A few weeks ago I wrote what I guess you could call a slightly negative critique on a brunch my boyfriend and I shared at an overhyped American fusion restaurant in el Born. The experience was everything we did not want on that day. Prices too high for ingredients too cheap, carelessly prepared and served up with a portion of hearty apathy on the side. I was feeling dejected for weeks after, resigning myself to Sunday mornings on the plaza with an ensalada de quaso de cabra y frutos secos for me, tortilla and cheese sandwich for my man, maybe some thawed-before-deep-fried ham croquettas to share on a terrace with two Estrella Damm´s en botella and maybe even some cigarettes depending on the time of day. Our favorite bakery has no outdoor seating or hot entrees and our favorite place for early lunch on weekends has no baked goods. So sandwiches, yeah, but no croissants, no pain au chocolat, no crusty bread with butter and jam to dip lethargically into a hot cup of coffee (ew). None of the stuff a French man needs on a lazy weekend morning.
And then we found Jaime Beriestain on Pau Claris, a 5-minute walk from our home. We had passed this place several times in various contexts and had both made mental notes: beautiful french pastries in the window… very elegant bar, lots of bourbon cocktails advertised… looks expensive… there are plants everywhere in that room in the back… their bathrooms are nice… their terrace has comfortable couches to lounge on…jeez, look at that lemon merengue pie… is there a furniture/kitchen store attached? Are those sunglasses in the window? What IS this place?
It´s a concept store run by a Chilean guy named Jaime who moved to Barcelona to study Interior Design and stuck around when his graduate degree was completed. In 2002 he opened an office and since then he´s been designing all kinds of stuff, including light fixtures, cutting boards, sunglasses, candles, oils, tableware, stationary, rugs and notebooks. His store features an extensive collection of vintage furniture and design elements for the home. I guess at some point he also decided to open a cafe-restaurant designed with the same style as his store and showcasing many of his packaged products, such as jams, honeys and oils. Chef Pedro Salillas has created a seasonal menu that is nice and clean, with classic Barcelona-style aperitivos (gourmet croquetas, bravas, ensaladilla rusa), healthy appetizers (ceviche, burrata salad, cold tomato soup), Veggies (lobster salad, wok, garbanzo bean hamburger), Fish (soy marinated, with rice, some shellfish), Meat (Thai chicken, 19 euro dry-aged burger with beer battered bun, 30 euro dry aged chuleton) and a loooooong list of pastries that leads me to believe that the bakery is really valued in this place, despite the varied nature of the menu. The dessert list is especially extensive, with things like pistachio macarons, strawberry shortcake, the classic Ópera, Tarte Tatin, pecan pie, carrot cake, banana and banoffee cake, apple tarts, muffins and cupcakes.
When we went on a Saturday morning the bar inside was lined with pastries and in the midst of it all was a plate of the sexiest croissants I think I´ve ever seen in Barcelona. Equally impressive looking tarts, meringues, cakes, quiches, pies… A Jamie Oliver recipe book, a book about American pies and a French pastry encyclopedia in the window. We took a seat on the terrace outside and asked for all three menus: 1) breakfast, 2) brunch, 3) regular. Brunch was a €32 prix fixe with a bunch of things we didn´t really want in that moment. Of course, for those seeking a venue for a celebratory weekend meal or an elegant brunch with lady friends, this champagne-splashed option works perfectly. The regular menu was too dinner-time, so we stuck with the breakfast menu, which includes classic breakfast sets both in a Catalan and French styles (though we arrived too late for these options), as well as fitness breakfast faves like muesli, yogurt, egg white omelets with chicken breast. We ordered only the stuff we wanted: coffees, orange juices, croissants, pain au chocolate, a quiche Lorraine and a sandwich.
The croissant here was my favorite in the city and I knew it would be my favorite the moment I laid eyes on it, shining golden brown as its flaky curls seem to breathe in and out. The two edges of the horn and of the flap folding up the middle crisped up and became crunchy, while the interior remained airy, porous and slightly chewy. While the exterior sported a caramelized butter pastry coat, the yellowish folds inside had a slightly yeasty flavor to them and were still a bit doughy, as if the dough had been very slightly undercooked. What resulted was a moister, softer pastry and a welcome difference from the dry, white cardboard I´ve grown used to encountering inside my croissants.
The pain au chocolate was neither of our favorites. Though the outer crust of dough was crunchy and flaky, it was a bit deflated in the center. We no doubt got one that was made a few hours before though, and I´m sure that one fresh from the oven would have had more life to it. Maybe next time… We also didn´t really like the chocolate filling, which stiffened into unevenly dispersed nibs across the the pastry instead of melting into a straight tunnel running through the center. Lastly, the chocolate sprinkles on the top were ridiculous, though I guess they are what locals from Barcelona have gotten used to. I guess some folks need a label to know what´s inside. For me it´s neither helpful (I recognize a pain au chocolat when I see one) nor aesthetically pleasing (as it reminds me of some 7-year-old´s birthday cake or hot fudge sundae at Friendly´s). So flick the jimmies off, please.
The Quiche Lorraine was knockout; it makes my mouth water thinking about it now. Perfectly crumbly, butter-dense pastry crust all around, rolled into the perfect thickness. The crust remained nice and firm even after the baking and reheating process, instead of sogging up from the steam coming off the wet filling. Loose, jiggly egg custard that stroked the tongue like soft satin before melting away, leaving behind bits of salty, smoky bacon. The filling was made with plenty of wonderful Comté cheese, which spread itself all across the blank canvas of egg and imparted tons of salty, nutty decadence to each bite. In Barcelona I´ve grown used to portion-sized quiches like this served on a bed of leafy greens soaked in oil and balsamic to take attention away from the imperfections in the texture of the pastry: sodden, chewy crust, stiffened custard, and that weird skin of chewy, hardened egg stuff stretched across the surface. So when I ordered and the thing came proud and bare on a plate, I asked our waiter whether he´d like the chance to take it back and deck the thing out with boughs of holly…or baby spinach. He told me that it´s how it comes and I considered complaining until I watched the boo sink his fork into the thing and witnessed the pillowy custard tremble while the crust cracked against the pressure. I was sold immediately and enjoyed the thing in satisfied silence.
Our favorite part of the breakfast spread, however, was the “mini” bocadillo (sandwich) of butifarra sausage, which came on what I suppose was house-baked bread. First surprise? The size. For €3 at a place like Jaime we really did expect a mini and were surprised to discover a perfectly reasonably sized sandwich that would have normally been enough for either one of us. The second surprise was the quality of the bread, crunchy in the crust and delightfully soft and tender on the inside, with a slight sour-dough-esque, yeasty twang in the background. The texture of the bread did not overpower the topping (filling?), which was the source of the third surprise. We were expecting the butifarra to be sliced thin, like the jamón and cheese in the other sandwich options. It wasn´t. The cooked sausage came in beautiful quarter-inch rounds, thick enough to provide a meaty, mushy, moist texture to each bite, rather than just the flavor of the sausage. Both halves of bread were also rubbed with tomato, which provided additional hydration to each bite, as well as a wonderfully sweet and fresh flavor to balance the salty, greasy character of the butifarra.
In just a few short years after its opening, Jaime Beriestain has quickly become a place to be seen, a reference for where the beautiful and rich of elegant Eixample gather for breakfast, brunch, dinner or boozy nightcaps. It´s all very impressive, especially considering the fact that the cafe-restaurant was established as an afterthought to the original concept store. The pastries, the atmosphere, the relatively low cost (for breakfast) and the friendliness of the service are enough to make me want to return once a week. And I probably will.