Possibly the Best Sandwich I Ever Had

Mark Bittman's "Best Sandwich I Ever Had"

Mark Bittman’s “Best Sandwich I Ever Had”

In researching food to eat on our recent trip to Barcelona we ran across this article by acclaimed award winning New York Times food critic Mark Bittman. Bittman makes a bold statement in this short article describing a rather simple but elegant flauta d’ibéric d.o. jabugo; “It is salty, of course, but also rich, sweet, even floral; there are subtleties that make you pause. But this gets a little technical; let’s just say it’s the best sandwich I’ve ever had.”

While I don’t profess to be a food critic, let alone a sandwich connoisseur, I can appreciate a good sandwich as well as the next person. And I’ve had some good sandwiches; such as a Russ and Daughters “Pastrami Russ” (pastrami-cured salmon w/sauerkraut and mustard on a fresh NYC bagel), or a deli sandwich with “Giugni’s Juice” from Giugni WF & Son Grocery in St. Helena, CA. While not technically a sandwich I’d even call for comparison hands down the best burger I ever had – a buffalo meat patty option on “The Hot Granny” at Black Hills Burger and Bun in Custer, SD (Which I blogged about in GART Day 15). But without a doubt, the best sandwich I ever had to date is unequivocally the Caribbean Roast Pork Shoulder I’ve had at Seattle’s beloved and fanatically followed Paseo (although I’ve not been there since the recent controversy).

But Wow! A renowned NYC Times food critic, book author, and celebrity calling a flauta from Barcelona the best sandwich he’s ever had? Now, that’s a bold statement! I gotta get me some of that!

One afternoon we went searching for Café Viena. We didn’t have to look far. It was basically across the street from our AirBnB apartment on La Ramblas.

Certainly unassuming upon entry (and we entered early, about 1pm – that’s early for lunch by Catalan standards). The place was close to empty with a few regulars at the counter. We saddled up and immediately were recognized as being there for the Mark Bittman special. Nonetheless, we were handed the glossy, slightly greasy, laminated menu…the English version. Although we could have just looked up at the sandwich boards suspended above the bar.


We ordered. Five minutes later our sandwich arrived, wrapped tightly, the bread still warm. By the time our sandwich arrived the small cafe was standing room only every waiting upon their own chance at a flauta d’ibéric d.o. jabugo.



I’m not going to describe the sandwich. Bittman describes it far better than I could. What I will say is that Bittman isn’t wrong. It may well be the best sandwich he’s ever had. It would certainly rank it amongst the utmost echelons of sandwich glory. I would eat it again, and again, and again. It was simple. It was brilliant. It was possibly transcendent. It was possibly the best sandwich I every had…but I’ve a lot of sandwiches yet to go.

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A Day w/Gaudi: Park Güell

Entrance to Park Güell

Entrance to Park Güell

Park Güell is up a steep hill from La Sagrada Familia so we took a taxi to get us there. Built as a wealthy planned community in 1902 (which failed miserably) it has since become a city park. Once open to the public, most of it now has controlled by limited entries over concerns that too many visitors may damage the art. Luckily, we arrive just before 2pm and were able to purchase the last few tickets for the 2pm entry (only 400 people an hour are allowed into the park).

The park is covered in Gaudi’s trademark mosaics layered across several artistically styled terraces, each with stunning views .



You are welcomed to the first staircase by fountains of playful creature mosaics as you ascend to the Sala Hipostilla (an area of 80 Doric columns) which was serve as a marketplace supporting the top terrace with sweeping views of Barcelona.

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Before heading to the top tier we headed to the left side to an arch covered pathway of twisting columns leading around the edge of the park.

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From the top the view was incredible. The entire top terrace is surrounded by a mosaic bench which is not only ergonomic and comfortable to sit in but also serves as a barrier to people plummeting to their death by falling over the edge. Unfortunately some of Park Güell’s “Hansel and Gretel” inspired front buildings were covered in scaffolding for repairs, but there was still a prominent view of La Sagrada Familia (still under construction) in the distance.


IMG_0330 IMG_0329 IMG_0343 IMG_0334The tour of the park was quick. After hitting the gift shop we elected to walk partway down the hill soon hailing a cab as our feet tired. We headed to La Pedrera, the next stop on our Day-of-Gaudi tour.

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A Day w/Gaudi: La Sagrada Familia

We spent an entire day visiting several Antoni Gaudi sites across Barcelona. We started with his crowning achievement (still under construction even though it was started 133 years ago) – La Segrada Familia.

This basilica is spectacular beyond the measure of words and images. I was overwhelmed with the brilliance of its design and the human ambition and energy put into it.

We were smart. We bought tickets online in advance and passed by the hundreds of people standing in line to walk right into the monument during our allotted 15 minute time slot.

Much has been written about Gaudi and I’m no expert so I won’t pretend to know much about him or his architectural design here. But I will say the experience of going there is something I’d highly recommend to anybody lucky enough to visit Barcelona – a must see!

We picked up an audio-guide and started outside the building on the Nativity Facade – the only side completed during Gaudi’s lifetime (he died in 1926 after being hit by a tram cross the street). From here you can see the story of the Nativity and of Christ’s life. It’s intricate in its incorporation of nature, from a cypress tree that centers the towers as a focal point, to the chameleon in the facade, or the ladybug and snails incorporated into the doorway art. It looks as though it is has come alive with writhing and oozing of organic nature.

IMG_0211 IMG_0210 IMG_0209 IMG_0207 IMG_0206 IMG_0203 IMG_0202From there we headed the vast open interior like a forest with a high canopy of vaulted ceilings overhead. You are instantly awash in a colored rainbow from the stained glass and your attention is pulled to focus at one end where Christ on the cross is hung under a lantern lit parachute or canopy that seems to be ascending him to the Heavens above.

IMG_0216 IMG_0222 IMG_0225 IMG_0217 IMG_0224 IMG_0220 IMG_0235 IMG_0234 IMG_0227 IMG_0215Our tickets included access to the Nativity Towers which can now be ascended in an elevator but require a walk down. 25 years ago when Tawny was here she had to make the walk up the stairs. We nearly had the place to ourselves even though hundreds (if not a thousand people) strolled around the outside and interior below. I was most impressed by the nautilus spiral stair case you have to climb on the way down – Fibonacci’s golden ratio perfectly represented.

IMG_0238 IMG_0257 IMG_0258 IMG_0264 IMG_0266 IMG_0268 IMG_0273 IMG_0286We ended our tour on the Passion Facade side which is much more angular in its design. It is being built according to Gaudi’s original plans but has sculptures added by another artist since this side is still under construction and wasn’t started during Gaudi’s lifetime.

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You can see from the photos that the site is still actively a construction zone. While the church looks huge (and it does dominate the Barcelona skyline today) they haven’t even built the 566 foot Torre de Jusecrist (the tallest central tower) which is supposed to be completed by 2020. I look forward to returning to La Sagrada Familia 20 or more years from now to see how they’ve made progress in completing his brilliant vision.

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Pintxos, Churros & Chocolate


Pintxo Bar

Walking the winding streets near our apartment in Barcelona we had come across several pintxo bars. Exhausted after a long day of visiting Gaudi sites across the city we thought a pintxos bar would make a quick and convenient dinner.

Pintxos are small tapas generally served on bread or skewers. When you walk into a pintxo bar the bartender hands you a plate and you self select the items you want from the bar. When you are done eating and drinking and ready to close your tab the bartender tallies your toothpicks and charges you for each one. There are hot and cold pintxos, with the cold ones being just under 2€ and the hot ones being just under 3€. You can run a tab up quickly. What we had thought would be a quick and cheap meal wasn’t as we wanted to try a few of everything at each bar. We also hadn’t realized that most pintxo bar are standing room only and our sore feet hand’t anticipated that (although we did see a few with tables in the back where you could take your plates).

We hit a few different places. The first was called simply Pintxos and the second was Irati Taverna Basca just around the corner and each of us ate a half dozen pintos each place.

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Ham croquette

Ham croquette



Jamón ibérico

Jamón ibérico

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Fried asparagus

Fried asparagus

Octopus and potato

Octopus and potato




Anchovies and Olives

Anchovies and Olives



Jamón ibérico

Jamón ibérico




Despite eating our fill of pintxos we had saved enough room for churros and chocolate. The three of us went to a little place called Ménage å Trois just downstairs from our AirBnB apartment. It was a small bar but had advertised churros and chocolate on a placard outside the bar.

I’d had churros before but never dipped in Spanish hot chocolate. The hot chocolate was amazing! It was nearly the consistency of pudding it was so thick, so it clung to the churros like a chocolate fondue and it paired well with a Spanish brandy. It was a perfect way to end a great day in Barcelona.


Frech Churros


sugared churros

Churros and Chocolate

Churros and Chocolate

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Travel to Barcelona

The hotel informed us that we could catch a boat to the airport at vaporetto dock Orto. That was good news, because our own calculations had us taking a vaporetto from Orto to the train station, then walking to the bus terminal, and catching a 35 minute bus to the airport. The direct vaporetto cost more (16 Euro each) but it was worth it to cross the lagoon. We were told it was a 40 minute boat ride. The reality was it was a 20 minute boat ride and a 20 minute walk with bags to the airport terminal. Luckily the weather was cool and comfortable.

This was not the same airport my father had handed me a glass of vodka in while I was hung over some 25 years ago. It was sleek and modern and didn’t smell of vodka. 

We had an uneventful flight to Barcelona and were met by our prearranged driver upon arrival. She took us to La Rambla and dropped us off were we instantly got lost in the twisting passageways of the Barri Gothic looking for our Airbnb. We called our contact and he came to find us and brought us to our amazingly located and quaint (if not slightly sewer smelling) apartment in Barcelona. We had preordered the kitchen stocked with some stables (a mistake since there was a grocery a block away). It was clean and cute and looked like it was furnished (because it was) from a single trip to IKEA. 

We settled in and headed down La Rambla to get a feel for the city. It was already late afternoon. Our first stop was at Mercat de la Boqueria where I was overwhelmed by the jamon and the meat, seafood, fruit, juice, vegetable, and savory stalls around the market. It puts our own Pike Place Market to shame.


From there we continued down the Ramblas to a tapas place recommened by our Airbnb host Agus. It was a little expensive, but the food – my first taste of authentic Catalan – was amazing!

An ode to Barcelona’s patron saint: St. George

Even the trees along La Ramba are naturally decorative

Mossen Cinto de Folgueroles coca bread w/tomato

Cordoban-style aubergine (fried eggplant) w/honey. Amazing!

Fried artichoke

Acorn-fed ham croquettes

It was still a bit early (Spaniards don’t eat until around 9pm. So we continued down La Rambla to Mirador de Colom (a towering column celebrating Columbus’s dubious “discovery” of the New World. Clara found the whole thing politically incorrect and I had to agree. 

We sautered back up the La Rambla through Barri Gothic and into La Ribera to Bar Brutal, another recommendation. It was a natural wine bar (with some wines being undoubtedly the worst wine I ever tasted, while the others were quite good). But the food was fantastic and the atmosphere pure bohemian and eclectic Barcelona.

burrata w/tomato and basil

Grilled cheese w/honey, figs, and lard

Slow cooked pork w/mustard

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