Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Homage to Catalonia

After hustling from Camp Nou, grabbing a quick shower, and walking the seven blocks from the apartment to Comerc 24, we were to put it mildly, parched and hungry. Out quickly came a selection of breads, olive oils, and sparkling water. We took in those few minutes of gathering sustenance quietly, glancing around the room or at the menu. Next, a tray of gins and a bottle of Fever Tree tonic, it may have been the greatest G&T of my life.

Carles Abellan, chef/owner of Comerc 24 and other restaurants, spent years in Ferran Adria's brigade before opening his own spot in Barcelona's Born neighborhood. His cooking applies the techniques learned and discovered at el Bulli to traditional Catalan cuisine and Asian cuisines. The room is modern with an open kitchen which moves with seemingly effortless energy. Each cook working in harmony with his surroundings and other cooks. It makes for must see reality.

First came some snacks, all based on the color white. A cold cauliflower soup with smoked tea and nori that was fragrant exploration of an often pungent vegetable. Then pieces of popcorn cauliflower with ginger and rice vinegar which arrived stacked on a rock as if they were tufts of snow on a mountain top. Then cold slabs of monkfish, the white flesh standing out starkly against the black sesame and black garlic swiped on the plate.

My favorite savory bite came next. Filo rolled cigars filled with parmesan cream, lemon and basil. Just an exciting blend of crunchy, tart, sweet, creamy, and herbal.

Also served with the parma cigars was a pizza topped with figs, arugula, mozzarella, and sardines. This was a mess of flavors which did not quite gel together for me. But it was very fun to snack on.

The next dish was the only bummer of the night, a cold oyster topped with a beet foam. The disparate elements of the briny oysters and earthy foam lacked a unifying flavor. Instead of coming together in a marriage of mar y montana, the two ingredients awkwardly tried to get along. Things started going rapidly up from there. First, a beach shrimp ceviche with wine and peach that was a study in textures and acidity. Then a dish of cockles, floating in a dashi broth and spiked with thin slices of jalapenos.

Then came marinated sardines spiked with orange and wasabi. Surrounding the plate were these little puffs of crispy sweetened grains. We called them Grape-Nuts. A splendid dish, as the sardines were firm and well-dressed with acidity and spice.

Now, this was cool. Carbonara is the height of pasta in my opinion. The blend of pork, egg, cheese, and pepper can showcase the skill of a cook and the brilliance of simplicity. This dish channeled those flavors, but in lieu of spaghetti, the flavors were bound up in spheres. And they subbed black truffle for pepper, which is ok in my book. So, you have egg yolk, parmesan, and black truffle swimming in a porky consomme.

Out came razor clams, cut into thin strips and served as noodles in a yakisoba dish which is a neat parlor trick to use for your next parlor party. Then tuna tartar which I can take or leave, followed by thin slices of sashimi. Next came a dish straight out of the Catalan rule book: codfish with romesco sauce and ground almonds.

Next came field rabbit served with crispy rice which was just a wonderfully hearty and elegant dish. Cultures which value rice may be the most advanced civilizations. Certainly Spain knows the value of rice. Then a plate of whiting topped with a vinaigrette loaded with herbs and lemon juice. Our final savory course united all of Abellan's passions: Catalonia, Asia, and cooking. A square brick of suckling pig done in the style of Hanoi was delicious, pungent, and best of all a study in the glories of the pig.

Cheese was a jar of mel i mato - honey and creamy cheese. Then, what became our favorite dessert, which we encountered time and time again, bread, olive oil, chocolate and coarse salt. Just look at that beautiful orb of dense, dark chocolate. Gander at those chunks of salt, their salinity amplifying the sweetness of the chocolate and vis versa. Gaze at that pool of peppery olive oil and the crisp of bread. This is the best dessert in the world.

 There were other desserts. One channeled Arnold Palmer with its combination of ice tea and lemon. Another layered apple and saffron, while a third stacked creamy, sweetened cheese and strawberries. Then came a moon rock crowned with futuristic mini spaceships. We were instructed to eat those last. Biting into them set off a rush as the dusted chocolate orbs were ice cold while the bottom layer was crunchy. The taste was not dissimilar to what would happen if Butterfinger and Heath Bar had a love child.

All of this was accompanied by a light bodied 2006 Roda I Rioja and excellent service. We sat at the table for hours but it all seemed to pass in a matter of moments. As we were leaving, I noticed the receipt read only 00:30 a.m. How could that be I wondered. I'd find out the next day as we learned that in the middle of our meal, Spain ended daylight savings time.

1 comment:

Awren said...

"Then tuna tartar which I can take or leave"