Friday, April 18, 2014

Pakta, Barcelona

Pakta, Barcelona, 4-1-14, 125 euros/21 courses, Japanese-Peruvian Fusion

Pakta is owned by El Bulli’s celebrity chef Ferran Adria and his brother Albert Adria, located near the Plaça Espana section in Barcelona. It was opened almost two years ago and offered Japanese-Peruvian fusion cuisine. It was my 1st stop of fine dining in the Catalonian region in this trip. Pakta occupied a small space allowing mid-20 guests, some by the counter and some at the tables. I ordered a Machu-Picchu (large) menu, comprised mostly local seafood.

Honzen Ryori

1 -1) Tuna Toro with spicy gel; 2) Baby scallop with chalaca (tomato & chive) sauce; 3) Avocado tofu with yuzu, wasabi and dashi sauce; 4) Corn Tuile (choco corn chip); 5)Pea salad with chopped cora (Peruvian potato) and olluco (kimchee) sauce.

2 – Gomadofu: Tofu made of sesame and Japanese corn starch, served with wasabi, black sesame, dashi, kumbu seed weeds.

3 – Uni, black truffle with panzu and truffle sauce.

4 – Crispy yucca (corn puff) with huancaina sauce.

5 – Chilcano - Peruvian fish soup with fried tofu coated with yucca flour.

6 – Mixed tiradito with “aji Amarillo”, including leche de tigre, squid, clam, barnacle in citric sauce and spice.
The Nigiris

7 – 1) Tuna nigiri with fresh wasabi; 2) Anchovy nigiri with smoked “aji Amarillo”; 3) Salmon nigiri with aburi (garlic and lemon sauce).

8 - Nikkei Shimesaba: Mackerel marinated with citric and vinegar, served in sauce made of Peruvian chili, daikon and tomato.

9 - Sea bass ceviche with kumquat “leche de tigre” and fried sweet potato.

The Causas

10 - 1)Crab maki causa with avocado and umeboshe mayonnaise; 2)Fried causa chicken (coated with Japanese flour) and huacatay.

11 - Fish “Sanguchito” with Nikkei “acevichada”mayonnaise, corn, onion and tomato.

12 – 1) Mushroom tempura with Peruvian porcon fungus and potato foam in Mexican moly bean and ginger sauce; 2) Suckling pig gyoza with jelly inside.

To Finish

13 – Warm ceviche with “rocoto” orange color pepper.

14 – Grilled chicken “Anticucho”, Spanish potato in Peruvian sauce.

15 – Fried rockfish with “escabèche” sauce. Red mullet was coated in Japanese panku and deep fried. Broccoli, onion and bah choy were on the side. Escabeche sauce was made of vinegar, sage and black pepper.

16 - Duck liver “nigiri” with smoked pepper sauce.

Desserts Honzen Ryori

17 - 1) Sweet potato “picarones” (petit donut) with cinnamon honey; 2) Banana bonbon with umeshu gel; 3) Coconut pearl; 4) Black sesame and yogurt tree. Black sesame cookie was inserted into a slit on a Pakta tree trunk. This is where the restaurant got its name from.

18 – Momokochan with Koji (Baby Japanese peach still in green color) served with frozen yeast in syrup flavored with sakura.

19 – Cocoa cone with lucuma ice cream and coffee. Lucuma is a Peruvian fruit looks and tastes almost like peach. Ice cream did have its flavor in addition to the cocoa flavor.

20 – Chicha candy. Chicha is a sweet Peruvian drink tastes almost like hibiscus.

21 – White chocolate, tea with sakura and chocolate rocks. The white chocolate piece was painted with some Peruvian faces in multi-color.

Pakta was a cozy place, with friendly servers who tried their best efforts to explain to you in Catalan-English. However, their food offered sophisticated and balanced taste, appealing presentation and creativity. My favorite were – Uni, black truffle with panzu and truffle sauce, and Tuna, Anchovy (Ordinarily, I am not a fan of anchovy) and Salmon nigiri with aburi sauce.

Sant Pau, San Pol de Mar

Sant Pau, San Pol de Mar, 4-4-14, 159 Euro/10 Course, French-Catalan

Sant Pau was the only Michelin 3-star restaurant owned by a female chef/owner Carme Ruscalleda. I have read an article a while ago that the esthetic presentation made by this chef was considered the epitome of ying-style while the esthetic presentation made by chef at El Celler de Can Roca was the epitome of yang-style. I decided to use Girona as base to venture out to the Northeastern Spain. My major concern was that the trip from Girona to San Pol de Mar required a mid-point transfer. English proficiency among the Catalan people was poor; it would be difficult to make a smooth trip with a required transfer. When I arrived at Girona, I went straight to the Customer Service office. Unfortunately, the representative could not speak English at all. But, I was very blessed with the help of a female customer who could speak just enough English to make me understand that as of April 1, there are selected schedules (approximately every 2 hours) that the same train runs from Girona to San Pol de Mar.

I arrived at San Pol de Mar without any hassles and noticed right away that I could see Sant Pau’s kitchen activities while I was still on the platform. The restaurant’s dining room faces its own backyard and the Mediterranean Sea. I ordered the tasting menu.

Appetizer of April (Each course of appetizer was comprised of only one item)
1) Croquette of Sant Jordi mushrooms: chopped mushroom, mixed with flour and cream, and coated with bread crumb, then deep fried.

2) Xiulets in tempuras: baby string beans peapod (without peas inside) were thinly coated in flour and fried, served with Romesco sauce and almond.

3) Sponge of creamy tupi, confited tomato, fresh oregano: cheese cream tupi with green oregano jelly, macadamia, apricot purée and baby petunia. The presentation was absolutely beautiful and adorable.

1st Course – Miso, foie & vegetables

Foie gras was served in miso sauce with vegetable on the side: white mushroom, shredded pea pod, daikon, dark red leaves and beet root flower. Its taste was as fabulous as its presentation. White mushroom had a whiter look than what available in the US.
Sant Pau baked only one type of bread.

2nd Course – Maresme peas, cuttlefish

This is Sant Pau’s signature dish. Three-inch long julienned cuttlefish was sautéed and served on a bed of sweet peas. Cuttlefish was very tender and tasty.

3rd Course – King prawn, artichoke

Artichoke was the most important ingredient in this course. It was shredded, it was roasted and it was made into sauce. Artichoke was very fresh and tender, this is artichoke season. King prawn was also very tender and delicious.

4th Course – Gambas, sailor’s toast

Gambas required 3 steps: 1) toast bread; 2) soak in fish stew; 3) toast bread again. This shrimp gambas dish was made from premium quality shrimp available from the region.

5th Course – Monkfish, lemon verbena suquet

The best quality of monk fish is from the Mediterranean Sea. Or, here out of Sant Pau’s backyard. Monk fish was thinly coated in flour and fried, served with crumbled purple potato (from Peru) and crosne in lemon verbena sauce. It was well prepared although fish was not tender enough.

6th Course – Espardenyes, celery, cucumber and fine herbs

Espardenyes = sea cucumber. It was served as a whole piece in this dish, the night before I had sliced sea cucumber at El Celler de Can Roca. This dish also had baby mushroom. celery, and mini cucumber balls and a beautiful yellow flower in the center. It was an excellent dish which can be prepared only when local fresh products are available.

7th Course – San Jorge, 3 combinations with courgette and almonds

San Jorge cheese (mild flavor) from Portugal was prepared in 3 different styles – one plain cheese chunk, one with julienned zucchini, one made into paste on a piece of cracker.

8th Course - Calisay passion

A scoop of passion fruit sorbet in Calisay liquor. Calisayis an herbal liqueur produced by infusing cinchona calisaya, and other barks, roots and flowers in grain neutral spirit and seville orange extract. It is used as a bitter ingredient in cocktails. I love passion fruit and its sorbet. I would prefer something less bitter to accompany passion sorbet.

9th Course – white banana, olive oil, salt

Banana was served with white chocolate and almond. The presentation was certainly amazing.

10th Course – Black and Green Olives, Aragon, sevillanas, sweet wine

I had chocolate coated olives at Roca the night before. I wonder chocolate coated olives are a fashionable item for the time being. Both white chocolate and dark chocolate were used to present the word “olives”. A large piece of puff pastry was used to present a ship along with some small pieces for decoration. This dish also had olive oil in the plate.

Petit Four

Each of these four delicate chocolate bonbons was placed in a spoon since they were too messy to handle by fingers. Puff pastry with pine nuts was placed in a glass. The rest were placed in a toy train. Among the petit fours, my favorite was the chocolate bonbons.

At the end of the meal, I did not feel that I was overstuffed or fully-contented. I wondered why and figured it out. First, I did not eat much bread at all because of lack of variety at Sant Pau. Second, Sant Pau did not offer any Amuse Bouche comparing Roca’s more than a dozen Amuse Bouche items. Third, the quantity of the tasting menu was no more than 60% of what served at Roca. Even though Sant Pau charged 159 euros/10 course which was 30 euros less expensive than what Roca charged. Roca offered far more in both quality and quantity. May be because I had these two meals back-to-back, my wonderful experience at Roca was still overwhelmingly fresh in my mind while I was dining at Sant Pau. I considered I got a whole lot of more value (quality and quantity) out of each dollar I spent at El Celler de Can Roca.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

El Celler de Can Roca, Girona

El Celler de Can Roca, Girona, 4-3-14, 190 Euro/14 courses, French-Catalan
(and Can Roca, Girona 4-8-14)

As soon as I finalized my travel arrangement 7 months in advance of the departure date, I contacted El Celler de Can Roca, a Michelin 3-star and #1 rated restaurant in S. Pellegrino’s top 10 lists, for an appointment. Unfortunately, they were fully committed already. I requested to be on the waiting list and was truly by luck that I got a slot within the time period of 8 days that I planned to stay in Girona. Being a foodie, I was thrilled for the opportunity.

I took the bus there and arrived a bit earlier than the appointment time. Since I was a bit earlier, the receptionist was kind enough to show me its kitchen. I got seated nearby one of the supply counter and was in a spot offering a nice view of all the activities. I was offered a glass of complimentary Cava to start with.

Amuse Bouche
I)the World:
1)Mexico: “burrito” with mole poblano and guacamole
2)Peru: ceviche broth, liquid inside
3)China: pickled vegetables (carrot, scallion, radish and cucumber) with pureed plum cream
4)Morocco: almond, rose, honey, saffron, ras el hanout, goat yogurt
5)Korea: panko fried bread, bacon with soja sauce, snow peas, kimchi and sesame oil

II)2 items:
1)Caramelized Olive: Caramelized olives with stuffed anchovies inside and coated with chocolate outside
2)Crispy Shrimp: thin shrimp wafer

III)2 items:
1)Carpano bombon with grapefruit, black sesame and Vermouth inside
2)Caviar Omelette: Herring caviar in cream sauce covered by thin layer of omelette

VI)truffle treats:
1)Truffled bombon: truffle mousse covered with powdered truffle
2)Truffled brioche: Brioche filled with truffled cream and topped by a slice of freshly shaved truffle

El Celler de Can Roca baked varieties of gourmet breads. I did not request every kind, afraid they would fill my stomach. I selected olive brioche, tomato brioche, read wine with raisins, and apricot with walnuts.

1st Course - Vegetable stock, pumpkin puree, parsnip, quince jam, turnip, potato, carrot, violet potato, comté cheese, porcini gnocchi, hazelnut tofu

This vegetable consommé was served with Capuccin flower, truffle, artichoke, pomegranate and tofu.

2nd Course – White asparagus and truffle viennetta

According to my server, this is one of Roca’s signature dishes. White asparagus and cheese was made into ice cream and served with powdered truffle viennetta. To keep the slice of ice cream in adequately cold temperature, it was placed on a pre-frozen slab. This was a truly amazing dish.

3rd Course – Calçot Lyo, aioli, dried cherry pepper, charcoal-grilled calçot purée, calçot oil, calçot and chervil oil, ca yenne oil, distilled sand, solid cava, calçot dust, calçot consommé

Calçot is a local seasonal plant in Northeastern Spain available around this time of the year. It is almost like a hybrid of scallion and leek, two-three times bigger than scallion. In this course, there was a roasted stem standing straight, there were cooked and dried crumbled calçot, and fume produced by burning calçot covered by a piece of pyramid shaped white cardboard paper.

4th Course – Mackerel with pickles and mullet roe, mackerel sauce with white wine, lemon, capers and chillies in vinegar, fried tomato, mullet roe, mackerel marinated in sugar and salt. Mackerel infusion.

Ordinarily, I am not a big fan of mackerel. However, it was an exception this time. Mackerel was super fresh and even the decoration resembled mackerel’s skin. It was served with white sauce and cream, tomato purée and green olive purée, Caviar, olive, anchovy.

5th Course – Salad of sea anemone, razor-clam, royal cucumber and seaweed in escabèche

I had “escabèche” sauce served with fried fish at Pakta on 4/1/14. This sauce was ideal to accompany seafood. Although I have had sea cucumber many times, it was the 1st time that I tasted the fresh sea cucumber. Fresh sea cucumber is in white color, usually sliced thin for cooking. Catalonian region is famous for producing quality fresh sea cucumber. Every item in this course was fresh and delicious.

6th Course – Baby octopus with fermented black onion and caramelized onion

7th Course – A whole prawn: Charcoal-grilled king prawn, head juice with seaweeds, seawater and sponge cake of plankton

This is Roca’s 2nd signature dish. Prawn was from a special place in Costa Brava region which produced the best quality of shrimp. Prawn was served with seaweeds, crystalized shrimp feet, plankton cake and seaweed foam. Served almost raw, you can taste the sweetness of prawn’s meat. Two days after I had dinner at Roca, I visited the Costa Brava region of Spain where the ocean was so unpolluted and blue that you can see the bottom. No wonder, seafood produced from Costa Brava yield the best quality.

8th Course – Palo Cortado-steamed Langoustine, bisque velouté and Jerez caramel

Langoustine was flambéed in Palo Cortado (dry Sherry). Bisque was also enhanced with sherry. The condensed sherry was placed in a spoon to take as the last bite. Langoustine was semi-raw, bisque was delicious and condensed sherry was so potent.

9th Course – Grilled sole with black and white garlic, parsley juice and lemon

Fillet of sole was slowed cooked with a very tender texture. Black garlic juice and puréed parsley make a beautiful pattern of geometrical display.

10th Course – Spicy mandala of artichoke flower, milk-fed lamb belly, lamb sweetbreads, curry yogurt, beetroot, spinach, turnip, lemon, tangerine, sweet potato, leaves and flowers

Lamb belly was made into bite size of bacon. They were visually enjoyable as well as palatially satisfied.

11th Course – Pigeon trilogy: Heart of pigeon and the cloud of rice. Stock of pigeon. “Botifarro” and Tatje pigeon breast

Heart of pigeon was covered by jelly of pigeon sauce. Sauce for this course was made with truffle, cocoa, kumquat, mandarin orange, ginger and fennel. Botifarro means pigeon + truffle + rice.

12th Course – Lemon cloud: Bergamot cream, lemon compote, lemon distilled-water granite, muffin ice cream, lemon sugar

Lemon compote served with bergamot cream. It was served as a dessert and palate cleanser.

13th Course – Milk desserts: Milk caramel, sheep’s milk ice cream, sheep’s milk curd-cheese foam, sheep’s milk yogurt and milk cloud

This is Roca’s 3rd signature dish. I requested for this one as a substitute without knowing this is one of their signature dishes. It required a lot of work and was very refreshing and delicious, the fused flavor of guava ice cream (in orange color) and sheep's milk made a very pleasing taste.

14th Course – Chocolate anarchy

Varieties of chocolate from 8 different countries (Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Indonesia, Brazil, Nigeria, Cameroon, Ecuador, Malaysia) and were made with 12 flavors of spices.

Petit Four

There were 3 bite-size vanilla macaroons with pistachio, orange and apricot flavored filling, one mini chocolate tart, one chocolate cookie with cream filling, some jelly candies and a chocolate truffle coated in gold. They were all yummy. But, due to the spacing issue, I had to request for packing some of them in a goody bag.

After the meal, Roca’s sommelier asked me whether I would be interested in visiting their wine cellar. Of course, I would be delighted to see it. Roca has 40,000+ bottles of wines, they have to place their wine menu on a cart with wheels. When I got out of the restaurant it was around 12:30 am. I have spent approximately 4 hours for the best meal that I have ever had in my life.

On my way to El Celler de Can Roca, I met a local resident, who was kind enough to lead me the way to Roca, informed me that there is an old Roca’s located nearby. I wasn't too sure of what he meant. Later, the receptionist in the hotel told me that Papa Roca’s restaurant is not too far away from El Celler de Can Roca. I decided to venture out to Papa Roca’s restaurant on April 8 for lunch. I met Papa Roca, Mama Roca and Joan Roca (the eldest brother of the three brothers in El Celler de Can Roca) happened to be there at the same time. I had a 4-course lunch (comprised of salad, pasta, grilled baby squid and desert) for 10 euros only. Papa Roca told me that his sons charge too much for the fancy meal. Papa Roca and Mama Roca are in their mid-seventies and are there daily to supervise the restaurant’s operation. Its meal was quite good, my favorite were grilled baby squid and Mama Roca’s own recipe of Catalan custard (a bit softer than cream brulée). The price tag at El Celler de Can Roca may look high from Papa Roca’s point of view because he believed in modesty. I have high respect for Papa Roca. However, when you compare what El Celler de Can Roca offered with other Michelin 3-star restaurants’ you may draw a different conclusion.