Comerç 24 (Molecular Gastronomy)
Spain has been on the forefront of the whole new food movements in terms of expanding what a kitchen produces and how it presents food. Catalonia has embraced this movement as its own in many ways and defined many of the principles and ingredients that are used. El Bulli, which is the flagship restaurant of the movement, is just kilometers north of Barcelona in the town of Girona, where renowned chef Ferran Adrià keeps inventing and moving beyond the expectations of what a meal should be like. The food is more then just flavors it is in some sense all about the contrast of textures, flavors and tastes and in the end you are to have an experience more then a meal. As some who cooks I find none of these concepts off putting even if I would tend towards other ideas in what I find inspiring and many times I think that the food that many of these new chefs are creating is absolutely brilliant, but I must admit that I am a bit of a skeptic because on some level there seems to be a certain amount of passion missing. At its worst you get a meal that is a set of chemical reactions that was concocted in order to impress visually and educate the eater on what one chef would think the world is missing in what they eat. On the other hand I am continually curious by some of the creations that these chefs are doing and even if it is moving outside of food I’m okay with that and am interested in experiencing what can be done. So Sara and I decided to check out Comerç24 which is located about 100 feet from our house, it is the restaurant run by Carles Abellan who was the sous chef at El Bulli for ten years before branching out onto his own. One of the things that made going here interesting to us was that Abellan is still privy of the six months a year of research that Ferrran Adriá holes up in a secret location in Barcelona and experiments with food. Since we could neither afford El Bulli, get a reservations (they are filled for 2007) and lastly they don’t open till April we decided that this was our best option.
I will try breaking down the courses and what I liked and didn’t like about each aspect of it without being to long winded about the specifics of everything. We did order the tasting menu, on suggestion from the maitre d’ that if we wanted to have the full Carles Abellan experience it was the best choice (I hate this experiencing a chef language and worship). It was a serious of snacks followed by seven tapas dishes followed by a dessert. We did not order a bottle of wine even though the wine list was quite reasonable (why can’t American restaurants charge only a minimal markup, it would make things so much better) but rather ordered different glasses to go with the different courses because we had no clue what was coming other then it was a surprise. Here is a link to the Menu
Snacks: This was a collection of different types of tapas that you would see at almost any bar you went in Spain, potato chips, olives, anchovies nuts but they put on the glitz and did some interesting twist with it, the potato chips were good nothing special but they were fried in olive oil but they had a dip which was an Olive Foam . They do this by This is a mixture that is made out of vinegar that olives were brined in gelatin and water that was then put in a container that was meant to make whip cream and pulled out to look like this. You read about foaming things as being a trademark of the whole nouvelle cuisine and bam there it was with the first dish, supposedly there to have the essence of flavor with an interesting texture but it did neither for me, the flavor was there but lacking any special olive essence especially since good olives are in easy demand here. The rest of the snacks were a plate of regular olives with an anchovies in the middle, classic Spanish and both the olives and boquerones were two of the best I’ve had here in Barcelona, a plate of Tuna tartar with caviar on top a few micro greens on top laid over an egg yoke vinaigrette, in some ways this dish embodied what they were trying to do with the contrast of textures within food. The raw tuna mixed with the caviar was brilliant and the crunch of the microgreens added such a nice end to the bite. They egg yolk vinaigrette was a bit problematic as there was a very strong soy sauce flavor in it but no color resemblance it seemed that the flavor was a bit chemical which might have been done in order to preserve the color of the egg but it was a mistake, I think a lighter colored real vinegar would have worked really well for the dish and not ruin a perfectly good dish with a chemical aftertaste. But I can’t complain too much about this dish because overall it was a fantastic piece.
Course #2: ORCHATA, FICOIDE GLACIALE AND SCALLOP SOUP-SALAD A pretty nice dish, the scallop served raw was wonderfully creamy in my mouth along with the almonds and sunflower sprouts topped with a marinated piece of shaved fennel. The concept of the dish was to be a soup and salad and the salad element was beautiful the soup an horchata seemed a little off in the dish, I couldn’t quite give a reason on why it didn’t work but in the end I would have enjoyed the dish perfectly well without the rice sauce.
Course #3: Onion Soup is one of my favorite foods in the world. I still have fond memories of this dish as a child and while in the states it is known as mainly a French dish the Catalans have been claiming their own superior version on this dish. The experimental element of this dish was that they added a poached quail egg with a truffle gel an onion broth. This dish absolutely failed the broth was either overly salty (something that is very hard to do when I’m the one eating) and did not bring out the onion flavor well (I would have caramelized the onions much longer then was done) the poached egg was nice and I liked the texture in the soup but the truffle gels were nothing to special, actually I disliked them quite a bit.
Course #4 CUTTELFISH AND MOREL RAVIOLI This was a winner of dish, probably the best thing I ate at the restaurant. The rice paper made a great wrapping for the cuttlefish and morel filling that just exploded when you bit into it. Nicely plated and really brilliantly flavored, I enjoy this dish because it is just plain good food, nothing extra ordinary about the technique other then a good amount of creativity and thoughtfulness.
Course #5 Seared Hake? I don’t remember what the waiter called this and I can’t locate it on the menu. This was a solid dish, maybe I missed some of the flavors that would have given it an more original fell but it seemed to be a nicely put together plate and a good job searing the fish. Nothing special but I enjoyed it.
Course #6 DUCK AND FOIE RICE I can’t explain how much I hated this dish, not that it was all that bad but the concept of it annoyed me more then anything the foie gras that was topped with grounded up kikos (corn nuts) was absolutely a waste, I still have the chemical aftertaste in my mouth from the processed food and it ruined a nice piece of foie. I don’t eat foie gras for ethical reasons but if by chance it ends up on my plate (it was a surprise tasting menu) then I can enjoy it, but the corn nuts topping really ruined the whole dish. The rice cooked in a duck broth was okay but it could have had a bit more acidity to it in order to bring about a stronger flavor contrast because as it was alone the flavor was a bit bland. The presentation and color of this dish was overall pretty bland as well, brown on brown.
Course #7 BEEF ENTRECOT WITH POTATOES AND WASABI I think this might have been Ox but the menu online says it was beef, either way it was good, the cut was a ribeye if I remember correctly and was barely cooked which is how I prefer my meat. Again quality food nothing fancy but prepared well, the potato part of the place was a steamed potato square with a round cut out of it and a wasabi egg placed inside. I watched in the kitchen as they made the eggs. It was an interesting process as they took some wasabi mixture and dropped it in hot water and the liquid formed into what could be described as egg yolks. The wasabi and potato was a decent combination of flavor but again whatever chemical they added into the wasabi really affected the flavor and left an aftertaste that I didn’t enjoy so much. I think a regular quail egg yolk slightly cooked would have worked better and I can even imagine doing that as a dish.
Dessert Dessert This is getting a bit long winded so I will only describe the worthwhile dishes here as the pictures give a fairly good account of it. The Whipped Yogurt was really good and the process of whipping it made the flavor really stand out (I guess the idea of foaming things is worth a bit in this context) and the fresh fruit didn’t hurt the concept at all. The beverage as a bit of celery and apple, the apple flavor was a bit tart to be real but I enjoyed it, almost like a jolly rancher mixed with celery. The other four dessert, nothing special.
Okay I normally don’t believe in over analyzing a meal like this because in the end I did enjoy my experience at Comerç24 and I do become much more critical as I move further away from the original meal. I will say that the more the focus was on the food the better they tasted, the more on the experience the more it failed in my opinion.