Would it make you feel better to know that I've barely given my friends and family the full scoop? I haven't even sent out the online album from our trip, and no, not because it takes for-freakin-EVER to upload 600 photos one by one on Kodak Gallery. I didn't want to give any El Bulli sneak peeks.
The thing is, it's hard enough remembering a meal you had back in May. But writing about a 30 course meal at what many believe is the best restaurant in the world? Much more difficult than I imagined.
I thought about all the ways I could share my El Bulli story. A part of me just wanted to let the pictures do the talking, but that seemed too easy. (However, if I ever eat at a restaurant like this again, I might just go that route).
Daniel suggested an interview-style post and even used a tape recorder to ask me a bunch of questions. Halfway through our discussion, I worried that it was too weird. A poem crossed my mind, but truly seemed to be the only word that rhymed with El Bulli. When I really had no idea where to begin, I tried to come up with a rap.
How about if I start at the very beginning and tell you that we almost didn't even make it to the dinner.
For those of you who don't remember, I went to El Bulli with my Mom, Daniel, Daniel's Dad Andreas and his step-mom Guida. Daniel and I built an entire trip around the dinner, my Mom flew from NY for the weekend, Andreas arrived from a business trip in Barcelona and Guida came from Portugal (where she and Andreas live).
Daniel and I were the first to arrive on the day of our dinner, and Roses, the town that's closest to El Bulli, looked overcrowded and dingy.
But from the Almadraba Park, our swanky hotel with lush gardens, a nice pool and panoramic views, run-down Roses looked pretty good. Good pick, Mom!
At 8:30pm that night, we all squished into one rental car and prepared for the 30 minute drive to El Bulli. After a few wrong turns, we finally found one sign for the restaurant and continued on a long, winding road (a road I remembered reading about on Chocolate & Zucchini). But after driving for awhile without another sign in sight, it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. Everyone started to worry that we'd gone the wrong way.
We had a 9pm reservation and it was right about then that we decided to turn around. My Mom was starting to look flushed, but remained silent. Daniel's Dad was nervous and franctic. Daniel was trying to keep everyone calm and I just kept referring to the Chocolate & Zucchini post over and over saying that based on Clotilde's description, we had to be going the right way. Everyone worried that we wouldn't make it. I remember wondering how I would address the situation on this very site. This Little Piglet DID NOT go to El Bulli. How pathetic!
We flashed our lights at the first car we saw and pulled up alongside a group of tan teenagers, fresh from the beach. They confirmed that El Bulli was back the way we came. We did yet another frightening three-point turn on a steep mountain road and quickly sped away.
We arrived more than half an hour late. Waiting for us was Luiz Garcia, the man who had made our day (not once, but twice!) five months ago. He assured us that we still had our table, then took us on a quick tour of the kitchen.
Lab-like and full of stainless steel, it was immaculate. We watched in awe as gourmet oompa loompas diligenty prepared a dizzying array of dishes.
And sitting in the corner was Ferran Adria, El Bulli's very own Willy Wonka, and perhaps one of the most influential chefs of all time. I'm easily starstruck, so yes, you better believe I stared. He looked up for a second when we walked in, then went back to flipping through a book that had his name in emblazoned on the cover.
I was fine just admiring from a distance, but Daniel made sure to call him over for a picture (while my Mom stood by BEAMING).
Call me crazy, but I think he's kinda cute.
After our tour, we were led to a terrace that overlooks the beach. When a swarm of servers surrounded us, some mixed welcome cocktails while others set out a selection of snacks.
This was, without a doubt, my favorite part of the entire evening. The sun was setting, I could hear the ocean in the distance, I had just wrapped my arm around Ferran Adria's back and it was still the beginning, the very first few moments of a night I never wanted to end.
Our cocktails -- cold blackberry cosmos poured on top of tangy, lime-flavored foam -- were served in silver bowls and we each got a big spoon for easier sipping.
The snacks, a mix of hand-held nibbles, were all unusual, but the faux olives were one of my favorites.
Made with a thin, yellowish green casing, they were delicate and wobbly. We ate each one whole and they popped like balloons to reveal an olive oil filled center. There must have been a good teaspoon or so in there, and it was intense, fruity and the type you'd want to drink directly from the bottle.
These are beet and yogurt meringues that I could have eaten by the dozen. They were delicate and slightly sweet and I loved how one bite turned them to dust.
We sampled eight different snacks, although we forgot to take photos of them all. I remember thinking that this one -- a rice and parmesan cookie topped with edible flowers -- was so cute and frilly.
And that these freeze-dried pineapples that had a styrofoam-like consistency were the most bland of the bunch.
There were also cocoa-dusted chocolates that melted with one bite, golden rice balls and something with pistachio and gorgonzola, but it's hard to remember everything.
After we polished off the snacks and cocktails, we were led into the restaurant, an eclectic space that felt like an artist's home.
Bulldog paintings lined the wall (El Bulli means bulldog in Catalan) and there were all sorts of unusual trinkets, and a vase with one long stem rose topped our table.
The almost 5-hour meal was just as smooth and relaxing as our time on the terrace and the unbelievably attentive staff made us feel like we were the only people in the place. Many of the dishes came with eating instructions -- "Have one bite of this, a sip of this, eat the whole thing at once! Immediately! It will melt!"-- and you really feel like you're on a rollercoaster ride of textures and flavors from the very beginning. Below is the list of our other 22 courses, in the order they arrived.
Sesame sponge cake with miso and pistachio sponge cake with acid milk mousse: When eaten in one bite as our servers instructed, the pistachio sponge cake (on the right) was a sweet, melt-in-your-mouth creation. When my Mom Mom insisted on biting into hers, the whole thing crumbled onto her lap.
Tiger nut milk flowers: Tiger nuts are a type of plant that's used in Spain to make horchata, a refreshing summer drink. At El Bulli, the tiger nuts were frozen and served as a palate cleanser.
Tangerine bon bons with peanut and curry: At El Bulli, sweet and salty flavors seemed to always overlap as they did with this chewy peanut curry caramel which we were instructed to eat first, followed by a tangerine-flavored candy.
Raspberries fondant with wasabi and raspberry vinegar: A definite favorite. A frozen, sugar-coated raspberry topped with wasabi, followed by a sip of sweet, ice-cold raspberry vinegar. We were told to alternate between the two which helped enhance the flavors.
Spherical mussels: Mussels encased in seawater. They were a strange, squishy texture and each spoonful tasted like a sip of the ocean.
Haricot bean with Joselito's iberian pork fat: Certainly not the prettiest dish but definitely one of the most memorable. The big blob in the center is a super smooth white bean puree encased in some of Spain's most delicious ham and the whole thing is floating in a rich, delicious broth. Pure heaven.
Fever-Tree tonic merinque with strawberries and lemon: A refreshing, puckery palate cleanser served with freeze-dried strawberries. I liked the flashy gold plate.
Tomato cous-cous with oil-olives, basil and parmesan cheese water: I absolutely loved this dish. The presentation was striking and although we were told to taste each thing separately, I liked mixing the highly concentrated tomato cous cous with the chilly basil sorbet.
Anchovy with ham and yogurt yuba: Call me a baby, but I thought this was too fishy. The yuba, a thin casing filled with sour yogurt helped a bit. And yes, a waiter really did pluck teensy flowers (using tweezers) onto our plates.
Gnocchi of polenta with coffee: Dishes at El Bulli aren't really craveable. Except for this one. Dusted with coffee and nestled next to capers and some lightly cooked egg, the gnocchi was soft, not doughy, and eating them whole revealed a silky center.
Asparagus in different cooking times: This is one of the few dishes we forgot to photograph. There were a group of asparagus tips, all of which had been cooked at different temperatures for various times. One steamed till it was almost mushy, another only partially cooked so it remained almost crunchy, and one that was was practically raw. Draped on top were frozen egg yolks that had been injected with liquid nitrogen. They looked like those bizarre Dippin' Dots. Very cool.
Razor clams "escabeche": An impressive dish and quite a hefty serving, don't you think? Each clam was draped over a cloud of coconut foam and that's a streak of sesame paste on the side.
Liquid won-ton of mushrooms: Another favorite. Won-tons plump with mushroom-flavored water and seaweed sprigs on the side.
Snails "A La Lluana": What you see below are snail eggs, and in my opinion, I would have gotten the gist with just a small scoop of them. They had a blister-like consistency and were way too salty for my taste. Fun to try, but I could live without them.
Marinated mackerel belly: There wasn't anything unusual about this dish, and I would have been fine with just one piece. After all, this was our 25th course!
Hare juice: This was one of just two meat dishes the entire meal, and the funny thing is that there wasn't even a piece of meat, but rather "hare juice", a very rich rabbit stock. That thing in the middle is a red jelly and it tasted as weird as it looks. If I had to pick, this would be my least favorite dish.
Noisette butter with rabbit brains: Yes, bunny brains for our last course (before dessert). They tasted like a cross between sweetbreads and foie gras. Good, but not worth the guilt.
For someone who loves dessert as much as I do, I'm embarrassed to admit that the end of my El Bulli meal is kind of a blur. In my defense, we were in the place for almost five hours and the wine just kept coming! And to think I was complaining on the ride home that there weren't enough sweets. As I sit here typing, I see that there was plenty.
The Wool 2007: This snow white cotton candy, piled on top of caramel sauce, was so good and very fun to eat.
Mango with black olive and smoking tea: Let's face it. By this point, I was long gone, so I'm not even going to try and act like I remember this one. Sorry!
So there you have it, 47 days after the fact, my experience at El Bulli. A part of me wishes I had taken notes throughout the entire meal. It would have made it much easier to write this post, that's for sure. But to be honest, I'm glad I didn't. Who cares if I can't perfectly explain exactly how every dish tasted or how I felt the minute they touched my lips.What I can say is that I will remember my dinner at El Bulli and all the fun Daniel and I had traveling in France before our big meal, forever. The setting was magical, the service impeccable and even though El Bulli's been called the best restaurant in the world many times, it was refreshingly laid-back and not overly fussy. At what other top-notch restaurant do you eat with just a fork, spoon or your hands? Daniel thinks I'm crazy, but I would definitely consider going back. Anyone care to join me?
For those of you who are interested in going (and if you're passionate about food and travel, I highly recommend a visit), the tasting menu costs 185 euros (which is apparently reasonable considering El Bulli has three Michelin stars), and Roses is about 1 1/2 hours from Barcelona.
The restaurant is only open from May-September (Ferran spends the rest of the year in his Barcelona lab experimenting with new dishes), and reservation requests can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org starting around October 15. When we wrote, we said we'd be willing to come any time they had available, so it's best to be as flexible as you can. And if you really, really want to go, make sure to send requests from a few different email addresses to ensure that at least one gets accepted.
For a hotel, I highly recommend the Almadraba Park. Single rooms cost 101 euros and doubles were 137. All come with balconies and offer very pretty views.
34 972 150 457
Almadraba Park Hotel
Platja de l'Almadraba
34 972 256 750