is the link to a feature article on AOL. Two chefs and a writer from Washington, D. C. did their best to eat their way through Spain. Immodestly, my wife and I beat them to it by six or seven years.
I am a sixty year old man who has travelled extensively in Europe for twenty five years doing everything in my power to discover the best food that I can. Some of this is in Michelin starred restaurants, some, literally, at roadside shacks. Occasionally under a tent without an address. But perhap, the best meal that my wife and I ever had was in Sant Celoni at the three Michelin starred El Raco de Can Fabes.
On a night when there was a visiting two Michelin star chef at the next table who Santi Santimaria wanted to impress. We asked to be served the same as he and his guest.
And, we were.
Five hours, eighteen courses and who knows what we ate later, this stands as the best meal of of my wife and my life. In truth I have absolutely no idea what some of the courses were: "soup of frog," "essence of shellfish" and "liver of duck" Our waiter spoke halting, literal English some of which ("soup of Frog" and "liver of duck") were actually rather scary. They also tasted really good. I actually remember closing my eyes for several courses and praying I wouldn't be punished for eating and chewing what I did. But it tasted so good. Embarassingly good. I even remember moaning several times.
That night, after the visiting chef left (he was from San Sebastian and, no, I never did learn the restaurant although at that time there was only one two Michelin starred restaurant in San Sebastian) I went out to my rental car and picked up a bottle of Leonetti Reserve that I had brought as a gift to Santimaria. I gave it to the waiter along with a clipping from the Wine Spectator in English from ten years earlier and asked him to give it to Santi. The waiter seemed to be amused: an American giving a bottle of Washington state wine (where was this Washington state??? Near Virginia?) to Santi! Really.
At this point we were on our sixteenth or seventeenth course and both my wife and I continued eating. Continued bleary eyed moaning through each course actually! At some point Santimaria came out from the kitchen. He was carrying a huge fishbowl of a wine glass and was smiling. He walked up to our table and, with our waiter haltingly translating, asked us about the wine: could he get more of this Leonetti Reserve? It was really good, amazingly good. I told him that while I was on their mailing list there was a three bottle limit and, at the time, this was considered their best year. Yes, but could he get twelve bottles?
I told him we were having what I then thought was the finest meal of our lives and I thanked him for sharing with us what he had prepared for the visiting chef. Fine, but where could he get more of the wine? He continued sipping as he talked to us through the translating waiter. I should note that he didn't offer a sip to him the entire night...
Well, there was no more of the Leonetti Reserve. (By the way, the '05 Leonetti Reserve IS their finest ever...) With the waiter continuing as interpreter we spent almost an hour with Santi Santimaria. It was an extraordinary experience. Today, six or seven years later it is as important, as impressionable today as it was then, the next morning.
As an addendum I should add the my wife and I talked four of our friends (who were in Barcelona for a social function which was part of our industry) into joining us for dinner several days later at El Raco. When we arrived Santimaria came out and greeted us. We had the same enthusiastic waiter and others said hello to us. We asked to be served the same dinner that we had shared with the visiting Michelin starred chef only several nights earlier.
Three hours later our dinner was over. Not five. While several of the courses were similar, overall, it had nothing in common with what was a life's experience earlier in the week. Simply, neither our friends nor ourselves had earned two Michelin stars in a nearby kitchen. Despite our enthusiasm and my esteemed Washington state wine ("I didn't know America's capitol had vineyards?") our meal had nothing in common with the earlier orgasmic indulgence that we feared we would never share again.
El Bulli, Schwarzwaldstube, Pierre Gagnaire, Le Calandre and In-n-Out Burger all are extraordinary experiences in their own right. But somehow, earning two Michelin stars takes even the best to another level. For one memorable and, for us, historic night we learned this in Spain.
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