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thelastsupper

El Raco de Can Fabes

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We have eaten the tasting menu at Can Fabes 4 times and the first 3 were amazing. Late last April was our fourth time there and it did not even seem like the same cuisine. On our first three visits we had many more courses, smaller in size, wonderfully inventive combinations of flavors, and the highest quality of ingredients. On our last visit the courses were larger, simpler, more straight-forward, yet still absolutely perfect in quality of ingredients. Has Santi Santamaria changed his cuisine on purpose? What do others know about this? I will list two of our menus. The first is from March, 2003, and is typical of the kind of menu we were served on our first three visits there. The second is our most recent visit in April, 2004.

Tasting Menu -- March 2003

1. Amuse Platter with 12 small bites apiece

2. Oyster shooter in oyster water with chopped zuccini, asparagus, and peas

3. Sea urchin and mussels, sea urchin broth, served in the urchin shell

4. Pigeon tartare with dried artichoke hearts or

Truffle 3 ways: on polenta, stuffed with foie gras, shaved on potato crepe

(we had both between us and shared)

5. Sauteed calamari and octopus with baby asparagus, peas and carrots in a

seafood sauce

6. Cabbage cream soup with poached egg and root vegetables

7. Hake in comesco (red pepper)sauce

8. Glazed goat in a reduction sauce

9. Sweetbreads on potato puree au jus

10. Local cheeses with truffles

11. Marscapone with truffle puree

12. Trio of sorbets, blood orange, mandarin, pineapple

13. Chocolate souffle with banana ginger ice cream

Tasting Menu -- April 2004

1. Amuse platter with 7 small bites apiece

2. Cold foie gras poached in port wine and served with mache

3. Frog legs in a garlic, white bean sauce

4. Spiny lobster served in the shell with a butter sauce

5. Sea bass, scallops and peas in a light broth

6. Sliced beef and turnips (sliced table-side, no sauce, huge portions)

7. Cheese selection

8. Trio of sorbets, pear, orange, pineapple

9. Frais du bois with coconut ice cream

10. Toffee cream parfait

What we have experienced is two very different styles of cooking. Has he changed or was it maybe just a temporary lapse from his extremely ambitious and inventive cuisine we'd had in the past? Unable to be regulars there as we live in the States, it is hard to know. Our first 3 times there were all extraordinary (1996, 2001, 2003). Last time was good, solid, but nothing to blow us away.

Thanks, pedro, for encouraging me to share this experience.

sumac

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Sumac, thanks very much for sharing this with us.

I haven't been to Can Fabes for more than a year, though I maybe visiting it next month. Good, solid but not mind blowing are terms that I've heard more than once applied to Santamaría's cooking. It's difficult to use them myself to qualify Santamaría, since some of the best dishes I've ever had were cooked in his kitchen. So I'd like to believe that what you experienced last time was a transitory uninspired moment.

Again, judging the inventive Santamaría puts into his cooking from the dishes' descriptions is extremely difficult, at least to me. AFAIK, Santi has always preferred minimal descriptions. In consequence, when I can't appreciate more inventive in the 2003 Hake in romescu sauce than in the 2004 Sea bass, scallops and peas in light broth.

One thing that I noticed some months ago, and has been mentioned here before by others, is that he introduced premium dishes in the tasting menu that in order to have them, you'd have to pay a plus. I don't understand why he's done that, but if that has caused to remove some of his signature dishes (potatoes purée, carn salada and caviar, amazing results from this a priori odd combination), it could lead to feel the experience you describe. I don't like that approach to tasting menus.

How did you find the service, sumac? I hope they haven't changed the standards there, I consider it one of the best in the country.


PedroEspinosa (aka pedro)

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Great. I look forward to your post. Is this your first visit to Can Fabes?


PedroEspinosa (aka pedro)

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Great. I look forward to your post. Is this your first visit to Can Fabes?

Yep, our first time.

So I won't be able to compare to previous years, but can certainly give my thoughts on how this year's menu looks.

I'm looking forward to it!

(and to El Bulli in August...)

J.

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Sumac, the reason the menu has seemed to change is due to the fact that Can Fabes has a new chef, Javier Torres. I hadn't worked for the previous chef but I can state that presently at Can Fabes, we are allowing the great produce to stand out with as little manipulation to the main ingredient as possible. It seems very straight forward and having worked in some fusion and 'inventive' kitchens in the past, I thoroughly enjoy this sensible approach. That is not to say that it is simpler because sometimes to reach this 'straightforward' cuisine, it takes enormous amounts of preperation and technique.

BCNChef, I hope you enjoy your meal, but if you are eating on Sunday, I will have the day off. Any room for one more at El Bulli :biggrin: ? Keep me in mind.

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Thank you, Simon, for explaining that to me. As I mentioned, that is exactly what we experienced, straight-forward, and perfect quality of ingredients. I am looking forward to your reaction, bcnchef. Thanks to both of you for answering me.

sumac

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Hey Simon, how are you doing there? I always keep hoping we'll hear more from you.

Sue, it's nice to see you here too.

Has everyone read the Santi Santamaria Gastronomic Declaration thread started by Pedro in the Media and News forum? While Santamaria has never aimed at being the most wildly creative chef in Spain, I found the declaration rather reactionary in nature. Is he reacting to what he may see as too much creativity for creativity's sake?


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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In September 2003 I had my first and only meal at Can Fabes, in one of my most excellent and culinary weeks I ever had in my life. (I posted about that meal in a previous thread.)

Although I am very fond of inventive cuisine, and although I don't think SS can be counted as the most inventive of Spain, it was still the best meal at Can Fabes that I had that very week.

It is not that he SS creates a classic cuisine, in my view. He is modern in his dishes and combinations, that are extremely well balanced, and seem to be simple but I think you can discover straight away that there is no simplicity in his dishes.

His dishes are well balanced based on the different tastes, but also in the excellent choice of products which were all extremely well prepared.

So for me, his cuisine was in that week the best, but not the most exciting, as I might say, because those I had at hisop and Alkimia.

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I will post a full review later this week, but wanted to give a little preview of our meal quickly now.

This was our first trip to Can Fabes. Santi was not at the restaurant. We were told he was in Mexico for a banquet of some type. Simon, as he mentioned above, also had the day off. The restaurant is celebrating 10 years holding 3 Michelin stars, which is a tremendous achievement worthy a healthy measure of respect.

There are three menu options -- a la carte, a spring tasting menu, and a surprise tasting menu. We chose the surprise tasting menu.

I won't go into too many details here, but basically the food is, as you would expect, technically perfect. The quality of ingredients is beyond reproach, clearly no expense or effort has been spared with purveyors.

Highlights included a small "tomato" filled with basil foam, a bowl of "pops" (tiny octopus) with miniature gnochhi (endless thanks to the poor stagier who has to make this), lobster with wild mushrooms, and a prawn royale with prawn broth and white asparagus.

Desserts were uniformly dissapointing with the exception of a plate of 3 sorbets (pear, strawberry, pineapple) of which the strawberry was exceptional and the pineapple very good.

We all felt, overall, that the food was lacking somewhat in "local content". Aside from the Pops and the Prawns, the menu would have been just at home in any countryside restaurant in France. The overall feel of the menu was very French. All the plates, while again, technically perfect and utilizing pristine produce, were quite "simple".

I was not expecting El Bulli style creativity, nor would I have welcomed that at Can Fabes, but I did feel that many of the dishes were things that could be found in any of a number of restaurants.

Obviously, this is the style of food that Santi wants to serve, but I personally had hoped to see some more sparks of life and vitality on the plates. Our main meat course was simply a pear poached in wine, a roasted duck breast and some sauce with a touch of cocoa in it. It was good, but I was left feeling that I could have eaten the same dish anywhere, or even perhaps made a close simily myself.

Overall food summary -- high quality ingredients, perfect technique, but (for me) overly conservative preparations.

On the service side, we had a number of issues. I am actually a little reluctant to highlight complaints like these because I know first-hand how difficult it is to maintain a high level of quality throughout an entire dining experience.

On the other hand, Can Fabes has 3 Michelin stars and prices to match. Our meal came to over 210 euros per person. At this level, I am afraid that the expectation is one of perfection on all fronts and the service staff did not deliver, with the exception of our sommelier who was well versed, spoke Spanish well, was friendly, and had answers to all our questions.

As others have noted, the menu listings for the food are very simple. When food was presented at the table, I had hoped for better explanations, but the server basically just repeated what the menu said. On a few occasions, we asked for details on how a dish was prepared or what it contained, and the server either declined to answer, did not know the answer, or said they would find out, only to repeat a vague response. If I specifically ask about the details of a dish, I should be able to get a clear concise answer.

When it came time for dessert, the server brought out the petit fours FIRST, then dessert, and then the pre-dessert all within 60 seconds. When they placed the petit fours down, I thought to myself, this is it? We are already done the meal and are not getting any dessert (it was the surprise menu, so we were not sure at any given time how many courses were left). Then they brought out the dessert, and then the pre-dessert (which was simply a cup filled with whipped cream and caramel sauce). So there we were, sitting there surrounded by all 3 courses of dessert at the same time. I doubt this is how it is usually done, but at am a loss to explain why they served us like this.

A few minutes after clearing the last of the desserts they brought the bill without us having asked for it. In Spain, this is a definite no-no. Customers always ask for the bill when they are ready for it.

Lastly, they had kindly prepared a printed version of the menu for us to take home, but the menu was full of typos and spelling mistakes which I thought was very sloppy.

All this may seem like petty complaints, but I feel strongly that at this level, a restaurant simply has no room to make any mistakes. By point of comparison, we have been lucky enough to dine a number of times at the French Laundry in Napa Valley. A meal there typically costs about the same as what we spent at Can Fabes. However, everything is impeccable. Service is perfect, so perfect that at times we have wondered if they have hidden microphones in the tables so that the wait staff can hear what guests want and then magically bring it without speaking to anyone. We did not get the same impression here.

Overall service summary -- not up to 3* standards, at least not with the service staff that attended our table.

Overall summary -- in spite of my nit-picking, we did enjoy our meal. The food is very good and the ambience was nice, particularly as we were seated near the kitchen with a clear view inside. However, everyone in my party shared the opinion that the restaurant did not meet our expectations, especially when factoring in the price point and 3* rating.

I will post a separate review with food photographs this weekend.

J.

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After a visit last year I second BCNchef's views completely. Some stunning dishes, a sea urchin and a prawn ravioli in particular but the overall impression was that they couldn't wait to get us out the door. I speak a reasonable level of Spanish having a Masters degree and several years of living in Spain yet the staff insisted on speaking poor english even after I asked them to switch to Spanish for explanations of a dish, The sommelier disagreed completely with my choice of wines and seemed to have a bit of a tantrum when I ordered a Condrieu and although the meal was technically excellent it seemed to lack passion completely. I am in no rush to return but will make sure I visit 5 Sentits in the next few weeks to compare!.

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All this may seem like petty complaints, but I feel strongly that at this level, a restaurant simply has no room to make any mistakes. By point of comparison, we have been lucky enough to dine a number of times at the French Laundry in Napa Valley. A meal there typically costs about the same as what we spent at Can Fabes. However, everything is impeccable. Service is perfect, so perfect that at times we have wondered if they have hidden microphones in the tables so that the wait staff can hear what guests want and then magically bring it without speaking to anyone. We did not get the same impression here.

Overall service summary -- not up to 3* standards, at least not with the service staff that attended our table.

Well, I think you are quite right in complaining about these things in such a high level restaurant.

My experience is in these sorts of restaurants that a few things can go wrong, but it gets annoying when there are a large number of mistakes.

Of course it can depend on the staff that very day, but I do think that at a high level, staff should always be at a high standard.

On the other hand, I have noticed several times that when the chef is not in, there is a sort of lack of perfection overall in the restaurant. As if the kitchen staff as well as serving staff are trying harder to be perfect when the chef is around. Again, I think that at this level it should not happen.

When I was there, I got indeed a very good impression of the sommelier that loved his work and did speak English (or perhaps I spoke French with him, I don't remember). And since there was a girl who spoke good English as well, I didn't have any problems that I do remember about the service.

Saying, this, I can admit that I was there for lunch and that the restaurant was not at all completely booked so that there was plenty of staff for few tables.

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Has anyone eaten there in the autumn/winter months? I have the impression those would be the seasons where Can Fabes's cooking will be at its best. Mushrooms, truffle, game...


PedroEspinosa (aka pedro)

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I was there four years ago and quite impressed at the time. I was less familiar with the current state of fine dining in Spain and perhaps more easily impressed. My sense of the meal was that the restaurant would have had three stars in France. While I agree that the meal was in ways like a French meal, it was like a French meal as a meal in Burgundy is like a meal in meal in Normandy. While Spain is not France, Catalunya is an historic entity whose borders stretch across the Pyrenees into France. There are provincial cultural ties that are as strong as current political boundries. It's also a fact that top haute cuisine restaurants have a tendency to lose their local character. One finds balsamic vinegar in Alsace and Serrano ham in Paris. I deplore the loss of regional foods even in three star restaurants, yet I understand that more and more, one gets the chef's food, not the food of the region in such restaurants.

The sommelier's advice was good. He spoke to us almost exclusively in Spanish. I don't speak Spanish, but my wife is fluent in Spanish, if not Castillian, and carried on most of the conversation, translating for me at times. He also spent some time patiently answering questions about Spanish dessert wines, although after both red and white wines, I was not interesting in ordering a dessert wine before driving back to Barcelona.

Four years is a long time in the restaurant business. I have returned to restaurants in a shorter period of time not to recognize the food or service.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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bcnchef, thank you for your thorough response. We had pretty much the same experience that you had as we also did not see the sparks of vitality and life in the dishes. Thus we wondered.....is this a new shift on purpose? We have always seen that spark before and it was not there this time, which is why I started this thread. I am sad that the excitement we had experienced on other visits seemed to be gone. Thank you all on this topic for helping me through this analysis. We were concerned it might just have been us being too demanding. Simon mentioned that a new chef may be the reason for the changes. I would ask whether that is making the difference or is Santi just too preoccupied with his expansions and all that entails to be able to give his full attention to his cuisine?? And by the way, Simon,.....why is a chef other than Santi driving Santi's cuisine?

Thanks,

sumac

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Sumac,

I do not have the answer to your questions. As for my role in the kitchen, I'm just a cook whos cooking, or as I call it now, doing the dance. As for Santi, he is an omnipresent figure in our kitchen, even when he is physically absent. With that said, he does have a knack for lighting a fire under your *ss that no other person in the restaurant has.

As for eating in the fall and winter during the hunting season- that includes mushroom hunting, I might have a particular bias. It is obviously a cooks bias, with all the plucking of wild ducks, wood cock, partridge, etc., picking though and cleaning of local Montseny mushrooms and my personal pergatory--leek puree, I wasn't so sad to see spring arrive; but then spring has its shucking of peas and fava beans to contend with (not gonna waste my time thinking about the wild asparagus preperation). Now with summer upon us, the constant battle to keep things refrigerated makes every season a season to do the dance I suppose--so what was my point? Oh yeah, game--the preperation involved--plucking, skinning, butchering, hanging--no that wasn't it--my point is that impeccable produce means not waiting for someone else to manipulate it; not letting it wait in storage or on a delivery truck; not cutting corners and buying in bulk--it means having a guy pull up in the afternoon just before the sunsets and pulling the days catch out of his trunk, or the constant trafficking of wild mushrooms from... I want to call them Catalan Hillbillies. Yes, Santi might not be as available as before, but there is a local economy built around Can Fabes and with or without him, the produce still comes from that Jed Clampett (sp?) from Campins.

If I may...but Simon there is the produce and then what one does with the produce before it arrives on a plate in front of me. Couldn't one think of a more....? This is definately not my place to say. All I can do for the moment is imagine what I would do and follow orders (with my interpretations of them, of course).

Last word, then someone kick me off of this soapbox. Santi (I hope I'm not being to familiar) just celebrated his 10th anniversary with three Michelin stars, as some of you must know. The normal kitchen staff was now required to do the normal daily mis en place (prep work) along with prep for the anniversary banquet for almost 600. Quite an ordeal and one I will always remember for being in the spirit of Can Fabes--great produce, great execution.

Simon


Edited by Simon Sunwoo (log)

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Just a note to say that I will be in the area in a few weeks and could try Can Fabes again. I liked it on my first visit 15 months ago. The above makes me nervous and I suspect we will pass on it. Jordi's candor is rare in a collegial situation and I admire him for it. There are too many chefs out there afraid to speak their true feelings about other restaurants and chefs. Sumac and her husband are dining matesl and when they don't like a meal, I take it to heart.

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When it came time for dessert, the server brought out the petit fours FIRST, then dessert, and then the pre-dessert all within 60 seconds. When they placed the petit fours down, I thought to myself, this is it? We are already done the meal and are not getting any dessert (it was the surprise menu, so we were not sure at any given time how many courses were left). Then they brought out the dessert, and then the pre-dessert (which was simply a cup filled with whipped cream and caramel sauce). So there we were, sitting there surrounded by all 3 courses of dessert at the same time. I doubt this is how it is usually done, but at am a loss to explain why they served us like this.

I have found that many French restaurants will place the petit fours (mignardise) in the middle of the table before dessert is served. It harks back to the old banquet piece montée and is not unusual.

The toffee and cream isn't a pre-dessert, it is one of the desserts. Some chefs are putting 4 or 5 desserts in front of us at once, sometimes 10 in two services.

Desserts are not Santi's strong point, you need a Frenchman for that. :smile:

Bringing the bill sounds like a misunderstanding...or a hint.

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Desserts are not Santi's strong point, you need a Frenchman for that. :smile:

Santi Santamaría's No. 2 man happens to be French, and he's good. That said, I can send you a long list of chefs in Spain who make terrific desserts, and not one of them is French.

I don't agree that Santi's desserts are a letdown compared with the rest. I've tasted a number of them, like his blood orange crumble with bitter chocolate ice cream, that were terrific.


Victor de la Serna

elmundovino

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That said, I can send you a long list of chefs in Spain who make terrific desserts, and not one of them is French.

I don't agree that Santi's desserts are a letdown compared with the rest. I've tasted a number of them, like his blood orange crumble with bitter chocolate ice cream, that were terrific.

It would be a useful list for everyone. I find that desserts are very rarely up to the standard of the preceding courses and very seldom a strong point.

The French have the most interest in dessert and make the most effort to get it right.

Most chefs have very little interest and the pastry chefs seem to have little imagination. The word pastry about sums it up.

It's time they were called dessert chefs and stepped out the shadows.

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Pastry is a far more encompassing term. Dessert is a subcategory of pastry. On the whole I tend to prefer French pastry to that of Spain, but I've had excellent desserts in Spain, especially in the fine restaurants.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Not only did my trip in late May/June present us with the opportunity to taste the same ingredients from different regions of Spain and Italy, both in their bare incarnation and transformed by the hands of creative chefs with different cultural backgrounds, but we were able to observe how controversies occupying the chefs’ minds – between the desire to be extravagant and the constraints imposed by the caution of tradition; between the instinct to wipe out the past and the nostalgia to preserve it; between the notion that cultivated taste does deserve to be heeded and the egalitarian idea that people can judge as wisely in the arts of food as they are presumed to be able to do in less subjective matters; between a love for science and a fear of it; between admiration for the expert and distrust of him; between the sense that man must conquer natural ingredients and alter them to his will and the reverence that argues that man should accommodate himself to nature – either made the chefs rely solely on their roots, moving away from the aristocratic spirit of the “dandy,” or made them advocates of modernity, distilling the eternal from the transitory out of the urban flux.

From Can Majó, Bar Pinotxo, L’Academia, Rafa’s to Can Fabes , El Celler de Can Roca , Abac and El Bulli in Spain; from Fiaschetteria Toscana, Alle Testiere, Il Cibreo, Il Pizzaiuolo to Le Calandre, Enoteca Pinchiorri and La Pergola in Italy, from rustic and honest to gracious and refined, from sheer and almost unadulterated farce to the unsurpassed ensembles of extraordinary combinations, it made us realize that we live in interesting times of culinary rebirth that spreads its web across countries through the driving force and aspirations of chefs dreaming to find their place in the today’s world; and no matter how strongly some resist participating in this process, choosing the role of silent witness, they are affected by these changes subconsciously, even though perhaps not always to their advantage.

The difference in tone between the sophisticated elegance of the old creations at Can Fabes and Santamaria’s current dishes, in which he attempted to implement measured simplification, was a step back toward neo-classical or rather traditional conformism, stripping away the aura of excitement and imagination prevalent in his earlier creations. It was as if in the process of subordinating his skill to the ingredients Santamaria’s creative spirit became somehow suppressed, making his dishes less transparent – the wonderful lightness somewhat lost in crude tradition, no more euphony, no more exhilarating tempo, vigor, and continuity.

Take one of the older dishes, Santamaria’s signature Ravioli de Gambas al Aceite de "ceps", representing the best example of his creativity, the dish that also brought him recognition. Though uncomplicated – a sheet of flattened raw red shrimp (marbled with almost pulsating red veins, as if still alive and breathing), passed under the salamander momentarily, to give it a warm touch, and wrapped around finely chopped ceps and onion confit – it is a delightfully frivolous, brilliant and witty dish, which was as much about ceps as it was about the magnificent shrimp.

Dish #1

Shrimp3.jpg

The sparkling motion of earth and sea, and the clarity of tastes of the extraordinary shrimp and the earthy richness of ceps, despite the somewhat dominating sweetness of the onions, deserves applause. There was nothing in this dish that contradicted the essence of Catalan culinary tradition (sautéed mushrooms with sweet onions seems to be the theme throughout Spain: Elena Arzak uses the same combination in her pitaya ravioli), yet the sensitized elegance, the sense of completeness with all “particles” brought into alliance so naturally and unassumingly made tradition assimilate into the contemporary thought.

None of the subsequent dishes reached the same heights of aesthetics, nor did all of them pass the test of exemplary execution on our visit.

Foie gras in a thick pea velouté was slightly overdone: having released too much fat, it contaminated the pure taste of spring, suppressing the peas’ delicate sweetness, rather than reaching an ideal balance of two perfect ingredients.

Dish #2

DSC01686.jpg

A striking lemon(?) acidity suspended the logic of the langoustine dish, interrupting the expressive power of excellent cigalas against the nuances of their fresh accompaniment of white and green asparagus, green peas and tomato.

Dish #3

cigalas1.jpg

The pulpito dish – the impressionistic naturmort, swept with waves of bright, loosely applied colors of a beautiful collage of skillfully carved carrots, zucchini, roasted pine nuts and white asparagus that mingled carelessly with baby octopus while bathing in a polished, thin version of the Majoran sobrasada (minced pork mixed with paprika) sauce intense and salty – in all its rustic crudeness, nevertheless, was elevated to a certain height of refinement, while not quite liberated from the traditional restraints. Though a lovely dish, it didn’t quite manage to surpass its simpler relative of pulpito in its own ink with beans that one can savor at Pinotxo (a plain stall in the heart of the Baquería market).

Dish #4

baby-squid1.jpg

A single Espardenya played wonderfully against a gelatinous piece of pork, establishing a textural correlation, yet there was a binding material missing between the elements, resulting in a lack of continuity of the overall “narrative.”

Dish #5

espardenya1.jpg

A long-awaited leg of kid, roasted for three hours – visually a striking dish, transporting current times into a 17th century still life with rich feasts full of lavish, sensual fare, as once depicted by De Heem – revealing the most wonderful tastes concentrated on the glazed surface of the meat, could’ve easily established its superiority over the more homogeneous sous-vide versions I had at Abac and Can Roca (though enjoyable in their own rights), had it not been slightly dried out.

Dish #6

kid2.jpg

In other words, if Santamaria’s earlier dishes represented a new culinary language, which sought a brokerage between “low” and “high” cultural forms – borrowing ideas from tradition and lending them to high-end dining to reinvigorate their own idioms and forge alliance with more contemporary thoughts – the current dishes remain attached to the centuries-old traditions, and, to a certain extent, lack perfection in execution. Whether Santamaria became discouraged by the modernistic culinary “syntax” (in which an element of surprise, often bordering on sensual shock, became a technical paradigm), attempting to disassociate himself from the current trends of “arty” dishes, or he simply decided to shift toward an uncomplicated, orderly style, reinventing classics to refocus the diners’ concentration on ingredients, the artistic gesture in his new creations became subordinated to the simple reproduction of traditional fare, rather than being a highly individualistic expressions based on tradition. Such reliance on simplicity also demands unquestionable quality not only of ingredients, superiority of which was notable at Can Fabes, but also of execution and measured application, since even one overblown ingredient may jeopardize the whole dish, as the foie gras in his pea velouté dish.

However, despite this criticism, Can Fabes is still solid, in my opinion, for two reasons: the quality of the main ingredients and Santamaria’s magic touch, which brings out the most extraordinary, unparalleled, and very vital concentration of flavors, similar to that of Adriá, but without abandoning the ingredients’ primary forms or seeking revenge on convention.

Let’s examine the same dishes from a different perspective.

The gently warm pea velouté (Dish #2), for instance, was given a virtuoso treatment and rendered a flavor of ripe sumptuousness, wrapping the mouth with exquisite smoothness, intensity and restraint all at once; the most profound sweetness and plumpness of langoustines (Dish #3) made me stop in admiration, as if the essence of perfection suddenly was revealed in the trivial and the commonplace; espardenya (Dish #5) – a real jewel, a masterpiece, treated kindly, its fickle texture (which hardens easily) preserved gentle – was cooked a la plancha, i.e. no different than what one can get at a local bar, yet it carried supreme regality of both texture and taste. When one espardenya (in the region where espardenyas are common and can be savored in large quantities at many eateries) becomes a self-contained miracle, shining so brightly that it substantially divorces itself from the rest of its kind, making it unique and desirable, the talent of a chef and his “magic touch” become apparent.

In other words, though uneven, Can Fabes is certainly a destination restaurant. I would not consider the set (tasting) menu at Can Fabes to be the best approach to designing a successful meal, but four courses (excluding desserts, which I didn’t find appealing), carefully chosen from the regular list (the kitchen will be happy to create a customized tasting, including extra small dishes to balance your choices), which should be dominated by seafood, should prove to be a vital and very satisfying experience.


Edited by lxt (log)

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An extraordinarily thoughtful report, lxt. Are you sure the kid was roasted and not cooked sous vide? When I was there a year ago, I was under the impression that the kid was cooked sous vide and finished for the surface maillard reaction. The dish was sublime.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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You're right, John. It's evidently cooked 'sous vide' and finished for seven minutes in the oven. I've found other odd errors in this report - like calling sobrasada a "sauce" or asserting that the ravioli de gambas was "the dish that also brought him [santamaria] recognition". If that ain't oversimplification, then what is? It's like saying the soupe de truffes VGE was the dish that brought Bocuse recognition...

As a matter of fact, the ravioli did bring Santamaria some very negative recognition: when Patricia Wells of the International Herald Tribune wrote her then-famous series on the ten best restaurants and ten best informal restaurants in the world over a decade ago, she hated the texture of the uncooked shrimp so much that she downgraded Can Fabes...

Strange report, lxt... To someone basically simplistic like me, a hard read.

For instance:

So, how was that pea velouté? First, I read that it was "contaminated" by the foie gras fat, "suppressing the peas’ delicate sweetness." And then, I read that it "rendered a flavor of ripe sumptuousness, wrapping the mouth with exquisite smoothness, intensity and restraint all at once".

You've lost me right there. :unsure:


Victor de la Serna

elmundovino

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John, thank you very much. The kid was not on the menu that day (the lamb was). I inquired about it and was told that the restaurant was not currently serving kid and that this dish was unavailable. However, when the time came for a meat course, we were served kid – a surprising gesture we greatly appreciated. The reason for my interest in the kid at Can Fabes was your original report, which made me want to try Santamaria’s sous vide interpretation. However, when I specifically asked whether the meat was cooked sous vide, I was told no, that the version we were served was roasted for three hours instead. There is of course a possibility that the waiter wasn’t properly informed; however, the meat (unfortunately stringy and tough) tasted roasted, flavor and texture wise, unless Santamaria managed to achieve a result similar to roasting through the caramelizing process. We have had more than just one version of sous vide meats, including kid at Abac, all of which had very distinctive textural similarities and were not comparable to the version we were served at Can Fabes.

Let me clarify the points addressed by vserna. Of course sobrasada is not a sauce; it’s a sausage! Neither is pepper a sauce when used in the context of “red pepper sauce.” What Can Fabes served with the pulpito, described, by the way, by the Maitre d’ as “sobrasada sauce,” was a very thin sauce, binding together all the ingredients in the dish, using sobrasada for its flavor base. (Before the editing deadline, I slightly changed the word order in my post. I hope this helped.)

You say toMAYto and I say toMAHto; you say infamous and I say famous. Patricia Wells says, “I have my doubts about its validity,” but also says “He [santamaria] has become famous for his ravioli de gambas – a carpaccio of the freshest baby shrimp molded upon a ‘filling’ of pureed, sautéed wild mushrooms and showered with chives and parsley.” This dish has remained on the menu since 1987, and for good reason. Let’s call the whole thing off.

The pea velouté and foie gras were two separate components of the same dish. In first describing why the end-result of the dish wasn’t successful, I said, “[H]aving released too much fat, it [the foie gras] contaminated the pure taste of spring, suppressing the peas’ delicate sweetness, rather than reaching an ideal balance of two perfect ingredients.” Later on, I again praised the velouté, saying that it "was given a virtuoso treatment and rendered a flavor of ripe sumptuousness, wrapping the mouth with exquisite smoothness, intensity and restraint all at once." In other words, the pea velouté was wonderful, but the poorly prepared foie gras ruined the dish.

As I said, the meal was uneven. Almost each dish contained both exceptionally and poorly prepared ingredients at the same time. I still believe that Santamaria is one of the few chefs who can provide the most extraordinary ingredients prepared excellently, which, however, is no excuse for inconsistencies in execution.


Edited by lxt (log)

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