El Celler de Can Roca revisited

Welcome!

Just the other week Restaurant Magazine announced this year’s list of the worlds 50 best restaurants. I was glad to see that El Celler de Can Roca grabbed the place as first runner up – cause I just payed them another visit. If last time was awesome this time was twice that. I woud say the big difference was the wine, not that the food wasn’t tweaked too but the wines – wow. Also, this time, we were there for the lunch seating at 1 pm. Must say that was an excellent choice as you will see there was quite a lot to eat and drink.

First amuse bouche: Caramelized Olive. You can see the presentation yourself but what you can’t see is that they were filled with anchovies. Wine pairing for all appetizers was Albet I Noia El Celler Brut D.O. Cava.

Amuse bouche served in a bonzai tree

 

Second amuse bouche: Campari bombon. Basically a fragile bonbon with Campari inside.

Served on ice

Third amuse bouche: Anchovy bones. Like last time – imagine prawn crackers but with anchovy and their bones left. Also a version with seaweed.

Third amuse bouche

Fourth amuse bouche: Chicken cracker.

Fourth amuse bouche

Fifth amuse bouche: Ring calamar adaptation. Best calamar I ever tasted; not particularly traditional but oh so good.

Fifth amuse bouche

Sixth amuse bouche: Vegetable salad. Smallest one I ever tried, like an gunkan-maki.

Sixth amuse bouche

Seventh amuse bouche: Truffled brioche and pot au feu broth. One of the best ones this lunch.

Seventh amuse bouche

Eighth amuse bouche: “Escalivada” with anchovies and smoke of ember. Charcoal-grilled eggplant, pepper, onion and tomato. Served with a glass bowl over the plate that contained the smoke.

Ninth amuse bouche

First course: Artichoke, foie gras orange and truffled oil. Can it go wrong – no it cannot. Interesting way to serve foie gras and I applaude it. Wine: Torre del Moro ’09 D.O. Conca de Barbera.

First course

Second course: Charcoal-grilled king prawn with acidulated mushrooms juice. After devouring the meat part we went for the insides of the head – did they inject something or could it be that good by just being grilled? Wine: Josephshöfer ’99 Auslese VDP Mosel.

Second course

Third course: Onion soup, Crespià walnuts and Comté cheese. A new way of doing the French classic – onion soup with bread and cheese. Hot damn! One of my favourites. Wine: Renard Fourcharme ’95 Magnum A.O.C. Chablis Premier Cru.

Fourth course: Sole, olive oil and Mediterranean flavours. Also one that we had the last time. We ate from the bottom up: fennel, bergamot, orange, pine nut and olive oil. The crystalized olive oil kind of candy on top was awesome. Wine: Stéphane Tissot ’07 Savagnin A.O.C. Arbois.

Fourth course

Fifth course: Baby squid with onion rocks. One of the top squid dishes I had. Crisp and good. Wine: El Rocallis ’06 D.O. Penedès.

Fifth course

Sixth course: Red mullets with suquet (Catalan seafood stew) and lard. They sure know their seafood here and the green lard dumplings was really interesting in a very good way. Wine: Nelin ’08 D.O.Qa Priorat.

Sixth course

Seventh course: Steak tartare with mustard ice cream. Spiced tomato, caper compote, pickles and lemon, hazelnut praline, meat béarnaise sause, Oloroso-sherry raisin, chives, Sichuan pepper, Pimentón de La Vera (D.O.) smoked paprika and curry, small scoops of mustard ice cream and mustard leaves. Do I need to say this was the best steak tartar I’ve ever tasted. Wine: Pardas Rosat ’07 Vi de Taula {Penedès}.

Seventh course

Eighth course: Lamb with mint and peas. It was the neck of the lamb and the sauces was simply magical. Wine: Oloroso del Puerto Lustau Almacenista D.O. Jerez.

Eighth course

Ninth course: Green Colourology. This little miracle cleared our palate before the deserts. Quite similar to the green chromatism we got last time. The small candy like things was Chartreuse candy – well needed. Other flavours was mint and avocado. Wine: Clos Martinet ’07 D.O.Qa Priorat.

Ninth course

First desserts: Blood orange and beetroot sherbet. Bold flavours and just plain fantastic. But never mind that, don’t you just love the way it looks?! Wine: Grans Fassian Kabinett ’07 VDP Mosel.

Tenth course

Second dessert: Vanilla, caramel, liquorice, dried and caramelised black olives. No comment other than – yummy. Wine: Mont-Rubi Advent Sumoll ’08 D.O. Penedès.

Eleventh course

Bonus round: Apple and foie gras timbal with vanilla oil. Are we at… what, 19 servings? Well why not one more? And hey, we all love foie gras, specially this classic Can Roca creation. Wine: Olivares Monastrell ’08 D.O. Jumilla.

Extra course

Time for coffee and grappa, no problem to down the nice sweets that was served: Golden praline, Palet d’or, Yuzu bombon, Mont Blanc and Raspberry. Phew, we managed all pralines as well. The raspberry was my favourite.

Bonbons

After it all we got a tour of the wine celler and kitchen where we bumped into Joan Roca, the savoury master mind.

Today's menu

Oh yeah, we can do this at home… just need to upgrade my kitchen.

Not your normal kitchen-ware

Seems like a humble and collected guy, at least here after service.

Cuiner

So how could we end this magnificent day when the time was only 6 pm? We took a taxi into River Café on the steps to the cathedral and drank beers and margaritas and ate pintxos and tapas in the warm spring sun. Awesomeness!

An evening at Mugaritz, Gipuzkoa 17 August 2010

Now there’s something special with some meals. With some restaurants. With some evenings.

I’ve already written about our plan to visit Spain again after last summers fantastic experience and told you about the great pintxos in Donostia. Now it’s time to summarize my party’s evening at Mugaritz.

According to the San Pellegrino top 50 Mugaritz is on fifth place – yes for all you observant people reading it dropped one from last year and who took the fourth place if not the good people at El Celler.

I’ll just go dish by dish and end with a little thought about the experience as a whole and how I compare it to the restaurant that took it’s fourth place.

Arriving a little early, how un-Spanish of us, we took a seat in the garden. I had a look at the herbs and flowers that they use in their cooking and behind me in the picture you see their new kitchen – with all the windows – nice!

As an amuse buche we got stones. Well biting into them we found out it was really potatoes. Don’t know what kind but they were really tasty and they came with awesomely good aioli and a glass of Mokoroa 09, Getariako, Txakolina by Mokoroa.

Potatoes as Stones for appetizers

Inside we were seated at a big round table, love those, and also got a tour in the new kitchen. I’ve seen a few kitchens, both as a member of the staff as well as a curios patron and I’ve never seen such a well-organized and squeaky-clean kitchen.

Kitchen at Mugaritz

Back at the table we got two more appetizers. First some grilled paprika and then a baby squid salad served in its ink. Now we got to decide on the wine. They didn’t cater a set wine menu so we asked our very helpful sommelier for a selection that would fit both our menu and our wallet – he hit a home run! First up – Ossian 07, Verdejo, VdT de Castilla y Leon.

Baby Squid Salad

Ok, first dish. Roasted Tomato Salad and its own cool water. Best tomato I’ve ever eaten. So rich in flavor it was insane. The cool water was a kind of white tomato juice sorbet.

Roasted Tomato Salad

After that came a Silky Bread Stew, infused with pink geranium leaves covered with crabmeat. Just the smell of it was lovely. Digging in was even better.

Silky Bread Stew

Now came the favorite of a couple in our party – Roasted Lobster, herbs and dried peach. Even if I do think that lobster usually is a tad overrated this one was good. I wouldn’t say dry but a big chunk of lobster is, well a big chunk. The flavor combination was excellent though. I think this is when we got the next wine – As Sortes 09, Godello, Valdeorras, by Rafael Palacios.

Roasted Lobster

Now for a fun ingredient – Razor Clams flavored with a rich black bean broth, perfumed with cinnamon oil and Sweet Black Beans. The flavors was very delicate but when I think about the painstaking job of picking those clams by hand with snorkel and mask I wonder if it’s worth it. Pick an oyster instead. But then I’m not fair. Sorry no picture of this dish.

Next on the plate were Megrim Stuffed with Vegetable Pearls, pickled herbs and small sautéed onions. This dish was more about the clean flavors of the ingredients, as was most of the menu, and it was very nice. Nothing more, nothing less, just very nice. Next wine was Etiqueta Negra 07, Albariño, Rias Baixas, by Terras Gauda. Could be that Rias Baixas is a new favorite denominación.

Megrim Stuffed With Vegetable Pearls

Continuing on the sea theme we got Sea Bass with tomatillos and Iberian sheen. Got to love that sea bass and tomatillos was a fun type of tomatoes that looked like black currants.

Sea Bass

Now we went over to Loin of Duck, served with iodized compliments; crumblings and shavings of summer truffle. Me, I really like truffle so this was tasty. The duck itself, maybe, just maybe, a tad overcooked. It seemed like a fantastic idea that in the end was just very nice and not all that fantastic. However, the wine that was being poured up was amazing – AALTO PS 05, Ribiera del Duero by AALTO. Kudos to AALTO!

Loin of Duck

Now for the absolute favorite – Tradition, Ocean and Land they call it. Braised Iberian Pork Tails and pan fried Langoustines, reduced braising juices infused with Iberian “jamón”. Halle-friggin’-lujah, that’s what I call a surf ‘n’ turf! That pork had such a rich taste and langoustines cooked to perfection are just filthy good – there was a party in my mouth.

Iberian Pork Tails and Pan Fried Langoustines

Exit savory main dishes; enter dessert. Not my focal point in any meal but hey, who am I to pass these little plates of heavenly sweets up. Warm Artisan Tablet with whipped honey and oats – say what? Well look at the picture. Loved the honey foam and all in all a nicely put together ensemble. The dessert wine that followed was Seleccion Especial No1, Malaga, by Jorge Ordonez – great stuff.

Warm Artisan Tablet

The second dessert was the best – Broken Walnuts, Toasted and Salted, cool milk cream and Armagnac jelly. It was ice cream on goat milk that worked like a charm with the faux walnuts, eatable what else, and the fiery jelly inside.

Broken Walnuts, Toasted and Salted

The chef said in the beginning of the evening that we could switch any dish and ask for more whenever. Now came the time when some ordered an extra dessert. They got an awesome chocolate thingy like a chocolate cream or soup with a lid of white chocolate and powdered sugar.

Extra Dessert

As for all the wine, I liked that we got to try two dishes with each wine so we got the opportunity to see how the wines played out differently. Well of course you think but the thing is – the wines was so damn well matched with all dishes and that I’m impressed with.

Another interesting detail is that almost every ingredient is sourced from no more than 30 km away. The Iberian pork is apparently an exception as the Galician ones are the best. Also something that we learned when we asked if they had anything with Foie Gras, we love that shit, they told us it wasn’t in season. Silly us thought that it could be consumed whenever.

So how can I compare this with last year’s evening at El Celler de Can Roca? Well, I don’t really want to. I know that the total experience was a tad better at El Celler; the least exciting dishes was better there, the setting and service just a tiny bit better, the bread better, the appetizers more inventive but the wines was better at Mugaritz. But as I said, don’t really want to compare the two. Both evenings were truly fantastic. Go visit them both!

And by the way, what do you think – have you tried any of the above or what do you think about ranking these kinds of experiences?

A Spoon Full of Great Pintxos

Donostia

In what’s been called the culinary capital of Europe there’s more than just fine dining. San Sebastian, or Donostia as the Basques call it, is packed with pintxos bars. Pintxos is basically the Basque equivalent of tapas. The old town is packed with bars, the bars are packed with people and the people.

That clear cut border between bar and street and the next bar that’s quite obvious in Stockholm for example doesn’t seem to exist in the old town of Donostia. All the bars seem to melt together and everyone is stuffing their faces with everything from foie gras to baby spare ribs. Add some Txakoli, a local dry white wine, and you’re home.

My favourite tip is a place called La Cuchara de San Telmo, the Spoon of San Telmo. Very crowded, as all the other bars, but the pintxos are awesome. We tried the sweetbread croqueta, an amazing cod and spare ribs to die for. We missed the foie gras but hey, the people at Mugaritz informed us that it’s not in season now anyways so I guess we have to return. Soon.

A bar full of pintxos

A Good Restaurant in Córdoba

The Mezquita in Córdoba

Stepping out of the car and into the oven that was Córdoba we realized that the day needed to be divided into brief walks between anyplace air-conditioned. The Mezquita was amazing but I’ll focus on the lunch we had.

If you’re in town go to El Caballo Rojo, just of the side of the Mezquita. The service was very good, the facilities comfortable and the food interesting and well prepared.

When in Andalucía, try the local variety of Gazpacho called Salmorejo and that’s just what I started with – it was one of the best I tried in Andalucía.

Lisa and I then shared entrees. First one was a Mozarabic inspired cod with cinnamon. Just enough sweetness to go with a great fillet of fish. Since we’re in bullfight country the second one was ox tails. They were very tender in a boeuf bourguignon type of way.

I should also mention that we got a dry, cold, fino when we arrived – a perfect start on a lunch on a hot day.

A place I was recommended but didn’t got the chance to test was Casa Pepe (de la Judería).

More restaurant experiences coming up…

Dreaming of a Gastronomical Vacation

Last year’s visit at El Celler de Can Roca got me, and the rest of the party, hungry for more of gastronomical top dining. I’ve summed up my experience from El Celler in a separate post found here but for the summer to come we’re aiming at Spain again, this time a different Costa. Hopefully we’ll find a place in or near San Sebastian since the city is home to a whole bunch of great restaurants. Look at the Top 50 in the world and you’ll find Arzak, Martin Berasategui and of course Mugaritz, the latter which I hope will be reopened after the unfortunate fire a couple of weeks ago.

Sitting in a café enjoying a rare sunny day in Stockholm someone heard me and a friend discussing Mugaritz and offered a few other tips for great culinary adventures in and around San Sebastian. He was a journalist and a food critic so we took his advice as valuable. So if you’re heading to Basque Country drop in at Akelarre, La Cuchara de San Telmo or any of the many excellent Pintxos bars.

El Celler de Can Roca, Girona 16 July 2009

I finally got around summarizing a great experience at a great restaurant.

We started off with snacks consisting of Black sesame crackers, Cherry with Campari (we believe they made it with liquid nitrogen), Caramelized Olives (could be the favorite snack), Anchovy bone (think prawn crackers but with anchovy bones, so good!), Tomato and tuna salad (so much more flavor than you’d imagine), Razor clam macaroni al pesto and Pigeon bombon with Bristol Cream.

First serving: Cherry soup with eel. A lovely combination, especially together with the wine – Agustí Torelló Trepat D.O. Cava.

 

 

Second serving: Mussels on the rocks and fennel velouté. Now here’s one of the many memorable things – the rocks. Somehow they managed to transform rocks, sand, dirt well some kind of earth into a delicate sorbet-like thingy that when perfect with the mussels and the wine – Gran Fassians Mineralschiffer 07 Mosel-Saar-Ruwer.

 

Third serving: Charcoal-grilled king prawn, king-prawn sand, king prawn essence. A lot of king prawn flavor here and it was good. How was the sand you wonder, well a terrible parable is to say that it was like crushed prawn crackers, it was so much more than that. The wine was Finca Viladellops D.O. Penedès.

 

Fourth serving: Herring smoked caviar omelette. How they managed to get the smoked caviar, which was incredible by the way, inside the omelet is beyond me but it was a fun dish brilliantly complemented with Fino Inocente D.O. Jerez.

 

Fifth serving: Catalan cod pot-au-feu. I love cod, and I love the way they treated this one, matched with Pezas de Portela 04 D.O. Valdeorras which I found fantastic.

 

Sixth serving: Charcoal-grilled sole with green olive oil, pine nuts, fennel, bergamot and orange. The sole was perfect and consumed with the flavor accessories separately; it was like a story going from olive to orange. The wine, Nelin 06 D.O.Qa Priorat, was surprisingly friendly to all the flavors.

 

Seventh serving: Lamb and tomato-rubbed bread. This dish was very good but got the vote from all of us as the least exciting one. Wine was Finca Malaveïna 05 D.O. Empordà.

 

Eighth serving: Goose à la royale with peach. Now we’re back on track and the dish served a nice bridge to the upcoming deserts. We drank a Ramirez de Ganuza Rva 03 D.O.Ca Rioja.

 

Ninth serving: Charcoal-grilled eggplant confit. Here’s not only a dish but an experience. Throughout the dinner the charcoal grill had been an important ingredient and here it was a perfect companion with the fabulously prepared eggplant. The confit was served on top of a bowl covered in plastic film with a hole in it. In the bowl below the plastic was a twig (can’t remember if it was rosemary or something else similar) and the smoke from the charcoal grill and every time you took a spoonful of confit the smoke puffed up through the hole and supplemented your olfactory experience of it all. Almost forgot about the wine but it was an Ino Masia Serra D.O. Empordà and it was superb.

 

Tenth serving: Green chromatism. Who said you can’t use cucumber in deserts. It was cucumber and minty and it was fresh and wonderful. The wine worked really well – Scharzhofberger Kabinett 06 Mosel-Saar-Ruwer.

 

Eleventh serving: Caramelised apricot. It looked like an apricot but it was hard like candy and when we broke it a little piece of heaven flowed out and tasted like, well apricot. It was, well heavenly. Wine, never failing, good as always, Moscatell Cosecha Miel Casta Diva 07 D.O. Alicante.

 

Summing up it was an unforgettable evening. The food was daring, experimental but without losing any soul. The service was impeccable, ever present, never disturbing. The bread was something out of this world and the final grappa was fantastic, I just regret not remembering the name of it. Hats off for the setting as well, love it. Love it all! Thank you Joan, Josep and Jordi!