I’ll be the first to admit that my expectations of Picnic Restaurant in el Born had perhaps been a bit too high from the beginning. I had heard so many stories of its wonderful brunch menu, its charming atmosphere and hearty morning cocktails that when my beaux and I made plans one Sunday morning to check it out I slipped my trusty Sony Cybershot into my purse and braced myself for a review-worthy meal.
It certainly has the look and feel of a typical American brunch spot; a noisy, crowded, overhyped one that could be in Brookline, Portland or Capital Hill. And yeah, the Bloody Mary’s are cool, spicy and landscaped with a ridiculous bush of green stuff sticking out at the top, as they should be. Drinks are served in mason jars, which I guess are still cool in Barcelona. And the menu has all the classics: sweet pancakes and french toasts, fresh caprese, couscous and quinoa, hearty eggs Ben, huevos rancheros, pulled pork and sausage, the ubiquitous signature burger with “tomato jam”, no doubt “house made.” It’s a lil’ bit Tex-Mex (Wtf are chilaquiles?), a lil’ bit NYC (gravlax, club sandwich), a lil’ bit French (something something “confit”), a lil’ bit white trash (O rings with BBQ sauce), a lil’ bit Southern (fried green tomatoes, pathetically out of place) and just a lil’ bit unoriginal, too. Why is their burger called the Big Papa Burger? Is that a misunderstood Red Sox reference or is it named after The Notorious B.I.G? On second thought, I don’t really care. I’m just glad there was nothing truffled.
I guess the cookie-cutter brunch menu would be fine if these overdone trends from 2005 were at least properly prepared; but they weren’t. They looked good, but scrape off the makeup and it becomes obvious that it’s all show. Ingredients that are just not that great are hastily slapped together, hidden under way too much garnish and served in typical Barcelona fashion, with a side of palpable disdain and utter indifference on the part of the waiter. Both of the dishes we ordered reflected a lack of attention in their preparation and they were totally devoid of those comforting flavors and textures crucial to a meal as personal as brunch. A cast iron skillet loaded with duck hash, chunks of potato, what was supposed to be a poached egg, fresh spring onions to garnish (read:hide) it all and a toasted english muffin on the side. Although the description of the dish made my mouth water, the execution wasn’t great. The shredded duck was dramatically under-seasoned and bland, under-salted and dry. The smell was reminiscent of cat food or spam canned in the 1950’s. The eggs were overcooked, providing none of the luscious, flowing yolk implied by “poached egg.” The entire dish was stiff and boring, with none of the sinful moisture, crunch and heartiness expected of an eggs ‘n’ hash breakfast.
And then there was the soft-shell crab BLT, two sandwiches made with very thin slices of boring bread, chewy bacon, fresh rounds of tomato and fried crab. I guess the fried batter was crunchy and nice, but the flavor of the crab inside was completely unrecognizable. It could’ve been a slice of mortadella wrapped in that golden brown coat and I wouldn’t have known the difference. Too much lettuce and too thickly sliced tomato threw the proportions way off. And the bacon, which could’ve saved the day by being brittle and crisp, did nothing more than lie there, limp, rubbery and pathetic. The sandwich was garnished with far too much spring onion and served with a side of Caesar salad and baked potato loaded with sour cream to make the dish look busier and take the focus off the quality of the actual BLT.
When we first got to Picnic, I remember having gushed about how good the plates around us looked. Then again, I was hungry, happy with a sip of hair-of-the-dog vodka in my stomach, and enthusiastically looking forward to something I had been led to believe would be a great meal. But after a single bite of our respective dishes, that haze faded quickly away and I saw everything clearly. I saw ridiculous Napoleons of fried green tomatoes layered with feta and Flay-ian Southwest corn “salsa.” I saw breakfast tacos made with stale and stiff tortillas. I saw pancakes overloaded with too much topping and not enough maple syrup. (I guess Aunt Jemima is a luxury here, strawberries are certainly not.) I saw that same bullshit Caesar salad and baked potato side meant to make it all look bigger and brighter, again and again. I saw a €12 Eggs Benedict (ingredients: 2 eggs, 2 pieces of the same rubbery bacon, 2 pieces of lettuce, 2 stale slices of bread, a spoonful of hollandaise [egg+butter+lemon juice]; total price of preparing it at home: €2) and, what’s worse, an option to add gravlax for €1 extra (quality stuff that must be!)
I saw a lot of stuff I didn’t like at Picnic Restaurant, Barcelona; and I’m not planning on going back for any of it any time soon. Except for maybe the Bloody Mary. I guess it’s just too tough to screw that one up.