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Catalonia/Basque Food Extravaganza - Trip Review


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Catalonia/Basque Food Extravaganza - Trip Review

Heeney | May 26, 2011 08:42 PM

Well, took me a while to get around to this. But posting a trip report as promised. 9 days, 4 in Barcelona, 1 in Bilbao, and 4 in San Sebastian. I will try to post at least 1 update a day detailing a day at a time. I don't take notes or pictures (think it ruins the experience), so I am going off memory and the copies of the menus we were given at each place (Spain is good about that btw). It will cover (among others) Tickets, Celler de Can Roca, Etxebarri, Akelare, Arzak, and Mugaritz.
Thanks so much to everyone for giving me tips for this trip. It was unforgettable. Hope you all can use this to help you.


Went for breakfast after we landed and dropped off our bags. Very busy at 8:30am. Had to elbow our way into one corner of the bar. Chock full of locals. Two Cafe Con Leches to drink. Time to eat:
1. Chiperones in their own ink with fried eggs.
Briney, great texture of the chiperones and the egg yolk blending with the ink. Mopped up with fresh crusty bread.
2. Sauteed mushrooms with caremelized foie
A large pile of wild mushrooms simply sauteed on the plancha. Great variety, but to me a little underseasoned. My wife disagreed. Maybe the Chiperones threw me off. The mushrooms were topped with a fried egg (seems to come on everything) and a nice slice of foie, coated with sugar and caramelized to make a nice crisp crust. Rich and delicious.

Had an early dinner there (by Spanish standards), to get to bed and beat jet lag. Ended up walking there from the bottom of Las Ramblas. Not really in the prettiest side of town. Kind of a long walk. Got there 10 mins early but they were still closed. Stood outside with some other people and some guy in a suit with his bald head fully tattooed talking to himself. :) Kind of unnerving. But once they let us in all the fun started. Multiple bars making all the different tapas. Only one bar actually has seats at them though, and we got to sit at it. You get the famous "tweezers" they use as utensils at elBulli, and this is what you will use most of the night. Our server Manel offered to take our interests and tailor a tasting of around 13-15 dishes to give us a full "Tickets/elBulli" experience. Since we missed elBulli we told him to go all out. And he did. Such a great personality. Loved talking with us about the dishes. This is easily the best place to eat in the city in my opinion. Not to be missed. At one point Albert came behind the bar we were at and supervised a plating. Very neat to see him in person. Here are the dishes:
1. Olives
The famous spherified and cured olives. Brought in a jar, placed onto the special spoon and slid into your mouth. Perfect burst and full olive flavor flooding your mouth. I've eaten a lot of encapsulated items before but this was on a totally other level. Flawlessly done.
2. Watermelon "impregnated" with Sangria, served as a cocktail.
Cubes of watermelon that have been filled with Sangria. Refreshing. Garnished with small mint leaves that give a nice aroma when in your mouth.
3. Jamon de Toro
Thin slices of fatty tuna belly brushed with Iberico Ham fat. Interesting surf and turf flavor. The dominant flavor seemed to be whatever you were thinking of at the time. Think of ham and it tasted more of ham than tuna. Think of tuna and it tasted more of tuna. Interesting. But slices were so think they broke apart very easy trying to pick up.
4. Mini endives in Vinagrette
Manel explained that these particular mini endives only exists in one small part of spain and they entire crop is used by only elBulli and Tickets. They were small, crisp little endives with tart citrus dressing. They had been marinated in milk which came through once you but fully into them. Good.
5. White asparagus with black truffle and iberico ham crust
Thick pieces of juicy white asparagus with some kind of truffle aioli and specks of crisp ham. Flavor was great. But it was very difficult to eat. They did not give a knife and fork and eating it took some finesse. We had to bit all the way through and we got a lot of juice on our hand. Manel explained that Spanish people are more used to eating with fingers, and suggested using the tweezers. It helped. But not much.
6. Air Baguette with Jamon Iberico
A mini baguette, totally hollow in the middle, wrapped in terrific Iberico ham. The fat just melts and the baguette crumbles to nothing in you mouth. Best eaten in one bite.
7. Oyster "with it's Pearls"
A large, juicy oyster, served in the half shell with a tart vinegar and "pearls" of small encapsulated spanish olive oil.
8. Moilete (bread) with dewlap
This was some kind of soft, warm roll of bread, very thin and buttery. Inside was slices of pork belly. Not crispy. But tender and full pork flavor. I don't see how this matches the description. But that's what it was.
9. White Anchovies in Vinegar with Tomato consomme jelly
This was a star of the night: two thick fresh anchovies on a crisp cracker. In the middle was a slice of jelly that tasted of pure tomato. Topped with small flowers. This was made right in front of us and must have been popular because they made lots of them. My wife has never really liked anchovies so I had to convince her to try. She took one bite, closed her eyes, and said "Wow."
10. Liquid Ravioli with Payoyo cheese from Cadiz
Encapsulated cheese, topped with a small crouton and a little olive oil. Nice salty cheese. Good burst again, but not as smooth as the olives. A little thicker given the cheese.
11. Spanish grilled lobster in light pickling
A bisected lobster, grilled and sprinkled with pimenton. The pickling makes it super juicy and slightly tart. The tail meat was buttery-rich. But the treat came from the small pool of brain soup that we spooned out. Really really good.
12. Confit potatoes with pork rib sauce and boiled iberian ham
Confited in olive oil till super-tender. Served with pieces of ham and a sauce made from the ribs of the iberico pig.
13. Cold-Hot Chocolate fritters
Out of sight! These were small deep fried fritters, and when you popped them in your mouth to bite you got a rush of liquid chocolate, hot on one side and cold on the other. The sugar rush was much needed and the temperature contrasts snapped us to attention.
14. Almond tepid cake
Amazing again. You can tell Albert is a major player at Tickets because the sweet world is solid. A small almond cake that collapsed into a pool of molten almond custard in the center when you touched it with the spoon. On the side was a apricot sorbet. Manel asked how it was. We replied "supernatural." We counted each others bites to make sure we got equal amounts. :)
15. Tickets cotton candy tree
Exactly what it says it is. A trimmed tree, leafless, with a variety of cotton candy placed on the tree like clouds, suspended in front of you. Peach, blueberry, passion fruit, raspberry, and other flavors. Essentially the fun here is in the presentation, total strangers were snapping our picture and talking to us. But that's not to say the taste wasn't there. Good cotton candy.

That was about it. Washed it down with 2 glasses of cava each. Walked to see the Magic Fountain and then took a taxi back to the hotel to collapse and get rested.

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