Saturday, December 09, 2006

Don't call it molecular gastronomy!

So I haven't posted in (gasp) almost a year. It isn't that I haven't been eating anywhere, so I will blame it on a combination of severe laziness and the business of starting law school. However, last week I got news that most foodies worldwide would kill to get...I HAVE AN EL BULLI RESERVATION. Next July 3rd, Spain, here I come! I can tell how much my friends value food by their reactions to this news ("HOLY GOD" from Helen to "wait, you're going to Spain just for dinner?" from various skeptical law school friends, with degrees of enthusiasm in between). I'd sent my email request on October 14th (almost midnight, Spain time), so every week that passed without word made me more excited. The email came Tuesday morning, which was a perfect way to purge the ickiness of the previous week's stress. Funnily enough, Adam still has an outstanding email request...could you imagine if we got two reservations this year? I realize the odds are astronomically small, and we wouldn't go twice in one year, but still an amusing musing.

Anyway, given my upcoming El Bulli reservation, I figured that this would be as good a time as any to finally blog about a meal from this past summer. Adam was working DC for the summer, which meant that I was spending a lot of my weekends down there, and of course we did a lot of eating. His Penn Quarter location put us smack in the middle of three of Jose Andres's restaurants (Cafe Atlantico, Jaleo, and Zaytinya). We ate at all of them multiple times, and they each have their charms, but hands down the best of the meals was at minibar in Cafe Atlantico. Apparently Andres and some of his chefs have all trained w/ Adria in Spain, and Adria's influence is openly acknowledged. However, we were told not to call the type of cuisine "molecular gastronomy." Anyway, here is the menu for the this meal was a few months ago, I don't remember details on everything, but what I do remember is correlative to what was memorable.

"Mojito": one of the coolest techniques - a small, delicate balloon resting on a spoon with a tiny sprig of micromint (Andres seems a bit fan of microherbs!), its liquid center was a pretty standard mojito flavor
Passion Fruit Whiskey Sour: I remember liking this shot...not sure there was anything special beyond passion fruit and whiskey being an unusual combination
Pork Rinds w/ Maple Syrup: we obviously did not eat the pork rinds - I forget what replaced them, but I don't think we loved whatever it was
Salmon Roe Cone: fine, but sort of a poor rendition of Keller's salmon tartar cone. I never love salmon roe, just too big and salty.
Beet Tumbleweed: this dish looked sort of as you'd expect from something called "tumbleweed," a deep purplish-red tangle of airy crunch. Not super strong on flavor, but a clear beetiness and cool texture.
Saffron-Yogurt Meringue: this little bite-sized meringue was fine, not a super strong saffron flavor and its not like meringue is an amazingly inventive technique
Olive Oil Bon-Bon: OMIGOD!! By far one of the simplest and best dishes we ate the whole meal. A thin, sweet candy shell explodes into a pool of deliciously smooth oil.
Ferran Adira "Olives": like the mojito, little balloons that explode in your mouth w/ olivey essence. One green, one black. I won points for correctly guessing that these would be "olives" while they were being plated. Fantastic. Makes me glad I've forced myself to develope a taste for olives.
Crispy Fish: little fish, less than an inch long, eyes and all, fried crisp, served in a paper cone...they were salty and fishy and once you get over the weirdness of fish that small, not anything amazing.
Cotton Candy-Foie Gras: in our version, the foie was replaced by a chunk of avocado. I love cotton candy, so that's never a complaint, but the combination of cotton candy and avocado was a bit bland.

Flavors & Textures:
Salmon-Pineapple "Ravioli" w/ Crispy Quinoa: this dish doesn't stand out, I remember thinking it was okay but not particularly amazing. I do like quinoa, though.
Deconstructed Glass of White Wine: this was one of those dishes that's more conceptually cool and fun than anything. Basically a thin layer of white grape jello on which are arranged a series of flavor essences...a small shaving of zest, a tiny microherb leaf, a drop of a fruit, a sprinkle of spice. A fun guessing game to identify the flavors, and we got almost all of them right.
Corn on the Cob: I don't remember exactly, but I think they were tiny baby corns, similar to some corn dish on the brunch menu.
"Ajo Blanco": A very cool deconstruction. Top layer was white, snowish shavings, working down to a pool of garlicky olive oil. Definitely one of our favorites.
Organized Caesar Salad: a sort of salad spring roll...the lettuce is rolled up, one stack is topped with a tiny egg yoke (quail? cannot remember) and the other is topped w/ parmesan shavings. The roll was wrapped in something white and crunchy...sliced jicama, maybe? A cool take on the standard salad.
Conch Fritter: this dish is also on the brunch menu, so we'd had it a few times before, but really like it. The fritter is filled w/ a liquid center of conch (I assume) soup. As best as we could figure out, you basically freeze the soup and then batter and deep-fry the frozen cube, which melts during cooking. Definitely something I want to try at home.
Smoked Oyster w/ Apples: nothing particular stands out...I don't love oysters, so this was unlikely to be a fav
Zucchini in Textures: basically a zucchini gelee w/ zucchini seeds in it, if I remember correctly. I don't particularly love zucchini, so this one wasn't a favorite.
Hot & Cold Foie Gras Soup: we got a shot of gaspacho instead, very tasty (Zaytina and Jaleo both also do good gaspacho).
"Guacamole": A sort of guacamole sushi roll. Tomato sorbet rolled in thinly sliced avocado. It was topped with some sort of corn chip...fritos? Cool concept, tasty and refreshing.
Feta "Linguine": another fantastic favorite of the meal! Apparently the water in which feta sits (everyone who's ever bought feta can picture this, I assume?) can somehow be turned into these clear noodles. The noodles, very lightly dressed (some sort of creamy sauce), were absolutely full of flavor...I think I would have eaten a whole bowl, though Adam wondered if it'd get old after a few more bites.
Egg 63 degrees w/ Caviar: very very soft egg, topped with caviar. Good in the what you'd expect from description sort of way. I really want to learn how to properly slooooow cook an egg.
Lobster Americaine: a bite of lobster through which was stuck a pipette of containing greenish liquid. The point is to squeeze the pipette into your mouth w/ the lobster. Better not to think too much about what made the greenish sauce. Kind of eh.
New-New England Clam Chowder: I don't remember this on at all. Oh well.
Breaded Cicala w/ Lemon: don't remember this one either...perhaps the wine and food were starting to fog my brain by this point in the meal.
Philly Cheese Steak: we had something else replace the meat, of course...eggplant? who knows...can't remember...though I think I liked whatever it was.

Sweet End:
Japanese Baby Peaches w/ Yogurt: the tiny green peaches were very very cool. I like minifruits, like baby kiwis. A nice, light dessert.
Apples w/ Red Wine "Fredy Girardet": I think I remember liking this one, but can't remember exactly...I think it was little apple balls, sorbet, and a red wine gelee, but wouldn't swear...
Pina Colada: a dessert on the regular menu, but I really like it. Pineapple gelee under (I believe) coconut foam or something similar.
Saffron Gumdrop in Edible Wrapper: cool concept, sort of eh taste
Fruit Cocktail Injection: another pipette, this time through fruit, but this one was better than the mystery innards green one.
Maracuya Marshmallows: no real memory...I always like marshmallows (we'll just ignore that they're made from ground up horse hooves or something...)
Chocolate Covered Corn Nuts: can't remember...
Halls Lollipop: okay, so I understand that this is conceptually cool or something, but kind of eww...seriously, who really wants to end a good meal with the taste of cough drops?

So, end thoughts? Some things were amazing, some were cool, and some were just okay. However, the meal was not super expensive (around $100 for the food, I believe) as long tastings go, and probably the most fun nice meal we've ever had! Since it's counter seating, it was social. We talked to the couple on either side of us and were able to ask questions to the chefs as each dish was prepared/served. We definitely want to go back again...perhaps sometime next summer, so we can directly compare to El Bulli. CANNOT WAIT.
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