Just my luck that exactly 5 days before my reservation at El Bulli, it was renamed the #1 restaurant in the world by Restaurant Magazine. Take that, The Fat Duck! (Which recently turned me down for a stage. But I'm not bitter.)
Ironically enough, my reservation was for Tax Day, April 15th. I absolutely loved the fact that instead of whining about the amount of money the government took out of my salary last year, I was relaxing on the Costa Brava region of Spain, about to enjoy my first molecular gastronomy meal. It was also Easter weekend, which meant that my companion and I (hereafter dubbed "H") could spend a long weekend enjoying Catalonia and its warm weather.
But you want to know about the food, right? Including little snacks and petit fours after dessert, we had 30 courses. That's right, trente! I, and most other diners in the restaurant, dutifully snapped picture after picture as each creation was placed in front of us. Our impressions, along with a picture of each course, will be chronicled at the end of this post. As a caveat, most of it is from memory and lots of things were probably lost in translation.
Here are some overall impressions of mine:
- Small, unassuming location: a windy road that was possible to navigate in our rental car, but taking a taxi allowed us to relax before and after our meal. Nestled in a small bay above the town of Roses.
- We would have liked to have seen the terrace and the view, but were quickly ushered inside and seated- summer would be a great time to go.
Can you see the cotton candy machine in the back?
- Kitchen tour right when we walked in, but it seemed very generic. Even though we mentioned we were culinary students, the guide didn't seem to want to answer any extra questions and just shuffled us through. There seemed to be a chef's table in the kitchen- my goal is to sit there one day. One option I would have liked would have been to have the tour halfway through dinner, as a welcome break from all the courses.
- Two dining rooms, decorated with bull dogs (pictures, sketches), one wall lined with a cushioned bench. We were seated side-by-side on the bench, a great view for the dishes coming in and out of the kitchen. (Also, we were the youngest table in the dining room!) Very informal, comfortable feel. Diners were dressed fairly casually.
- Service was gracious and subdued, everyone pitched in to help no matter their position. They made sure were were comfortable with all the foods on the menu (including bone marrow, seafood, snails) and were willing to swap out anything we didn't want. They also asked us if we wanted to have a copy of the menu at the beginning but suggested we be surprised and not know what was coming instead (which is what we opted for).
- Sommelier was the best I've ever had: the wine list was incredibly reasonable (avg. 45 Euros for Spanish wines!), and he steered us to a wine that was only 25 Euros. Most 3-star restaurants don't even have anything under 100 Euros. He also had an extensive conversation with us about wine glass shapes, brought us extra glasses to taste out of, and talked about the Riedel glasses they used at the restaurant.
- Foam, foam, foam. For some reason, I thought that foam was a trend that was already out in molecular gastronomy, but I guess not. While foam complimented some of the dishes, its prevalence became annoying after awhile. It's hard to eat a brioche in the instructed 3 bites when the foam on top tickles your nose!
- Amount of food: yes, 30 courses is a lot and I got extremely full at the end. Full to the point where if I didn't like one of the desserts, I would take one bite and not finish the rest. The staff noticed, and one of the managers came and asked me if it was because I didn't like some of the desserts. He then offered to have the kitchen make me something else instead. It was a very nice gesture and showed their attentiveness.
- That being said, we were full but not in a French butter-and-cream kind of way at the end. Most courses were quite light and focused on concentrated flavor, not richness, so we were stuffed but didn't feel sick and heavy afterward.
So onto the food. What was my favorite course, you might ask? Check out number 11. I guess I was always partial to things that came in pretty tins!
The final menu we were presented with after our meal.
Setup of 1A
1A. Caipirinha-Nitro con...
1B. Concentrado de Estragon
2. Aceitunas Verdes Sfericas-l
3. Marshmallow de Pinones
4-7. (Clockwise) Palomita con Reypenaer a la Nuez Moscada,
Oreo de Aceituna Negra con Crema Doble,
Lazos de Remolacha con Polvo di Vinagre,
Tempura de Piel de Limon ai Regaliz
- Olive oreo biscuits with a cream cheese filling, nice shortbread texture to the biscuits and a nice savory cheese filling; H thought it was interesting take on the classic American snack
- Crisp beetroot strips dusted with vinegar, a nice phyllo-like texture that was not overly sweet
- Lime zest tempura, crispy sweet strips of zest that had none of the bitterness usually associated with zest or pit
8. Huevos de Oro
9. Bocadillo Iberico 2003
10. Nube de Palomita
11. Caviar Sferico de Melon
12. Brioche al Vapor de Mozzarella al Perfume de Rosas
13. Aire Helado de Parmesano con Muesli
14. Migas de Almendra, Tomate Raff, Sauco y Gele de Aimen
15. Nueces Tiernas, te Ahumado y Wasabi
16A. Won-ton Campestre
16B. Curry Foam & Herbs
17. Esparragos Verdes Napados de Mantequilla
18. "Gargillou" Marina
19. Ventresca de Caballa en Escabeche de Pollo con Cebolla
20. Caracolines en Caldo Corto con Necora en Escabeche y
21. Colmenillas a la Crema
22. Tuetano "Marchand du Vins" con Pan
22. Ventresca de Cabrito al Estilo Marroqui con Aire de Leche
24. Mini Kiwis al Whisky Ahumdo "Talisker"
25. Liquid de Melocoton
26. La Cupula
The final menu used by the kitchen for our table.
My overall impression was that the whole experience was fun and focused on defining the essence of a flavor and presenting it in a new way. I wouldn't want to eat very often at restaurants like this though- too many flavors and the tiny portions left me with an unsatisfied feeling where I was full but overloaded with too many different things. But once in awhile is great for experiencing creativity and something wholly unexpected.
To be honest, I had been excited about this meal since November when I first received my reservation confirmation. My fear was my expectations would be so high that no restaurant could possibly live up to it. Hats off to Ferran Adria for completely surprising me and allowing me to experience his magic. It truly was a worthwhile experience.
Cala Montjoi S/N
17480 Roses (Girona), Spain
- Reservations taken in mid-October for the following season (starts late March or early April)