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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Chicago

L2O, Chicago

Update: As of 19 November 2010, L2O, along with Alinea in Chicago, have been awarded 3 Michelin Stars

 

I recently visited Chicago(Note: I do not blog in chronological order) which (I assumed would) give me an opportunity to try Alinea, unfortunately, it was closed on all the days that I was there. So began the look for an alternative, and I finally decided on L2O. Reservations were simple enough, made on opentable, no problems whatsoever, probably because this was on Christmas eve at 6pm. Nonetheless

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Upon entering L2O, which can be extremely hard to find if you don’t know what you are looking for, we were greeted by 2 members of staff wearing Japanese Komonos, which really confused me because it wasent a Japanese restaurant and everyone else was in a suit. Possible geisha services for ballers?

The menu: You are  given a choice of either a 12-course tasting menu($165) or a 4-course prix fixe menu ($110) where you choose 3 dishes from the following categories: Raw, Warm, and Main. Both my mum and I chose the prix fixe

Amuse 1: Gruyère cheese puffs

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Cheese puffs were surprisingly light, crisp on the outside and gooey on the inside. Nice

Amuse 2: Tuna

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This was actually a combination of tuna, orange gelée, tomato, olive oil foam. I think it was supposed to be a ceviche-like appitizer. It wasen’t particularly good, but it was pretty refreshing. And god damn, only the french can make jelly sound so pompous.

Bread Service

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Bread was outrageously good. Favourites by far were the Bacon Mustard Seed Bread, which had a nice chunky cube of bacon in the center of a dome shaped piece of bread, and the Anchovy-Basil Broiche. Bread was served with a housemade butter in a gratuitously-futuristic container.

Raw Set A: Shimaji, Red Miso, Radish, Soy Salt

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This was my raw course. Fish was very fresh, had a nice bite to it. Red Miso had a subtle flavor to it, too subtle for my liking. I wish they had given more of it. It was okay

Raw Set B: Peekytoe Crab, Avocado, Kaffir Lime, Lemon Oil

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This was my Mums dish. The peekytoe crab meat is all in the center of the dish, the avocado was cut into a dome to cover it completely, and the Kaffir lime was made into a gelée surrounding the avocado dome. Crab was nice and sweet, and crab+avocado always makes a good combo, lime gelée was not too biting. Good

Warm Set A: Foie Gras, Port, Cocoa Nibs, Pear, Celery

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This was mine. I can’t remember all the components of the dish. But the odd looking spaceships on the left are sliced pears with topped with a jelly. The odd looking statues on the right are celery cubes fried in a wantan skin. Foie gras was topped using a crisp dark chocolate wafer, which I had problem with. When eaten separately they both tasted very good, but the crunchy-ness of the chocolate wafer overpowered the softness of the foie when eaten together. Otherwise, everything had good flavor, foie was cooked nicely, it was very good.

Warm Set B: Salted cod, Fingerling Potato, Smoked Gelatin, Caviar

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The salted cod was minced finely and placed at the bottom of the serving cup, it was covered with puréed fingerling potatoes, topped with smoked gelatin and caviar. My mum had trouble with this because she found the fish too salty. When I tried it, I didn’t disagree with her. But otherwise the texture of this is amazing. The potatoes were so finely puréed that they were barely viscous on a spoon, and the gelatin strips added a nice bite to the smooth texture. Good dish apart from the slightly overpowering saltyness.

Main Set A: Arctic Char, Champagne, Zucchini, Chanterelle

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The Arctic Char, which to me is quite similar to salmon but has much softer meat, was raw on one side, and cooked on the other. The play of the raw/cooked meat was very interesting, chanterelles were well seasoned. It was okay.

Main Set B: Pork Belly, Truffle, Potato

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I told my mum when she was deciding her main that I heard this dish was good, so she went with it. When my mum saw this she immediately said: Siew Yuk!(Roasted pork) Wow, this was over the top. Kurobuta pork belly roasted perfectly, served with a black truffle sauce, and potatoes done 3 ways. My mum had 2 slices and decided that she couldnt take anymore, I couldn’t let it go to waste. The pork was amazing, meat was tender, fat had that melt in your mouth goodness, skin had a nice cunch but immediately dissolved in with the rest of the fat porky goodness, truffle sauce complimented the pork well. Potatos didnt need to be there, they were way too heavy for the dish and the cylindrical-shaped potato wedges were somewhat undercooked. Great dish apart from that minor drawback. Very Good

Amuse 3: Frozen Marshmellow

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I wasnt paying attention to the server as he was explaining the dish, but I did get the words “frozen marshmellow”, which made me somewhat intrigued, but worried that it would be too sweet because i was fairly stuffed at this point. It was actually tart, and according to the L2O blog, Im going to assume its  ginger-lemon combination, quite refreshing. And whats it like to eat frozen marshmellow? It has a texture I cant quite describe, not as sticky or gummy as you would imagine, kind of like a heavier version of ice cream.

Dessert Set A: Chocolate and Raspberry done 16 ways

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After we were done with the mains, the server came to our table and started rattling off a long list of dessert choices, but the moment he mentioned this, I knew I was sold. In the center is a Raspberry sorbet, chocolate and rasbperry sauce around it. To the side, an actual raspberry(omg), a raspberry meringue, and “chocolate air”, topped with  cotton candy and raspberry powder. Theres not much to say about this, it was pretty heavy, often abit too sweet, but yummy nonetheless. Good

Dessert set B: Soufflé with praline

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I only had a small bite of this but from what I could tell it was pretty good. Praline wasen’t too sweet.

Amuse 4: Passionfruit Marshmellow

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That treehouse-looking base is made from sugar, notsupposed to be consumed unless you enjoy being diabetic. I don’t like the gummy consistency of marshmallows, so I like my marshmallows roasted. Passionfruit flavor was definitely shone through.

Amuse 5: (What once was) Chocolate Ganache

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For some reason I completely forgot to take a photo of this. Well, it was good. You could taste the quality of the chocolate, had a nice bittersweet-ness that lingered on the tongue. Overall, it was a good meal, food was very satisfying, some dishes were confusing and didn’t quite fit in the the overall meal, but others were great. Service was very good, our server was very friendly and never had a problem answering any of our questions. My mum offered to show him around Singapore since he said that he has always wanted to visit. However, if I ever go back to Chicago(which I probably wont), I’m heading over to Alinea.

After the meal the server offered to take us on a tour of the kitchen, we jumped at the chance.

Prep Room

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Kitchen: Sweet foods on the left, Savory on the right

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Spice Rack Cabinet, Each container meticulously labeled. Interesting note: My server, seen in this photo, actually ended up at 2am Dessert bar in Singapore! Talk about a small world.

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.