Cal Pep, Barcelona
Wow - all of the praise that this place receives is well-deserved. We couldn't even get seated the other night as it was completely packed, so fortunately we got here (8 Plaça de les Olles, 93-310-7961) right when they opened at 1 PM for lunch today. We were surrounded at the counter by locals who clearly knew what they wanted, while we let the staff choose items for us. And what we got was amazing.
They started us off with an order of clams that were not only tender and fresh, but also had the added bonus of being prepared with bits of ham. Next came some good-sized pieces of fried artichoke as well as the trifásico fregit, or a plate of small shrimp, fish, and calamari all fried up into little salty crispy bits that one could eat whole, head and all. An aioli-topped truita trempera omelette filled with potatoes and salami followed, after which they closed us out with some little squid and garbanzo beans stir-fried together. All of this was fantastic - with the clams being some of the best I've ever had - and by far being one of the best meals of this entire trip (Zagat has finally been redeemed after a rather questionable experience elsewhere).
One very interesting side observation was how strikingly similar much of this was to a meal in Japan. Some of the dishes today were nearly like asari clams, bite-sized fried karaage, or shishito peppers, as they were all simply-prepared in order to highlight the quality of the fresh ingredients. They came in little izakaya-sized portions - even the tiny caña servings of draft beer were similar to small Japanese glasses. And it was housed in a narrow counter-based venue with an open view of the kitchen and a chef that basically gave you his suggestions as if you had told him "omakase." Sure, there were some uniquely local things like the tomato bread, artichokes, and cured meat, but otherwise we could have nearly closed our eyes and ears to think that we were in Japan again.