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Best thing I ever ate

Best thing I ever ate

For quite some time there has been one restaurant every dining guide has listed as either first or second on their list of the world?s best restaurants. El Bulli in tiny Roses, Spain, is located on a picturesque cove just 15 kilometers south of the border with France and a two-hour drive north of Barcelona.

 

I have read about Ferran Adria for years and have seen him at several industry events, but never actually met the great chef.


Ferran in his kitchen

More than anything, Ferran is known as the father of molecular gastronomy, and all of the bubbles and foams associated with the many breakthroughs in cooking technique were unknown before him. His style is arguably the most misunderstood and poorly replicated food trend over the last 15 years. I have always been skeptical but intrigued by what a dinner at El Bulli might be like. When I had the opportunity to actually go to El Bulli and see the real deal, I simply jumped at the chance, and boarded a plane for Spain on the 19th of October.

Throwing out all conventional wisdom about the importance of location to successful restaurants, El Bulli is at the end of a treacherous, winding hillside road. Before even hitting the door, you are struck by the sheer scope of culinary effort by the picture window overlooking the expansive kitchen with more cooks than I could count. Entering the restaurant starts with a tour of the kitchen, and the ever gracious Chef Adria is there personally welcoming all guests.

The dinner begins with a wave of first-course ?cocktails,? including nitrogen crate strawberries that taste like a daiquiri and a baquette-looking mojito. The dinner moves through a series of flavors and interpretations that make all of us at the table react with amazement. Tiny pearls of hazelnut caviar, turtle dove breasts with a blackberry ?risotto,? gooseneck barnicles with incredibly intense sea urchin, quail breast escabeche, nitrogen frozen chestnut truffles, a perfect blini with intensely perfumed white truffle, table-brewed dashi with monkfish, live ?tiramisu? parmesan macaroons, shrimp tortilla ? all so complex in their preparation of a mere one or two bites. Throughout each of the 41 courses, Chef Adria?s unique approach gave proof to the legend of his reputation as the most innovative of chefs.


El Bulli mushrooms



El Bulli tiny shrimp tortilla



El Bulli monkfish liver tiramisu

The dinner finale is a box of incredible chocolates ? more types than I can remember, but including beautiful white chocolate pumice, tiny caramels, chocolate mint leaves and on and on. Leaving El Bulli, the senses have all been energized and the dinner becomes a blur of thought: “Wow, I can?t believe what I just ate.?


El Bulli chocolate box

Barcelona is such a great food town, and the La Boqueria Market off the Ramblas is a food-lover’s paradise. The day after El Bulli, I spent several hours touring the stalls of fresh seafood, fall mushrooms, salt cod, fresh fruits and, of course, hundreds of hanging Iberico hams, the pride of Spain. Getting hungry again, my colleague and I ordered a plate of saut?ed mushrooms and bread, garlicky grilled razor clams, flash-seared calamari and fries and shaved Iberico ham. 


Hams at the market


Razor clams at the market


Seasonal market mushrooms


Market mushrooms

The night before I had experienced 41 courses at the most famous restaurant in the world, and my only thought while sitting on a rickety metal stool at a market tapas bar was, ?Man, these razor clams and Iberico ham are the best things I have ever eaten.? So much for glitz. I guess at heart the food that really inspires me is food that is honest, unmanipulated and complex in its natural composition. My dinner at El Bulli was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but I hope I will eat at La Boqueria Market many more times than just once.

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