Spain

Rafa’s, Spain

Note: I have only uploaded some of the dishes that we had during the meal, the photoset isn’t complete.

Rafa’s came under my radar after an episode of Bourdain’s ‘Decoding Ferran Adria’. Ferran Adria actually mentioned that Rafa’s is his favourite restaurant, and if its good enough for the best chef in the world, it’s definitely good enough for me. Actually having a meal at Rafa’s isn’t all that simple, after spending a lot of time researching on the internet, I found out that the best way is by following these steps:

1) Call a week in advance to get your reservation

2) Call on the day of your reservation, to make sure that the restaurant is going to be open on that day, because if the catch for that day isn’t up to Rafas standards, he won’t open the restaurant

3) Print a blown up map of the exact location of Rafas, as well as the address. Because if you don’t, you are not going to be able to find the place

As you can see, Rafa’s has no discernible signboard that actually gives you an indication that you’ve reached Rafa’s, if this is your first time here. Set in the quaint neighbourhood of Roses, 5 minutes away from the beach, the fact that this is Ferran Adria’s favourite restaurant goes to show that the best chefs in the world love to eat comfortably on the regular basis.

Rafa’s serves only seafood, but not just any seafood, the freshest they can get their hands on; meaning that a few hours prior to your meal, everything you ate was still alive.

Snails

The first dish we had at Rafa’s, testament to their mantra on the quality and freshness of seafood, this was, indeed, very fresh. It had a good natural sweetness, and a nice bite. Okay

Sea Cucumber

This was actually the first time I had come into contact with a white sea cucumber of this variety, apparently found off the coast of Spain, make no mistake, this isn’t the kind of sea cucumber that is served at Asian restaurants, this was a revelation for everyone at the table. It was so meaty, juicy, and crunchy, it had the consistency similar to that of a bamboo clam, but much softer. Rafa’s doesnt use a lot of fancy cooking techniques, its mainly olive oil, salt, and then it goes on the grill, letting the seafood speak for itself. This was one of the best things I’ve ever had. Incidentally, we had the same kind of sea cucumber at El Bulli the following night, but all of us preferred the Rafa’s version.  Superb

Squid

How do you follow up that amazing sea cucumber dish? With a dish that’s just as good, if not better. I knew that I wouldn’t be uploading the full set of photos from Rafa’s, because all the mains we had were fish, but this, to me, is the crux of this blog post. If you ever come to Rafa’s, and you can only order one item, this is the one to get. This is everything a squid can, and should be; grilled to absolute perfection,  drizzled with the highest quality olive oil, and seasoned with a little salt, only then, do you treat an ingredient of this quality, with the respect it deserves. The legs grilled till they had a nice char to them, you get a crunch with every bite, the body so juicy, so succulent, and those aren’t normally words you’ll associate with squid. No herbs, no garlic, because that would have taken away from the natural flavour of the squid, sometimes less is definitely more. This was actually served as a starter at Rafa’s, but we saw someone having a huge plate of this, and nothing else. Superb

The highlight of the meal at Rafa’s is supposed to be the fish, and we had fish, a lot of fish, so much fish that I can’t even remember most of what we had, which obviously doesn’t do justice to the dishes we had. Each fish was simply cooked, again, olive oil and a little salt, maybe a little garlic. Good

And guess who we spotted? Albert Adria, who as the creative director and pasty chef at El Bulli up untill 2008, also, brother of Ferran Adria DUH

This was truly, one of the most memorable meals I’ve had. And look, no Michelin stars. Rafa is clearly a chef to cares deeply about the quality of the food he serves to his customers, and you taste it in everything you at at his restaurant. If there is one comment that I can leave you with, it’s that if you have a reservation at El Bulli, Rafa’s is just as important a place to visit when you’re in Roses.

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New York

Momofuku Noodle Bar, New York

Pork Steamed bun
First Appitizer

Yes. this is Kong ba pao to most Asians. I have grown up eating Kong ba pao all my life, but this was good, very good; and thats saying alot, coming from a Chinese guy(Yes im using the race card). Pork was melt in your mouth fatty, sauce added the right amount of saltiness to the dish. Amazing, definitely one of the “must order” dishes in the noodle bar. Very good

Smoked chicken wings – pickled chili, garlic, scallions
2nd Appitizer

Sauce was somewhat thick and flavorful, chicken wings had a nice glaze and a great smoky aftertaste. I was also very happy that there was a liberal amount of spring onions in the dish, for some weird reason. Good

Momofuku ramen – pork belly, pork shoulder, poached egg
First Main

Egg was nicely cooked, Pork was tender, noodles had a very nice texture. But the soup and pork meat was not very flavorful, I’ve had much, much better ramen broths. A forgettable dish, Okay.

Roasted monkfish wrapped in pancetta, with a garlic miso sauce
2nd main

Very well cooked piece of fish, tender but had a good bite to it. Pancetta did not impart much flavor to the dish but added a nice crisp outer skin on the fish. Garlic miso sauce was amazingly, very nice combination of saltiness from the miso, and of course the lingering garlicky kick at the end.

Blackberry soft serve ice cream + Olive oil cake crumble

Stopped by for dessert after lunch at the noodle bar. Ice cream was very intensely flavored, very tart and somewhat overpowering. Olive oil crumble added a nice texture, but the taste of olive oil was faint. Okay

Its hard to judge a restaurant based on a lunch prix fixe menu, and noodle bar isn’t even David Changs flagship restaurant. But from the few dishes I had, he seems to know his Asian cuisine well, and its refreshing to have someone using Asian techniques on quality ingredients, that, in my opinion, is how many dishes are taken to the next level. Many Americans have a misconception of Asian cuisine, even more so in a cosmopolitan state like New York, we dont have Panda Express in Asia, we dont eat Kung Pao chicken Orange Glazed chicken(Even though, admittedly, they are at times, delicious), we dont have fortune cookies after meals; its good to know at least David Chang is serving up Asian fare in Ne




Spain

Jamonisimo, Spain

Ham Purveyor to reknowned chefs such as Anthony bourdain, Ferran Adria, Alain Ducasse,Joël Robuchon.

I first heard about Jamonisimo on Anthony Bourdain’s special on “Decoding Ferran Adria“, the scene where he rubs a piece of iberco jamon on his lips,and the look of satisfaction on his face thereafter, left such a strong impression on me that it was one of the first places on my list to hunt down, the moment I knew I was going to be in Spain. Enter Jamonisimo, a quaint little shop in the middle of a busy Barcelona neighbourhood.

Racks and racks of delicious, cured ham, left out to dry. But not just any kind of ham, this was Jamón ibérico, or Iberico Ham, or pata negra, or simply put it, the best damn ham in the world. And make no mistake about it, Jamonisimo makes a conscious effort so source out the best hams in Spain.

We started out with a platter of choritzo and various other kinds of sausages. They were all good and had their own distinct personalities; smoky, salty, decadent, even nutty at times. Good

And then we came to the real deal, the Iberico ham. Eating this redefined my idea of what ham can, and should be. So soft and translucent it nearly melted on your tongue, releasing an explosion of the most intense ham flavour I have ever experienced. There are many chefs that work with Iberico ham, but to taste it in its raw(somewhat) form, was an absolute treat. 3 forms of the Iberico ham is served on the tasting platter, each from a different part of the leg. Superb

Spain

El Bulli, Spain (***)

3 Michelin Stars

The Best restaurant in the world

The drive to El Bulli is a journey in itself, much like the meal. The road to El Bulli stretches up high atop the mountains, where you get a scenic view of  Roses, then you come down slightly on to a plateau-like area where El Bulli resides. Few buildings surround El Bulli, and it would be easy to miss the restaurant, if you don’t know what you’re looking for. After a short walk in the garden, the last thing you see is the view of the restaurant kitchen through a little glass window. With the head of a Bull and Ferran Adria at its helm. El Bulli’s culinary connections span all across the world, just look at how the restaurant influenced my trip to Spain: Elena Arzak, of Arzak restaurant, worked at El Bulli. Andoni Luiz Aduriz, of Mugaritz, worked at El Bulli. Rafa’s is Ferran Adria’s favourite restaurant. Jamonisimo provides Iberico ham to El Bulli.  The fact that El Bulli was one of the last stops on our Spain trip, we felt like we had come full circle, and this is the core of Spanish food, this was the center of the culinary world.

Enter El Bulli, and we are quickly ushered into the kitchen to meet the man himself, Ferran Adria, the best chef in the world. He speaks very fast and my Spanish friends have told me he is often mocked for his accent and manner of speaking. He looked very pleased when I showed him a photo of Albert Adria, his brother, whom I spotted at Rafas the night before. The kitchen is a sight to behold, 50 diners are taken per service, and there are 50 chefs working in the kitchen at all times(this is excluding front of house staff), its not hard to see why El Bulli does not earn any profit from it’s diners.

Walk into the courtyard, an open area area next to the sea, take in the sea breeze for a moment, and you are immediately served with the first course of many courses, at El Bulli.

Couse 1: Sugarcane sticks infused with mojito and caipirinha

The “course” is more of an aperitif. Pull out the sugarcane sticks and begin sucking; I did not expect them to be as intense as they were, they were sweet but had a really good alcoholic kick at the end. This was to be a strong indication of the rest of the meal to come: Very intense flavors. Good

Course 2: Handkerchief

Is actually corn paper. Absolutely delicious, to be broken off using your fingers, paper itself was sugary-sweet from the flavor of the corn, and the little bits of corn stuck to it added a savory element to the snack, almost tasted like corn nuts. I could have this every day for the rest of my life and I would never get tired of this. Superb

Course 3: Gin Fizz

Hands down, the best alcoholic drink I have ever had. The drink is served tableside, topping the drink off with a very dense meringue using a whipping cream siphon. You get the sweetness of the gin base, then the alcohol kicks in, and you smell the wonderful citrus-y notes. It truly sends your taste buds on an incredible journey, and after each mouthful, the only thing you could possibly want is to pick up your glass and have another go. Superb.

Video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=64nKhk9oSaM

Course 4,5,6
Top: Cherry umeboshi
Middle: Spherical olives
Bottom: Mimetics peanuts

You can tell early on that Ferran Adria gets much inspiration from Asia. The umeboshi, or pickled cherry, didn’t wow me, but then again, Im not a fan of savory fruits. Okay

The spherical olives, Im sure many have heard about. Looks somewhat like an olive, but bite through its outer shell, which feels abit like a very thin film on your tongue, and pure liquid olive essence explodes on your tongue. If you’re a fan of olives, you’ll absolutely love this. Im not that crazy about it. Okay

Mimetics peanuts, despite its incredulous and cryptic sounding name, are actually delicious. It basically has a cold(liquid nitro?), delicate shell that breaks easily in your mouth, and liquid peanut, tasting like a very creamy, soft, but supremely intense peanut essence oozes out. Very good.

Course 7: Sesame cracker.

I can’t remember much about it, but it was very soft and it melted on the tongue, similar to the consistency of a marshmellow, but much softer. Okay

Course 8: Japanese cookie

I don’t remember much about this, but it wasn’t a cookie. It was served on a bed of rocks and we were told to eat this IMMEDIATELY(they were adamant about that), as you can see from the photo, its basically a piece of seaweed more delicate than a newborn baby, with sesame seeds and another topping I cant identify. Okay

Course 9: Vanilla Chips

A bowl of see through ‘chips’, that again melt on your mouth, very very similar to listerine pocketpaks, but with a vanilla flavor. Okay

Enter the El Bulli dining room after the barrage of snacks. An actual rose sits in a rectangular vase on the El Bulli table, set to play its part in the meal later. The El Bulli meal begins.

Course 10: Flower nectar

You are served a flower, and after re-confirming with the waiter 3 times that we were ‘NOT SUPPOSED TO EAT THE FLOWER’, we proceeded to suck the nectar out. It was very sweet, honey like, but much more fragrant. Im not sure if it was necessary to have us suck it out of the flower, since the “nectar” is manually placed in the flower, but it was nice to see how Adria sees many connections between food and where it comes from. Okay.

Course 11: Coconut sponge

How on earth was this made? A cold, very aerated coconut ‘spongecake’, that really wasn’t a cake at all, it was more of a frozen coconut block that was so delicate and soft that it literally melted in your fingers. Disappeared within milliseconds on your tongue, leaving cold, liquid coconut in your mouth. Amazing texture, good.

Course 12: Rose Frost

Remember the Rose used as a table ornament, this was a near PERFECT replica of that, only difference was that it was a passionfruit sorbet, delicious and refreshing. Good (By the way, look at the details on the sorbet, they actually made dark spots on the rose petals) . Looking at the sorbet, the amount of details that went into a simple sorbet is amazing, the chefs had actually made dark spots on the rose petals, and each petal, each layer of the rose is well defined. This is what food presentation can be. Good

Course 13: Black Sesame spongecake with miso

For those of you who watched Anthony Bourdain’s show on Spain, this is the technique used by Albert adria to create the 30-second spongecake. Let me just say that I like black sesame, its a fairly common ingredient in Asia. But this spongecake was a revelation for me, The fluffiest cake you have ever eaten, so tiny and light, yet the sesame taste is incredibly intense, And the miso added the perfect balance of saltiness to balance the sweetness of the cake. Its not a flavour combination that would occur to me, but it just made so much sense the moment I put it in my mouth. Superb

Course 14: Oyster leaf with dew of vinegar

“What the hell is an oyster leaf?” is the first thing that runs through your head when the waiter lays down this dish. But pop it in your mouth and start chewing, it immediately makes sense. It smells and taste exactly like you’re eating an oyster with a vinegarette…. Except… You’re not. Good

Course 15: Chicken Skin Canape

This was amazing. Crispy Chicken skin, with the back cartilage of a chicken, topped with a rich chicken sauce chock full of umami. I’ve never eaten cartilage like that, its a part of the chicken that you really wouldn’t think to use. We were told it was cooked in a pressure cooker until it turned into an almost gelatinous texture before it is used. Very good

Course 16: Truffle Surprise

The “surprise” is actually 2 spherified ravioli of truffle essence, with shaved truffle served atop. Decadence? Possibly. But the flavours were so overpowering they were borderline pungent. Bad

Course 17: Chervil Tea

Chervil tea served in the traditional Japanese green tea ceremony form, I wish they had given us green tea, because chervil tea tastes downright horrible. Almost like a thick, spinach water, with a very strong herb aroma. Bad

Tea Ceremony:
www.youtube.com/watch?v=ilAsoiW0_vA

Course 18: Prawn two firings(misspelled?) Part 1

First part of the dish: You are served two small spoons with a thick sauce made with pure prawn head, superbly intense and you get all the wonderful sweetness that you usually get when you suck the prawns head(Best part of the prawn, btw), except they took that already intense flavor, reduced it into a thick sauce, thereby making it even more intense. Too much of a good thing can only make it better. Very Good

Course 18: Prawn two firings(misspelled?) Part 2

Part 2 of the dish, you are served the actual prawn, which doesn’t look too interesting. But start eating and you quickly realise that you have been deceived. The legs(top section) are deep fried to crispy perfection, while the body is completely uncooked, much like ebi sashimi. Great contrast of textures. Superb

Course 19: Mimetic Almond

I think this dish personifies El Bulli: Nothing is ever as it seems. The tomato to the left is actually an INCREDIBLY intense tomato sorbet that almost had me gagging(Not a fan of tomato), the “mimetic almonds” are a mixture of real almonds, spherified almonts, almond ice cream, and almond jelly. Interesting to eat, but both flavors on the plate really did nothing for me. Okay

Course 20: Cockles and Yuzu

Cockles were the biggest and juciest Ive ever seen. The yuzu, however, should not have been left in its raw form as it was so sour that it was the only thing i could taste. Okay

Course 21: Mushroom-CRU with hazelnut

Im not sure what kind of mushroom was used, but it was completely raw, and had a somewhat spongy texture. Sounds disgusting, but the incredibly intense mushroom-hazelnut sauce brought the whole dish to life when eaten together. The sauce was so rich and flavourful, it tasted borderline meaty. Good

Course 22: Roses/Artichokes

No we did not eat roses, the very finely sliced pieces of artichokes were arranged to mimic the pattern of a white rose that was brought out for comparison. Im not crazy about artichokes, and everyone agreed that more could have been done to the artichokes to make it more appetizing. Bad

Course 23: Pumpkin and Almond Sandwich

The ‘Bread’ portion of the sandwich was a texture that I can only describe as a Pumpkin foam that was baked. It was dry enough to be picked up with your fingers, but when it hit the moisture of your tongue, it immediately disintegrated into pumpkin. The ‘filling’ of the sandwich was shaved truffles and more almonds, the almonds added a nice crunch to the otherwise melt in your mouth textures, very fun and quirky. Good

Course 24: Sea Anemone with te

Yeah, I’ve eaten Sea Anemone. Its exotic, and once you’ve eaten it, you’ll realise that theres a very sound reason why people don’t eat sea anemone. It does not taste good. Almost like really stale uni, but much less creamy, it had more of a slimy texture, similar to a dragon fruit, but with no bite whatsoever . Bad

Course 25: Pinenut Shabu Shabu

Basically pinenut shabu shabu consists of little ravioli packets that have a texture or consistency of a very thin, see through piece of rice paper(Similar to that which is used to wrap certain candies), that when dipped into pinenut water, the paper melts into a very thin film, and the pinenut butter-ish liquid that is held inside floods your entire mouth with an intense pinenut flavor. A really fun dish. Okay

Course 26: Abalone

I eat abalone fairly regularly, its used alot in Asian cuisine, but this was taking the ingredient to the next level. What you have is a base made from mushrooms and seaweed, sitting atop if is a reconstructed abalone, using alternating pieces of abalone, Iberico ham fat gelee(Melt in your mouth goodness), and Ginger Gelee to cut the richness of the dish. A homage to umami, the fifth taste. A dish that was bursting with different kinds of flavors and textures, this was the most satisfying dish of the night. It was heavy and yet after finishing it you felt like you wanted more. Superb

Course 27: “espardenyes” Gelee

I had to google what ‘espardenyes’ was, and google images kept bringing up a picture of a pair of flip flops, and that is definitely not what this is. Anyway, the dish consisted of sea cucumber, not just any sea cucumber, but the juciest, plumpest sea cucumber Ive ever had. If you mention sea cucumber to any asian, they’ve probably had the black version, which is very gelatinous, and almost jelly-like. This was completely different. This had a sort of meaty-texture that was very similar to a bamboo clam. There were also very thin sheets of ginger(?) gelee.  Very Good

Course 28: Parmesan Ravioli

This was basically liquid parmesan encapsulated in a very thin film that I think was similar to the film used in the pinenut shabu shabu dish. The Parmesan liquid was incredibly intense that it was almost biting on the tongue but there was nothing on the plate to cut the saltiness. Bad

Course 29: Rabbit canape with its giblets

This dish will freak out those of you who dont eat offal. You should probably stop reading right now.

Not for the faint of heart. When you begin your meal in the courtyard at El Bulli, you are asked if you would like to eat offal, being the open minded and easy going diner that I am, I told them that I would eat anything that they serve me. The dish consisted of 2 fried (very crispy) rabbit ears, And there was rabbit brain, heart, kidney, liver, snails eggs which tasted surprisingly good, similar to caviar. Sounds horrible, but it was incredibly tasty and the contrast of textures was amazing. Good

Course 30: Kidney of Lamb with Jerez Consomme, yoghurt and fennel

The last savoury dish ended on a low. Eating lamb kidney floods your mouth with an incredibly pungent smell that is very difficult to overcome. Almost everyone at the table was struggling through this dish. Very Bad

Course 31: Pond

I’ve tried to explain this dish to many people, and they don’t really seem to get it, but if you were at this stage of the meal, having eaten some of the richest and most intense flavors you’ve ever come across in your life, this dish would make absolute perfect sense to you. The dish basically consists of a bowl, with a very thin, dome-shaped layer of ice over it. Then the waiter sprinkles sugar, mint, and green tea powder over it. Then you break the ice and munch in. The mint really shines through, refreshing, which was very much needed at this point of the meal. Very simple but nice transition into dessert. Good

Finishing the dish: www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJonqOpycas

Course 32: Cherry with kirsch

A really traditional combo- chocolate, cherry and kirsch (think black forest), Done El Bulli style. You are told to dip the cherries in a kirsch foam, and these seem to be regular cherries dipped in dark chocolate. But one bite, and liquid cherry oozes right out. I think this was done by blending cherries, freezing it into spheres with a cherry stalk for the illusion, then coating it with dark chocolate, and finally setting the cherries in the fridge so that they can melt into a liquid while the chocolate stays solid. Very good.

Course 33: Coco

You are presented with a huge white orb(Which my mum genuinely mistook for an ostrich egg), the server then sprinkles curry powder over it, and uses a spoon to ‘crack’ the orb, and you are told to break it up with your hands and eat it. It is actually a frozen orb made of coconut milk. I wasn’t crazy about the bits with curry powder, but otherwise, the coconut milk was fragrant, delicious, refreshing, and creamy. Plus, it was really fun to eat. Good

www.youtube.com/watch?v=-q_91_ztblA

Course 34: Puff pastry of pineapple

This looked like straight up astronaut food, but it was actually, very surprisingly, delicious. Freeze dried pineapple suspended between two sheets of pineapple ‘glass’ that seemed to shatter than melt when you bit into it, then melt on your tongue. Very good

Course 35: Chocolate Handkerchief

Is basically a chocolate dome built with chocolate paper, which i can only describe as very thin sheets of crispy chocolate(amazing texture), and little cubes of gelatinous alcochol dusted with coco powder that were so strong I was gagging everytime I popped one into my mouth. The chocolate paper was delicious, but the alcoholic cubes were far too intense. Good


Course 36: Shellfish

The final dish of the night at El Bulli: Shellfish

A clear sign that you need to go to El Bulli with a sense of humour to fully appreciate the entire meal. A pun on the dish “Fruits de mer”, or “Fruits of the sea”, which is usually a platter of shellfish, this last dessert consisted of a mussel filled with lychee gelee(Good), and a clam filled with Toffee ice cream, and a lemon wedge that was preserved, which had a surprisingly sweet rind that I found myself munching on periodically, feeling disgusted at myself for eating a lemon , putting it down for a few seconds, then picking it up and continuing to munch on again. Amusing, mischievous, fun. Good

Tea Service

El Bulli wouldn’t be El Bulli if they simply gave you tea when you asked for tea right? So they wheel out a freakin’ garden right in front of you. Do you want mint sir? Why of course. Snip snip snip, pops mint leaves into a tea pot, throws in a bunch of other leaves. Adds a scoop of honey. Its amazing what a fresh(very) cup of tea can do. I’m not even a big tea drinker and this was life altering. Probably the most fragrant liquid I’ve ever drunk(Ive never had perfume), sweet, and very calming after an onslaught of 35 dishes and 3.5 Hours of more or less constant eating. Amazing

A 10 Minute video of a cute El Bulli waitress prepping 3 cups of tea, compressed into 1.5 mins: www.youtube.com/watch?v=uY4DxSzAU5Y

Morphings

The final thing served to you at El Bulli- Morphings. What the hell are morphings you ask? They are an onslaught of chocolate brought to you in a cryptic looking red plastic box with more hidden compartments than a batman suit. What kind of chocolate, you ask? Everything from a fresh mint leaf pressed into piece of chocolate, to a piece of chocolate printed to look like a leaf, to white chocolate coated over a dehydrated strawberry, to a crumbly chocolate thats lighter than air, to little lego shaped strawberry, green tea and dark chocolate mini bars, to a raspberry chocolate shaped to look like a root. This box alone would have sufficed as a meal on its own. But after a 36 course meal? I made it through half the box before i conceded defeat. Nonetheless, I eventually got to try everything because we stole some chocolate back. Duh

The El Bulli kitchen at 1am. I can only imagine the amount of chaos that took place during our 4-hour meal- yeah, we were there for a long long time. I didnt come to El Bulli expecting every course to be the best dish I’ve ever had in my life, and I didn’t leave disappointed. The bad dishes, I truly struggled with, the Chevril Tea, the sea anemone; on the other hand, the good dishes were amazing, mind-blowing in the sense that your entire paradigm of how an ingredient can be used, be it the flavour, the smell, the texture, what it should look like, completely turned on its head by Ferran Adria; not every dish was good, but every dish was worth talking about, over and over. Having been the best chef in the world 5 times(4 times in the last 4 years), Ferran Adria is no stranger to controversy, the meal seemed to communicate to the diners: “I am the best chef in the world, sit down and have a meal, I will blow your mind”, and he did just that. . Was this the pinnacle of what food is and what it can be? The truth is, I dont know. But it comforts me to know that Ferran Adria’s mantra is “Change, change and change”, which is why the restaurant is closed for 6 months, to re-invent the entire menu, to discover new techniques and inspiration for new creations. To say that a restaurant has obtained perfection is to admit defeat, nothing is perfect, everything can be improved, and certainly El Bulli will continue evolving.


Spain

Arzak, Spain (***)

3 Michelin Stars

8th in the World

Enter Arzak, and meet Elena Arzak, who was very friendly and had a fairly good command of English.

Rice Vinegar with mussel

Our first amuse bouche. Mussel was very meaty and fresh, nicely cooked as well. Rice vinegar on the other hand, threw the whole thing off. Very very acidic and it had an unpleasant aftertaste. Bad

Crispy Fish Paste

This was surprisingly good. Consistency was much more delicate than Chinese fish cake, and flavours were more intense as well. Very crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. Good

Lotus root with fish mousse.
Choritzo in tempura with tamarind.
Ball of mushroom with dust of corn.

Amuse bouche platter from outer space. A re-occuring play on textures. Soft interior and crisp exterior. The Lotus root was good, the rest were okay.

Figs with Foie.

Foie gras stuffed into a fig, sprinkled with sugar and then caramelized. The best dish of the night, by far. Flavours worked to well together. The sweetness of a fig and sugar complimented the creamy, unctuous foie gras that melted on your tongue, while the fig provided a little more bite. Delicious, and the server mentioned that the individual pulp sacs or orange and pomelo on the plate were obtained by freezing the fruit in liquid nitrogen and smashing it. Plucking each sac manually would require too much effort and time. Superb

Potatos, Lobster, and copaiba.

Potato was in the form of a crisp, lobster was nicely cooked but fairly underseasoned. Overall the dish didnt work, it was really a goopy mess of a dish. Very Bad

Egg with earthquake of soil

Poached egg with fried breadcrumbs and truffle shavings. This sounds like something I should like, it really does. But the fried breadcrumbs has soaked up so much oil, the dish became incredibly heavy to eat. The truffle, however, was very aromatic(Yes I do think truffle is aromatic and I would wear truffle cologne if they made it, and on that note, I would also like to smell like ham), and the egg was perfectly cooked. Okay

Monkfish with dehydrated bronzed onion.

Monkfish was nicely cooked and well seasoned. But the goopy sauces strewn all over the plate killed the fish completely. They were completely tasteless and didn’t seem to serve any purpose to the dish apart from aesthetic reasons. And Bronzed onion? Okay, I admit this caused quite a buzz at the table and some of us were actually wondering if this was edible, with the amount of bronze coloring applied on it. But all it tasted like, was an onion, thrown into an oven and roasted till dry. It tasted good, but was it necessary? Bad

Bonito in bonfire of scales and chives.

This was actually seared tuna, I can’t remember what the sauces were. But the sauce on the plate had good flavour and seasoning. Okay

Pigeon with Potatos, spherified potatoes, and spherified Balsamic vinegar.

So much of this meal was spent trying to figure out wtf we were eating. And this was a dish that exemplified that sentiment. Lets start with the tangible food. The pigeon was nicely seasoned and had a nice char on its exterior, it wasnt the most tender of meats, but pigeon is a game-y meat and expectations have to be realistic. Potato(The real potato) was actually very good. Very well seasoned, and had some nice heat to it.  Spherified potato was straight out weird. It tasted like the equivalent of cooking potatoes in a pot of water to obtain potato soup, then throwing in salt, sodium alginate, then spherifying, which is actually probably how they did it; it doesn’t sound that appetizing, because it wasnt. And finally, the spherified balsamic vinegar. Which actually makes sense, and has been done before in “molecular gastro” salads. But was the metallic colouring really necessary? It seemed to take away from the quality of the balsamic used, and they did use a good quality aged balsamic. Okay

Lamb with seaweed cake

Lamb was once again nicely cooked. There was a slab of butter on the lamb that already melted by the time the photo was taken, that added a richness to the already unctuous lamb. The seaweed cake was very good, slightly chewy but it had such a strong seaweed flavour without overpowering the tate of the lamb. Good

Cant Remember anything about this

Soup and chocolate between vineyards
Basil ice cream, watermelon soup, and pure liquid “goopy chocolate”. I was struggling quite badly through this dish. I love the individual flavour components. Watermelon is my favourite fruit, I love fresh basil in sauces and pastas, and chocolate, well, who doesn’t love chocolate. But this dish didn’t work when all these were combined together. The watermelon was probably the best part of the dish, the basil did not work with the chocolate, and the chocolate had the consistency of spherified melted chocolate, but they were way too big and it was a struggle when thick, heavy chocolate exploded with a single bite. Very bad

“roasted peach with sugar flowers”

The peach was very fresh, succulent, and had a nice bite to it. The rest of the dish tasted like simple syrup. Okay

Yogurt sponge cake

Even the desserts look like they come from space. The yoghurt sponge cake had good flavour but was completely undone by its consistency. Very starchy and dense, it was closer to bread than it was to a sponge cake. Bad

Moon Rocks

The dubious sounding dish was actually Orange flavoured creme, frozen on the outside(liquid nitro?), while still having a liquid center. The change in textures was very interesting, and it had a pleasant orange aftertaste. Good

Leave and meet Juan Marie Arzak, who is as eccentric as the meal we just had.

This was for me, a confusing and frustrating meal. Not at all what I would expect from a three Michelin starred restaurant, and one of the best restaurants in Spain. The food was at times so experimental and pre-mature, that we felt that we were guinea pigs for the restaurant. Much of the meat was well cooked, but it was often taken a step back by a component of a flavour profile that didnt need to be on the plate. It was the most disappointing meal of our Spain trip.

New York

Le Bernardin, New York (***)

3 Michelin Stars

15th in the World

Amuse Bouche: Crab Ceviche
We were presented with this even before we got our menus. Ceviches just work as an amuse, light, cold, citrus-y, refreshing.
All those cheesy talkshow hosts that say “Oh I can taste the sea!” Thats bullshit. Ive tasted the sea, it tastes salty and disgusting. But the crabmeat was incredibly fresh and sweet, I could taste the freshness, dont confuse the two. Good
Very nice way to start the meal

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Raw Course 1: Black Bass
Black bass tartare mediterranean style, olives, citrus, fennel and marjoram

I knew about this dish because it is ulterior epicures No. 1 dish of 2008. Considering the food that he eats, that has to count for something. I didnt have this appitizer, but I had a bite. And from what I could tell, the black bass was one of the meatiest raw fish I have ever eaten. And I mean this in a really good way. Good

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Raw Course 2: Tuna
Layers of Thinly Pounded Yellowfin Tuna, Foie Gras and Toasted Baguette, Shaved Chives and Extra Virgin Olive Oil

An incredible dish to behold, and just as tasty to eat. The rich, creamy foie, combined with the light, incredibly fresh, paperthin tuna(hold your fork under the tuna and you can actually see your fork), cut by the crisp-ness of the baguette. A perfect dish. Superb

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Barely Touched 2: Soft Shell crab
Peppered Soft Shell Crab; Coconut-Avocado Mousse, Herb Salad; Lime Vinaigrette

Moving on, this was THE most juicy, succilent, fried soft shell crabs Ive eaten. Usually when I bite into soft shell crabs, frying oil explodes in my mouth.

This was not the case here, the crab was incredibly meaty and juicy. Very good, albiet a somewhat heavy dish. Okay

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Barely Touched 1: LOBSTER
Warm Lobster Carpaccio; Heart of Palm; Orange Vinaigrette

Hands down, the sweetest lobster meat I have ever tasted. Thats all I wanted to say about this. Good

Lightly Cooked 2:BLACK BASS
Crispy Black Bass; Braised Celery and Parsnip Custard; Iberico Ham-Green Peppercorn Sauce

I can sum this sum this up very quickly: A perfectly cooked piece of fish, lying in a very “ham-my” sauce.

Fish had perfectly crisped skin, meat was incredibly soft. And the sauce… Sure, iberico ham is the best ham in the world, but its always a nice surprise to be reminded of how rich and intense its flavors are. Good

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Lightly Cooked 1: WILD STRIPED BASS – LANGOUSTINE
Baked Langoustine and Striped Bass; Confit Tomato Agnolotti; Bouillabaisse Consommé and Curry Emulsion

Baked Langoustine was fresh, plump, and very juicy. Striped bass succulent and well cooked, and the Bouillabaisse “had the right amount of fishiness”(not my words), and complimented both meats well, a very tasty way to cleanse the palate. The curry emulsion, however, did not taste like curry. Good

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Dessert 1: CHOCOLATE-PEANUT
Dark Chocolate, Peanut and Caramel Tart; Meyer Lemon Purée, Peanut Powder, Praline-Citrus Sorbet

I honestly dont remember much about it, apart from it being very sweet, the praline citrus sorbet was very tart and cut the richness of the dessert well, but it was a forgettable dessert. Okay

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Dessert 2: The Egg
Milk chocolate pot de creme, caramel sauce, caramel foam, and sea salt

This dessert is off the menu, but if you ever go to Le Bernardin, ASK FOR IT. Its not a light dessert, chocolate and cream will fill you up really fast. But trust me, it is well worth it. There are not many things that are as decadent, or as sinful, presented in such an innocent looking manner. But this, is well worth your calories. Very Good

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Petit fours

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Overall, it was a good meal. Eric Ripert does handle his seafood very well, everything was perfectly cooked, flavors were on point. But there was something lacking about the meal, it might be the very posh interior, or maybe it was the waiter with his thick french accent, but overall the food felt like it was the end product of a process that had been repeated over and over, it somehow lacked that extra oomph that makes a meal truly memorable.

New York

Per Se, New York (***)

3 Michelin Stars

Voted best restaurant in America 2009

I havent been blogging for a long time, and I’ve been putting this off because I know this is going to be a long post, but Per Se really deserves a writeup, plus I just finished a midterm and I dont have much to do. So, first of all…

Getting there… 2 steps: Book as far in advance as possible, Per Se accepts reservations as far as 2 months in advance, and thats exactly when I called the restaurant, and the time slot they gave me was 5.45pm on a Monday. Funny, actually it’s hard to tell that America is in a recession, but oh well, good things come to those who…… compromise? And of course, the second step would be a plane ticket to New York. I should also mention that when you put down a reservation, they take your credit card information, because if you do not cancel within 72 hours of your reservation, you are automatically charged $175 per head.

Per Se restaurant is owned by Thomas Keller, whose flagship restaurant is the French Laundry in Napa Valley, California. Both restaurants currently have 3 Michelin stars, and Keller is currently the only chef in America who holds that accolade.

Per Se is located at the top floor of the Time Warner building, a busy, modern shopping mall. Such was the surprise when I called the restaurant to ask for the easiest way to get to the restaurant from the mall. “Take the elevator up to the fourth floor, turn right, and you will see a garden witha  big blue door.” What? A garden, on the top floor, in a shoppingmall? To mimick the French Laundry, there is an artificial garden right outside of per se, which ironically, has real plants in it. The entrance to Per Se is a big blue door, a replica of the entrance to the French Laundry. Alas, more irony, the big blue door at Per Se doesnt actually open. But right from the beginning, you get the feel that although Per Se and the French Laundry are on opposite ends of America, they are both very much the same, and this would come up later in the meal.

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Through the sliding glass doors to the side of the big blue door, you are greeted by a sleek wall with a “Per Se” logo on it, a reminder that you are not in the vineyards of California, you are in New York. (Im making this stuff up)

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You are immediately greeted and your bags are taken(Dont worry if you want to carry any bags in, they bring you a stool for any bags you may have). Then you are led to the dining room. The tables next to the window have a great view overlooking central park, but we were given a cosy L-shaped booth seat.

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Then we were presented with a menu, where you have 2 choices, a 9 course chefs tasting menu, or a 9 course vegetable tasting menu(Both $275). We both chose the former. Then we start with the food:

Amuse Bouche 1: Gruyère Gougères

A lighter than air puff filled with creamy cheese that had a hint of sweetness. Dissappeared as quickly as it came. Salty-sweet goodness. Okay

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Amuse Bouche 2: Salmon Coronets – Black Sesame Tuile, Sweetbread Crème Fraîche

Lovely saltiness from the salmon that lingered on the mouth, salmon had a very strong flavor. Sweetness of the Sesame tuile came through right after, and tasted good with the sweetbread creme fraiche. Light and lovely way to start the meal. Good

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We were then presented with a tiny spoon, I asked the server what it was made of and I was told it was Mother of Pearl. When you are presented with cutlery like that, you know good things are coming.

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Chefs Tasting Menu 01: “Oysters and Pearls” – “Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and Sterling White Sturgeon Caviar

And it was good. Very good. In fact, this is one of the best things Ive ever tasted, 2 perfect(perfect), warm oysters that imparted a delicious smoky combination of flavors, a orgasm in the mouth. An Oysgasm. It was topped with caviar, served atop a sabayon so rich and decadent I’ve heard it described as “a buttery mayonnaise”. And it didn’t disappoint. A taste that I will never forget. Superb

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Chefs Tasting Menu 02: “Salad of compressed Summer Melons” – Fennel Bulb “Batons”, Pickled Holland Peppers, Watercress leaves and Nasturium Caper dressing with aged balsamic sorbet

When I first entered the restaurant, I told the server to inform be if anything was cooked sous vide, because I was interested in the technique. He told me that the vegetable and the melon components in this dish were vacuum packed sous vide(not cooked though) to impart new consistencies and flavors.

The Sorbet was made using a 40-year old aged balsamic vinegar that added a nice refreshing component to the dish. Melon was fresh and sweet. But the picked holland peppers left a very acidic taste in my mouth that lingered.

My least favourite dish of the night. Bad

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We were then presented with 2 Kinds of butter: A sweet butter made by the Straus Family Creamery in California, and a Salted butter made by fleur de sel from Vermont, exclusively for Thomas Keller(Salted butter was better, better butter, ha). Why was this served? To be eaten… With a single soft roll. Not just any soft roll. The best soft roll I have ever eaten.

Yeast in bread form doesnt usually get me excited. But dont be fooled by the picture. This was the epitome of a soft roll. Crisp on the outside, but one pull and a silky soft, warm interior is revealed. Amazingly good.

I also took a sourdough bread, and a Pretzel stick(very good) from bread service

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Chefs Tasting Menu 03: “Herb Roasted Fillet of Chatham Bay Cod”
Squash Blossom “Croustillant”, Toybox tomatoes, garlic scrapes, and creamed pea tendrils with nicoise olive oil

The cod was prepared to look like a scallop, a nice and playful illusion. Cod was well cooked, meat was soft but had a good bite, although a little under-seasoned . And Garlic scapes(The flower stem produced by the garlic plant) were incredibly sweet. Very well executed dish. Okay

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Chefs Tasting Menu 04: “Pan Seared Day Boat Sea Scallop”  “Nuage de Chou-Fleur”, La Ratte potatoes, Globe Artichokes, Bluefoot Mushrooms and Mustard Cress with pickled Mustard Seed “Ravigote”

Of course, what followed was an actual scallop. One swipe of the knife, and a perfectly cooked scallop is revealed. Crisp skin on the outside, Lightly cooked on the inside which left a somewhat chewy but delicious core. Pickled mustard seed sauce was sweet-salty, and provided a mild spicy kick. My favourite main of the night. Good

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Chefs Tasting Menu 05: “All Day Braised Meili Farm’s Pork Shoulder”
Ragout of Brentwood Corn Kernels and Rainbow Swiss Chard with shaved Summer Truffles

I hate to say this, but the first thing I ate of this dish was the corn. And it’s the only thing I remember about this dish- the corn kernels. Easily the best corn I have ever taste. It has a unbelieveable crunch and sweetness to them. The pork, well, it was good. truffles dont really do much for me. But the corn… Okay

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Chefs Tasting Menu 06: “Snake River Farms Calotte De Boeuf Grillee”
French Breakfast Radishes, Lemon Cucumbers and Glazed Greenmarket Carrots with “Vinaigrette Bordelaise”

Buttery beef fat the moment you start chewing, and the perfect red wine sauce to compliment it. Whats not to love. Good_DSC3403-as-Smart-Object-1

Chefs Tasting Menu 07: “Catskill”
Toasted Pine Nuts, Belgian Endive, Thompson grapes, and Cilantro Shoots with Cilantro syrup

Cheese course.Very creamy and soft, but the richness is very nicely cut by the grapes. I was asking about the cheese and the server told me that the dish is named ‘Catskill’, after the location the cheese is shipped in from. He was talking about how the French Laundry uses the freshest ingredients because they have a garden right outside the restaurant, and Per Se does not have similar privilleges; I then proceeded to say, “Oh, well you guys beat them this year.” The server looked at me in horror and immediately took a step back and said, “well, we are a family”. So much for friendly competition. Good

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Chefs Tasting Menu 08: “Blueberry Sorbet”
Blueberry “flapjack” with madagascar vanilla fudge and blueberry crisp

Hands down the best sorbet I have ever eaten. My friend turned to me and said “You can taste the earth that the blueberry plant grew in”. Im not that crazy, but I knew what she meant, you could taste every blueberry that went into the sorbet. This is what sorbets should taste like. Very Good

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We were then served 2 different desserts each

Chefs Tasting Menu 09a: “Mud Pie”
Dark chocolate mud cake, Liquid Caramel, Chocolate “Cremeux” and Caramel Parfait with Sassafras Ice cream

Chefs Tasting Menu 09b: “Peaches and Cream”
Rose-Scented Frog Hollow Farm’s Peaches, Mascarpone Mousse, and Sugar Wafers with peach Vacherin

I was unfortunately served Peaches and Cream, a good but somewhat boring dessert. Multiple individual tiny components laid out on the plate- peaches done several ways, but whether you eat everything seperately or combined, it never popped. Bad

The mud pie, on the other hand, was delicious. I only got 2 bites, but the liquid caramel center defied all logic and was actually not too sweet and never overpowered the dark chocolate, a superb balance between both ingredients, very well executed. Good

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This was the end of the 9 course tasting menu, the rest of the dishes were mignardises. And the next dish served was a

Creme Brulee

Not sure if a creme brulee can be considered a mignardise, per se (hahahaaa). But it didnt matter, Im very glad I got this. Perfectly burnt sugar atop one of the lightest custards Ive ever tasted. It was rich in flavor but somehow it never ever bloated me up like most creme brulees do. Good

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More mignardises: Petit fours, Caramel Sweets, Almond Nougat, Chocolate truffles, sweets, chocolate covered hazelnuts

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At this point. We were pretty much done with our meal, but I had read about a dessert and I assumed that it was going to served to us some point during the meal, but it never was. So I asked about it, the server immediately told us he could put in a special request to the kitchen, it would just take 10 minutes. And 10 minutes later, we were served…

Coffee and Donuts

I am very glad I asked for this, and bear in mind that at this point my belly was on the verge of blowing up, thats saying alot. This was a perfect donut,perfect. It was perfectly fried, very very moist on the inside. It almost had a cake-like consistency, it was that soft, covered in sugar and cinnamon. Unfortunately, the “coffee” was actually a Cappuccino Semifreddo, and I was not ready for more ice cream. Nevertheless, it seemed rude not to finish, and I eventually did. Happy but very bloated end to the meal. Very Good

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Then I was presented with the bill

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After which, we were asked if we would like a tour of the kitchen. Of course, we agreed. The server told us that the Maitre d’ would come around and show us the way to the kitchen. This was right in the middle of service, and the Maitre d’ was somewhat rushing us, but he pointed out several important sections of the kitchen.

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He pointed to a large television screen at the top right hand corner of the photo, and told us that it was hooked up to a live feed at theFrench Laundry in California, and the French Laundry had the same thing for Per Se. I asked if this was so that Thomas Keller could keep an eye on Per Se, and the Maitre d’ quickly reiterated once again that Per Se and the French Laundry are a family. Is noone that works at Per Se secretly happy that they overtook the French Laundry? Is noone going to cave in and admit it?

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Finesse: Refinement and delicacy of performance, execution, or artisanship._DSC3435-as-Smart-Object-1

Its  not easy to sum up a meal at Per Se. Its more of a dining experience than a meal. The food is excellent; yes, not every dish is a winner, but you leave knowing you have been fed well.

The service is by far the best I have ever received. Every server was knowledgeable about the food, the ingredients, and how it was all prepared; not to mention attentive and very friendly. Did I also mention that if, for whatever reason you are left alone at the table, a server immediately approaches you to strike up conversation. While we were having dinner there was a lone diner who constantly had at least one server chatting with him while he was waiting for the next course, and trust me, he was in the restaurant for over 3 hours. Service is very personalized, and they are very accomodating to special requests(I requested the menu to be printed without prices, and I ended up taking back the menu, signed by the head chef)

Whether you want to celebrate a special occasion, or you simply have too much money to spare, Per Se is definitely worth a visit. Just remember to book early

Per Se Restaurant

http://www.perseny.com/

(212) 823-9335