Rafa deserves his own topic
Posted 14 February 2007 - 12:09 AM
After getting mauled at Comerc24.......and blessed at Bar Inopia…..we bailed on Barca headed up to Roses.
Who goes to Roses in winter….except true geeks who want to take pictures of the El Bulli driveway? Well, we did…..to go to Rafa’s. Well….. and take pictures of the El Bulli driveway.
Rafa’s sounded like my dream restaurant: fresh fish, simply and perfectly prepared; reservations iffy, depending on the catch. You make your reservations, then call in the morning to see if they will actually open or not, depending on the fish situation. As a chef who once smacked a diner with a still bleeding halibut carcass after the guy implied my fish was frozen…..I was intrigued. My kind of guy. And, every eGullet El Bulli diner has eaten there and loved it.
The problem was FINDING Rafa’s. Nothing on the Google search but Brett Emerson’s review. Rafa is a Luddite, obviously. I prowled all over eGullet. Lots of mentions, lots of praise. No address and no phone number. Even the concierge at the high priced hotel the Inopia guys bought us after the debacle at Comerc24 could come up with…..nothing. All I had was “across the street from Snack-Mar” in Roses. And, of course…..Snack-Mar was closed for vacation.
We drove up anyway and checked into a beachfront hotel…. for 50 euros a night for a room with a balcony (another reason to go in winter!). No one had heard of Rafa’s….somewhat worryingly. We looked up Snack-Mar and found it on C. San Sebastiá. No one was really sure where C. San Sebastiá was either, but we finally found it… it takes a couple of turns….. two hundred meters from the hotel. And…..as promised, right across from Snack-Mar on San Sebstiá was Rafa’s.
Well, maybe. There was a small restaurant with elaborately carved hardwood around the door and a sign: “RHODEROSESRAFA” carved over the door. The place was all torn up, and there was a woman inside painting. I screwed up my courage and inquired. Yup. Rafa’s. Might be open tomorrow. Or maybe Wednesday.
What to do? Wait around for a ‘maybe’? Well, on a Monday or a Tuesday in Spain in the winter the options are limited. We decided to wait.
Had a bad hotel meal. Drove the back way to Caidaques…..past El Bulli….then on the dirt roads. The Dali House…..closed for the winter. The Museum in Figueres…..open.
I am one of those restaurant guys who has trouble not working. Every few hours…bored, anxious, hungry….I would stroll past Rafa’s. Now, all the furniture was out in the street. The woman was still there, working like a dog. I screwed up my courage again, and offered to help. Non, gracias. Are you sure….I am just sitting around, I would rather clean than sit…..Non, gracias.
I checked back a couple times, finally at ten at night. The Rafa lady was sitting on the curb, surrounded by furniture, eating shitty pizza from a styro to-go container. “Come on, I can at least cook you a meal!” Non, gracias. All night I had nightmares about storming the Roses Pizza Parlor and commandeering it to make the Rafa Lady a proper pizza…….
Well, of course, Tuesday didn’t pan out, what with all the furniture on the street on Monday night and all. We found a one-star outside town that was open….unfortunately. The only good side of the meal was the hostess/waitress is best friends with the Rafa lady….they are both Rosas. As in Roses. Go figure.
I did not commandeer the pizza parlor.
I did take pictures of the El Bulli driveway. And I stayed away, mostly. I did get reservations for Wednesday lunch at Rafa. Name? “El Americano Limpio”….the American who must clean.....even on holiday.
Wednesday morning I was up at the crack. Prowled the town looking for flowers. By now, I was getting well deserved weird looks from the town folks. Oh, that Clean American…..He is waiting for Rafa to open…..I found a florist. No roses, of course…but I found some beautiful tulips next to the internet place.
On the way to Rafa’s we encountered a group of well dressed older people wandering around Roses’ tiny little streets, looking lost and confused. “Buscando C. San Sebastiá? Rafa’s? Sigame…..” I made them go in first…..Just in case Rosa had called the Guardia about The Clean American Stalker.
Turns out Rafa and Rosa could not have been sweeter. I gave her the flowers as apology for my stalking, and in tribute to her hard work, and the crappy pizza. She was stunned. Note to self: always bring flowers to restaurant hostesses.
Rafa turned out to be the short stocky guy I thought was the plumber two days before. His kitchen is right there in front, and tiny: one oven, a flat grill, a couple of burners and an expresso machine. He has a deli-style display case for the fish. That is it.
I discreetly filmed Rafa working to show my super-star chef son. Brendan’s reaction? “The guy doesn’t move.” Rafa is so at home in his environment that it appears that nothing is being done. The fish arrives (deliveries take place all during service), the menu changes….Rafa growls. Rafa takes his giant knife and filets something. Rafa throws fish on the grill. Rosa deals with the people. The dishwasher is next door….the machine, not the guy….so Rosa busses out the front door, down the street, through another door and into another space. There also seems to be a basement that she climbs down into…..No way Rafa is getting into that space. Rafa goes to his window and has a cigarette while Rosa is charging like a greyhound.
The food was magic. I watched Rafa’s every move…..and there weren’t many. Like Leon Spinks in the 80’s, he had two magic bottles of liquid. Olive oil and seawater, it turns out. That is it. Well, sea salt.
Rosa turned people away right, left and center…..ruthlessly. We offered to share our table….don’t even think about it…..
The meal? Jamon Iberico…from a friend. Some prawns….from the bay. Some baby razor clams…..the best thing I ever ate. From where? The fuckin’ bay, you idiot. What was the sauce? Olive oil and seawater, dummy. Oh, and sea salt. From where? The fuckin’ bay, dummy!
A fish was delivered. Rafa wacked it up and cooked it for us. Another better fish was delivered…..he gave me the look: You want? Can’t do it….I will explode. A shrug and a growl. They don’t do dessert….
Me either!! Well, kind of…..
Finally the wine hits and I have the nerve to move into his space to gossip. Now, Rosa growls….thank god for the flowers.
Rafa claims that the whole thing with his food is the iron grill. His grill is solid iron…..everyone else is cooking on stainless. You have to watch the steam…..and listen to the fish. The steam starts out white, then goes gray…..and the fish stops talking. Then you pull it.
Rafa remembers Txema, Brendan’s buddy from Inopia, from his Bulli days. A really good kid. Rafa knows all the cooks at Bulli, because they come to him on their day or half day off. I tell him about our horrible experience at Comerc24. He is not surprised. He gestures with a shoulder out the window. That guy Abellan opened a cooking school and restaurant across the street…..lasted three years. Rafa still keeps in touch with a couple of Mexican kids who came to the school from Puebla, Mexico, though…….Maybe I know them?
Rafa’s favorite thing to do is have beach parties with the Bulli guys. They go out to the little coves around Bulli, build fires and cook up the local shellfish, fish fish they catch in nets on the beach, along with wild asparagus from the old Roman terraces surrounding the place and whatever mushrooms they can scrounge from the hills as well. His only bummer is the pans that they have available…..not iron, can’t retain heat. Rafa has heard that American cowboys cooked on iron pans over fires…..Can I get him one? And……Hey, we did this yesterday….where were you?
Uh…stalking your wife….trying to help paint. Damn!
Rafa’s deal is he is trying to make it seven more years….then retire and just do beach parties and relax with his friends.
So, you El Bulli guys who are jockeying for your 2008 reservations…….don’t forget Rafa.
C. San Sebastiá 56 (across from Snack-Mar)
972 254 003
Posted 14 February 2007 - 02:16 AM
Posted 14 February 2007 - 08:45 AM
There are thousands of places like Rafa's all over Spain, they're the reason Spain has such an enviable food culture. The sad thing is the gastronomic insecurity of so many people who are incapable of realizing these places are good without an Adria to direct them.
This statement depends on your definition of "places like Rafa".
Rafa is literally 600 meters away from one of the most important fish markets (not exactly market, rather the auction market right by the docks... lonja) of the region, and gets his product straight from it. If there's no catch then he won't open. If he runs out of fish during the evening service then he won't open for lunch the next day.
He barely manipulates the product, and charges by weight, so I'm not sure you can find many places which combine good access, quality and freshness of ingredients, little (and proper) manipulation and a price point that is not exactly cheap but not expensive either. Off the top of my head I can think of only two (which I have visited, probably quite a few more exist): Etxebarri in Axpe (much more expensive) and El Campero in Barbate.
Edited by Silly Disciple, 14 February 2007 - 08:48 AM.
My blog, the Adventures of A Silly Disciple.
Posted 14 February 2007 - 08:51 AM
Posted 14 February 2007 - 09:02 AM
Posted 14 February 2007 - 09:20 AM
Pages 10 & 11 are about our lunch at Rafa's, while the other are about celler de can roca, elbulli & mas pau.
lunch at rafa's
Posted 14 February 2007 - 09:52 AM
BUT we hadn't made a reservation and there was nobody else there, so no Rafa himself - only the (presumably) same lady sweeping and cleaning. She told us to go away and call to make a reservation first - except it was already lunchtime and no indication of whether the reservation would be accommodated that day (or any other day) - and we were departing Roses anyway the following morning.
Apparently if ANYBODY has made a reservation, Rafa will be there and you MAY be allowed to walk in. But if no reservations - then no Rafa!
Posted 14 February 2007 - 10:56 AM
I'm a huge fan of Rafa's too. We had dinner there last year and lunch the previous year. The lunch was incredibly cheap, but dinner, which had larger helpings was considerably more expensive, although still excellent value for money. I've no idea if this was a change in direction from one year to another, or a case that the approach at lunch time differs from dinner.
Zoticus, do you know of a Rafa's type place in Barcelona?
Posted 19 November 2011 - 12:24 AM
When we last saw Rafa and Rosa in Roses in March 2010, they were talking about retiring. Probably in 2012, and definitely to Galicia of all places.
I phoned the other day and talked to Rosa....there was a wedding going on (!!!??!!....we have never figured out their exact relationship) and everyone was hammered. Too hammered for much English or Spanish. It was early morning in California, so I was not hammered, and my Catalan is soooo much better after a bottle of Cava.....but this is what I gathered:
They are reopening in 2012 after a December vacation, probably on 10 January or so. Keep in mind that this was the plan in 2010....and the weather and the quality of fish and shellfish available to him in Roses made Rafa so grumpy that he didn't actually open for real until March....just in time for the big snowstorm. Rafa is not a fan of climate change.
Now that Victor at Extebarri is fully mainstream, Rafa is one of the last "secret" pilgrimages for chefs visiting Spain. Victor and Rosa are forever dear to my heart for having both thrown out both the Michelin folks AND the Lomejordelagastronimia guy. Victor has made his peace, obviously. Not Rosa....."A carrer!!" is her comment when one brings up either publication. "Into the street!"
For the 25,000 some odd posters desperate for recommendations on where to eat in Barca...and desperate to track down the footprints of any stray Adria family member:
Roses is a mellow couple of hours' drive north of Barca, within easy striking distance of Sant Pau and Can Roca, a gorgeous half hour drive from Cadaques. You can stay at the Hotel Novel Risech for 50eu, right on the beach. Attached is the view from my 50eu balcony.
And you get Rafa....for a little while yet.
I am posting a photo of Rafa and Rosa, one of Rafa's entire hot-side setup, and a closeup of his ingredients (olive oil, salt, water, vinegar, lemon).
Well, plus the best fish in Europe.
Simplicity has always been sublime.