Went to this small tavern and restaurant with my wife and daughters on the edge of the tiny village of Marca during a recent wine touring holiday in Priorat. As with so many of the small restaurants we visited in Marca and nearby Falset during our stay, el Celler surprised us with delicious, hyper-local ingredients served in traditional Catalan dishes cooked with integrity and care.
We arrived, as Americans are want, at 8:45 pm on a Friday evening, starving, and were promptly told the restaurant was not yet open. The proprietor graciously seated us nonetheless and served us drinks and some simple tapas (potato chips and patatas) while we waited from the daily menus to be printed and the kitchen to get busy.
At 9:00 pm the local clientele began rolling in, and soon the bar area was filled with laughter and conversation - this is clearly the neighborhood watering hole for many of Marca's residents.
Once the kitchen was opened up we got down to business, ordering some tapas and wine. I thoroughly enjoyed the large plate of caracoles, snails of the escargot variety, roasted in olive oil and garlic. Truly delicious, a delicacy anywhere else, here served like so much bar food, fresh, sizzling out of the oven, with toothpicks to extricate the tender little meats and excellent local Montsant wine to wash them down. On the wine - the wine list featured more than 40 wines, all sourced from the local Priorat region, most from within 10 miles of the town, and at least a dozen from the vineyards surrounding the town itself. We chose the house offering, a Granache that was just excellent, and 15 euros a bottle.
El Celler (aptly named, as it is built into a hill, much like a wine cellar might be, with thick stone walls and old hewn wood beams above) prides itself in it's meats, particularly it's beef, which in offers in several dishes. Its most popular beef dish is its hamburger, but it also serves a cross-cut short ribs plate and "entrecote", roughly equivalent to an American steakhouse-style steak.
Europe, and Spain in particular, has fully adopted the American hamburger into its cuisine - you see the dish everywhere. However, the dish is often prepared very differently - often "naked", without bun or garnishes, and often with other meats besides the ground beef that is the standard in the U.S. The Celler serves their burger as a hefty, course-ground, 3/4 pound, two-inch thick patty. It was delicious, clearly grass-fed and pasture-grazed, beefy and rich. Highly recommended, even without a bun....
The cross-cut short ribs were likewise flavorful. However, the entrecote - a 20 ounce or more cut nearly 3 inches thick of sirloin or chuck, while similarly full of grass-fed, free-range flavor, was tough and grizzly. It was the one dud of the evening.
My experience with steak cuts in Spain has been uniformly disappointing - chewy, overdone, non-prime cuts are the rule. By that measure, the Celler's was better than most, but still sub-par by American standards. If this restaurant is serious about its steak offerings it should leave the sirloin and chuck cuts for brazing dishes and study the aging techniques and style of cuts served in American steakhouses - strip, ribeye, porterhouse, and filet. In the meantime, stick with the other offerings of this charming rustic cocina, you won't go wrong.