I'll confess: Inopia was a Gwyneth Paltrow pick, from her e-newsletter Goop. This is a lot to admit to, as we hated every episode of On the Road Again we watched (as did Anthony Bourdain, apparently): the incessant yapping just didn't fulfill the potential that you would have expected from Batali and Bittman on board.
Her Barcelona picks, however, came out on during our first day in the city, which was enough to pique our curiosity. Inopia was one of her top picks for tapas (we couldn't make it to the local pick, Commerc 24), and its location - away from the general tourist areas, east of El Raval in the Sant Antoni/Poble Sec area - was appealing. The fact that it is run by Ferran Adria's brother, Albert, didn't hurt either.
We had heard that it was impossible to get into Inopia if you didn't show up around the 7/7:30 opening time. We weren't sure whether to believe the hype or not, as 7/7:30 is insanely early for dinner in Spain; most people don't seem to eat until closer to 10. It was a good thing we didn't chance it, though, because the place gets packed as soon as its steel gate opens.
As with most places, Inopia has its menu, and then a slew of daily features written on the chalkboard. Many places have English menus, but Inopia does not. We relied pretty heavily on our server's basic English, and he did a pretty good job of explaining the choices to us whenever he could, though the high volumes meant we were guessing most of them. There are also pictures of popular dishes hanging from the ceiling, and little chalk pictures on the chalkboard. To round out the decor, there are guest-book tags in Jiffy marker all over the tiled wall, with pictures of famed celeb chefs (or just plain celebs) posted as well. These ones are of Ferran Adria, and Gael Garcia Bernal/Alejandro Gonzalez Inarittu/Javier Bardem; pictures of Heston Blumenthal, Wylie Dufresne, etc. flanked them, with copies of an El Bulli book were perched above.
As I mentioned in the last post, we always ordered the tomato/garlic bread, mostly to balance out the other tapas dishes.
For instance, the bread goes pretty hand in hand with a plate of nothing but anchovies in oil. As many writers have noted, Spain is one of those odd places where canned or preserved foods are often as appreciated as fresh food, and anchovies are a great example. Inopia had three or four different types of anchovies to choose from, and we picked the higher grade. This meant it was a bit less salty, and less earthy tasting than most anchovies I've had.
We also picked white asparagus which you could buy in jars from Inopia - it seemed like they canned/preserved them themselves. I've seen white asparagus plenty of times here, but never quite as thick as the ones we had in Spain. Inopia served them with a light hollandaise sauce, and they were a great clean counterpoint to the anchovies.
Bacalao is another preserved mainstay. It's basically a salted cod fish, but in many variations. We had bacalao salad with tomato, and as with everything, it was swimming in olive oil... but in a good way.
Croquettes are a universal item on tapas menus as well. We picked a standard, stuff with potato and Iberian ham. These were among the better croquettes we had, where the outer shell was thin and delicate.
The other potato dish that seemed ubiquitous at every table was the patatas bravas, which is potato chunks, cut like larger hash browns chunks, served with a slightly spicy tomato sauce and mayo. I don't really get the appeal, but I suppose it's like ordering fries as a side.
As one of the many daily specials, Inopia featured ribs. Instead of your standard pub food short ribs, though, these were rabbit. They were great: gently fried, moist, and light enough to eat in large quantities. Served with a mayo/horseradish type sauce.
Our server really pushed this cheese dish, and for good reason: the cheese, torta Cañarejal, is insanely creamy, and a gold medal winner at the international cheese competition. The closest thing I could compare it to is obviously brie, but this was much creamier, and served lukewarm instead of the usual oven-hot baked brie. An excellent finish.
While not at Inopia, Albert Adria is the pastry chef at El Bulli. There didn't seem to be anything remotely close to that end of cooking at Inopia - not that I'm complaining - but here's a video of Albert Adria doing his thing, in support of his recent book, Natura (also featured in one of the Bourdain episodes):