Lasarte is one of the five restaurants we visited in October on our trip to Barcelona and Bilbao. I have a trip thread at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/921710 but when I post photos for the different restaurants they get appended into one photo group, so I'll break out the last three restaurants with separate threads to make it easier to view the images.
LASARTE -- Basque chef Martín Berasategui runs a Michelin 3* restaurant near San Sebastian in the town of Lasarte-Oria. Restaurant Lasarte in Barcelona is his Mediterranean outpost, opened in 2006 adjacent to Hotel Condes a few steps off the Paseo de Gracia, a few blocks from Plaça de Catalunya. Restaurant Lasarte holds two Michelin stars, one of only four Barcelona restaurants with that ranking.
This was our fourth Michelin starred restaurant in four days, sandwiched between a trip to and from Bilbao, and I think we were starting to hit a wall.
Why we picked it: after deciding to skip San Sebastian and return to Barcelona on Saturday we had a free slot for another fine dining meal. There are four Michelin 2 stars in BCN but one, Enoteca, was getting poor reviews and another, Moments, was run by the son of Sant Pau's Carme Ruscalleda (where we had dined 3 days earlier) and we wanted to try something different.
This left ABaC and Lasarte. My first impulse was ABaC because Chef Jordi Cruz's avant-garde cuisine seemed right up our alley. But when I read a review from a person with celiac who said they brought three separate dishes with gluten, and the waiter acted annoyed when reminded of their allergy, I knew it could be a poor fit for my
Dining at Lasarte would let us sample Berasategui 's cuisine in advance of a possible trip to SS next year. And as a bonus, the restaurant was just seven blocks from our hotel, so we could easily walk there. So Lasarte it was.
Ambiance: This was a change of pace after the spacious views at Sant Pau (the sea and garden), Etxanobe (river views from the third floor of the music hall) and Azurmendi (hillside glass building with views of the vineyard). There were two small dining salons and we were seated in the first, fronting the street. This held three tables seating two guests and three tables that could seat four, though all had couples this night. I didn’t see the upper dining room but I think it was about the same size.
After getting the best table in the house at Sant Pau and excellent tables at Etxanobe and Azurmendi it was probably karma that we were seated at the worst table at Lasarte, in the far corner facing the wall.
The first photo below shows the wall (which their web site describes as ” large murals inspired by Gaudí’s elegant paving stones on the Paseo de Gracia”). Also in the photo is a sculpture common to each table, a glass of cava and a personalized copy of that night’s menu. By ‘personalized’ I mean they waited until we ordered and then printed the courses and gave this to us in the sleeve. So my wife’s was different than mine, for example, because three dishes were altered or substituted due to her gluten allergy. Classy touch.
The food: They offer two tasting menus plus an à la carte selection of five small starters, four mid-sized starters, four fish dishes, five meat dishes and five desserts.
One tasting menu had seven courses, the other offered ten courses – plus another three courses of apps and petite fours. My wife was reluctant but I talked her into the ten course meal so we could sample as much as possible (I know we sound like gluttons but we only ate one meal a day and burned calories by walking a lot ... my BMI was 21.8 the morning we flew to Barcelona and was 21.9 the morning after we returned).
I had a full wine pairing (78 euros, the most expensive wine we had this trip) and my wife was just getting a refill or new wine as she finished off a glass (45 euros).
Before the apps they brought bread (my wife says to mention how good the gluten free bread was here and elsewhere ... photo). And they also brought out a lovely butter platter. Yes, butter ... the only place to provide butter and what beautiful butter it was, with five strands of standard butter plus butters infused with tomato (great), mushroom (greater), spinach and beet (check the photo below).
1) Appetizers – first we received a tray of five bites (photo), with the thin-shelled creamy potato croquet and the passion fruit / mango with a small cookie being the best. Then a second appetizer, for me a millefeuille of foie gras and apple and I think eel (this wasn’t listed on the menu they gave us, nor on the web menu). My wife couldn’t eat this so was given a substitute of clam (?) over tomato, a lovely dish (photo).
We liked the appetizers here slightly better than those at Sant Pau and Azurmendi.
2) First course is descibed on our menus as “Trout tartare and orange and curd cucumber” (photo). This was about the diameter of a Ritz cracker, with the tartare on the bottom. A visually appealing and tasty dish but maybe an A- due to lack of strong, distinct tastes.
3) Next up is “Lightly smoked oyster on the grill with soft cream of Figueres, small squid ragout and potato bread”. There’s a photo of this taken after I had already sliced the oyster. Note the silver sphere near the top ... the waiter said this was filled with ‘natural water’. I didn’t know what this meant but when I popped it in my mouth after finishing the dish it was sea water, a nice cleanser.
This was a nicely balanced dish, one that compared favorably with the Azurmendi oyster course. Also the wine pairing enhanced the flavors (“a lot of minerality and dry, but it goes with the oyster” said the somm ... he was right). Give this one an “A”.
4) Next we have “Vegetable leaves salad, herbs, sprouts and petals with lettuce cream and lobster” (photo). There’s not much lobster but the leaves, sprouts and herbs were fresh and zesty, and the base was very thick (almost a gelee), with high acidity like from a fresh tomato. A solid dish but not especially outstanding.
5) Next “Slices of tempered beef steak on foie gras curd, iodized salad and mustard ice cream” (photo ... the foie gras is a lump under the top of the beef slice). This was an ambitious plate, with potentially some strong flavors working together. We were told to roll up a beef slice with the foie, mustard and ‘salad’ and take it as one bite. There were no problems with this dish but the various tastes never quite worked together particularly well either.
I noticed that this was the second dish (with the oyster) that paralleled the dishes at at Azurmendi, and there were two more to come (egg yolk and pigeon). Maybe it’s a Basque thing? Once I have time I’ll do a side-by-side description of how these four similar dishes at the two very different restaurants compare.
6) The next menu item was “red prawn”, which I was looking forward to based on their website photos and internet chatter, but the maître d' told us earlier that they hadn’t received an expected shipment of prawns so they were substituting a medium sized squid (“bait sized squid”) stuffed with minced mushrooms. The formal title was “Squid bait with its ink and seasonal mushrooms”, with two thin slices of scallops (photo).
This dish was just too much for the Willyums, especially the Missus. The “ink” was very thick, almost tar-like, and the squids were densely packed with the mushrooms, making for a very heavy dish. My wife couldn’t finish hers and was a bit stuffed (though she recovered nicely for her dessert). This was probably the least successful dish of the meal for us. It wasn’t bad, it was just too heavy and not especially savory.
7) Next a much smaller dish with a long name: ” Home yolk with toasted butter, black truffle toast, cauliflower, crunchy black garlic with piment d’Espelette” (photo, where I scraped some of the foam aside so you can see the egg yolk). This was a tasty dish with a nice blend of flavors and texture, a welcome change of pace from the squid, and we both gave it an “A”. Another dish to compare to a parallel plate at Azurmendi, the truffled egg ...
8) Next “Low-temperature cooked turbot settled on onions and paprika marmalade, braised endive, barnacles gelée and fried breadcrumbs” (photo). Another “pretty plate” with good but not particularly noteworthy flavors.
9) Next “Roast pigeon, ragout of pork, tomato and lemon with apple cream and interiors toast” (photo). The pigeon was perfectly cooked and the flavor of the add-ons worked well in this dish. Another “excellent” or “A” grade from us. Another dish paralleled by a similar dish at Azurmendi.
This was our last savory dish. I feel stuffed just from typing these descriptions so you can imagine how filled we were. But wait, there’s still a palate cleanser (a slice of spun sugar with fruit juice), TWO small desserts and a tray of petite fours.
I had the small desserts but since one had gluten they offered my wife a larger single dessert off the à la carte menu. My first small dessert was “Melon Caipirinha with jelly, lemon-grass ice cream and yogurt”, which was sort of bland due to the lack of strong flavors in the melon. The second small dessert was “French toast with frozen coffee crème and plum compote” (photo). This was better but not memorable, maybe an “A-/B+“ if scoring at home.
My wife chose “Chocolate soufflé with brown butter ice cream” (photo) and it was really good, “definitely an A+” or “exceptional”, she said (she loves it when her gluten-free substitutes are better than what I get :). I only had a few bites but I have to agree that it was very nicely done.
Petite fours (photo) with a complimentary glass of Pedro Ximinez sherry from the chef (who had stopped by to chat before desserts), coffee and we were done with an excellent meal.
Pros: no bad dishes, excellent wine pairings, probably the best appetizers of the trip, three grade “A” savory dishes, an exceptional soufflé. Only restaurant to serve butter, and the flavor infused butter options were superb.
Cons: most expensive wines, first place to charge for water, room decor was fine but it’s a small room lacking the views of our first three meals. We had hoped for a few more “excellent” courses from a Michelin 2*. Squid was a bit much.
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