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Digijam

El Bulli 2004

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Not sure how interested anyone will be, given how many times Ferran Adria crops up on this forum, but here goes with a slightly longwinded roundup of a trip made to El Bulli last Sunday, 4th April.

I'd been dreaming of going there for some time, having stumbled upon the whole molecular cookery thing after getting into Harold McGee and Peter Barham, which in turn led me to Blumenthal and on to Adria.

So, having bored my wife endlessly with talk and kitchen experiments involving foams, slow cooking techniques and the like, she not only bought me the El Bulli book for Christmas but also managed to get reservations. This seems to have been a matter of sending begging e-mails even when Louis Garcia sent the customary 'sorry, but the whole world wants to eat here' reply. Amazingly the date he finally offered was that of my birthday. That, plus the knowledge we'd be eating a brand new menu just four days after the restaurant reopened, just seemed too good to be true.

Then I discovered eGullet, noticed a few negative comments up here about last year's menu, and started to worry. Had I missed the golden years? Had Adria lost the plot?

Not a bit of it. It turned out to be the best meal I've ever eaten, no contest. Not that I've eaten in all the big namecheck restaurants, but I'd like to think I know enough about food and eating out to know good from bad, and exciting new ideas from emperor's new clothes.

First, the service: In contrast to those negative posts, I found the staff extremely enthusiastic. Maybe our enthusiasm was infectious, but they seemed to relish handing us every one of the 30 courses. The initial appetiser dishes arrived a little too quickly, and clashed with me attempting to wade through the wine menu, but that was really about as bad as it got. Yes, they only fill a small amount in each glass. But given that we never once had to wait for a refill this wasn't a problem. It clearly didn't slow us down. Starting a manzanilla aperitif we managed to plough through a bottle of cava, a bottle of white, and a bottle of Muscat dessert wine over the course of our five hour meal (a little too much booze to appreciate the food by the end, to be honest). Not to mention six bottles of mineral water poured in that same small portion way.

While five hours might sound like an age I can honestly say we never seemed to stop eating. At one point we even considered asking them to slow the service down. For our second bottle I asked them to recommend a local Sauvignon, and they chose one of the cheapest wines on the list rather than trying to price us up. Tasted great, too.

Now, the food: In a way I must admit I was expecting it to be more way out and challenging. Less about food, more solely about taste. Now here I can't compare to previous years beyond looking in the El Bulli book, but it seems as though maybe Adria is trying harder to balance the weird and wonderful with more substantial elements. Not that it feels like a step back. Rather, I think he's maybe using his bags of tricks more as tools than toys. He's also clearly into Japanese ingredients right now, and seems to be favouring the clean tastes of seafood (plus a little Iberica ham). There were no offal dishes at all.

I was also surprised by some of the portions. I had expected everything to be pretty much a single mouthful, yet around six of the middle courses were pretty substantial starter sizes. And contrary to expectation, we were absolutely stuffed by the end.

First up were the introductory cocktails. There were two, but one was actually just a tiny solid green ball of concentrated tarragon flavour. The other, a hot honey drink infused with some local herb, came accompanied by crisped beetroot with a sweetness bizarrely offsetting the bitter. This was mirrored with a dish at the end featuring a sweetened beetroot cut into a flower shape - similar mixing of sweet and savoury and mirroring of dishes cropped up in other ways throughout the menu.

Among the appetisers were a small bowl of what looked like foam packing chips (funny, I've often thought those things looked and smelled appetising), each with a piece of ginger attached. They also brought a white, square candle. Except the candle was actually a container filled with creamed coconut, to be spread on the foam chips. I can see why some might think this sort of thing pointless, but it tasted damn good, and it made us laugh.

Another cocktail turned up a little later, 'Espuma de nitro Heston Blumenthal'. A ball of whisky sour frozen on the outside so as to collapse once in the mouth, we were told it had been donated by the English chef.

Foams were pretty much absent except for an appearance as a dashi flavoured cloud on what I seem to recall was a spider crab dish, and - more comically - in a dish composed solely of a frozen 'air' of Gruyere, served in a fast food style container.

Instead Adria seems more interested in using flowers as garnishes, mucking about with yoghurt (including a clear jelly that tasted of the stuff - how, I have no idea), scents (one dish was even served with spoons with slots for thyme leaves, while another consisted solely of a balloon filled with a refreshing smell - something some diners found plain daft), and nuts.

The latter really worked well, especially in a gorgeous dish of pumpkin gnocchi with pistachio sauce and oil. Simple sounding, but perfectly flavoured. Another was based around almonds, but the bits that looked like almonds weren't, and the bits that didn't were. Oh,and nearly forgot about the popcorn soup, which consisted of a salted popcorn flavour liquid, melting butter, and a pile of popcorn dust. A predictable though great taste, though our laughter did occasionally spray the popcorn everywhere.

There were one or two things from previous menus, including a two spoon combo of pea and mint in one and a pea gelatine ball in the other. Nothing earth shattering, but it worked well as a fresh flavour cleanser between more complex courses. The old parmesan spaghetti with lemon dish also made an appearance, and was really the only disappointment. It tasted fine, but was no doubt a lot of work for something that wasn't any better than a regular spaghetti.

Actually, probably the most unadventurous thing of all taste-wise was a birthday cake they brought out for me. But it looked amazing, with a one foot high circular lattice tower of white chocolate around it. Not sure whether it was just because we were so obviously enjoying the meal or because of the occasion but they invited us into the kitchen after the meal to look around and meet the man himself, who gamely posed for the inevitable tourist photo. I just wish I hadn't been so drunk as to make it impossible to say much about the food beyond hurling superlatives at him. Maybe next time I'll ask him for that job :)

Thinking about why we enjoyed it so much while others haven't, it occurs to me that the service might not always go so smoothly. With such long hours and so many courses, things are bound to slip occasionally. As for enjoying the food itself, I think if you go demanding a life changing experience you're going to lose. I get the impression Adria's ultimate aim is just to entertain. All the innovations, experiments, and visual/taste jokes are really just his way of searching for ways to deliver the best flavours in the most memorable ways. Which ultimately is exactly what I want from a place like El Bulli.

Anyway, I've no doubt gone on far too long. Enough of my rambling.

Mark

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Many thanks for the report, and we hope to see much more of you on the boards. I'd like to add, however, that while there have been some negative comments by individual eGulleters, my sense of the overall mood of the site is that we are quite pro-Adria. Perhaps someone can assemble the key Adria links again so we can include those cross-references here.

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Thanks for such a detailed post. Not sure if this is kosher, but there was another very good post on El Bulli on "the other site" today:

http://www.chowhound.com/boards/intl/messages/27995.html

I see Ferran as a true culinary and cultural explorer. I don't expect him to rest on his laurels, because he seems to have such a strong philosophical mission. I haven't yet had the opportunity to go to El Bulli, but I will have to find a way when I go to Spain next year.

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Thanks for the comments from you both. Glad it was of some use.

Fat Guy - I definitely agree the overrall tone here is pro-Adria. It was just the disappointing experiences of Lizziee and Matthew Grant (http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=5915) that got me worried.

Bufferfly - Nice review from the Chowhound guy. Very detailed. He's spot on about the whole thing tasting very healthy. Lots of clean seafood, nut, and herb flavours, and a complete absence of anything that would make people feel squeamish. Although to be fair, also an absence of spice or heat, which is maybe a shame.

No doubt it'll all have evolved again when you head there next year. Just be prepared for the expense of a trip the year after. And the year after that...

Mark

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Digijam, excellent post and welcome to eGullet. It sounds like a meal great for the food and the fun. Where did you stay for your visit and did you get to any other restaurants in the area?

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Although to be fair, also an absence of spice or heat, which is maybe a shame.

Spain is not a country where very spicy or hot food is much appreciated, be it in modern or traditional cuisine. Not much in common, save the language, with Mexico...

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I see that MiguelCardoso has linked to this thread from mefi. Also to Moby and Jonathan's article on Adrià's recent London appearance and to lizziee's account of her "wonderful to absurd" experience at El Bulli.

Miguel's primary link is to a Slate piece by Sara Dickerman in which Adrià is discussed in the context of the industrialization of food and contrasted with the "Slow Food" movement. Ms. Dickerman admits that she's never actually eaten at El Bulli - like me she has to rely on Adrià's books and the various published accounts of his cuisine. I find it extremely frustrating that she writes a very thoughtful piece but then ultimately fails to "get" what Adrià's all about (IMO, obviously). It's also rather frustrating that I can't post a reply on mefi. :angry:

Thank you, Digijam, for posting your first-hand account of a meal at El Bulli. And thank you , butterfly, for the Chowhound link.

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Not sure how interested anyone will be, given how many times Ferran Adria crops up on this forum

I will assure you I read your post thoroughly with great interest. Detailed accounts of exactly what was eaten can be a bore at times, although I have been guilty of exactly such posts and will probably do it again. Some people ask for that. Nevertheless, with Adria, it's often necessary. I think you had a good balance of informative reporting, objective opinion and enlightening subjectivity. I join Fat Guy in looking forward to your continued participation here. Welcome to eGullet and to the Spain and Portugal forum.

'Espuma de nitro Heston Blumenthal' ...  donated by the English chef.

It was interesting to read that. My one meal at the Fat Duck was most interesting and enjoyable and my impression is that the overall mood of the site is rather pro-Blumenthal too, but he's had at least one detractor who felt he was an Adria/Martin wannabe. My sense is that Adria must regard him highly to use his recipe and credit him on the menu. I know they are both involved in Inicom.

My apologies for taking so long to comment. I will swear I had responded a couple of days ago, but it appears that message was never posted.

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I see that MiguelCardoso has linked to this thread from mefi. Also to Moby and Jonathan's article on Adrià's recent London appearance and to lizziee's  account of her "wonderful to absurd" experience at El Bulli.

Miguel's primary link is to a Slate piece by Sara Dickerman in which Adrià is discussed in the context of the industrialization of food and contrasted with the "Slow Food" movement. Ms. Dickerman admits that she's never actually eaten at El Bulli - like me she has to rely on Adrià's books and the various published accounts of his cuisine. I find it extremely frustrating that she writes a very thoughtful piece but then ultimately fails to "get" what Adrià's all about (IMO, obviously). It's also rather frustrating that I can't post a reply on mefi. :angry:

We had a thread here about that Slate piece and it's worth noting in this context.

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my impression is that the overall mood of the site is rather pro-Blumenthal too, but he's had at least one detractor who felt he was an Adria/Martin wannabe. My sense is that Adria must regard him highly to use his recipe and credit him on the menu.

Ferran Adrià is a very good friend of Blumenthal's and is on the record as saying that Heston is "the most innovative chef in Europe."

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Not sure if this is kosher, but there was another very good post on El Bulli on "the other site" today:

http://www.chowhound.com/boards/intl/messages/27995.html

I think you must have us confused with "the other site." Chowhound deletes links to eGullet, not vice-versa. You will find scores of links from eGullet to Chowhound. We have no beef with Chowhound other than these deletions and the abusive treatment some of our members have received over there.

And we enjoy the opportunity to show eGullet off, because what you will find on eGullet is an extensive repository of English-language discussion about El Bulli, Ferran Adria, and avant-garde cuisine.

When media were recently invited to interview Ferran Adria in London, he gave 5 interviews: The Times of London, The Financial Times, The Telegraph, The Independent, and . . . Jonathan and Moby from eGullet. As well, eGullet's international staff is often in contact with Ferran Adria and his organization via e-mail and phone. Robert Brown has written of his visit to Adria's "Taller" -- the off-season laboratory where he creates the menus for the coming season. Even key print articles written of late about El Bulli have nodded to eGullet: the Lubow piece in the New York Times Times magazine mentions eGullet on the first page, when the BBC covered the Lubow story it referenced eGullet, the print coverage of the El Bulli book has repeatedly quoted Steve Klc, and when Chuck Martin wrote about El Bulli in the Enquirer his second paragraph read in part "Many consider El Bulli among the best restaurants in the world, and it's certainly the most buzzed about - on egullet.com, in Wine Spectator and in the Sunday New York Times Magazine." This makes sense, of course: where else but in avant garde media would you expect to find discussion of El Bulli? In addition, of course, we have had online Q&A with Grant Achatz and Heston Blumenthal, as well as much coverage of Jose Andres. And thanks to our Spain forum host Robert Buxbaum and great contributing members like Robert Brown, Victor Serna (when I met Santi Santamaria and mentioned Victor's name, he embraced me -- literally), Miguel Cardoso, and too many others to name, we have tried to provide information about the whole of the Spanish culinary scene -- not just Ferran Adria and El Bulli, and not just the Michelin-starred places.

Just a few examples of what you will find on eGullet, and I emphasize that this is not a complete list:

27 Small Courses of Ferran Adria, from an interview with Jonathan Day and Moby Pomerance, in The Daily Gullet, Monday, April 5, 2004

http://egullet.com/?pg=ARTICLE-27courses

Eight at El Bulli, A Journey to Dining's Outer Reaches, by Jonathan Day and

Robert Brown, Monday, April 21, 2003

http://www.egullet.com/?pg=ARTICLE-dayonelbulli

Table Dancing: The Last Article You Will Read On Ferran Adria (Today), by

Timothy C. Davis, Thursday, August 21, 2003

http://www.egullet.com/?pg=ARTICLE-tabledancingadria

The Cabinet of Dr. Adria, A visit to the el Bulli Laboratory

http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=24647

Avant garde cooking and El Bulli, A tradition of its own?

http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=19887

El Bulli: 1998-2002, A culinary book for the ages

http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=14330

El Bulli--From wonderful to absurd

http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=5915

Learning to Cook . . . Again and Again and Again, a discussion with Chef Grant Achatz, by Jonathan Day, Tuesday, March 4, 2003

http://www.egullet.com/?pg=ARTICLE-dayonachatz

eGullet Q&A with Grant Achatz

http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showforum=91

eGullet Q&A with Heston Blumenthal

http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showforum=64

Jose's Minibar

http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=26554

San Sebastian Dining: Akelare to Zuberoa, by Robert Brown, Thursday, September 18, 2003

http://www.egullet.com/?pg=ARTICLE-brownsansebastian

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Thanks for the rundown... Glad to hear that there's a more liberal policy about posting here.

I'm a strictly apolitical food lover and am happy to graze for food tips on both sites. But I find the deeper philosophical debates to be much better here, particularly on this board. I'm looking forward to being able to contribute much more once I physically move to Spain this summer (I'm already there in spirit).

Somewhat off-topic--but not entirely, since he's an Adria protege--my hometown guy Jose Andres was featured in an article in Food and Wine this month:

http://www.foodandwine.com/invoke.cfm?obje...806318DBC514BAD

To bring it back around to Madrid, when my husband's foodie cousins from Madrid were visiting the USA last summer, the only meal that they really enjoyed on the entire trip was at Andres' restaurant Zaytinya.


Edited by butterfly (log)

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To bring it back around to Madrid, when my husband's foodie cousins from Madrid were visiting the USA last summer, the only meal that they really enjoyed on the entire trip was at Andres' restaurant Zaytinya.

Really? No disrespect meant to my fellow countrymen, but this brings back memories of my younger years when I was growing up in Switzerland and the US and we always laughed at Spanish friends who visited us and were obsessed with finding a good paella in Geneva or New York, showing no interest for raclette in the Vieille Ville or for a sound sirloin steak at Palm's or Peter Luger's...

I seldom go to Spanish restaurants in the United States, not because I don't respect the good job some of them are finally doing (things are better on the Spanish front now than in the 1960s, 1070s or 1980s, no doubt), but because I basically when I'm there I have little time to waste in tasting familiar things, and would rather go for barbecued ribs, for modern Southwestern cuisine or for Alfred Portale's architectural concoctions: things that to me are quintessentially American and, for that reason, all the more interesting. I find it hard to believe that a modern-day Spaniard, and much less so a "foodie", couldn't find really enjoyable meals in the US away from a Spanish restaurant - again, as good as that restaurant is.

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I refused to take them to a Spanish place--but I knew they would like Zaytinya, because it is really a Spanish take on greek/turkish food viewed through an American filter. The other things that they loved: soft shell crabs (do they have these in Spain?), baby carrots, blackberries, grits, pupusas, and chevre (at least it was made in Pennsylvania and not France...).

I've found it's tough to take Spaniards to dinner in the US. Most (and these primos were no exception) don't really tolerate any sort of spicy food, so much of what is good here in DC was out for them. And the rhythm of meals is so different here. They are foodies, in that they can give an hour long treatise on the processing of pata negra, percebes and cabrales, but unfortunately not as adventurous when it comes to "other."

And by the time they got to us, they were at the end of a three-week tour through the US (Florida mostly) and they were pretty much exhausted and disgusted by the huge American portions and expressed a preference for something light when they got here. The "Spanish" family in Florida--which has really been thoroughly cubanized--may have overdone it with the cuban sandwiches. And finally I think that seeing all of the overweight Americans was starting to elicit a temporary eating disorder...


Edited by butterfly (log)

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They are foodies, in that they can give an hour long treatise on the processing of pata negra, percebes and cabrales, but unfortunately not as adventurous when it comes to "other."

It's frequently true that a deep appreciation of one thing, may hinder an appreciation of other things. It's possible to become such a connoisseur of certain things that things to the right and left of the scale just have no meaning or interest. I know I have had a narrower range of tastes than I do now and that at one time my range was narrowing as I developed a greater interest in that range.

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Ferran Adria in London, he gave 5 interviews: The Times of London, The Financial Times, The Telegraph, The Independent, and . . . Jonathan and Moby from eGullet. As well, eGullet's international staff is often in contact with Ferran Adria and his organization via e-mail and phone.

any point dropping the egullet name when trying to beg a reservation?

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Thanks for all the replies.

Docsconz - I only actually stayed up at Roses for one day (at the Terraza), and didn't get a chance to eat anywhere but El Bulli. Prior to that I'd been in Barcelona for a couple of days, staying at the Hotel Arts. It's a bit pricey, but I can recommend it if only for the free champagne at breakfast! The hotel has two new restaurants which looked very promising, and seemed to be doing good business.

As for food, on day one we did the obligatory tapas at - not sure about the spelling here - Cervecer Catalana (great value, but nothing amazing), followed by Can Sole in the evening. Food at the latter was very rustic, but superb all the same. Day two involved the inevitable paella, at L'Havernacle in the Parc de la Ciutadella - surprisingly good, considering the location. Then to round off we managed to wheedle our way into Abac, for a run through the tasting menu. I'd rate is as one of my all time favourite meals, not least because it was a surprisingly comfortable place. Few Michelin level restaurants seem able to offer a dining experience so formal yet friendly.

Vserna - Good point regards the spice. Given Adria's Eastern leanings these days I had thought he might explore this a little. But then I guess he's more enamoured by Japanese than Thai, Indonosian or whatever.

It's nice to see Adria giving Blumenthal the thumbs up. Not that he needs it, but it does help dispel the daft accusations of plagariasm. I really can't understand how anybody who has tried both restaurants could come to that conclusion. For me Adria's food is much more about minimalism (which I assume stems from classic Spanish cuisine and tapas in particular), and therefore more closely aligned with people like Nobu or Tetsuya Wakuda. There are generally few ingredients on the plate, it's just that they are very fresh, or transformed and presented strangely, or paired in unexpected ways.

Blumenthal, on the other hand, mixes his interest in science with classic French influences, and so is as much into the idea of refining existing foods and dishes through techniques such as slow meat cooking, heating chips three times, and so on, as he is serving a few smaller, simpler, more out-there dishes. As a result - weird gadgets used by both parties aside - Blumenthal's main dishes such as the Pigeon with pistilla ( http://shopping.guardian.co.uk/food/story/...,876093,00.html ) seem generally more complex than Adria's. Not necessarily better or easier to come up with in the first place, just with more ingredients, more cooking stages and so on.

All this typing is making me hungry...

Mark

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Thanks for posting about your meal!

Eagarly awaiting more reports as the season unfolds...

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I, too, am working on my 2004 El Bulli review. I had the pleasure to dine there 2 April after a last minute cancellation got me a reservation. I'll be posting back in a few days with the update.

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I, too, am working on my 2004 El Bulli review. I had the pleasure to dine there 2 April after a last minute cancellation got me a reservation. I'll be posting back in a few days with the update.

Oh Yeah!!!

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Hello to everyone, I AM the guy from the "other board!"

I've been enjoying this board for a while now and found it especially useful in planning my pilgrimage to El Bulli. I was very pleased to see my "notes" linked from this site as I was planning on sharing my experience with everyone here but hadn't gotten around to it. I've become a member now, so thanks for that!

I'm thrilled to find others who've already tasted El Bulli 2004. At the risk of sounding too much like a member of a strange religious cult, the experience was so startling I've found it hard to explain, let alone share.

I was surprised to hear about the "Espuma de nitro Heston Blumenthal" served the night after I was there being a frozen whiskey sour. Ours was called a "truffle ball" by the head waiter. Perhaps the "flavor" changes but the process, which was so dramatic when done tableside for us, is now part of the repetoire.

There were a number of dishes that passed our table that we didn't taste. Of course we asked about them and were told that each table had a personalized menu. I was taken into the kitchen at the height of service and the impression I got was of Ferran as a conductor in front of his orchestra. The logistics of getting these dishes out, in a timely fashion, with different tables receiving slightly varied tasting menus, must be daunting.

The "notetaker" at our table has just returned from his extended tour of France and Italy so I'm looking forward to remembering the finer details of each course. There might be a few sketches and photos as well.

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I have finally finished my review of El Bulli 2004 and posted it on my site. Here is a copy - my site is complete with 2 pics from the meal if you want to take a look.

Keep in mind that I wrote this as a food lover and for El Bulli newbies...

http://www.nerdgirl.com/comments.php?id=281_0_1_0_C

20 APRIL 2004 - MODIFIED TEXT A BIT AND ADDED PHOTOS

***************************************************************

El Bulli - 2 April 2004

Thursday marked the opening day of the El Bulli season. For those of you unfamiliar with this restaurant I will fill you in with a brief history. El Bulli has been reputed to be “The Best Restaurant in the World” by Restaurant Magazine and many of the world’s greatest chefs. Ferran Adria is the, I dare say, Madman/Scientist/Magician behind El Bulli. I hardly believe that the mere title of Chef embodies enough to describe this visionary gastronomic maestro. The restaurant holds 3 coveted Michelin Stars and renowned as being also one of the hardest reservations in the world to secure… According to some reports, there are approximately 300,000 requests per 6 month season and only 8,000 seats available. Reservations are closed the first day that they are taken for the entire season.

So you might be asking yourself how the Queen of Nerds secures such a hot ticket on the culinary scene… I have one simple answer for you. That it was pure and coincidental luck. The stars and the Gods aligned on one particular day and my persistence finally paid off after two years. I happened to fax a request for any cancellations at the exact moment that the Maitre D had received a cancellation. He told me that it was at that precise moment so he felt that it was fate that I must receive the table despite the waiting list. The lovely man even tried to phone me 3 times before I answered my mobile. To think that I almost lost my booking by screening my calls! I would have been devastated.

THE MEAL

Ok, enough about the boring stuff. Let’s get on to the stuff that dreams are made of…

el_bulli_menu_sm.jpg

THE MENU - CLICK TO VIEW LARGE VERSION

The menu at El Bulli is set menu of approximately 25-30 courses and runs for about 4 hours. Be sure to take your favourite people, although be forewarned that you will have no time for idle chitchat as the food will become the focus of every conversation. Everyone must enter El Bulli with a bit of adventure and optimism. The restaurant is not for the faint-hearted or picky. It must also be understood that at the heart of the El Bulli phenomenon is not that every course is necessarily going to taste great. The soul of what makes El Bulli the “Best Restaurant in the World” is that the chef is testing the boundaries of modern cuisine. Ferran Adria is reinventing and reshaping our perception of food and the artistry that surrounds a dining experience. Food is meant to be appreciated, loved, played with and Ferran is the all masterful Wizard of Oz.

THE COURSES

I have missed out on some translations and not quite completed the descriptions due to laziness, but hopefully you will get the general idea.

Concentrado de estragón con miel y mastic

Served on a spoon with the word – ConcentradO (the 0 being the course)

Concentrated tarragon with honey. This was interesting, good palette cleanser. My tongue went numb and I could have sworn that it was laced with Novocain!

Patatas con aceite de aceituna negra con àcido cìtrico

Potato chips with black olive oil and citric acid

Standard thin chips in different oils and lightly salted. This was about the time that they brought my Cava. Yum, Cava.

Pistachulin de fresas del bosque al té

Mantequilla de coco ahumada con porex al gengibre

Coco butter with ginger pores (sorry the translation is weird on that one)

This was one of those tricky courses. I could swear that they brought out a candle and some prawn crackers. Turned out that the candle was actually coco butter! And it was delish on the little air cakes.

Brocheta de corteza de cerdo al mentol con grasa de jamón

Mint pork scratchins. The oddest thing about this course was that my dinner companion and I were having a conversation about 5 minutes earlier about white trash food and our love for pork scratchins. We actually stopped ourselves and joked that only we would talk about pig skins at a 3 star Michelin restaurant. I guess we are a little more avant garde than we’d like to think (or Ferran digs a little big of pig snouts too!). The mint taste was a bit off-putting for a usual bar crowd, but it was still pleasant.

Falsa “espardenya” con sisho, sésamo y yuzu

Fake sea cucumbers

Deep fried seaweed and rice cakes. These were really cute little guys.

Nueces frescas con mahonesa de nueces

Walnuts with walnut mayonnaise

The walnuts were covered in something white and served with little tweezers to dip them in the mayo. I have discovered that I like to eat with tweezers (and you can pluck those pesky eyebrows in between courses as well).

spring.jpg

SPRING TO SUMMER - A DESSERT

Espuma-nitro Haston Blumenthal

Bocaddio de ibérico

Ham sandwich

Yeah, doesn’t sound so interesting. But the ham was amazing Iberica ham that melted in your mouth.

Semillas de campari con canicas y concentrado de mandarina

Seeds of cranberry - melon

Caviar de melón

Melon caviar

Served up in a caviar tin this looks just like the real thing. Nigel didn’t think he could bear the thought of eating this, but those juicy little melony suckers did pop in your mouth menos the fishy aftertaste.

Aire de zanahoria con granizado de sanguina

Carrot foam with blood orange juice and lemon

The foam dishes were a bit hard for me to swallow – literally. Something about eating foam reminds me of trying to swallow air. You put an entire spoonful into your mouth and the it disappears and you are left with only a drop of liquid. I think this course could possibly give you gas from swallowing excess air. Again, I still enjoyed it. Made life a little more interesting.

Almendras confitadas con gelle de su corteza

Fresh almonds with jelly of its skin

This looked like a bowl of camouflage liquid. The almonds were amazing and burst in your mouth with their own juice. This course was served with a flower stuck in the spoon that you were supposed to smell while you ate. I didn’t really experience the full-effect of the flower, but it was cute to look at.

Musgo de pomelo con alemndras-gelee a la Maria luisa y gelee de yogur

Sopa de palomitas

Popcorn dust soup with butter

Like eating your popcorn at the movie theater with tons of butter. One bit of advice on this one – don’t inhale when you get the dust near you or you will choke on it!

Gnocchis de calabaza con jugo

Pumpkin gnocchi with juice

Simple, yet delicious course. The gnocchi’s were gelatin like and exploded when you ate them.

Ostras con cinta ibérica, yuba con flores de boraja

Oysters with Iberican ham fat (?) with milk truffle and flowers

I loved this course. The mixture of oysters and the bit of salty ham were fab. We were told not to eat the milk truffle until after the bit of oyster was gone. This was like curdled milk with a silky texture.

Raviolli de guisantses con guisantes a la menta

Raviolli of pea

Pea and ham and bacon

My fav course. Only because the ravioli was really a ball filled with warm pea soup that burst.

Toro de atun confitado en aceite de atún

Seared tuna with oil of tuan

Zamburiñas con sal de algas

Cinta ibérica de buey de mar con cilantro

Civet de conejo con gelatina caliente de manzana

Rabbit with apple gelatine

2 m. Spaghetto de parmesano

The old faithful. Like eating a piece of plastic, cheese, spaghetti.

Tortilla de leche – nueva omeltete sourprise

Deshielo a primavera

Ice cream air with vanilla

Cappuccino foam

Yogurt and strawberry ice

nigelstephelbulli.jpg

HAPPY PATRONS

THE SERVICE

El Bulli has a seating of 50 heads per evening, but it is said that the number of wait staff reach about 53. I can easily see how this is possible. Every intricate detail of your meal is observed by the helpful, friendly and somewhat playful staff. You might expect the staff at a Michelin crowned restaurant to have an aire of snobbery, but in El Bulli this is not the case. Everyone that we encountered made us feel welcome and also seemed to be enjoying themselves as well just for having the mere experience of observing the delight of the patrons. I would have to say that watching people eat a meal at El Bulli must be a trip to the psychologist with every emotion registering on people’s faces whether it be surprise, intrigue or just plain awe.

THE ARTISTRY

elbullimap_sm.jpg

EVOLUTION MAP - CLICK TO VIEW LARGE VERSION

Every course was displayed in a unique and beautiful manner. Whether it be the Melon Caviar in its own little El Bulli tin or the specially made spoon for the Concentrado. The plate is a mere empty canvas to Ferran and he decorates it ever so lovingly. Bright colours, flowers, textures, and utensils help complete each course. Every plate is put in front of your face and you are taken back to a childlike curiosity to push, prod, poke or just stare in admiration. The best part, of course, being when you gather up a spoonful and then discover that although your eyes had told you the course was, your mouth was telling you otherwise. Solids disappear into thin air leaving only a taste on the tip of your tongue. Jelly-like bubbles burst in your mouth exposing a warm liquid. Flowers are edible and actually tasty. It goes on and on. And that is the best part of El Bulli. It is like being a kid and discovering that your Play Doh is fun to mold AND chew on at the same time.

MY HUMBLE OPINION

I suppose that you can surmise from my glowing review that I thoroughly enjoyed my El Bulli experience. I had a fabulous time at El Bulli and I would recommend it to my adventuresome friends to take a trip and experience it for themselves. I must admit that I have read negative reviews from people saying that Ferran was past his time. I, myself, have also wondered if the hype was really necessary or if it was just some pretentious place touting itself as the next new thing. I have to disagree with either of these statements. As a food lover, I think and hope that I went to El Bulli with an open mind. I came away feeling that I had not eaten a meal, but I had had an experience. To me, this is what makes for a great restaurant. It brought me closer to food. And if you have ever seen the movie Big Night, you might remember one particular line in it by the chef. “To be close to food is to be close to God.” I suppose that it is up to you to make that call on your own (if you can get a reservation!).


Edited by nerdgirl (log)

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Hello to everyone, I AM the guy from the "other board!"

Welcome

I'm thrilled to find others who've already tasted El Bulli 2004. At the risk of sounding too much like a member of a strange religious cult, the experience was so startling I've found it hard to explain, let alone share.

I think much of the food is hard to explain. I remember reading an article in the NY Tiimes some years back. A bunch of well known American chefs went to El Bulli and they were interviewed and asked about their reaction. I had the sense that each of these chefs understood the food, although perhaps in their own way, but that the writer conducting the interview was still in the dark after it was all over.

In any event, the ability to offer an articulate explanation of the food is a wonderful thing, but I think it's possible to appreciate the food without being able to put it in words. A friend with whom we dined there said it's a meal he preferred to take in the company of others because he found the table conversation so important to his enjoyment. Everyone else's comments helped him get more from the meal. In the same way, each observation offered here, contrubutes to the snowball of infomation and understanding.

I was taken into the kitchen at the height of service and the impression I got was of Ferran as a conductor in front of his orchestra. The logistics of getting these dishes out, in a timely fashion, with different tables receiving slightly varied tasting menus, must be daunting.

A lot has to do with how recently someone has been there. We dined with someone who had been there only a week before and he said there were no repeats of the first meal in the second meal. That's even more remarkable when you consider that he's allergic to fish and seafood and how many of the standard offerings at El Bulli are related to fishand seafood. You might suspect that one special meal would be a logistical challenge to the kitchen, but two different meals in less than two weeks seemed not to be a problem.

Welcome again to eGullet. We're not hard to talk to here and we enjoy sharing our interest in food. To a great extent, I think this board appropriately reflects an earthy passion that might be compared to traditional Iberian cuisine and an inquisitive intellect that mirrors the more creative professional kitchens in Spain today.

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Nerdgirl, I found some of your irreverent comments to be right on target in both their insight and irreverence. For all the over intellectualization the food seems to invite from reviewers, especially non-professional ones, there is a very direct appeal to much of the food if one just sits back and opens oneself up to the food.

We actually stopped ourselves and joked that only we would talk about pig skins at a 3 star Michelin restaurant.

My guess is that Adria would prefer to have his guests to talk about pork skins than to have three stars. I think he'd be happy to hear you. I think you too have brought a wonderful perspective to the thread. My hope is that this thread serves to prepare people for a meal there and perhaps dissuades those who would not enjoy the experience from going there as well.

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