Casa Mari y Rufo is located near La Rambla in Barcelona. I had read about this restaurant in a great food guide that my girlfriend found on pinterest during our train ride from Valencia to Barcelona. The guide focused on the great foods of the city, made some recommendations on where not to eat and what to avoid, and of course listed some to the author’s favorite dining spots. Mari y Rufo was only about a ten-minute walk from our hotel, so we headed over to check it out.
Situated right next to one of Barcelona’s Mercat Santa Caterina, you could easily miss the restaurant if you didn’t know what you were looking for. There is a modest sign on the front, a menu sitting on a pedestal, and a leg of Iberian ham sitting right in the entryway. Yum! This place lacks a patio, tourist menu, and some of the contrived flare that is used in a lot of Spanish restaurants to drive in customers. Casa Mari y Rufo is obviously comfortable with the type of restaurant they are and does not need to lure customers in with gimmicks. We would soon learn exactly why.
The restaurant is more kitchen than dining area, and I loved it! The kitchen comes nearly to the entrance where there is only one high top table, a few counter seats, and a handful of small tables lining the wall. We could see the busy chefs preparing lots of fresh seafood from the entrance. All of the dishes that were coming out looked amazing, and I knew that the meal would be fantastic! We just needed to get a table.
It was mid afternoon, the time when most Spaniards have their largest meal of the day, and every table that we could see was occupied; thankfully there was no line of customers. I walked up the small pedestal in the front holding the menu and started perusing the cuisine offerings. After a minute or two we were greeted by one of the waiters who asked if we needed a table. “For two” we answered back, and he asked, in English, if we could wait a few minutes. Of course we agreed and he disappeared back into the restaurant as we continued to wait in the front, and I kept eying dish after dish as they were sent out to eager diners.
Just a few minutes later, our waiter had returned and motioned us towards the back of the restaurant where there was another small room full of tables. Like the front of the house, it was also packed, but there was a table for two ready for us.
Our waiter quickly recognized that we were American and seemed eager to speak English with us, which was great, he spoke very well, and my Spanish is poor at best. We began looking over the menu and ordered a bottle of white wine. I had not looked closely at the wine list before being asked which bottle we wanted, so we asked our waiter to suggest something for us. He asked if we wanted good wine or inexpensive wine, so I opted for the inexpensive variety. I do enjoy drinking wine of all types, but I’m not sure that I would be able to fully appreciate an expensive bottle, so I usually stick to the more modestly priced bottles in restaurants. It’s also nice to keep costs down when on the road when possible as a general rule.
The wine was delivered shortly after we ordered. Our waiter expertly uncorked the wine and let us know, “This wine is cheap, but it’s amazing” which is something I definitely like to hear! He was right, just a few euros and it was delicious.
After breaking into our “amazing” bottle of wine it was time to start thinking about food. We were guided by our waiter as he recommended a few dishes and explained what some of the words were. I was also happy when he informed my of the exorbitant market price of giant prawns that day, a dish that I was considering. They were €40 for eight, a little pricey, he instead recommended a seafood medley that included several types of shellfish for a much better value. We ordered a salt cod dish, which is a traditional Catalan food, and an order of scallops.
We waited for our food and sipped wine while enjoying the atmosphere. The room was full of what appeared to be regulars at the restaurant. Many of the patrons seemed to know others at different tables, the wine and beer was flowing freely, the food kept pouring in from the kitchen, and the entire room was electric with happy diners.
The first dish to arrive at our table was the seafood medley. A giant bowl full of clams, mussels, and navajas (razor clams). I had never eaten or seen or eaten navajas before, but I was eager to try them. The shellfish was very simple and did not have much added flavoring except for some butter and sea salt, it did not need it. Everything in the bowl was cooked to perfection and was very fresh, probably brought in from the sea that day. The navajas were my favorite. The meat was firm and sweet, and not chewy at all. All of the shellfish was cracked open enough so that we could easily access the good stuff inside.
The salt cod arrived soon after the shellfish. Throughout our travels in Spain I saw the dried fish being sold at many market stands. Before serving, the fish is rehydrated and typically sautéed or broiled. It is a very fishy tasting dish, and quite salty as you can imagine. It is served all over Spain, but I was not a big fan of this fish.
The last dish to arrive was the scallops. They were some of the largest scallops that I have ever seen, at least three bites per piece. All five scallops were lined up and presented beautifully on top of thinly sliced potatoes and a buttery orange sauce, and capped with thinly sliced Iberian ham and blue corn chips. The dish was phenomenal and cooked expertly. None of the scallops were overcooked or chewy, which is often hard to find with scallops. The sweetness of the scallops was a nice contrast to the salty cod, and all of the dishes went well with our “cheap but amazing” wine.
By the time we had finished all of our dishes we were completely full and satisfied. The food was phenomenal, and our service was incredible. Our waiter had been very helpful throughout the meal and made us feel welcome in the small family owned restaurant. Before we left he let us know that we could call ahead for any special requests in the future, even things that are not on the menu could be prepared if the kitchen was given enough advanced notice. As we were leaving I saw two gigantic sizzling cuts of meat being delivered to one of the tables and knew that I would have to go back and try that, whatever it was! Still looking forward to another great meal at Mari y Rufo. This is a must try when in Barcelona!
I really did love the food in Barcelona, and throughout Spain. There are so many exciting dishes to try. Check out some of the places we enjoyed in Valencia, just two hours by train from Barcelona. The home of Paella!