As his fame spreads throughout Spain and the gastronomic world, Spanish chef Ferran Adrià’s endorsement has become a valuable mass marketing tool. Noticed in El Corte Inglès supermarket: Lay’s potato chips carrying the maestro’s name.
So how are the rosemary-flavoured chips? Pale (undercooked) and lacking crunch. Personal note: perhaps the cut could have been thicker. The rosemary flavour was barely detectable. Of course, they weren’t cheap, either.
Our room in Bilbao carried a snappy online endorsement from Adrià for the hotel chain’s restaurants. I didn’t eat there, but do hope this storied chef isn’t following the path of American chef Wolfgang Puck in attaching his stellar name and reputation to substandard corporate schlock.
Only in Spain. Meanwhile the competition is offering jamón flavoured chips! I doubt if we’ll see this in Canada, but I wish we would; they’re delicious.
Open only 2 months, Public Restaurante in Madrid hasn’t been discovered yet (judging by the many empty seats last Monday night). For chic décor, friendly service and food ranging from very good to exceptional, all at a very low price, highly recommended!
Delta Rice with Quail and Cèpes
Salad with Cod Fritters (complimentary, brought while we waited for the rice to cook)
Carpaccio of Langoustines with Vanilla Oil and Pink Peppercorns
Magret with Cointreau Gelatine and Orange Sauce
Braised Pork Cheeks
Chocolate Truffles with Mint Croquant
The chef’s name was given as just “Angel”. We’ll accept that.
Price for 2, including mineral water, tax, tip and a nice bottle of Onix Priorat: €57 ($78 Canadian)
The Guggenheim in Bilbao features a dining room by one of the leading Basque restaurateurs, Martin Berasategui. In between galleries, Mimi and I treated ourselves to a 3 hour lunch on Sunday. Lucky us. Here’s the menu (the restaurant’s translation from Spanish), along with my comments:
CREATION, FREEDOM AND TENDENCIES
To start, we were given a melon shooter topped with foam.
Lightly baked egg, on a bed of “ratte” potato, dressed with kalamata olive oil and a red peppers nectar The Spanish really love their eggs! The red pepper nectar was warm, but still lightly gelled.
Crunchy vegetables emulsion, flavoured with black truffle covered with a legumes and fennel smooth gel and crystallized grapefruit skin The bitterness of the grapefruit was a wonderful complement to the intense truffle and delicate fennel flavours, not something I would have thought of , but it worked. The aftertaste of truffle and grapefruit lasted until the next course.
Fresh borage stalks Served over an “Aloe Vera” stock Seasoned with hazelnut oil and lime skin Kind of tasted like chicken soup with aloe vera for body. The borage had a cucumber/ asparagus flavour.
Roast fish of the day with a tender almonds puree, tomato juice emulsion and chervil roots The fish was hake (one of Basque country’s favourite fish, along with salt cod and monkfish), and included julienne fresh apple, a nice touch. The waiter asserted that the hake and apple combination is not a traditional one, in spite of our having been served roast apple with hake at dinner the previous night. Crunchy salt crystals garnished the dish.
Roast suckling lamb shoulder with a base of sherry, “Guernica” pepper seeds and yellow lemon Simply fabulous this milk-fed lamb, seemingly served everywhere. The meat is nearly as pale as veal, still assertively lamb flavoured. Again garnished with that coarse salt.
Fresh casein milkshake with strawberries ice cream and violet croquant Three desserts in one menu is not uncommon here, a tradition I think we should adopt in Canada! This one was pretty nice until I bit into a salt crystal – yuk! Complaining to the waiter got me the explanation that the chef wanted to create a bridge between sweet and savoury courses. Don’t try this at home…
A cold juice of dark cacao with frozen milk and anis infusion and almond crunchy leaves
Curd of pistachio covered with a coffee extract This really was a bridge between sweet and savoury. The coffee was only slightly sweetened, more bitter than sweet. The pistachio purée was incredibly rich. A fine finish to the meal.
We drank a wine recommended by our waiter, Baltasar Cracián Garnacha Viñas Viejas 2002
All in all, truly food as art, fitting for the gallery. One small criticism: everything was smooth-textured, with the exception of the meringues on the two dessert courses (oh, and the nice crusty cornbread served on the side). The whole meal could have been eaten with a straw!
Price: 158 Euros, including tax and tip (approximately $250 Canadian)
Epicurious calls it “one of Europes finest restaurants”. Given my experience there this week, it’s hard to argue.
Chef Xavier Pellicer, at Abac restaurant in Barcelona, lacks the flash and glamour of some of Spains more famous chefs. His humility is evident in his comment to us regarding his cooking on the Meditteranean coast: “sometimes the food’s good, sometimes not so good”. Actually, the food is stellar.
Chef Pellicer has some Canadian experience on his c.v., having worked at the notable Toqué! in Montreal, and, I think, at Lumière in Vancouver as well (surprising, given the overall low quality of my experience at Lumière).
Purportedly, Abac is frequented by members of the Spanish royal family. One special table got the attention of the chef all night long. We speculated they were getting the “royal treatment”. On inquiry, we were told they were “friends of the chef”.
Dinner started with two types of olives (neither Spanish!), a small bowl of salted pork cracklings, and unbelievable potato crisps, translucent and perfect rectangles. Too big to be simply sliced from potatoes, I have no idea how they were created.
A terrine of swiss chard and boletus mushrooms was accompanied by stuffed baby squid (a local specialty) and sprout salad.
Duck pate with a smoked sorbet was followed by a shellfish (predominantly mussel) ravioli with butter foam. A perfect match for our Clos Dagón 2003, a local white in a Rhône style.
Next up: Razor clam with chanterelles, rocket and pumpkin seed oil. Then scallop with macaroni and cheese (no kidding!) Mac and cheese for the angels – a single piece of rigatoni, with green asparagus and mozzarella foam, garnished with a seared scallop, and “suquet” (Traditional Catalan seafood sauce, light but richly flavoured)
Monkfish was served with a sweet onion confit and sea asparagus. For meat course, preserved and roasted baby goat stuffed with sweetbreads.
Peach Melba, or something close to it, was the “pre-dessert” course, featuring caramel hibiscus jelly.
The “real” dessert was a rum baba with grenadine and passion fruit sorbets, followed by 7 different kinds of petits fours.
This was one of the finest meals I have ever experienced, and only serves to confirm my opinion that the Spanish lead the world in contemporary gastronomy.
Price for 2 including wine and tip: 317 Euros (about $460 Canadian).