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Travelblog: Foodies Gone Wild Spring Break '07


BryanZ
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3/17/07 part 1

This would be my last full day in Barcelona and, therefore, on the European mainland. To start off the day I woke up early to check out the famous Boqueria market for breakfast. The g/f, still too full from the night before (Dare I say, cranky? No, impossible.) opted out of this early morning journey. After walking from the hotel to the Boqueria it was total sensory overload. Although Tsukiji, to which I have been at least a few times, is much larger and has more "weird" stuff, the offerings at the Boqueria were diverse and delicious-looking. Of particular note were the various types of live prawns and langoustines, items almost impossible to find in the States. I also enjoyed seeing all the local fish.

As I mentioned before in my initial post at Borough Market, I'm not a big fan of taking pictures in working markets, so I have none. I do have pictures, however, of some traditional Spanish dishes I enjoyed after being led through the market by eG member Silly Disciple. SD had helped me out in planning the trip via PM and was gracious enough to meet up with me that morning. He also paid for more than his fair share of our plates and ate less. For this I am thankful. SD, if you ever find yourself in NC or NYC or Chicago (this summer), I'm your man.

There are several tapas/plate bars in the Boqueria. Pinotxo is the most popular and located at the market's entrance. We opted for a less-crowded option, however.

Tripe stew

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A nice and hearty way to start the morning. Tender tripe with just the faintest bit of texture. A dish I thoroughly enjoyed but not for everyone.

Cured tuna

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Tuna, white beans, olive oil. Simple but so delicious.

Squid a la plancha

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Although I did not get as many razor clams as I may have wanted, I did get my fill of squid and cuttlefish dishes. One of my favorite preparations is just like this, a la plancha with some olive oil, lemon, parslely, salt. Awesome.

After some nice conversation, I bid Mariano goodbye and rushed back to the Antic Espai. I had to reawaken the g/f after my excursion and quickly get ready for our trip to Girona and the two-starr El Celler de Can Roca. This would prove to be one of my favorite meals of the trip.

Edited by BryanZ (log)
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So have you started taken the cholesterol lowering medication yet? :wink:

It sounds fantastic.

How do you rate US restaurants now you've tried all these wonderful places?

Website: http://cookingdownunder.com

Blog: http://cookingdownunder.com/blog

Twitter: @patinoz

The floggings will continue until morale improves

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My apologies for the lack of posts over the past couple days. I've been cooking for people for the past two nights and that takes up pretty much all of my time. Anyways, back to the action.

3/17/07 part 2

After a brisk walk back to the hotel and a quick change of clothes we were off to Girona to each at El Celler de Can Roca. After about a 1.5 hour ride we found ourseles in Girona and soon obtained a taxi to take us to our final destination. I should note, however, that the amount of graffiti in Spain is substantial. Not just the occasional tag on a bridge or overpass but entire train stations would be covered in it. Strange.

We arrived at the two-starred El Celler de Can Roca at shortly past 1, a bit early for our 1:30 lunch reservation. The cab ride is less than ten minutes and about €7 each way. Overall it was a very easy, if somewhat time-consuming, expedition from Barcelona. It was strange to find the entire restaurant empty of other guests, save for one older gentleman dining alone. In Paris, arriving at 1 PM was a late seating. In Barcelona, we found ourselves alone for about 30 minutes until the room began to fill up. By the time we left, there was not an empty seat in the restaurant.

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There was some sort of gastronomic festival going on. All the better for me, more courses.

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€100, or maybe €110. Silly Disciple told me this was a bit more than they usually charge because of the extra courses/special menu for the gastro week.

A glass of complimentary cava was served to start off the meal. A nice touch.

Snacks

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I recall liking these more than those at Abac, though not by much. The lighting is weird in these pictures because we were seated right next to a window that bordered a small pool that lies in the restaurant's courtyard. Lots of overexposure and weird reflections in the images.

Amuses

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Foie gras and chocolate, pigeon mousse, and something else tasty I can't quite recall.

I should note that bread service here was quite good. I wasn't all that impressed with their baguette-style rolls, but their softer breads, esepcially the tomato bread, was unique and delicious.

Oysters and cava

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A really texturally interesting dish, if not as delicious as it could be. Lightly cooked, I believe, oysters are served in a vessel that was at one point half of a wine bottle. A server comes by and pours in some cava to act as a yeasty and astringent sauce. The cava is texturized (thickened and made more viscous is a "slippery" sense) with what I think is xanthan gum, since the texture is one I'm very familiar with. I tried to find out but technical names were easily lost in translation.

Sea urchin, seaweed gelee

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A dish that encased the true essences of the sea. Not only did this have a ocean water like salinity running through it but also a deeper note thanks to the vegetal quality of the seaweed. I also love sea urchin so this was nice to eat.

Mussels, flavors of reisling

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A totally excellent dish. Perfectly sweet and creamy mussels are topped with various purees and sauces incdluing apple, white truffle cream, and a few other delicious items. What totally blew my mind, and was probably the most memorable item of the entire trip was the mussel topped with distilled earth. Totally ridiculous. I believe Doc posted on this technique at the NYC Chef's Congress or some other conference but it was soooo cool. A perfectly clear water tastes just like earth in the best and most subtle way, literally linking suff and turf.

Hot asparagus mousse, smoke

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Another cool dish, but not a souffle as the English-version of the menu called it. A hot asparagus foam was piped into a ring of thinly sliced white asparagus. What made this dish cool was how it was presented. Beneath a glass dome, a head of wood smoke enrobes the mousse as it travels from kitchen to table. When the servers remove the domes, a wonderful puff of fragrant smoke rises up into the diner's nose.

Cod, pumpkin

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This was my least favorite dish of the meal. It was fine, just not all that compelling. I would've liked more passion fruit to cut through the rich fish and somewhat bland pumpkin.

Prawn bonbon

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Much, much better than it sounds. A subtle chocolate shell encased a sweet-salty, almost creamy prawn filling. A very interesting but tasty way to end the seafood part of the meal.

Iberian pork "carpaccio"

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The server described this to us as carpaccio of Iberico pork. If this was in fact a true carpaccio it marks the first time I've ever eaten an entire dish of raw pork. Sure I've had pork rare or even blue, but this would take it to a whole new level. Anyway, this was delicious and didn't taste cured as a ham would. It was creamy, faintly porky, and went extremely well with the egg custard and potato glass. Very unique in an almost rustic sense.

Piegon, berries, citrus

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Seriously, we did our best to fight against Europe's pigeon over-population problem. This was a nice preparation with various types of acidic and sweet fruits to act as foils to the bird's gaminess. The type of dish I would come up with, only executed better.

Baby goat, truffle sauce

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This was a very delicate preparation of goat, though it could've done without the light breading that surrounded it. The truffles and green vegetable puree kind of took center stage, but in a good way.

Rose foam, chocolate, pistachio ice cream

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The rose foam was extremely delicate and subtle but just assertive enough so that you knew what you were eating. I also really liked the abstract sugar "ramekin" the foam was piped in to. The ice cream and chocolate gave the dish a bit more weight but surprisingly did not overpower the rose component.

At the meal's beginning we had asked them to substitute in one dessert that can highly recommended by Silly Disciple and several others. They graciously accomodated this request.

So I received:

Trip to Havana: Mojito ice, chocolate/tobacco "cigar"

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This dish was sooo cool and I'm so glad I've ordered it. It seems modern pastry cooks love messing around with menthol, tobacco, and savory ingrdients in their desserts. While I think that each has its place in the pastry world, this dessert was the best tobacco application I've ever encountered. The tobacco is very assertive and lingers in the mouth, just like a real cigar, but is faintly whisked away by the cooling and refreshing mojito ice.

The g/f got:

Anarchy 2007: All sorts of crazy shit

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The modern Spanish plate I was waiting to see. Total craziness on a plate with no real rhyme or reason. This is not a plating style that I would ever subscribe to, but I'm glad I finally got to try something in this vein. All kinds of fruits, gels, crumbles, cakes, sorbets, glasses. Anarchy.

Petits fours

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A nice assortment with a cool serving tray, though not quite as cool as Abac's ladder. The offerings, while not all that unique seemed more tasty and easier to eat than others, perhaps because of the smaller (but more numerous) that preceeded it. The raspberry pate de fruit was actually just a raspberry covered in sugar, a nice but simple touch leaning toward the pure as opposed to the processed. The chocolate brittle thing was also really nice.

The g/f and I both agreed that this was our least "filling" meal beacuse of the smaller courses, although it was still one of our longer ones. In this way, the meal further reaffirmed my belief in super small portions, a la Alinea. I'm still at that point in my eating life where I'd rather eat 10+ very small things than 4 more substantial items, even if the four items are of marginally higher average quality that the selection of ten.

I can't quite decide if I liked this meal more than l'Astrance. There were certainly more fresh and "Ah-ha!" moments (the mussels, the pork, the cigar) here but it was not as technically refined and consistently fundamentally delicious. Both were excellent experiences, nevertheless.

With but one more significant meal left, my time in Europe would soon be drawing to a close. Coming up are Cinc Sentits and Sunday morning tapas at Cerveceria Catalana.

Edited by BryanZ (log)
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Great report, Bryan! I will be dining there next month. It will be interesting to see how many of the same dishes we are served. The distilled earth was developed to accompany oysters. Interesting to see it served with mussels now. Roca demonstrated the technique at the Spain and the World Table Conference at CIA/Greystone in Califonia this past November.

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Great write up! And fantastic pictures....thank you for sharing your trip with us!

I love 'haute barnyard', that is an excellent description. And yet again, Spain is calling me....the chefs there seem to have a handle on expertly blending traditional flavors with modern techniques.

Thanks again, Bryan!

P.S. I think my favorite plating may the the exuberant crazy Anarchy 2007 desert dish. After all those precise, stunning food arrangements, it was refreshing to just see some passion and freedom running riot.

Edited by hathor (log)
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3/17/07 part 3

The last significant meal of the trip would be Cinc Sentits, a highly approachable restaurant serving modern yet relatively simple Spanish food. Cinc Sentits provided an enjoyable meal with very polished service but, as others have noted, operates on a different level that the starred establishments we had been eating at. Cinc Sentits is a very well-run restaurant if not necessarily a great one. I mean that as no slight but as a reflection of the experience and complexity of the cuisine.

Although we ordered the seasonal tasting menu, a slight miscommunication led us to be served what was effectively the chef's tasting menu of "signature dishes." At the end of the meal we noted the discrepancy and were more than willing to pay the €15 difference (€50 vs. €65 per person) but they graciously offered to change the bill to reflect what we were expecting. A very nice service recovery that embodies the smooth hospitality the restaurant embodies.

Amuse 1: Maldon salt, maple syrup, cava sabayon, something else foamy on top

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By now a relatively famous dish in Barcelona that appears in a lot food blog and the like. I thought it was a bit sweet but a nice idea. You bet I'm going to riff off this dish.

Amuse 2: Romesco sauce, fried vegetable stick for dipping

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The romesco was really good. They tried to clear it away, twice, but we held onto it to dip bread into.

Pea soup, squid

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A nice light start to the meal. A chicken broth held fresh peas, herbs, and lightly caramelized onions. The g/f remarked that it tasted like something I would make. Light and clean but not necessarily all that life-changing; it's chicken stock, peas, and squid. The squid bit was nice, but seriously, how the hell do you eat this with just a spoon? The squid was too large to eat in one bite, and who would want to anyway. Squid is also not known for being the easiest thing to bite through easily or cut with a spoon.

Foie gras tart, sherry vinegar syrup, chives

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An excellent dish, probably my favorite of the night. Nice combination of pastry, foie, astringent herbs and syrup. One of the few, if only, hot foie dishes we had all trip.

For the next dish, one of us opted for the fresh prawns, a €9 supplement.

The prawns were prepared simply

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While the meat was sweet and tender, it was the head juices that made the dish, acting as a sauce of sorts. The heads were duly decimated and bread was used for wiping the plate clean. The €9 supplement for just two prawns seemed a bit high overall but I realize they are very expensive wholesale. After seeing them flapping around at the Boqueria in the morning I couldn't leave Barcelona without trying some

The normal dish at this point in the meal was seared scallops, crispy ham, and a sweet onion syrup

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The onion syrup really made this dish, so thick and flavorful. I would've liked a slightly deeper crust on the scallop from an execution standpoint. If you're going to cook a scallop it better have a good crust.

Sea bass, cuttlefish noodles

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A creative fish dish, but again slightly lacking in technical execution. I judge a dish's technical expertise against the quality of food I serve people. If I can regularly execute a fish like snapper or sea bass with crisp skin, I expect the same from a good restaurant. The edges of the skin were crisp but the center was not. The noodles were cool and tasted good in a sort of caramelized ragout but were perhaps slightly more chewy than I expected them to be.

Roasted Iberico pork, jus, apple

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A good dish but it did not nearly reach the heights of the Abc pork dish. The skin, again, was crisp in some places but not all over; at Abac the skin was literally so crisp you could hit it with a knife and it would break with an audible crack.

Catalan cheeses

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A surprisingly nice cheese course that featured rather clever accompaniments. These played well with the cheeses, though I must admit the offerings were tame compared to the full cart at Abac.

Four textures of lemon

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So how funny is this? After the dozens of plated dishes consumed over the week, this was the ONE that we forgot to take a picture of. There was like lemon sorbet, foam, granita, and something else. It was nice if somewhat simple; another flavor would've been appreciated.

Peanut butter ice cream, milk chocolate ganache, cookie/cake thing

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Like a Resee's peanut butter cup. While the flavors of the dish were nice, the plate was too sparse, even for my tastes. There was no garnish at all.

If I sound like I am being overly critical of this restaurant please do not take it that way. The meal was enjoyable, but I found myself more able to critique this meal than any other because it fit right in with my abilities and the style of food I serve. While the foie dish was superior to what I can pull off, I could probably execute aspects of a couple other courses better myself. Nevertheless, I would still recommend Cinc Sentits to someone looking for a simple modern meal in a chic but totally unintimidating atmosphere. Again, service was great throughout and pacing was spot on.

ETA: So in the few minutes since I made the original post, I've come to a realization of sorts. As I wrote this report and even now I still think of this as a "simple meal" Not counting the two small amuses to start the meal it was still eight courses. I'm pretty jaded.

Edited by BryanZ (log)
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Thanks so much for the wonderful trip report. We'll be visiting Barcelona for the first time, and Paris for the somethingth time later this spring, so your report is very timely for us. The pictures are incredible, as are your descriptions. So tell us, how did you eat the squid?

The husband and I will have with us our aspiring foodie 11-year-old son, who picked Cinq Sentits (with our concurrence) as one of the two high-end resturants we'll visit in Barcelona. Your description sounds like a good fit for him - he'll eat anything (except maybe broccoli), but obviously doesn't have the knowledge or sophistication of an adult foodie, so simple will be better for him. Lovely hubby, however, has said he doesn't want to be locked into a tasting menu, which is somewhat disappointing to me and the kid. Do you know if the entire table must order the tasting menu, as is usually (always?) the case in the U.S?

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Nice report, thanks for sharing with us.

After reading all your reports my impression is that you have been more focused on the preparations than in the ingredients. I for myself think that preparations and technique are important but nothing without first quality products and have missed a wider description on the different quality of ingredients in the different restaurants an countries.

Rogelio Enríquez aka "Rogelio"
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Bryan, thanks so much for the energetic report and heroic level of eating! It was great to get an update and pictures of what is being served in Can Roca, as well as all of the other places.

Any chance that you will post the recipe for your variation on the Cinc Sentits maple syrup shot?

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Bryan, One practical question I have as I am off to Can Roca in a couple of weeks - which station do you go to in Barcelona to get to Girona and what is the cost. We have a table at 1:30 too, so I guess leaving at about 11am is more than early enough, if not too early?

Gav

"A man tired of London..should move to Essex!"

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Bryan, One practical question I have as I am off to Can Roca in a couple of weeks - which station do you go to in Barcelona to get to Girona and what is the cost. We have a table at 1:30 too, so I guess leaving at about 11am is more than early enough, if not too early?

Gavin,

you need to take the 11:25 Regional from Estacio de Sants, which you can also catch at Passeig de Gracia at 11:29 or at Clot/Arago at 11:32, it puts you in Girona at 12:56.

Edited by Silly Disciple (log)

We''ve opened Pazzta 920, a fresh pasta stall in the Boqueria Market. follow the thread here.

My blog, the Adventures of A Silly Disciple.

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Bryan, thank you. I am still ruminating on the sea urchin... and I'm amazed that you both ate so much! I would have been overwhelmed by the myriad things at almost every meal. It's great to have YOU keep track, and inform us on everything!

Was the texture of the squid in the pea/chicken soup more chewy or silky?

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Thanks so much for the wonderful trip report.  We'll be visiting Barcelona for the first time, and Paris for the somethingth time later this spring, so your report is very timely for us.  The pictures are incredible, as are your descriptions.  So tell us,  how did you eat the squid?

I have no shame so fingers were employed. It was a bit undignifying but it tasted good.

The husband and I will have with us our aspiring foodie 11-year-old son, who picked Cinq Sentits (with our concurrence) as one of the two high-end resturants we'll visit in Barcelona.  Your description sounds like a good fit for him - he'll eat anything (except maybe broccoli), but obviously doesn't have the knowledge or sophistication of an adult foodie, so simple will be better for him.  Lovely hubby, however, has said he doesn't want to be locked into a tasting menu, which is somewhat disappointing to me and the kid.  Do you know if the entire table must order the tasting menu, as is usually (always?) the case in the U.S?

I do believe they say the tasting menus are for the table. If you're crafty, and I'm sure you are, you might order tasting menus for you and your husband and tell the kitchen that you'd like to just order a couple smaller things for you son and share. He is a kid after all. Then, here's what they call the "prestige," you let your son eat your husband's dishes and let your husband eat what your son ordered. Tricky, I know.

Bryan, One practical question I have as I am off to Can Roca in a couple of weeks - which station do you go to in Barcelona to get to Girona and what is the cost. We have a table at 1:30 too, so I guess leaving at about 11am is more than early enough, if not too early?

Gavin,

you need to take the 11:25 Regional from Estacio de Sants, which you can also catch at Passeig de Gracia at 11:29 or at Clot/Arago at 11:32, it puts you in Girona at 12:56.

SD is right on. I picked up the Regional at Passeigh de Gracia at 11:29 and was about 20 min early for my lunch reso. That's the best bet though.

Bryan, thank you. I am still ruminating on the sea urchin... and I'm amazed that you both ate so much!  I would have been overwhelmed by the myriad things at almost every meal. It's great to have YOU keep track, and inform us on everything!

Was the texture of the squid in the pea/chicken soup more chewy or silky?

Kind of like a hybrid. Silky at first but large and thick enough that it did have a bit of chew. Had it been sliced into smaller peices, it would've been more silky thorough and through.

Edited by BryanZ (log)
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3/18/07

My last meal in Barcelona.

After so much eating over the past week or so we were able to sleep in a bit and finally take some time to relax in the morning. After packing up our things we headed to Cerveceria Catalana, a beer and platos restaurant open on Sundays, the day when most everythng else is closed. We weren't expecting a lot but were pleasantly surprised with the simplet yet tasty offerings.

They had these mini baguette sandwiches that I believe were called flautas. They were declicious and perfectly sized.

Jamon serrano, pan con tomate

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Wonderful. This was a bit more expensive at maybe €5ish, perhaps a few cents more.

Chicken livers and roquefort

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Something of a risky order at only like €3.25 or something but totally delicious. Not in a silky foie gras way but in a slightly cruder, more offal-like chicken liver sense.

Tortilla

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My first true Spanish tortilla in Spain. It was good, though perhaps not as good as I wanted it to be. There was nothing wrong with it, it just wasn't as enjoyable as or our other selections.

Cuttlefish a la plancha

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Whereas yesterday's squid at the Boqueria were small and delicate, these were big and meaty. Totally delicious though, even the tentacles are pretty easy to mess up. This was like €7-8 or something, cheaper than similar offerings at the Boqueria.

With this meal we headed off to La Rambla to walk around. We got some gelato and simply killed time until we had to catch our plane.

Not wanting to put an end to our travel yet, we raced from our flight to the bus back to Ludlow and literally sprinted back to the Oxford St. dorm. From ther we threw our bags into the room and headed straight back to Marble Arch where we caught an express bus to Oxford. There was very little express about it and we found ourselves in Oxford about 1.5 hours later to catch the second half of a Bright Eyes set that happened to be going on that night. It was a rather expensive and time-consuming side excusion but those who know the g/f and I know our devotion to Conor Oberst's musical stylings runs deep. After coming right back around and getting on the bus back to London we stopped at Ranoush Juice for more shwarma and called it a night. I would fly home the next morning.

And thus concludes my first culinary trip to Europe. I have absolutely no regrets about not spending that much time looking at sites and am totally pleased with how the trip played out. I only wish there were more meals in the day (and more money in my now decimated bank account). On my next trip I would probably like to get away from the cities and eat more locally, less fancily. And to use Amex conceirges as little as possible. Definitely that.

I have no further pictures to post but would like to make at least one post reflecting in the differences between American and European fine-dining.

Edited by BryanZ (log)
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Another set of wonderfully descriptive and evocative posts, thank you, BryanZ.

It was interesting to see a few "new" New World flavors at Cinc Sentits, namely peanut butter/chocolate and maple syrup. Along with root beer many of my European friends do not appreciate peanut butter as much although maple syrup seems to be favored and I know I've seen maple syrup iincorporated into some French haute cusine dishes.

edited to add: I want one of those Jamon serrano, pan con tomate sandwiches for lunch right now!

Edited by ludja (log)

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

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… where we caught an express bus to Oxford.  There was very little express about it and we found ourselves in Oxford about 1.5 hours later …

Well, it's faster than walking … 90 minutes actually isn't too bad for the Express.

I didn't know Bright Eyes was in Oxford (it's Easter break, so I've been out of town for a few weeks) - was he at the Zodiac?

Cutting the lemon/the knife/leaves a little cathedral:/alcoves unguessed by the eye/that open acidulous glass/to the light; topazes/riding the droplets,/altars,/aromatic facades. - Ode to a Lemon, Pablo Neruda

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I'm interested in that maple cava dish. Is the salt added to maple syrup ? It reads like something that would be great on a little cheese plate with a tangy blue like Valdeon. And that pea soup is a cute idea, one I haven't thought of and will now want to riff on.

I see why you'd focus on technique, since it's all part of a process of calibrating your own cooking, as opposed to a more touristical sort of gastronomy.

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Any chance that you will post the recipe for your variation on the Cinc Sentits maple syrup shot?

Thus far I've taken the maldon salt, a raspberry syrup, chai custard and cooked it almost like a creme caramel. Then topped with a dollop frozen mango mousse. Not exactly the same, but an inspiration.

I'm interested in that maple cava dish.  Is the salt added to maple syrup ?  It reads like something that would be great on a little cheese plate with a tangy blue like Valdeon.  And that pea soup is a cute idea, one I haven't thought of and will now want to riff on.

I see why you'd focus on technique, since it's all part of a process of calibrating your own cooking, as opposed to a more touristical sort of gastronomy.

The salt lies at the bottom of the glass in big flakes that Maldon is known for. The salt adds texture but in my opinion didn't do enough to counter the sweetness of the syrup. It would work better at the end of a meal, with cheese or as I served my version before cheese.

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So, was the sea urchin better than Momofuko Ssam's? (:laugh: You know someone was going to ask sooner or later)

Dude, that was some kick ass report. Really, insane. I think I speak for anyone with a tongue when I say we are so frigin envious.

Thank you for sharing.

That wasn't chicken

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So, was the sea urchin better than Momofuko Ssam's?  (:laugh:  You know someone was going to ask sooner or later)

Dude, that was some kick ass report.  Really, insane.  I think I speak for anyone with a tongue when I say we are so frigin envious.

Thank you for sharing.

It's interesting because in each dish the sea urchin sort of serves as a condiment. They were too different flavorwise, however, to make an accurate comparison. I may have favored the Ssam one more if only because it was more creative with the tapioca and whipped tofu.

Interesting report, indeed. I just ask you americans to change your Cinc Sentits drive to something more interesting and at the same price level, as Hisop, Sauc or even Alkimia.

That's certainly a fair point but at that point it was the reservation we had and it didn't seem worth it change it.

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