If the dramatic plunge of the dollar won't stand between you and an exquisite meal, make a beeline for the breathtakingly expensive Drolma, at the Majestic hotel, where I had an unforgettable game dinner presented on Versace china. A specialist in grand, traditional dishes—lièvre à la royale, whole roasted jarret de veau—Drolma's Fermí Puig is among Spain's greatest chefs. In a sumptuous salon that seems plucked from an old master painting, he pampers local businessmen and politicos with seasonal menus that might include langoustines with artichokes, potatoes, and a surprise hint of caramel, or ventresca (buttery tuna belly) enlivened with caviar and a palate-cleansing Chantilly. If formal dining is your cup of consommé, this is the place for that epic five-hour meal. Smelling salts with your bill?We're sure the well-drilled staff will oblige. Hotel Majestic, 68 Passeig de Gràcia; 34/93-496-7710; dinner for two $385.
A few years ago Barcelona saw an explosion of small chef-run restaurants—Saüc, Colibrí, Hisop—withchic-on-a-shoestring looks and kitchens determined to innovate without scaring the masses. You'll eat well in each of these spots, but Alkimia offers the best glimpse of where post-Adrià cooking is headed. The white-on-white room is a testament to the effects of good lighting and is packed with architect types sporting the latest fashionable eyewear. They are so busy enjoying themselves, the inventiveness behind chef Jordi Vilá's seemingly easy-eating cuisine probably passes them by. The bracingly bitter cocoa broth that accompanied my seared foie gras was an inspired touch that offset the richness of the liver. Beneath the salad of cèpes and potatoes lurked a layer of lentil "meringue" dotted with pork cracklings—amplifying the earthiness of the dish.Tradition?Vilá delivered with capipota, Catalan calf's head, completely free of gristle and sauced with brown butter and capers. Pastry chef David Inglada is justly winning awards for triumphs like peach gazpacho veiled with yogurt mousse and fruity olive oil. All this at bistro prices. A table mañana?Good luck. 79 Carrer Indústria; 34/93-207-6115; dinner for two $154.
It takes chutzpah to open a restaurant in a food-obsessed city like Barcelona without having had a stint at El Bulli or Can Fabes. And if the aspiring restaurateur is a norteamericano who worked in Silicon Valley and has no deeper culinary credentials than cooking for dinner parties?Well, in the case of Jordi Artal—a young Canadian of Catalan origins who moved to Barcelona and opened Cinc Sentits a year ago—he lands on a hit. Locals, tourists, and even those grouchy Madrid restaurant critics adore the place, and not just for the modestly stylish look and the gracious multilingual service, courtesy of Artal's charming sister and mom. The opening shooter of maple syrup and cava sabayon with a crunchy accent of sea salt; the dreamy pumpkin velouté intensified with sliced quail breast, chanterelles, and drizzles of organic hazelnut oil; the beautifully moist fillet of sea bass poised on an orzo risotto enriched with shellfish reduction and mascarpone—Artal's creations comfortably hold their own against those of his more pedigreed competitors. "How do you do it?" I ask. Artal just smiles and shrugs. 58 Carrer Aribau; 34/93-323-9490; dinner for two $102.
ANYA VON BREMZEN is a frequent contributor to Travel + Leisure. She is currently at work on her next cookbook, Tasting Spain, about new Spanish cuisine, due out from Workman this fall.