Reus. It’s where Gaudí was born. It’s also home to the market where my coworkers and I used to buy fresh produce, the laundromat where I had my clothes sent for dry-cleaning, the hospital where my tooth was filled when I chipped it on a fork eating a fresh summer salad with figs and mató that one time. I went there for Timbs, for hair elastics, for a 4G plan. When living in a country house nearest to a town with a population of 200 Reus is the closest place to re-immerse oneself in the hustle and bustle of an urban existence.
Stellar dining options in Reus are limited, as far as I’m concerned. Or maybe I just don’t know the city as well as I should. One place I can definitely recommend, however, is the Museu del Vermut, tucked away in a modernised, industrial chic building on dark Carrer Vallroquetes near the main plaza. Inaugurated only one year ago, the venue functions as a restaurant, bar, event space and the first and only museum dedicated to vermouth in the world. Their gallery houses a large collection of vintage liquor posters and antique bottles with the labels just barely preserved. The bar boasts an ample collection of vermouths to taste, some from Reus, others from all over Catalunya and quite a few international varieties as well. They also make their own vermouth in house, slightly sweet and bitter, served with ice and olives.
The restaurant focuses on the type of food that classically pairs well with vermouth, including some turn of the century vanguard faves from tin cans and unrefrigerated glass jars. The kind of stuff Gaudi, Fortuny and Prim might have once been caught snacking on. Their specialities include clams, razor clams, mussels, cockles, sea snails, sardines, and anchovies spooned straight out of premium tin (conserves of Casa Espinaler, for example). Olives, stuffed or otherwise, come with pretty much everything.
I visited the restaurant a few weeks ago with a friend and spent the night catching up with a few house vermouths and bites on the side. The setting is beautiful. With high ceilings and exposed brick, the interior finds perfect balance between modern and vintage. There exist a variety of seating options: a partially exposed terrace for smokers, a large dining room and smaller, more intimate rooms, not to mention a long bar near the entrance.
As a pica-pica (snack to share) we ordered a mix plate of canned mejillones (mussels), berberechos (cockles), boquerones (pickled white anchovies) and olives stuffed with anchovy. I never tire of this combination, though it’s not exactly the plate to order when you’re hungry. If anything, the salty, briny olives, delicate mussels and tart, juicy anchovies make one hungrier. They are, however, a great salty and sour companion to beer or, in this case, bittersweet house vermouth.
We also ordered some canned zamburiñas, which are small sea scallops from Galicia preserved in olive oil and seasoned with a touch of paprika. I like zamburiñas. I like saying the word “zamburiñas”. Zzzzzzzamburiñas…. They are wonderfully delicate, smooth in texture, with a very mild sweetness. Zamburiñas are fine canned, softened a bit by oil and time, but still maintaining a plumpness and tightness on the exterior. However, the canned stuff doesn’t even come close to the fresh guys grilled and served on the half shell, lightly seasoned with garlic. I don’t know too much about Galicia, but I know it’s where good Albariño, Galician blonde beef, tetilla (boob shaped cheese), octopus sliced thin with potatoes and paprika powder, and these delicate little scallops come from. Enough reasons to want to make me want to travel there sometime soon.
We also ordered the Museo‘s house specialty appetizers, these fried little pockets with a variety of creamy fillings. They weren’t all too memorable, but hit the spot well with the vermouth. On retrospect I wish we had ordered more entree dishes that showcased the talent of the kitchen. But with an icy cool glass of vermouth (or two) and some juicy gossip on the side, the canned and jarred preserves were the perfect light snacks to munch on in a gorgeous, artsy and refined setting.