Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Homage to Catalonia

 A typical building in the Eixample, which is Catalan for "Acid Based Architecture"

The meal at Cinc Sentits was not one I was particularly excited about. Don't get me wrong days before, even weeks before the meal, after reading Doc Sconz's review of Chef Jordi Atral 's exciting new spot in the Eixample, I couldn't wait to eat there. But when the day arrived, Lindsay and I were sort of beat. Most of this was due to two dinners the night before. One at the "you are here because everyone comes here" Cal Pep; the second at Origens which was an excellent suggestion from Ian McNulty. After the second meal (and one or two more glasses of wine than was necessary), we wandered lost in the rain for an hour trying to find the apartment. Needless to say, the next morning came way too early.

First a quick walk through the Eixample, filled with its grotesque, whimsical buildings and shops that Lindsay says you can't find anywhere else. Funny these shops we seem to find wherever we go. Men, be warned there is a Zara (not the grocery store) and an H&M in nearly every European city. Don't buy the line, "But you can't find these stores just anywhere." Two o clock rolled around and going to lunch felt almost like a burden, rather than a treat.

But then we walked into the dark, cocoon that is the dining room of Cinc Sentits. We were seated and a special house cava poured while we waited for the first round of courses. First up was a selection of "Tapas"- a bowl of marcona almonds with pimenton salt, a honey and sobrassada baton, and house marinated olives. A nice beginning, for sure.

The next tapas was the most perfect bite of food imaginable. A shot glass was set in front of us and we were instructed to drink the contents in one shot, as if there was any other way to take Shotzzz. The first sensation to hit your lips was a room temperature cava sabayon, then chilled thick, luscious cream, then a layer of warmed maple syrup, and finally a few chunks of sea salt. It was simply a perfect marriage of temperatures, textures, and flavors.

Throughout Catalonia, we encountered pa amb tomaquet - a Catalan specialty of tomato and garlic rubbed toast. We found most of them to be soggy. The sort of dish you had to grow up experiencing as an afternoon snack to really appreciate. But this version, threw that recipe out with the bathwater.  Out came toasted peasant bread topped with a shockingly cold, sweet, and tart dollop of tomato sorbet. Laced on top was a garlic air. A bite sent a rush to your brain first with the garlic air and then the ice cold of the sorbet.

Next came foie gras served with pastry crust, a layer of cocoa powder, chives and glazed leeks, which highlighted the sweet aspects of duck liver. There was a small tin filled with a smoked sardine with romesco sauce, roasted eggplant and onion and another sorbet- this time a fiery red pepper. The smoked sardine had a surprisingly lightness about it, which pushed the other flavors to the forefront.

"Peix Bullit" is a traditional dish similar to a paella with a touch of bouillabaise thrown in for good measure. Here it was served in two courses: first the fish sauced with saffron aioli and then the dry rice which stuck and crisped in the bottom of the pan. If there is anything better than crisped rice, just undercooked from being burned and infused with fish stock, I haven't found it. But I will keep looking. Next up, Pyrenees beef filet with truffled potato gratin and a truffled glaze, finished with grilled onion. The truffle flavor as you can imagine stuck to the pores of the food and gave everything an earthy, seductive flavor. Now, Iberian suckling pig cooked for twelve hours sous vide with blood sausage under the skin, and pearls of apple glazed with hazelnut liquor. Besides the shot at the beginning of the meal, this was my favorite. Tender meat, rich blood sausage and then a shingle of shatteringly crisp skin. The hazelnut apples brought a sweetness which was most welcome.

A selection of cheeses followed served with an almond cube, honey jelly, and bitter orange marmalade. Raspberry sorbet with pistachio cake and vanilla bean ice cream was a delicious prelude to the finale. If we lacked the cultural touchstone to appreciate the tomato bread, we understood the brilliance that is chocolate, bread, sea salt, and olive oil immediately. Here, the olive oil had been turned into ice cream, the chocolate a warm, firm pudding, the bread shattered and crisped, and salty macadamia nuts at the bottom.

There were wines with each course. The wine service got a little too bogged down in the specifics for me. For example, the wines served with the pig and beef course were poured at the beginning of the meal. We were severely warned not to drink them until the course for them arrived, but to "sniff, swirl, and imagine the flavors which are coming." Or the two wines poured with the rock fish course, where we had to eat the fish first followed by the aioli, and the first wine. Then we could try the rice with the second wine. Only then were we free to drink and taste as we pleased. A little much, but they are going for more Michelin stars and such is the game they have to play. The wines however were very good especially a 2008 Teixar, D.O. Montsant (with the pig) and a Grantxa Masia Pairal Can Carreras, D.O. Emporda which was stunning with the chocolate course (pictured below).

Aside from the slight seriousness, the meal at Cinc Senits proceeded flawlessly from a service and food standpoint. A meal that we found very hard to categorize, but immensely pleasureable. But now it was time for a nap.


Friv 3 said...

This dish is so simple but it is delicious, right here. I will try it.

Kizi 2 said...

Great and very informative post you have shared with us i like this blog post.