Catalan Food: A Feast From Farm to Foam
Ever wondered how a liquified spherical olive tastes like? This singular dish known as Olive-S that was first served at El Bulli by the Adria brothers, Feran and Albert, and started a revolution in gastronomy, is not for the mouth and tummy but rather for the mind and senses. It is an anomaly that teases rather than fills. It is a phantom that you chase as you grasp for its meaning and impact in your life. It is more of a concept or an idea than form and substance. It is essence more than being.
A drop of olive juice encapsulated in a thin transparent membrane that, with the help of physics, takes the form of a sphere thus resembling a real olive. It is served on a form-fitting spoon and is eaten in one go with eyes closed.
As the olive sphere touches your tongue, the membrane pops and the olive juice explodes in your mouth unleashing all the dormant goodness of the the liquified fruit. The result is a mind fuck. Your eyes open wide as you try to make sense of the confusion and chaos that you just experienced.
"What the fuck was that?" You ask. That is molecular gastronomy.
We visited Barcelona in October and we had the exact same reaction when we tried it first at Bodega 1900 and a second time at Tickets, both owned by the inventor of the dish himself, Albert Adria. We actually met the world-renowned chef outside Bodega and he was nice, warm, and welcoming. He even instructed his crew to keep keep an eye on us to make sure we have the best experience.
His two restaurants are very different from each other. Bodega 1900 is a traditional Spanish restaurant while Tickets is like the next chapter of the legendary El Bulli. Bodega puts an emphasis on simple dishes using top quality ingredients from the farms while Tickets employs chemistry and physics to concoct their foams.
Both restaurants have tasting menus that customers will set in terms of pricing and the kitchen will program the menu based on that preference. Ala carte is also available and the price is on the higher end of the spectrum per dish. For comparison, a regular, unrated tapas bar will charge 7 Euros for a hearty plate of Patatas Bravas, that same dish elevated to Adria levels would be around 15 Euros.
We decided to go for a 75 Euro per-person tasting menu without wine pairing. Instead we ordered Vermouth, which is the quintessential tapas drink in Barcelona. We we're served about 12 dishes, which included the acclaimed Olive-S, a super simple broiled Wagyu steak that just disappeared in our mouths, high-grade Iberico ham, grilled-squid that can never be forgotten, and a gin-infused watermelon.
According to our server, Bodega 1900 is Feran Adria's favorite restaurant and we agree. The food is just beyond belief in both freshness and preparation. They put so much care into everything they make that it's almost unthinkable how a simple dish can be taken to such great heights. The grilled squid served in its own ink is as basic as it can be. No foams nor exotic spices. No frills and pretensions. Just pieces of squid grilled in its own ink. It is tender, sweet, salty, succulent like eating bone marrow from the sea. Words betray when faced with inexplicable pleasure.
The atmosphere at Bodega 1900 is warm, cozy., and classic. Interestingly, there's a lot of El Bulli memorabilia hanging on the walls despite the fact that in terms of cuisine, Tickets is the heir apparent to the iconic restaurant.
The staff is friendly and cheerful with no pretensions even if we didn't get wine pairings or even when we tried to cut our program mid-way when we started to get full. Plus, like I mentioned, seeing Albert Adria himself instruct his crew to make sure we get everything we need is as memorable as the delicious food.
Bodega 1900 is not Albert Adria's flagship restaurant. That would be tickets. But this place deserves a top spot on any list because it is simply delicious. When dinners utter words like: "I've never had potatoes like this" or "why is this so good? It's just a piece of fish with oil, vinegar, and salt?" It means the dinning experience has become transcendent, breaking all the rules, taking down all the walls that used to define what a meal or a dish should be without the chemistry of foam and phantoms. Just good ingredients handled with the greatest care one can ever give.
Next review: Tickets. Subscribe to the blog!