June 22, 2006

Dinner at elBulli

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Note:  this post was composed in December 2010, a full four-and-a-half years after my dinner at elBulli.  Somehow I never got around to writing about this evening, but it definitely deserves its own post...even though the dinner pre-dates me setting up the blog.

elBulli certainly needs no introduction.  Back in 2005 when I came up with the idea of going there, it was the single hardest table to book, and I conservatively estimated that the 9,000 covers they do each year means the chance of getting a seat was about 0.2%.  Things have surely gotten worse since then.

In the fall of 2005 I had asked my concierge service to get me a table.  I didn't have high hopes of actually getting a table, never mind getting one on my birthday.  In order to maximize my chances, I asked for a table of 6 instead of 8 as I originally wanted, given that the restaurant only seats 50.  I was therefore elated when I received confirmation in December 2005, notifying me that I would be spending my birthday at elBulli the following year.

For some people, a reservation at elBulli is akin to the Holy Grail.  A few of my friends had raised their hands and announced their willingness to drop everything and fly to Spain for a meal - should I manage to get a coveted reservation.  I asked 2 other couples to come along for this special dinner, and even planned a 2-week trip to the Iberian Peninsula around it.

On the fateful day we set off from Barcelona by car and checked into Hotel Port Salins in Empuriabrava late in the afternoon.  We changed into our dinner attire, jumped into a taxi and headed for our destination just outside Roses.  Paying for an expensive taxi ride would prove to be the right decision, as none of us would want to drive along the winding road at night, especially when wine has been consumed.

We took a quick look inside the kitchen, sat down and waited for the food to arrive.

fresas/mandarina/campari - interesting tastes of sweet orange plus bitter Campari

aceitunas verdes sféricas-l - the first of a number of "spherifications" where the outer skin is made with the same essence as the inside.  In this case it was green olives.  Very cool.  Very yummy.

hojas de mango y flor de tagete - the leaf is made with mango juice, and sprinkled with pistachio powder.

"animals" - assortment of snacks.

mantecado de cacahuete thai - peanut-flavored nibbles with Thai spices.

waffles de lechuga de mar y sésamo blanco - deep-fried seafood snacks.

lyo garrapiñado: plátano con sésamo a la nuez moscada

esencia de mandarina

caviar sférico de melón - the signature dish of elBulli - caviar made from melon juice and served in a fake caviar tin... A little passion fruit juice keeps it from being boring.

brioche al vapor de mozzarella al perfume de rosas - a nice, airy brioche with mozzarella flavor, topped with foam made with Japanese rose essence.  Very yummy.

témpura de aguacate: al cilantro / pipermint / caipirinha - avocado tempura with three different sauces.

won-ton campestre - the "wontons" are made with a thin skin of cheese, with nothing but air inside.  One bite and the whole thing collapses in a puff.  Pretty fun to eat.  Served with some green foam.

aire helado de parmesano con muesli - a Spanish styrofoam "lunch box" containing Parmesan "ice cream" which has been flash frozen with liquid nitrogen into powder.  One is to sprinkle the "muesli" of flash frozen berries and nuts on top.

pasas de PX y moscatel con foie-gras de pato y brioche al cardamomo - a delicious duck foie with sauces made from dessert wines such as Moscatel and Pedro Ximenez... and topped with foam of course!

migas de almendra, tomate raff, saúco y gelé de almendruco - tomatoes topped with foam, with flash-frozen almond powder on the side.  OK, so we know there's a reason why Tony Bourdain used to call Ferran Adrià "the foam guy"...

quinoa helada de foie-gras de pato con consomé - foie gras is again flash-frozen to produce a powder, which is then mixed with consommé.

mejillones sferificados con sopa de patata al bacón y crema doble - more spherifications, this time made with the essence of mussels.  I must say this was really amazing, as the flavors of the shellfish just burst into one's mouth when the skin breaks.  Soup is made from potato and bacon.

sopa de pan con Laurencia y yemas sféricas

pasta / almendra - mini raviolis.

ackees / sopa de temera a la albahaca, albondiga de pepino

el mar - a very interesting array of different types of seaweed, in order of increasing brininess.

buey de mar marrakech

patas de pollo con lechuga marina al te y sésamo - de-boned chicken feet which were deep-fried and wrapped in seaweed.  Very cool interpretation and delicious.  For the first time in his life, Mr. Ho gave in and ate chicken feet... as he simply could not pass up a single dish at elBulli!

la oveja, el queso y su lana - a creamy and milky dessert.

liquid de melocotón

pomelo / pistacho / yuzu / te


The 6 of us went through 4½ bottles of wine, which were:

1990 Bollinger RD

2001 Pazo de Señorans Selección de Añada

1999 Comte Lafon Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Le Champ Gain

1998 Artadi Grandes Añadas

1993 Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Clos Saint Urbain Rangen de Thann SGN

By the time we were done with dinner, it was close to midnight and some 4 hours after we arrived.  We retired to the outdoor terrace, and the boys (and girl) lit our cigars while we took in our coffee.

As it was my birthday, the restaurant offered me a "cake" made from cardboard so I could take a picture with it.  It's actually pretty funny that they do this...  They did offer us a bunch of candles made of chocolate, which were edible.  Pretty cool...

At the end of the evening, I bought myself one of the cookbooks and got Ferran to sign it for me.  Before we left, I asked the restaurant for directions to Rafa's in Roses so that we could hit it for lunch tomorrow.  It was past 2am when we arrived back at our hotel...  What a fantastic evening!  Definitely the most memorable meal of my life!

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