Saturday, July 28, 2007

minibar redux

Last night we went back to minibar. While my first trip since last summer, it was Adam's third of this summer...including having gone the night before! I know I wrote about it last summer, but despite some repeats, there are lots of new things and also pictures this time! It's the same six seats, though we were the first party to have actual chairs (apparently cast offs from Zaytinya) instead of the annoyingly-backless stools. Quite a comfort improvement.
We started with the "passion fruit 'tequila sunrise'" cocktail. Ryan, the chef at our end of the bar (Michael, who served us last year, was at the other end) said that real tequila sunrise is oj, grenadine, and tequila. This one had a lovely fruity foam on top, a few sprinkled passion fruit seeds, and a sort of thickened grenadine syrup at the bottom. Didn't really taste tequila-y, but I don't really like tequila, so not complaining. Tasty.
Next we got two little crispy snacks, one new and one a repeat. The "crispy apples" were basically thinly sliced, dehydrated apples, one lined with saffron and the other with fennel seed. Simple but clean flavors, very nice. The "tumbleweed of beet," the repeat, was as I remembered - intense beet flavor, fun texture.

The "olive oil bon bon" was one of my faves from last year, still great this year (though I think a little smaller). Sweet shell with the oily (mmm) center. I asked how they're made, and apparently they take a layer of the isomel (or whatever it is), place it over a little ring mold, and then the weight of the oil droppered on top pulls the sheet into the drop shape. I mentioned that I vaguely remembered Marcel on last season's top chef doing something similar, but it didn't work. Ryan sort of smirked and pointed out that it was humid in DC and they managed to make it work, and said that Marcel ought to come learn how to do the techniques from the people who know how. Apparently the minibar chefs had gone the Aspen Classic (or whatever it's called) and met the Top Chef candidates. Sounds like Marcel is, as expected, sort of an arrogant jerk (as is Ilan), who doesn't really know how to do the technical stuff as well as he fronted (which makes sense, given how often his attempts seemed to fail). I complained that I'd never liked Ilan, and all his best "creative" ideas were just off the Casa Mono menu anyway. Ryan said that Sam was apparently very nice, which was cool, since I love him for being talented (not to mention hot).

Anyway, back to the courses, since I'll go on a tangent again soon anyway. Next we got the "mojito" (another repeat, but a good one), which used the spherification technique and was vaguely sparkling when it exploded. I was commenting to Alex and Dina that I'd bought Adam the Texturas chemicals for his birthday last year (so, more than seven months ago), but that we hadn't used them yet b/c don't have an electronic scale. Ryan offered that there's a shop on 12th where I could get well as porno and a tattoo (apparently it's actually a head shop). He was really nice and full of useful tidbits. :)

The next course was "bagels & lox," which was a crispy cone filled with a light cream cheese (chived, I think) and salmon roe. Good, but as Alex pointed out, not as good as the NYC-original and partly suffers from the inability to get all the flavors in each bite. Dina, who doesn't eat seafood, got some sort of tomato cone that looked pretty good (possibly better?).
The "cornbread" was the first new-this-year dish since the apple slices, and it was surprisingly light! A very light, slightly crunchy layer on the bottom, then a corn cream, then little bits of crushed corn chips (Fritos!) on top. Alex was the first to ask if they were Fritos, which Dina and I cautiously echoing that we'd thought the same.

Next came the "cotton candy avocado," a substitution for one of the minibar signatures, the cotton candy foie gras. Good, but again mostly exciting for its cotton candy content. Ryan said the best place to get a little home cotton candy machine would actually be ebay (hint hint, my birthday is in November).

The "conch fritter," a staple order when we eat brunch at Cafe Atlantico, was as good as ever. Alex is also a big fan, having had them as a dinner appetizer there. Fried dough outside, liquid conch chowder center.

This was some sort of "ravioli"...while I remember really liking it, I can't remember what was in it. It was a substitution, so the menu was no help at all. The ravioli skin was mango flavored (it could have been thinly sliced mango, but don't think so). I feel like the inside was some sort of seafoody cream or foam. Ugh, I have a bad memory. Edit: Adam says that the seafood used was anchovy, which sounds right now that he mentions it. Surprisingly good, not excessively anchovy-y at all.
I don't remember having liked the "salmon-pineapple 'ravioli' with crispy quinoa" as much last year as I did this year. The bits of cooked salmon were covered in a sliver of pineapple. I believe the green foam was avocado, and then supremes of orange. The quinoa was sprinkled on top. Eaten all together, each bite was delicious.

Next came what's probably minibar's signature dish, the "deconstructed glass of white wine." The flavors on the wine gelee, from right to left (the order in which we were instructed to eat) were: lemon zest, orange zest, apple (I wasn't sure between pear and apple, and others had thought pear - oops), coconut, mint, pineapple, passion fruit, almond (we didn't get this, though it was obviously nutty - walnut was the favorite guess), pomegranate (Kathy was the only one to correctly guess this one - the rest of us were guessing berries), cinnamon, and vanilla. Lots of fun trying to guess everything.

The "zucchini in textures," like the salmon ravioli, was something that I had last year and had remembered not loving. Gelee of zucchini water on top, soft suspension of zucchini seeds next (apparently the zucchini is steamed, and then they hand pick uniformly-sized seeds!), and then a zucchini cream on the bottom. The dish was clearly zucchini-flavored, but also a lot creamier than I'd remembered it being last year, which made it much more delicious for me. I asked Ryan if the recipe had changed, but he said that it hadn't. Who knows.
The "'sun dried tomato' salad" was one of the best of the new dishes we tried. The "tomatoes" were actually spherified sun dried tomatoes, which were then dehydrated so they had an intense tomato flavor but not the bursting, liquid center. The white spheres (no dehydration on these) were greek yogurt, and the air was lemon. Apparently air is so light that when you turn a spoonful of it upside down, it won't fall off (unlike a foam). So, of course, we all had to test this, and it's true. The little purple blossoms on top were chive blossoms, which have an intense chive flavor, in addition to being very pretty.
The deconstructed "ceasar salad," another repeat, was eaten sushi-style. Little lettuce rolls, topped with shavings of parmesan on one stack and a raw quail egg yolk on another. Fun twist on familiar flavors.

The "egg 63 degrees with caviar" had been one of my favorites last year, but I actually think that Dina might have gotten a better substitution - hers was covered with a layer of black truffle shavings instead of the caviar. Ryan peeled the very softly-boiled quail egg with a knife, without puncturing the egg inside! Very impressive skills. Attempts at home to boil an egg at a low temperature have never worked properly. The picture is after I'd taken a bite, breaking the yolk inside. I thought it was a cooler picture than just the layer of black caviar in the dish.

The "sea urchin 'ceviche'" was not one of my favorites. The air on top was hibiscus (so Adam tells me, I hadn't remembered), which was sort of fun to eat, but the urchin in the bottom didn't make much of an impression. Beautiful, though, in it's lovely glass bowl. I love the dishes and utensils both here and at El Bulli (which, in some cases, were the same).

The "corn on the cob" was another tasty repeat, and Ryan pointed out that everything in the dish was corn. Baby corn on a corn liquid, crunchy little kernels on top. Even the corn shoot along side had a light but clearly corny flavor.
The "guacamole" was another fun repeat. A tomato sorbet was piped onto the thinly slice avocado, which was then rolled around it (kind of like making sushi). It was garnished with tiny diced tomatoes, crushed Fritos, micro cilantro, and more of the chive blossoms (where can I get some of these?!).

I think I liked the smoked "smoked oyster and apples" reasonably well, though I don't remember that much about it. I do remember that the oyster had a bit of an odd flavor (as though it wasn't entirely raw), and I loved the bits of smoked oyster on top. Tasted kind of like bits of bacon (love the smokiness), which I miss greatly (c'mon food scientists, grow me some pork fat in a lab!).

Instead of the "New England clam chowder," which contained bacon, we got a liquid potato tortilla. Apparently they could have just done the chowder without the bacon, but since Adam had tried it the night before, they were nice enough to give him (and consequently Dina and me) something different. The so-called tortilla was very tasty, so I wasn't really disappointed. The foamy top layer tasted an awful lot like the potato foam from the brunch menu, but as I love that dish (which vanilla), I certainly liked it again. Basically, imagine the lightest, creamiest mashed potatoes possible. The bottom layer was a sort of roasted onion paste or puree, and it was garnished with tiny diced potatoes and what I think Ryan said was chive oil.

The "breaded cigala with sea salad" was one of Alex's least favorite, because he objected that it was too salty. I think I liked it more than he did, though the seaweed/sea bream salad was, obviously, salty. The cigala itself was nicely cooked, and I continue to love the smoked sea salt on top (though it only made this dish more salty). Apparently they smoke the salt in house in an electric smoker. Another excellent potential gift for me. :)

The last savory dish was the "philly cheesesteak." The crispy cone was filled with a soft sort of cream cheese (not sure exactly what kind of cheese), and our version was covered in a layer of shaved black truffle instead of the wagyu beef. I liked this last year, and I liked it this year. Alex, who lived in Philly for many years (Penn undergrad), gave this his cheesesteak-loving stamp of approval (though he did confirm that the best authentic version should use what is essentially cheese wizz, as I remember from my childhood NYC street fair cheesesteaks). Mmm, processed cheese product (cheese-in-a-can is an under-appreciated trashy treat).

The first dessert was the "pistachio-beets and mixed berries." In addition to being vividly beautiful, it was delicious. The little rectangles of light, crunchy beet flavor had a great texture. Apparently they make meringues, then dehydrate and slice them. Dehydration was big on this year's menu (and Ryan said they're trying to move away from spherification). Delicious, creamy pistachio flavor on the bottom layer, nice (raspberry?) sorbet on top, plus a bit of fresh blackberry on the side. Pistachio nuts added a harder crunch.

The "thai dessert" was one of my favorite dishes of the entire meal. It was absolutely fantastic! Coconut sorbet sat under a peanut wafer, a squiggle of not-too-heavy peanut butter, and chopped nuts. The tamarind swirl ringing the sorbet added a slightly sour, citrusy contrast, although wikipedia informs me that the fruit is actually a pod-like legume. A sprinkling of cayenne pepper on the edge of the plate added a powerful kick to any bit that included it. I think the micro herb was cilantro, but I don't remember. So amazing, though.
Unfortunately, the printed menu told us that we had missed out on the "matcha ball." When we asked, Ryan said that it couldn't be made in the humidity. Apparently it would have been a sort of ball of cotton candy rolled in matcha. Sounds really cool, and I was sorry to have missed it.

The little petit fours at the ended included a "saffron gumdrop," "maracuya marshmallow," and "pina colada injection." The gumdrop was good, with the expected jellied texture. Maracuya is another name for passion fruit, and a bit of passion fruit syrup was injected into the marshmallow (lovely soft texture) before serving. Dina was excited to finally get the pipette, which we had seen through the glass all evening. It really tasted like a pina colada, with the pipette contents being heavily coconut flavored and mixing well with the fresh pineapple. A much better end than last year's cough drop lollypop.
<-- picture of Ryan
While we were waiting for/paying the check, we were chatting
with Ryan some more. I could see some micro herbs growing on the window sill, and he told us that one of the plants (which was flowering near the top) was something that he'd been growing for fun, called stevia, although they hadn't used it in anything. He told us that it was a very sweet herb, sweeter than sugar, and let us try the blossoms. It was extremely sweet, though with a bit of a slightly bitter aftertaste. Very interesting though.
One of the nice things about having all six seats is that I didn't feel worried about disturbing others with the camera. Random other pictures taken throughout the evening:
Alex and Dina -->
<-- Paul and Kathy. Aren't they adorable? (correct answer: yes)
Adam, and Alex -->
Good company + fun food = great evening. Can't wait to go back! (Maybe can arrange a dinner during fly-out week, which I imagine will take me to DC?)

Monday, July 09, 2007

Holiday in Spain Finale: El Celler de Can Roca

Unfortunately, thanks to restaurant closures on Sunday/Monday, we didn't have time to do both Can Fabes and Can Roca. On the advice of eGullet responders, we decided eat lunch at Can Roca and skip Can Fabes for this trip. It turned out to be a great way to celebrate the Fourth (insert bad pun about culinary fireworks? no, let's not). Since we'd decided to drive back to BCN for our last night, we'd made the earliest possible lunch reservation - 1:00PM, oh late Spain hours! The restaurant is tucked behind a small front garden, small and unassuming (especially given the rep). Although we arrived about 15 minutes late (a few wrong turns), we were one of the first tables to be filled. We asked to sit in the back room (with views of a small pool and garden), which we had all to ourselves for the first few courses.

We were soon served a (presumably complementary, since served before we ordered anything) glass of cava (Cava El Celler de can Roca Albet i Noya) and offered a selection of breads. The large rectangular basket must have held at least 8 choices, although I only remember the ones we tried - olive (Adam), tomato (me), and onion (both). Once verifying that substitutions could be made, we ordered the most extensive tasting menu and asked for wine pairings. Since the printed menu we were given at the end included descriptions of the (surprisingly few) dishes for which we substituted, I'll include the descriptions for interested carnivores.

The "snacks" included: crunchy cod chips (which, while clearly fishy, were surprisingly good), "peanut caramel" (essentially a very good, fancy peanut brittle), "black olives crunchy" (a ripe olive in a sweet tuile - a great contrast, really delicious), "cucumber with vinegar" (according to the menu - I'm pretty sure it was actually squash, vinegar gelee, just okay), and "carrots with coconut and orange" (very Stone Barns-y, but the non-carrot flavors could have been less subtle so that it seemed less like just eating a raw carrot). Our menu listed "parmesan biscuit," but the cod chips seem to have been a substitution for that. In case it's not obvious, the descriptions move clockwise around the photo from the top.

The "tapas" course was the only place that we had substitutions for meat dishes. The best of the tapas was a sort of play on a tomato salad - tomato water, vinegar sorbet, some sort of gelee on the bottom, but also with apple flavor (maybe that was the gelee? can't remember). I do remember loving the hint of apple sweetness, and this dish was great in general. A sort of herb custard with one raw clam was good (though same raw shellfish apathy made this less enjoyable). The brownish gel was so fishy that I didn't want to finish it. I could have sworn that it was described as a mussel dish at the time, but the menu listed a "fennel veloute with see water [sic] and barnacles," which it could easily have been. We didn't receive either the "pigeon parfait, Bristol Cream, orange and spices" (sounds interesting) or the "fig's terrine with bitter tender almonds and foie gras." I believe this is where we got the Palacio de Otazu 01, which was a very interesting, big chardonnay.
The "oyster with Champagne, apple, cumin, curry and species bread," paired, unsurprisingly, with another glass of the cava, was a slightly interesting take on a classic combination. In addition to the actual champagne liquid poured over the dish, the green, bottled shaped dish was lined with a gel and studded with bits of apple. I don't remember cumin or curry, and I could have sworn there was some ginger, but I can't be sure. No particular bread was served alongside.

The "Spring mushrooms could [sic] soup with avocado and pines ice cream" was a very cool concept, but the flavors left a bit to be desired. Despite the menu, I'm almost positive that the mushrooms were described as (and tasted like) white mushrooms. While the clear gel had a very distinct mushroom flavor, it would probably have been amazing if more interesting mushrooms had been used. The thin ribbons of avocado also tasted a tad underripe. Still, a good, creative vegetarian dish, if not outstanding. I think this is where we got Lustau Oloroso Abocado 89, a sherry that seemed a sort of odd pick for early in the meal, but I remember thinking that the pairings were well thought out and surprisingly successful throughout.

When the "Mussels with Riesling" arrived, I'll admit I was a bit disappointed--not more raw shellfish!--but this one was really excellent. Which is saying a lot about raw mussels, from me. Similar to the minibar deconstructed white wine, the concept was that the underlying flavors of the reisling were each emphasized individually (but where minibar used gelee, Can Roca used mussels). The flavors, from bottom to top (the order in which we were instructed to eat) were bergamot (vaguely like eating perfume), apple (tasted like a bright, not too sweet applesauce), citrus, something fruity (peach, I think?), salt (for the "mineral" in the wine), and white truffle (a rich foam that tasted strongly of white truffle - and not just truffle oil - heavenly) . Like with the oysters, the wine pairing was obvious, an A.Chrissman Konigsbacher Idig 05 (semi-sweet, not at all syrupy, paired nicely).

Like the mushroom and avocado dish, I really wanted to love the "artichokes with sunflowers and orange," but it fell a bit short of its potential. While I did enjoy it a lot, the sunflower puree was a bit overpowering for the artichoke puree. However, the crispy artichoke slices were good and the citrus of the orange supremes cut the rich creaminess of the purees very well. This course was paired with the Edetaria 05, which was an extremely interesting, very nutty white wine. I would love to be able to find it in the States.

For the next course, a glass dome was removed at the table to release a thick, white cloud of smoke, which had the familiar, comforting smell of a campfire. The smoke cleared to reveal the "white asparagus souffle on embers." This was one of my favorite dishes of the entire trip. A picket fence of thinly sliced white asparagus encased a luscious, soft asparagus souffle. While this sounds simple enough, it was just amazing. I scrapped every bite off the plate that I could, and stared enviously at the table next to us when they received their own souffles a while later. We got another pour of the Edetaria, which was actually great since we'd enjoyed it so much.

The "hot veloute of prawn with cacao onions and mint" was the sort of rich dish that one would expect to eat in a more traditional, French restaurant. However, I would have thoroughly enjoyed it in a French restaurant and certainly did so here. The shrimp were covered in a thick, rich sauce, but what made this dish really excellent (instead of just overpoweringly creamy) was the puree of caramelized onion at the bottom of the bowl. When all the components were eaten together, it was more balanced and absolutely delicious.
The "noodles prawns 'fideua' topped with young garlic museline" was probably my least favorite of the savory dishes since the oysters. I guess I just felt like the ingredients didn't mesh well into something particularly interesting. The "noodles" were a bit sticky and didn't really have a strong flavor. The shrimp were well cooked but not particularly flavorful, though better w/ some of the thick foam. Overall, this one just didn't leave a strong impression, either positive or particularly negative.

I enjoyed the Can Roca skate, which they called "ray fenouil and green olives," much more than I had enjoyed the skate at El Bulli the night before. Although I couldn't really taste the fennel, the tan sauce had an intense green olive flavor that was delicious. There were also bits of sea bream and some greens garnishing this dish.

The "codfish with pumpkin and red paprika oil" was probably my least favorite of the savory dishes, which made it a disappointing place to end. I think this was more a function of the fact that I don't love codfish all that much, especially the texture (too dense?), than any fault of the cooking. I did think it was very cool to discover that the "pumpkin," which I had thought was just chunks of pumpkin meat cooked soft, was actually a pumpkin-flavored gel pasta. I'm not sure the pumpkin and other ingredients, which were on the sweet side, really went all that well with the cod.

The "lactic dessert ("dulce de leche," sheep milk ice cream, sheep cottage cheese foam, sheep's yoghurt and lactic cloud)" was my favorite of any dessert we ate in Spain. The components got more dense as I ate my way from the cotton candy "lactic cloud" on top, to the icy salmon-colored sliver, to the yoghurt and foam, and finally to the dense, rich caramel layer on the bottom. When I was little (maybe 8 or 9), a Brazilian friend taught us how to make ducle de leche by boiling a can of condensed milk (which I loved). That is exactly what the dulce de leche in this dessert tasted like, scoring nostalgia points as well as flavor points. It was great to be able to taste the distinct milk flavor in so many different forms, and the slightly sour flavor in the yoghurt and the lightness of many of the parts kept this dish from being too sweet.

The second dessert was a "roses souffle with chocolate and pistachio's ice cream." It was a very interesting dessert. The "souffle" wasn't really a souffle so much as a sort of foam being confined within a fine, cylindrical (edible) shell of some sort. It was sort of like eating airy perfume. The combination of rose, chocolate (sort of like a brownie), and pistachio was good, but I was too full to finish it. I really liked that neither dessert was too heavy (or overwhelmingly chocolatey), given how full (and borderline drunk) I was.

After the Edetaria, there was a Ino Masia Serra N.V. Garnatxa (I believe it's a local varietal in the region), Martin Berdugo 03 tempranillo, Muscat Rivesaltes Ambre, and an Albersweiler Latt Auslese 02. In case it wasn't obvious, there was a LOT of wine paired with the meal. Unfortunately, I don't remember exactly where the last few paired (I was feeling the first, oh, four or five glasses). By the end, we were waiving away the waiter and leaving glasses half-filled. Because Adam had to drive, I actually don't think he finished a single glass. The picture is from the end of the meal, after about half the glasses had been finished (by me) or cleared half-finished (Adam).
The petit fours included a little citrus (I think) gelee, candied raspberries, chocolate covered poprocks (I always get a kick out of poprocks in haute food), and some sort of meringue (can't remember the flavor. The watermelon lolly pops looked like solid rock candy, but were actually melon balls covered in a thin, gelled layer (giving them the hard candy sheen). I think I would have preferred real lollies, if only because I wasn't quite ready for the meal to end and the real melon was too quickly eaten.
This was a great end to our food-centric vacation. The eGullet posters who steered us here were definitely right, especially given the fish-heavy menu. Looking over the photos from El Bulli and Can Roca later, we loved the reminders of excellent meals from the trip.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Holiday in Spain - The Big Show: El Bulli

July 3rd, the day of our reservation, had finally arrived! Our reservation was for 8:30, but we left Mas de Torrent at around 6:00, intending to stop to see something touristy along the way. However, after three trips through the same roundabout near Pals, we gave up on seeing its medieval city. We arrived outside the Dali museum in Figueras at around the time (7:45) of the last entry, at which point we turned around and headed for Roses. While the directions on the El Bulli website were pretty useless (we never saw the street/location signs they indicated), we finally saw a few El Bulli signs that directed us the right way. We turned up a winding road just past the second El Bulli sign, whose few adjacent buildings quickly became farther apart, until the only buildings to be seen were across the water, on other mountain peaks. I wasn't prepared for this last leg of the drive, which, if Rhonda (what Adam inexplicably named the car's GPS) is to be believed, was a 7km mountainside climb that would its way up and then slightly down steep, curvy roads. The views of the opposing peaks and open water below were breathtaking, but from my seat, the road seemed to drop steeply off into nothing for much of the ride, making the view also a little nauseating. From a few minutes into the drive until we finally saw the El Bulli sign at the end, we were half convinced that we had made a wrong turn and would be late. I kept thinking that if we veered off the road, we would most definitely plunge to our deaths. Adam loved driving it, of course, and we arrived with five minutes to spare. Here's the view from outside restaurant...imagine it from high on railingless road.
After a quick trip to the kitchen (where Ferran was standing front and center - I've never seen such a clean, orderly kitchen), we were shown to our table against the back wall. We sat side by side, where we could see most of the other tables in the room. After verifying that they remembered out dietary request (no meat/juices), the courses quickly began arriving. Unfortunately, some of the pictures are kind of blurry - in my eagerness to eat, I often didn't pay that much attention to how the picture looked on the little camera screen. Oh, and in case it seems weird to be taking pictures in a restaurant, two of the three tables surrounding us also pulled out cameras!
The "gin fizz" looked normal enough, but the foam (which was squirted out of a whipper tableside) started steaming a bit when it was added. I assumed it was because it was so cold, but when I took a sip, it was warm! The bottom, liquid layer was cold, with tiny ice crystals. While the gin flavor was pretty standard, the texture and temperature contrasts made the starting cocktail one of my favorites of the night. I have no idea how they managed to make the foam warm, since my experience with nitrous canisters is that they turn the canister (and its contents) cold.

The "spherical olives," while delicious, were functionally identical to the "olives" we'd had at minibar last summer, except that minibar gave us both green and black olives. Because of that, they lacked the element of surprise that we'd felt at minibar when the sphere's thin skin exploded into liquid olive. I think our familiarity with the molecular gastronomy techniques made many parts of this meal less wowing than it otherwise might have been, and I think both Adam and I had tried to keep that in mind (essentially, we didn't want to be less impressed with Adria for the effects of other restaurants' imitating his style). Given that we still thought it was a great experience, despite few really surprising dishes, we seem to have done so successfully.
The "golden nuggets" were essentially crunchy parmesan croutons in some sort of shiny coating. In fact, they weren't described as golden nuggets when they were served, but as some sort of parmesan thing, but I'm assuming from the printed menu. I am a fan of anything made from cheese!
The next few little bites were served at the same time. The "salty 'catanias'" looked like chocolate bonbons dusted in cocoa powder, but collapsed into a liquid center. Kind of cool, but I don't love the taste of bitter cocoa powder. The "parmesan 'airbag'" was essentially a hollow cracker dusted in sesame seeds. Adam's reading of egullet forums seems to suggest that these were our vegetarian replacement for some sort of pork rind snack. I didn't love this one, especially after the nuggets, which had a much stronger parmesan flavor. The "beetroot and yoghurt meringues" were my favorite dish since the gin fizz, light and very crunchy, with a clear, slightly sweet beet flavor. The printed menu listed "LYO fruits" as the dish before the golden nuggets, but as we didn't receive anything at that point and googling seems to indicate that LYO refers to some sort of freeze-drying, I'm assuming that this is the name for the pineapple sticks (which otherwise weren't listed on our menu). They were crunchy, with an intense pineapple flavor, very delicious. The "salty chocolate with cassis, yoghurt and pistachio" weren't actually chocolate at all, although molded to look like mini chocolate bars. Intense flavor, a bit sour (especially the cassis), and I was left with the impression that they were a bit gritty in texture. The yoghurt was my favorite.

"Tangerine bombons [sic], peanut and curry": the little disk tasted like a tiny peanut butter wafer with a hint of curry powder, very tasty. The bonbon exploded into a liquid tangerine center. Delicious.

The "pistachios sponge cake with acid milk mousse" seems to be a bit misnamed. The cake was crunchy, with an almost biscuity taste under the pistachio flavor, and not at all spongy. The mousse tasted like a sour yoghurt (and I believe might have been described as such). We were instructed to put a dollop on top of the cake. While delicious, it crumbled immediately on the first bite. Might have been better as a smaller, single-bite dish, to make it less messy. Still ate (almost) every crumb.

The "sesame sponge cake with miso," unlike the pistachio cake, was extremely spongy and light. I have no idea how they gave it such an interesting texture, which made this dish very interesting despite an as-advertised flavor.

The "flowers paper" was essentially tangy, edible flavors in a flattened layer of slightly sweet cotton candy. Not baffling as to how to was made (as some of our favorite dishes were), but very beautiful.
I really enjoyed the "rasberries [sic] fondant with wasabi and rasberries vinegar." The sweet raspberry was warm inside its sugar coating, and melted in my mouth. We had been advised to eat half of the raspberry, drink the spoonful of vinegar, and then eat the rest of the berry. The first bite was very sweet, and the second bite (after the sourish vinegar) less so. I don't remember really tasting the wasabi, and I'm generally very sensitive to spicy flavors. My one complaint is that I think this dish might have seemed better placed as one of the dessert courses.

The "tiger nut milk flowers" came out on a beautiful metal platter with rippled edges (they sell the platter, we bought two as gifts), with a layer of ice on the bottom to keep the flowers from melting. They begin melting almost as soon as you touch them (I transferred the photographed one to my plate, and it appears a bit melted along the edge from my touch). The flowers had a bit of a nutty flavor, but were actually kind of bland. They brought out the nuts for us to see, as well.

The "oysters yoghurt with px in tempura" was probably my favorite dish up until that point in the meal. The glass mug contained a creamy, slightly seafoody soup. The "px" stands for Pedro Ximenez, the varietal commonly used to make sherry. The tempura essentially tasted like a deep-fried sip of sherry, very surprising (I was expecting a more solid grape) and very delicious.
I was not a fan of the "mussels with lemon and fennel." The tiny balls (at the top of the picture) each tasted different (fennel, lemon, maybe something else?), and we were advised to eat an oyster and then a ball. While the balls were surprisingly strongly flavored, the raw mussels were stronger. In fairness, I don't really like raw shellfish, especially since my first raw mussel experience (at an old, well-regarded Boston restaurant, no less) gave me the worst food poisoning I've ever had. I imagine people who do like raw shellfish would have liked this one.

The "Fever-Tree tonic meringue with strawberries and lemon" was lovely to look at, but the tonic taste (of which I'm not really a fan, without vodka or gin to cut it) was very strong. The bottom of the dish had bits of what tasted like icy lemon sorbet, which made the bites that included it much better. The freeze dried strawberries taste like what comes out of my cereal box. The best bites included bits of everything (including the micro mint).

The "dashi with miso caviar" was the only dish to use the fake caviar technique that I've read about. It's a very cool technique, but tasted like a bland miso soup with interesting texture. Yet another example of Spanish restaurants seeming newly-enamored of Japanese ingredients (see description of tartar at Bar Mut). I would much preferred to have gotten to try a fruit caviar, but am looking forward to attempting our own with the Texturas chemicals I bought for Adam for his birthday.
The "fresh pine-cone and pinions dacquoise" tasted like a very fancy, crunchy, slightly different peanut butter sandwich on white bread. The table next to us got this dish shaped like a large ring, which was sliced into wedges tableside.

The "pine-nut shell" was edible and cold, and started to melt as I ate it. The pine nuts inside were very soft, and sat in a clear gel. Basically, it was pine nuts in textures. A bit bland in flavor, and we'd had so many nut-flavored things already that it lost some of its effect.
The "tomato cous-cous with oil-olives, basil and parmesan cheese" was a mostly excellent dish. The glass of clear liquid was richly parmesan flavored. I would love to know how it's made. Parmesan stock reduced and filtered? The red "cous-cous" tasted like little chilled crystals of Campbell's tomato soup concentrate. While very good, I think it would have been amazing if it tasted like fresh tomatoes. The oil-olives looked like regular olive oil, but had the intense olive flavor of the fruit. We were told not to mix the ingredients, but they tasted even better together (not sure if the instruction was a mistake?). The only disappointment was that the basil sorbet, which I've had many times on appetizers or desserts, was actually pretty bad. It didn't have a strong, fresh basil taste, and marred an otherwise outstanding dish. Beautiful, rich colors.

The "gnocchi of polenta with coffee, safran yuba and daisy buds" was one of my two favorite dishes. The gnocchi was very soft and light, sitting in a rich sauce containing capers and bits of egg. My only complaint (well, besides the fact that the serving wasn't huge) was the sprinkling of coffee powder on top, but that's just because I don't like coffee at all. Even with the subtle coffee flavor and the capers (which I often don't love), I still savored every bite. I recognize that most people would love it even more. However, this didn't seem like a very technically complicated could have been on any creative Italian menu.
The "Padron ravioli" were another great dish, like a variation on classic fried, salty tapa. The thin, clear skin contained a course filling that tasted like a dice of peppers and seeds. Bits of sea salt brought the dish alive. I could have taken or left little dots of licorice flavor (another food I don't like). Another egullet poster described this dish as very spicy, but ours wasn't, a product, I assume, of the variation in the spiciness of the peppers themselves.
The "razor clam with seaweed" was by far my least favorite dish (didn't even bother to eat more than one). Perhaps if I liked raw shellfish more, I would have finished this dish. It reminded me of swallowing too much salt water at the beach. Very fishy/seaweedy/salty. However, the very vocal American at a nearby table (who told a waiter to call him "Big Jim") loved it. I overheard the following: "We all love to eat the ocean. . . . I on [didn't catch the name] beach, looking out. I love it!" At which point, I'm pretty sure someone at the table shushed him. When the waiter returned, Big Jim said "I feel like I am a whale, riding in the ocean, dreaming of mermaids." It took a great deal of self control not to laugh out loud.

The printed menu indicates a course called "enokis to cream" at this point, but nothing like that was served. Very disappointing, since sounds like it would have been delicious. I'm not sure what happened to this dish, but very weird.
The "codfish with 'topinambour'" was the other of my two favorite dishes. Chunks of sunchoke and a luxurious layer of shaved white truffles sat on the cod skin (no actually cod meat). I don't remember what the cream on the side tasted like, but I remember this entire combination was rich and absolutely delicious.
The "skate" wing was accompanied by a hazelnut foam and some noodles of either soy or seaweed (I can't remember which - definitely salty). I'm not sure this combination worked all that well together. The feta noodles at minibar were a far better use of the flavored noodle technique. The skate dish was fine, I certainly ate it all, but wasn't a standout. Pretty sick of nut flavors by now.

The "sea cucumbers with 'roes' - sea lettuce and salicornia," however, was a outstanding. I've never had sea cucumbers before (and A suggests that they are endangered, which makes me iffy on eating them in future), but they were delicious! The roe stuffed inside them looked like salmon roe, but without the overwhelming saltiness that makes me less than enthused about it. While a waiter we asked said that it was, in fact, roe, the menu quotation marks suggests that they were another synthetic caviar. The "lettuce" was some sort of thin green layer (couldn't tell if it was an actual cooked green or some sort of jellied layer) wrapped around individual pieces of sea bream. Whatever was in this one, we loved it.

At this point, we transitioned into sweet courses with "eggplant to the honey," which served as a sort of bridge between savory and dessert. It was very interesting, but I didn't love it. The chunk of deep red eggplant tasted sweet (as though marinated/poached in honey), and looked vaguely (unappetizingly) like a chunk of meat. Light yoghurt and a smear of sesame paste finished the dish. For some reason, the contrasts didn't quite work for me.

The "sweet frost fruits" were blackberries in a crisp meringue, accompanied by a pipette of berry juice. We were instructed to squirt the juice into the meringue before eating, which didn't work so well. The juice kept dripping out, no matter how centered I positioned the pipette. In the end, I ate the meringues and squirted the pipette directly into my mouth. Very tasty, not overwhelmingly sweet.

The "orchid" was an amazing dessert, but unfortunately I can't remember many specifics beyond my lingering impression of amazement. I had expected the trail of chocolate to be bittersweet, but it was surprisingly fudgy. I loved it! I believe there was a saffron ice cream, some sort of moist bite of cake, plus the orchid itself. I can see some other bits in my photograph, but can't remember what they are! Very frustrating.

At this point, we were asked if we wanted to move to the terrace for coffee and the remaining desserts, which we did. We hadn't sat outside before dinner as some diners had, so it was a nice change of scenery. In the dark, we could only hear the waves lapping against the beach below. The weather was perfect. An absolutely lovely setting to end the evening.

The first of our "Morphings...." was a strawberry with vinegar: a wonderfully ripe strawberry with a little round of vinegar (same technique as the olives) that exploded in my mouth. Or, in Adam's case, slid off the top of his strawberry to splat on the table. Luckily, the waiter graciously fetched a replacement.

The final offering was a sleeve of styrofone containing "paper candy," which was essentially a wafer-thin, sugary confection. Very sweet, cool technique, but not as amazing in flavor as many of the other things we ate.

In terms of wine, we started with a Remelluri Blanco 04, which was fine but unremarkable. Looking for something a little more exciting (and eyeing the golden white on Big Jim's table), Adam then ordered a bottle of Batard-Montrachet Lemoine 02, which was very big and apricoty. Really lovely, but unfortunately, we had to drive back, so Adam couldn't drink that much, and I figured he'd rather a soberish navagator. We took the remaining half of the bottle to go, but other than Adam's one glass nightcap later that evening, we didn't get a chance to finish it. Sadly, thanks to no liquid security regulations, we had to abandon it when we left.
Overall, we had a great time, and would definitely go back (though preferably with more people - I imagine it's more fun with a group, especially with friends who haven't eaten this sort of food before). In terms of pure food enjoyment, we probably liked minibar more, thanks to the novelty and some really outstanding dishes. However, the El Bulli food, location, and the effect of knowing we got a sought-after, almost-impossible-to-get experience all made the night great. Unlike some stories I've heard, we didn't leave hungry (nor stuffed, which is also good). The service couldn't have been better, and the drive is certainly a fitting dramatic prelude. Luckily, the return trip was a lot less scary in the dark!
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