Saturday, August 16, 2008

El Bulli - sección tres

All right, still with me?

I hope so!

Only part three of the El Bulli experience left....

We continued with green walnuts and with endive, this was a bit like a creamy stew, with Roquefort, tiny little endives caramelized and slightly drizzled with a bit of passion fruit essence.

I enjoyed this dish although it was a little bit strange, a bit crunchy and a little odd but tasty, with most of the flavors coming together quite nicely and not tasting heavy at all. Oddly the Roquefort didn't taste so good. It was in little pillowy pockets (you can see one on the lower left hand side and another on the upper right) and didn't seem to go together with the rest.

Another gnocchi dish followed, gnocchi of polenta with coffee and safran yuba. It was quite nice although again it was again a film encapsulated burst of liquid cornmeal. You can definitely taste the ground coffee but not so much the saffron. I quite liked this one as it tasted more substantial than some of the other dishes.

Ok, this was the one dish I had differently than everyone else. This was named sea anemone 2008. And sadly, it sent me running to the bathroom. It smelled awful, looked awful and from what I gathered from everyone pushing it around, it didn't taste great. It consisted of oysters and rabbit brains. Sadly, the brain had a visible bloody vein running through it, which the boy had to pick around. I was proud of him for actually trying what he termed as "zombie food".

I was given a dish of ackees, a fruit commonly used in Jamaican cooking. It was served with cooked cucumbers and tasted quite mild, a little bit like corn. The cucumbers are quite good. Reminded me of a cooked pickle I had in a lovely African stew once.

The next dish consisted was abalone, accompanied by shimeiji mushrooms, fat of Iberian pork (the clear big in the middle) and flavored with ginger. It was definitely fresh abalone, not the sugared heart ('tong sum') preserved abalone but still good. It was very Asian flavored with strong soy notes. I enjoyed this but couldn't manage to eat the fat despite my usual liking of fat!

The next course was called castanet, a distinctive part of the pig, which the waitress kindly pointed out was somewhere on the side. It tasted very much like sweetbread. On the side was lemon soup with baby shitake mushrooms with braised cactus on the left hand side. The soup was light and flavorful from the shitake and the castanet was a bit tougher than sweetbreads. The cactus was quite juicy and slightly tart.

The flower canape which followed was the first of the dessert selections. It was very pretty to look at with edible flowers sprinkled over the top and a small mouthful of sorbet at the end all on a thin plank of meringue (can you sense a theme for this year yet?). Again, as it was flowers, it wasn't to my taste but it was inoffensive and light with a refreshing sorbet as the last flavor.

Next came a box with 'trufitas', or liquid truffles. Obviously, this being El Bulli, you don't expect a normal truffle. This was truffle all right but truffle the fungi and not the chocolate. Rolled in cacao powder it was the true essence of truffle which lingers in your mouth.

Carrying on with the cacao theme was the simply named cacao, which was a beautifully molded shell made to look like a cacao pod. Sadly I don't remember much of the taste of what was underneath the sugar shell but in my notes are cinnamon, coffee jelly, macadamia nut. Perhaps the others could help me out?

At this point, as Umami and my birthday was a scant few days apart and this being the eve of mine, Cha Xiu Bao had informed the staff who came out with two huge cards with pop up birthday cakes and stuck a candle for us to blow out. It was amusing but less amusing when the hurriedly, a scant few seconds after we blew out the candle, rushed to close the cards to take them away. They were also not amused when Cha Xiu Bao jokingly asked if they would sing like they did at TGIF.

We were then presented with the first of the ''morphings", which was a chocolate egg filled with a sort of strawberry truffle. It was very good quality chocolate and definitely very satisfying for my sweet tooth. The egg was speckled with gold and very pretty to look at.

The next was a Catalan berry biscuit with mint, very similar to the Parmesan and tomato biscuits we had at the beginning. However, it did taste quite dry and not as concentrated in berry-ness. I somehow managed to forget the photo for this one but you can see the pics on Cha Xiu Bao's Flickr account.

Next we were served a very moist yogurt sponge cake with apricot. The sponge cake looked a sea sponge and was very frilly and hole-y. It was nice and light and although I was suffering a bit from food coma, I couldn't help but pick at it.

Finally we were presented with amber filled liquid balls. I don't remember eating it and the only thing the boy can tell me is that it was very sweet and syrupy and infused with a delicate flavor which he can't remember. We are rubbish at this...

So finally, what say I about the meal? It was interesting. I don't regret going at all. It was different and very special. However, as far as the taste of the meal went, I can't say I loved it. I admit it may have been a combination my own slight nausea, my distaste for a few of the ingredients which were frequently used (umeboshi, shiso and flowers), and my own lack of refined taste buds but it just didn't do it for me. And sadly, I feel a bit let down. I expected the different, unexpected textures and visuals but I also expected it to taste GOOD. And while most of it was ok, nothing I really wanted to repeat except the razor clams.

Moreover I am off molecular gastronomy. If I've tried the best and wasn't impressed, I ain't gonna try the rest. (My grandfather, a published poet, is turning in his grave now...).

So when Susan suggested a trip to a new, cool restaurant with fancy food on a recent trip to London, I suggested more solid, non-fusion food instead.

I'm expecting some controversy and comments of how unqualified I am to make this review and I agree with all of them but again, this was MY experience and I feel that I have to be honest.

Now will someone get me a bowl of noodles please?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

El Bulli - sección dos

We continued on our El Bulli adventure with some other interesting tastes.

However, I missed a few of the small tasters in my first post on El Bulli. A mint leaf with coconut sorbet was one of them. A little bit of a same theme as the coconut from before but very refreshing as a palate cleanser.

Yes, there was a smear of something... but I'm afraid that I don't remember what it was (bad, bad food blogger, I know...).

But the next course was a bit different and consisted of two parts. I think it was called the LYO cream. The first part was a meringue with whipped egg white cream which you put in your mouth as a puff and then a spoon of egg yolk with parmesan. Together it was to mimic a mouthful of carbonara.

Unfortunately, the egg yolk had congealed a bit and the puff was a bit too powdery (causing hilarity as the mouthful caused one blogger to cough half the puff ALL over another blogger's arm... I will not name names but the graciousness of the coughed on blogger put my persistent giggling to shame). It was not a successful mouthful. I admit it might be our fault as we dallied before putting the egg yolk with parmesan in our mouths but the combo didn't work well in my book. Perhaps if the meringue had been floated on top of the egg yolk so it was all one mouthful.

Another one which came up was a cube of what I think was Turkish delight. It was very delicate, beautifully colored and the texture was like soft jelly. I did take a bite despite my instinctive gag factor reflex when in comes to eating anything floral.

I passed the rest to the boy.

This roll, or "Averantos" was both salty and crunchy, with what tasted like deep fried quinoa rolled around a soft crumbly textured black sesame like mousse.

It was very nutty and and crunchy and a little difficult to eat, which made me very grateful for the paper so that I could, in a very unladylike way, shovel it into my mouth.

The next taste before the savory main tastes, was a soup. Entitled buffalo milk , I believe it was made from the whey remaining after making buffalo cheese, topped by freeze dried strawberry and with basil matcha.

It was quite refreshing and at the bottom was a bit of honey like substance, perhaps royal jelly?

The next taste was my favorite of the evening. It was the razor clam/Laurencia. The fresh razor clam was just beautiful. Ever so slightly steamed, it was sweet and tasted of the sea. I have a weakness for razor clams anyways I must admit.

Even better was the agar agar ponzu jelly with Laurencia (a type of kombu, or seaweed from what I gather). Tasted all fresh, juicy and delish. Definitely a wonderful interpretation of the sea.

Mandarine flower/pumpkin oil with mandarine seeds - This was a mandarin sorbet which was drowned in fragrant pumpkin seed oil. You were asked to dig your spoon in to ensure you had both the sorbet as well as the oil in your mouth at the same time.

To me, this just didn't work at all. It tasted waxy and oily and the pumpkin oil just completely overwhelmed the sorbet. I could only manage 2 small tastes.

The next dish was savory/spun egg with egg yolk gnocchis - We were quite excited to get this as it was one of the few foods we thought we would be able to chew and use our jaws to eat. But looks can be deceiving. The gnocchi of egg yolk was made with the same encapsulated technology as the olive and burst in the mouth, while the dashi soup with shizo powder was very much overwhelmed by the amount of strong sesame oil which was drizzled on top. It was enhanced by fish roe (the little fuzzy orange blobs you see on the edges). Some of us loved it, while others had one bite and pronounced them over the bursting technology. I ate most of it, enjoying the mouthfeel of the different textures but disappointed by the amount of sesame oil which overpowered the dish.

The next dish was one which we all identified with as having strong Asian influences. Veal tendon in bone marrow soup. Flavored by star anise, braised until ultra tender, it was gelatinous in the best kind of way, melt in the mouth and sticky at the same time. It was delicious and made me want a bowl of "ngau gun ho" (beef tendon noodles) immediately. Very well done with a great stock which was sticky yet delicate and flavorful.

The next dish was something completely different for me. It was black garlic ravioli, paired with fresh almonds & a beautiful nub of what looked like cactus but tasted fresh, juicy and crisp. The ravioli had a sliver of garlic inside and was a bit too strong for my taste but when paired with the fresh almond, it tasted pretty good. I could only eat one of the black ravioli as strong garlic is not my friend (nor the boy's after I eat it) but the fresh almonds were delicious and I wouldn't mind more of those little cactus-y things!

Next up was mussel 2008 - half a dozen mussels, half flavoured with umeboshi sauce and the other half with dashi jelly, laid on top of laurentian seaweed.

Sadly, I'm not a fan of umeboshi but I liked the combo of the sweet tart taste of the umeboshi with the salty, sea taste of the mussel. The dashi jelly had a bit of texture to it, a little like a very, very fine fish roe jelly. The seafood was incredibly fresh and the flavors worked well together and tasted complimentary.

The water lily soup with cashew fruit has to be the most visually beautiful dish of the night. I loved the way it looked and was fragrant and pleasing to the eye and nose. It was so delicate and perfect, I was reluctant to dip my spoon in. I felt like I was destroying an live art installation.

Sadly, I'm not a fan of floral tastes so am not a good person to judge but I did like the delicate flavor of the refreshing soup and the flowers were not too floral (if that makes any sense) and I enjoyed the contrast of textures with the little bits that tasted like, but wasn't, pomelo (these were the little sprinkles you see best on the lower right of the picture). And yes, everything in that picture is edible...urr, except the dish of course.

We were then served game meat canape, which came as a thin piece of jerky, slightly toasted until a little bit crisp with a pate smeared across it and topped with flowers.

It was not as game-y or as intense as I though t it would be. I appreciate the effort that went into it but I thought it was only ok but nothing not something I would choose to have seconds of if offered.

A fitting end to part two is the suckling pig tail - served alongside a ham soup containing tofu and cantaloupe melon. The pig tail, in my own point of view, could have been crisper. It was a little chewy and much less crunchy than crackling. It was served with a sweet hoisin type sauce and again a little too salty for my liking.

The soup was delicate and slightly sweet, a nice counterbalance as it was served chilled.

Hope to have part three and my explanations (and excuses) up soon!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

El Bulli - sección una

I am sorry this post has taken so long in coming and will be coming in three parts but truly, the meal was that long.

The reason? I'm reluctant to post my opinions about the famed, revered and extremely difficult to get into restaurant. I mean, the cheek of me, a junk food...junkie (I've got a way with words), an amateur blogger and a lucky, LUCKY last minute invitee to join Cha Xiu Bao and Umami at the world famous restaurant actually review it?

But I shall. For the sole reason that I owe it to you and I also owe it to the people who I've grilled over the years about their experience at El Bulli.

First of all, we took a well-advised taxi up to the restaurant, which was located remotely next to a private beach, up a very, very windy and steep road. Having driven that morning from the South of France, I got there a touch car sick and very hungry, but unspeakably excited.

We were greeted warmly (well actually I basked in the afterglow of the greeting Cha Xiu Bao received) and led into the kitchen where we met the man himself, Ferran Adrià, who was very kind, stood patiently for photos and was incredibly gracious.

After a peek around the kitchen, we were led to our table where we had a good look around the dining area and a view over the beach. Unfortunately it was evening when we arrived so the view was fleeting but still pretty in an isolated type way.

We were given refreshing sake and with a swirl of frozen tonic water, which was flavored with yuzu.

Then the parade of little plates started arriving. These came fast and furious, with strict instructions on how to eat them.

First up were nori-Trias - little dried seaweed wrapped black sesame butter.

Although the sesame wasn't exactly sweet, I didn't think the combination worked as well as it could have done. Wasn't quite Japanese enough if that makes sense. But that is very well because of my own biased tastebuds, which expect a more Japanese-type taste to the two flavors.

Next came the shiso soft candy, a soft, gelatinous, with the sweet sharp taste of shiso to refresh the mouth.

Sadly, Shiso leaves are not a personal favorite of mine and I did not enjoy this. It's just a flavor I don't enjoy although I know many who do. This was made with the red Shiso leaves rather the more common and stronger flavored green Shiso usually used with sushi.

Then two types of biscuits arrived, one with Parmesan and one tomato flavored.

I looved these, especially the tomato one, which made with what I think were very concentrated sun-dried tomatoes. It even stuck to the teeth, even as it crumbled in my mouth. The Parmesan biscuit was less high impact and memorable but still a very tasty beginning.

Then, the spherical olives came. Authentically scooped out individually by the waitress from a jam jar, they are one of the taste sensations that El Bulli was famous for and have been described as even more olivey than olives themselves.

It burst in the mouth, releasing essence of olive and olive oil. The table seemed to love it. It was very special, something I've never had before and it was different. I think I might prefer real olives rather than these but they were very different indeed and did live up to my expectations of how this would taste.

The next taste however, was unexpected and not as welcome. They were pinenut and chocolate bon bons, quite bitter from what I assume to be the high content cacao and the texture was somewhat muddy and sandy. I didn't enjoy this and declined seconds. I couldn't distinguish the taste and they didn't seem to 'teach' me anything new in terms of tastes or textures.

I was happy to see the next dish, a beautiful, delicate passion fruit orchid, beautifully formed, with lots of attention to detail.

It tasted wonderful as well, like concentrated fruit leather with a hard shell like texture. Sadly I can't remember what was inside the flower. Hopefully Umami or Cha Xiu Bao can remember.

The next dish was also beautiful in the same way, entitled basil leaf, it looked like a beautiful long green leaf. We were told it was made of mango and basil, I'm guessing made in the same way as the passion fruit flower as it had the same shell like texture with the fruit leather taste but this time not as intense mango and not as basil-y as I thought it would be.

The Asian influence was even more apparent with the next taste which was named a Pekin crêpes and filled with crab and soya wonton.

This tasted ok but I seem to remember it being a touch salty for my taste and the wrapper a bit oilier than I'd prefer

Next up was a coconut concoction that I can't place the name of. It was like flaked coconut ice sorbet shaved into a dry ice like state.

It was interesting because it had a moist like touch but a dry type of texture. To my untrained tastebuds, it tasted just like flaked fresh coconut so didn't impress me much. However, I'd be interested if the others could shed light on what I missed in this.

I *think* the next dish was "brazo de gitano" but I can't be sure as the order in the menus we were given may not match exactly the order in which the dishes came. I asked the boy who knows a bit of Spanish and it translated as arm of the gypsy. Hmmm...

It was essentially a beet root meringue wrapped around a thick creamy yogurt. Certainly great textures and almost like a mini pavlova with unusual ingredients. Taste wise, it wasn't a win for me.

The next one was a lot of fun. A Gorgonzola moshi, it was exactly that, a very thin outer layer, it tasted intensely of gorgonzola and was lovely. But then again, I like gorgonzola!

It was very good, creamy and unctuous and I didn't think the thin outer layer detracted from it and I can't be sure it was actually made of pounded rice flour or mochi ingredients.

Finally (for this post anyways), we had a grilled strawberry. It was very warm and fragrant. We were instructed to put it into our mouths in one bite.

It was a surprise because the warmth increased the fragrance of the berry but it was filled with some sort of stock so was salty at the same time. I enjoyed the taste of this and the surprise when put in my mouth.

What I didn't enjoy so much is when the waitress abruptly pulled the plate away as soon as they were taken, spilling strawberry juice over my bit of the table and onto my white cardigan. I also didn't exactly enjoy it when she signaled to another wait staff to lay a napkin over my table as "I" spilled strawberry juice over the table.

I must admit that we started to become a little overwhelmed by the speed in which the food came and with cameras and pens flying, the wait staff became a little annoyed at the delay with which we ate the snacks as they deteriorate with time. We couldn't help it though, they were so beautiful we wanted to savor them with our eyes as well as our mouths.

End of sección una for now. Oh and the boy has promised to post his comments in the comments section as a supplement. He and I, surprisingly, came away with very different impressions of the meal overall so its definitely worth reading! Oh, but no promises on how quickly he will post these comments!

BIG Food

Any girl who can eat a 5kg burger is a hero in my book...

Also links for big food:

Giant Burger Project

Pimp that Snack

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Birthday in Spain

After a night of El Bulli (yes, yes, it's coming, alright?), we awoke the next morning to see off Umami and her husband, as well as the walking stomach that is my Cha Xiu Bao (respect man, respect!).

Then the boy and I headed into Girona, where we were a bit shocked to find was an incredibly sleepy town on a bright Sunday afternoon, in search of a birthday worthy lunch... the trick was finding one which was open.

We found one alright, Casa Marieta. We sat outside, enjoying the quiet half hour before the restaurant filled up and looked over what we wanted to eat.

I started with the melon soup as it sounded refreshingly cool, which it was. However, it was outshone by the very umamilicious gazpacho, which was served with condiments on the side (I much prefer it that way). The boy and I kept switching bowls and devoured the flour dusted warm rolls.

Which wasn't too smart for when the Fideuà for two came. Made similarly to the Spanish paella, it was made with short thin noodles. Very similar to a slightly thicker, broken Chinese mai-fun (rice noodle). It was infused with the rich seafood broth and served chock full of seafood in the form of calamars, shrimp and clams.

It was delicious, with little crunchy bits where it had been cooked on the top and rich soft noodle-y bits. Perfect rich comfort food.

We were expecting that the white asparagus and the grilled calmari we ordered to come at the same time but they were served after the fideuà, which meant that we were a bit too full to enjoy it. The boy loved his garlicky calamari and I struggled to finish the plate of very average, canned-tasting asparagus.

The service was lovely and it was a great way to while away two and a half hours. The food was a bit hit and miss but still a very nice birthday lunch in Spain.

Oh, and if you do go, don't miss going down to the basement where the toilets are, there's a little rock fountain and stream there under glass.

Casa Marieta
Plaça Independència, 5-6
17001 Girona
Tel. 972 20 10 16