(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.
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
1)Caramelized Olive: Caramelized olives with stuffed anchovies inside and coated with chocolate outside
2)Crispy Shrimp: thin shrimp wafer
1)Carpano bombon with grapefruit, black sesame and Vermouth inside
2)Caviar Omelette: Herring caviar in cream sauce covered by thin layer of omelette
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
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.