I always try to be a little uncomfortable. With comfort comes stagnation and with stagnation, lack of growth. As a routine-oriented person, even the idea of this makes me uneasy. So when an old friend asked me to hop on a plane to explore the Costa Brava for a week, my internal alarms sounded.
A month later, I was driving my first ever rental car (a sexy lil VW Polo) north from Barcelona to Llafranc.
I could tell you all about the color of the Mediterranean Sea, and how it’s a more stunning shade of blue everywhere you look.
I could go on about the narrow, winding cobblestoned streets of the Born neighborhood in Barcelona, or how small I felt during an early morning thunderstorm in the French Alps. But that’s a different story. This one, as you may have guessed, is about the food.
I landed in Barcelona at 7AM, sleepless and disoriented. After a day of light tourism, a travel hangover nap, and a sabered bottle of cava, we ventured to the water where some crazy good paella awaited us at Elx. This stuff was packed with fresh seafood and the rice was sticky and chewy just like it’s supposed to be.
The next morning in Llafranc, we were greeted at our Airbnb by a refreshing mold smell, a delicious view of the ocean, and a basket of fresh veggies from a local farm. As I tend to do when presented with assorted vegetables, I made ratatouille, served alongside squid ink rice and even more cava.
On my morning run (of which there was only one), I ran along the coastal trail to the neighboring town, Calella, an equally peaceful and charming place. Tragamar’s chalkboard menu and wooden tables caught my eye, so that night, we returned for what would be my favorite meal of the trip. Located right on the water, but without all the tackiness that usually comes with that real estate, Tragamar has traditional Spanish food, locally sourced, and with an emphasis on seafood. I couldn’t get over the grilled octopus, served in pieces over buttery potatoes with spicy chili oil. Octopus is usually tough and rubbery, but this was fork tender. The crunchy bits of the tentacles soaked up all the butter and spices and I think I died and went to heaven.
Back in Barcelona, I stayed with my cousin and her boyfriend at their cathedral-adjacent dream house.
On my first night back in the big city, they took me to La Paradeta, a pay-per-kilo fish shop where you can take your loot raw, or ask for it grilled or fried.
We got “un mano” of tiny octopus-looking creatures, a ton of mussels, and some big slabs of squid. This spot was no-frills, no-bullshit, and definitely no-salad. Eat your fish and get out is the name of the game, which is exactly what we did.
The next morning, I ventured out to find Satan’s Coffee Corner, but not before getting caught in an aggressive rainstorm that forced me into a Barcelona equivalent of Dunkin’ Donuts.
The pretentious foodie in me was throwing a temper tantrum, but all was well when the clouds parted and I found the nondescript little café tucked into a secluded nook in El Born. Surrounded by street art, Satan’s Coffee Corner has floor to ceiling windows and a black and yellow color scheme. Its countertops feature avant-garde art magazines, chia seed bowls, and espresso drinks in all shapes and sizes. Their menu’s footer reads “No wifi. Fuck Trip Adviser. Fuck Yelp. Aussies keep it down.” It was douchey in all the right ways and felt just like home.
My cousin, Raphaella, had a few friends in town that night, and the 4 of us checked out Mosquito, a new Asian fusion tapas spot in her area. After a short 2-hour wait (spent at El Soplo with wine and snacks), we dined on more dumplings than I care to admit and I took a short break from cava to sample some local beer.
After a final afternoon in Barcelona spent wading through crowds of patriots celebrating Catalunya National Day, I hopped a plane and landed in Nice, where I was greeted by Lucy and her little friend Luna.
Lucy and Olivier recently moved to a town called Sospel in the French Alps by way of San Francisco to start a biodynamic farm.
The next morning, we biked into town to collect ingredients that we later spent the afternoon transforming into all sorts of tasty stuff.
We whiled away the day nibbling on a riverside picnic of goat cheese with olive paste, pastries, and Moroccan coffee followed by a lot of tomato harvesting, roasting, and sautéing.
Lavender Lotus Farms is still in planning mode, so I got to see their beautiful property pre-farm. It’s currently overgrown with wild thyme, olive trees, and the biggest fig tree I ever did see. These two have some big plans up their sleeves, so I can’t wait to watch them transform their special place into something even more magical.
My quick visit to the Alps ended with the loudest, wettest thunderstorm I’ve ever heard. I swear the mountains were shaking as Lucy drove me back to the airport. A few delayed flights, a lot of sprinting through airports, and 24 hours later, I was back home in San Francisco amazed at how much I saw, how much I learned, and of course, how much I ate in the past 10 days.