita on the sidewalk and a mom and her daughter at the bus stop. Nobody knew much, though the mom said it may have closed a year and a half back.

I jumped on the bus and rode to the other side of town, where I ended up at a cute wooden box of a cantina-restaurant on the sand next to the Mediterranean. The bartender there said, yeah, that baby está cerrado, and he heard the police were the ones that shut it down!

Not the case with Mundaka back in Carmel-by-the-Sea, though former councilmember Barbara Livingston and the fierce Carmel Residents Association definitely tried their mightiest to have the boys in blue do it.

After winning Weekly readers’ votes for best new restaurant in 2009 – and a run as the most social restaurant in the city for several years – Mundaka has recently closed, just a few days before my seafood mission in Spain, because Georis and, to a lesser extent, Executive Chef Brandon Miller – another seasoned Spanish explorer – were ready to mix things up.

So starting this Friday, May 5 – , el Cinco de Mayo – its new incarnation, Pescadero (624-7400), opens softly. (Reminder: “Softly” means helpful feedback is much more functional than passive-aggressive social-media snark.)

Georis says the seminal inspiration comes from college-break roadies from San Diego to Baja over the course of years and years, and a place called Pueblo Cafe in Ensenada where he met a man he calls the godfather of “Baja-Med” cuisine, who in turn exposed him to a wealth of upcoming chefs who he now is tapping for Central Baja oysters, abalone and tuna contacts.

The plan: fresh in-house tortillas, sauces and ceviches, with Baja-style drinks and Mexican beer.

One way to look at it is as a compilation of the greatest hits from his favorite chefs found during serial visits south of the border.

The working menu and preliminary prices include Baja fish tacos ($15 with rice, beans and tortillas), Pueblo Cafe-inspired enchiladas ($12-$14), half-roasted chicken in pumpkin seed mole ($22), grilled arrachera steaks with fried chilies ($28), fresh shrimp chile rellenos ($18), tortilla soup ($7) and a half-dozen oysters on the half shell with “Mexican” mignonette ($16).

The bones of the place will remain the same but new decor and seats for dining at the thick reclaimed redwood bar have arrived. The old cafe room/bagel joint next door will host the fresh tortilla making. (Weekends after 9:30pm that will become an auxiliary bar for Barmel with taco service; Barmel’s menu will slide toward the Mexican border, too.) The bar will be tequila-centric, with specialty drinks revolving around the “Baja Margarita” (floated with herbal-driven Damiana liqueur, a specialty of the region), Mexican beers by the bottle and Negra Modelo on draft. Wine will be available by the glass to start as Georis starts sniffing out Baja wines that are starting to gain an international rep. (More on that in this column soon.) Initial hours are dinner only in May (5-9:30pm); in June comes lunch (11:30am-3pm).

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What to expect: “Simple, well-made Mexican recipes from scratch, reflecting a love of California from north and south, with a Mexican accent,” Georis says. “As different for Carmel as Mundaka was then.”

Let’s hope he’s more accurate on that than his Spanish recommendations. In Castafel, the beach shack helped save the day with a small pot of padrón peppers and some stunning garlicky civelles, tiny noodle-like fish I’d never seen on a menu and couldn’t believe tasted so good.

In the next town (Instagram sensation Cadaqués of Salvador Dalí fame), he recommended Haiku Sushi, but it is closed all week. Fortunately there was rich and fresh fare awaiting just down the way along the waterfront: Andalucia-style gazpacho, avocado-shrimp salad, succulent grilled sardines, bacalao-stuffed pimiento peppers (!) and a bottle of Juvé & Camps Reserva Nature Cava. (More on that soon, too.)

The place, poetically enough, was called Es Pescadors. The subtext was that it’s not about what we don’t have, or thought we were going to get, or never would lose, but what we have in front of us.

~ QUICKBITES ~

  • Citracada, the much-anticipated sister restaurant to Giorgio’s in Oldtown Salinas’ 201 Main super-structure, has an open date in sight: late June or early July. Preliminary menus include “Pacific fusion” items like spicy sausage-Asian pear quesadillas with pickled red onion, citrus-jalapeño pulled-pork tacos with cashew gremolata and black pepper pineapple ginger chicken bowls, for $7.75-$9.75.
  • Casanova Restaurant (625-0501) is now open for brunch 10am-3pm Saturdays and Sundays on Fifth between Mission and San Carlos in Carmel.
  • Admired craft outfit Fieldwork Brewing Company, founded in Berkeley, is adding a Monterey taproom scheduled for this spring. As it’s already May, stay tuned for updates soon.
  • Value hawks can have a field day with a $5 smorgasbord of pastas and salad to celebrate il vecchio’s sixth birthday noon-2pm Saturday, May 6 (324-4282).
  • Santa Lucia Highlands’ annual gala tasting Saturday, May 20, at Mer Soleil Winery ($120, santaluciahighlands.eventbrite.com) has sold all of its pre-sale tickets, and with good reason, given the 40 top-flight winemakers and dozens of top restaurants and food purveyors.
  • Winemaker Dinner at Stone Creek Kitchen featuring Baker & Brain Wines flows Friday, May 26, with an exotic Persian menu (stuffed rainbow trout in pomegranate and coriander! grilled rack of lamb!) with four wines at the intimate chef’s table kitchen ($140, 393-1042).
  • By 2020, Subway will use third-party animal welfare audits, switch to healthier breeds, and give birds more space and actual natural light.
  • The 16th Annual Monterey Beer Festival (July 8) seeks sponsors to benefit the Monterey County Fair Heritage Foundation. montereybeerfestival.com.
  • Trio Carmel’s first annual Vine & Dine celebration goes down at gorgeous Mesa Del Sol in Arroyo Seco Sunday, May 21, to mark Trio’s fifth anniversary with live music, barbecue, new-release wines from MDS and vineyard tours ($35-$55, triocarmel.com/events, 250-7714).
  • Barack Obama“It’s best to listen to understand instead of listening to respond.”

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