If you have ever visited Spain, you will know that the Spaniards have a love affair with seafood. If you think about it, their love for seafood is only natural, considering that Spain is surrounded, on three sides, by water – the Atlantic Ocean to the west, the Cantabric Sea to the north and the Mediterranean Sea to the east.
The coastal region in Catalonia, Spain, Costa Brava is certainly no exception when it comes to extraordinary seafood!
The third restaurant I visited was the highly recommended La Taverna Del Mar – undeniably a seafood feast, truly satisfying every one of my senses! A warm and welcoming ambiance…homely yet elegant and with an uninterrupted view of the Mediterranean. It was such a treat to just sit and relish the lapping of the waves a mere five meters away.
This restaurant is as exceptional and unique as Catalan born and bred owner, Mercé Pellicer Reig, a truly remarkable woman. Her hands-on approach to running this popular restaurant is rooted in her culinary beliefs, evident in her words of wisdom: “offering the palate the sublime taste of our freshly caught grouper, the intense sweetness of our tomatoes, the subtle acidity of our olive oil, the heady perfume of our strawberries, the exotic unctuousness of our chocolate, the joyous notes of the wines in our land…the luxury of simplicity.”
The simplistic décor is enhanced by a vibrant blue ceiling, complimented by whitewashed walls, large archways and spectacular sea views from all corners. Reig places sincere importance on what is truly essential to her patrons: you, your partner or friends, the food and the sea.
So…our dining experience began with a bottle of Improvisacío 2010 produced by Cal Raspallet Viticultors in Penedes, a small winery with a small plot at the end of Torrelavit. This is a barrel aged white wine made of Xarel.lo grapes - decanting is recommended to allow the full expression of the wine’s rich character. Xarel.lo is a white grape variety of sweet, tiny and compact clusters, with a spherical grain of thick skin and medium size. The wine was aromatic, balanced, silky and tasty, with fresh and fruity bouquets.
It is noteworthy to mention that all the ingredients used at La Taverna Del Mar are organic and fresh. They meticulously follow the values that govern the Mediterranean diet, declared by the UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage. They exclusively use olive oil, vegetables and fresh fruits of controlled origin and, whenever possible, locally sourced and in season. The flavours and textures of the seafood are enhanced in a simplistically – no fuss, just pure and simple good quality product thats is allowed to speak for itself. Just the way I like my seafood!
Chef Pedro Miguel Lópex has been working at the restaurant for 25 years, indeed a testament to his passion and authenticity to the Mediterranean Diet and the absolute respect for the produce he is working with.
For main course we each decided upon the large assorted Sea Fruit Plate “Taverna” – in hindsight, the price should have been a dead give-away that this dish should normally be shared! We were however both ravenous and albeit courageous enough to take on this seafood extravaganza.
The menu consisted of the following:
Oysters and venus warts
Sea snails with all-i-oli sauce
Grooved carpet shell
Grilled truncate donax
Red shrimp of Palamós
Caramote prawn of Vinarós
Over the years much has been written in an effort to explain the taste of oysters. To the French poet Léon-Paul Fargue, eating one was “like kissing the sea on the lips.” For James Beard, they were simply “one of the supreme delights that nature has bestowed on man”. An oyster, like a lover, first captures you by bewitching your mind. These oysters epitomise kissing the sea on the lips – truly out of this world!
In the sand near the coast one can find the venus warts. This particular specie is unfamiliar to me and if I have to be honest, after the initial aversion to the name (no need to think about warts when eating), the fullness of the meat was an unexpected surprise.
The all-i-oli sauce is an incredibly popular and versatile sauce that is eaten across Spain with fish, meat and vegetables. It's hard to believe that olive oil and garlic can come together to create something so rich and buttery.
Back to the seafood…the razor clams look like long tubes with a shell on them. They are not only on the trendy menu list, but also the nutritious one being high in protein and rich in minerals. The name “razor clam” refers to their thin shells, which are brittle and have a razor-like edge when cracked. The heart-shaped cockles were fantastic – I just love the taste of cockles especially as they are also low in fat and carbohydrates and high in protein.
If you can recall, scallops are one of my much-loved indulgences. Scallops must be cooked quickly over high heat so as to sear in the flavour and moisture just until they are slightly firm to the touch. The texture of perfectly cooked scallops will remind you of the texture of a perfectly cooked filet mignon. These were well sized, tender as can be, sweet - yet a little buttery and my-oh-my, so delicious. Best said by Jeff Smith (The Frugal Gourmet) "Scallops are expensive, so they should be treated with some class."
From the most secret depths of the Mediterranean in the natural surroundings of Palamós one can find the red shrimp of Palamós. With his reddish body, firm texture, freshness and exquisite flavour it is an absolute delight to savour and share. Only the expert hands of the Costa Brava chefs do justice to these succulent gambas.
Vinarós is renowned for its tasty prawns. The quality and texture of the Vinaròs king prawn is different to other catches of the Mediterranean coast, due to the low salinity of the waters of the seaboard, and a mild, temperate climate throughout the year. The Vinaròs king prawns were simply exquisite and I can appreciate why they are considered to be the finest crustacean flesh in the world.
Cigala (Spanish for Norway lobster) is a shellfish very popular in Spain. The fleshy tail of the Norway lobster is closer in both taste and texture to lobster and crayfish rather than prawn or shrimp.
Some might find eating lobster a slightly messy experience and not very lady like, but that being said, I believe this is a cutlery free mission. No need for any of the fancy utensils such as steel shell crackers, seafood forks or even lobster bibs…the fingers are best! One can find the succulent meat within the claws (large front claws and side body claws), the tail and the body where the claws are joined to the body. The tail offers the most meat and is saved for last by most lobster lovers. So, how does one eat a lobster? In one word ... SLOWLY ... you'll want to savour each and every mouthful!
We did manage to reserve a small spot in our belly’s to taste the traditional Catalan flan, one of the most popular desserts served all over Spain. In my opinion, a good flan is a great end to a scrumptious meal because even though it is sweet and flavourful, it is a very light dessert. Followed was a treat of on-the-house petit fours which swept me away!
After dinner, we decided to stargaze on the beach with the owner, Marcé. In that moment I realised that I had just experienced one of the most memorable dining experiences of my life – every sense had been completely satisfied, and I was left longing for nothing. Great setting, amazing ambience, delightful staff and remarkable food. I am truly blessed to be one of the lucky patrons to have enjoyed the fruits of the sea at La Taverna Del Mar!
Armed with my three restaurant picks, book your ticket to Costa Brava, and be prepared for feast fabulosity in every sense!