Part 2 -- "Texture Violation" (El Bulli -- Roses, Spain)
Read Part 1 , Part 3, or Part 4
At this point, we're feeling pretty fucking grateful recognizing that a) most people don't get a chance to do something like this and b) we should really be roadkill after the drive we just had.
Our Catalan servers wearing cute little pins with the word "vi" (wine in Catalan) buzz around the terrace attending to our needs and those of the people around us. (Side note about the Catalan language: WHAT THE FUCK? Jon speaks Spanish, I speak French and neither of us could figure out what the fuck anyone was saying.) We're given a wine list and order a bottle of Cava figuring that whatever we are going to eat is going to be both a surprise and completely weird so we'd best pick something that would go with everything.
Luis came over to measure where we stood on the cojones scale. He had asked for a list of what we wouldn't eat as soon as we confirmed our reservation. I e-mailed him with my aversion to offal and beef (although I'd have eaten it there if I'd been presented with it), and let him know that Jon had no issues.
This was before Jon and I did some research online and came across someone's menu from El Bulli, which included the dish "lightly fried rabbit brains." Jon became obsessed. He was convinced he'd be given some brains, despite the fact that no one else we knew or had read about had ever been given brains at El Bulli. It became a running joke during the 10 months that we waited between getting the reservation and going to the restaurant. Jon found the fact that they were "lightly fried" to be hilariously funny. As if lightly frying them makes them seem less like BRAINS.
I had thoroughly and completely convinced him that there would be no brains. Until Luis came over to confirm with us and asked Jon if he'd be OK eating lamb brains.
You've got to be fucking kidding me.
Jon's rationale was "if not here, then where?" and agreed to dig into the gray matter of Bo Peep's posse. I have to admit, I fell a little more in love with him when he agreed to eat the brains. I mean, we all know how I feel about Zombies.
As soon as Luis got the go ahead, he flew off to the kitchen and we began our adventure.
All El Bulli dinners tend to have a few things that appear and re-appear on the menu. The things we saw a lot of (and you'll see a lot of here) were: Campari, seaweed, walnuts, parmagiano, seeds (yep, seeds) and bananas. Sounds a little like the grocery list of a deranged gourmand, no?
First up: an aperitif of strawberries, tangerine and Campari, along with snacks made up of the same ingredients. The aperitif was the essence of all the ingredients above, all jacked up for a night of partying. Strawberries, tangerine and campari in technicolor. When we asked how it was made, our server dashed off to the "laboratory," sort of in the same way you see Bugs Bunny jet after he's completely fucked over Wile E. Coyote. When our server returned, it was with a vacuum pack that contained tangerine juice and strawberries which had been melding together for a few days, then splashed with some Campari love.
The nibbles that I spoke of were sliced strawberries topped with a mandarin granite alongside little Campari meringues. The meringues were the first sign of strangeness -- they did not quite have the texture of a traditional meringue. It was more airy and delicate, like crunchy lace or petrified cotton candy. Still, it was delicious and at this point, Jon and I were thinking "I don't know what everyone is talking about, this isn't *so* weird." Ahhh, the ignorant smugness of the innocent.
Here comes a mango leaf with a tagete flower. This was gorgeous AND tasted like candy. That's because mango leaf was candied so it shattered when you ate it. It had a fine powder and a bud of the flower sitting on top. Still maintaining, still thinking "not so weird."
Next up: "animals". Um, OK. These were crunchy crackers in the shapes of animals that were made of dried shrimp, sesame and seaweed. Check one off for the weird team. It was still tasty, and we gave Mr. Adria mad points for the playfulness of the whole deal. I'd like unlimited access to whatever drugs this dude was taking when he conceived of all this, please. These were followed by hibiscus-eucalyptus-cassis paper. Think of the most delicate hibiscus fruit roll-up one could find wrapped around some sticky goo. So far, still yummy.
With the first few things, we were seeing stuff one at a time. Now we were starting to hit some back up on the table, like we were in some outer space dim sum restaurant. We loved it, as it meant we could actively look forward to what was next (El Bulli recommends that you eat things in the order they are served to you).
Our next item was the first thing we had that made me think "This is interesting and innovative, but ewww." Seaweed waffles. This should have been fine by me. I mean, I like seaweed, and I love sesame, so we're talking home run here. Not so much. These were made of wavy seaweed crackers filled with a sesame goo that had the texture of whipped cream. Something about it just felt violating.
If you haven't figured this out yet, the folks at El Bulli don't give a flying fuck about what your tastebuds expect in terms of a meal progression. There were several dessert-y items thrown into the outdoor snack portion of the meal, one of them being little freeze dried nuggets of banana, sugar, walnuts and something called lyo. They tasted like candies, if candies were made in space by Catalan aliens. Number 1: Tasty, Number 2: fun, Number 3: different. Now can someone please tell me what the Christ lyo is? Because it appears again later in the meal.
OK, so next came another seemingly innocuous dish: "walnuts cake." We got four round disks, two made with walnut oil and two made with crushed walnuts. Jon tasted first. Holy fuckballs, I thought he was actually going to spit them back out onto the plate when I saw his face, eyes tearing and look of impending vomit in his furrowed brow. I asked him to articulate the specific problem, to which he exclaimed, "Texture violation! Texture violation!" You see, we have this thing with food where if we don't like it we need to explain whether it's a taste or texture violation. This was a clear texture issue. Because I'm not a pussy, I ponied up and popped one in my mouth.
I should really listen to my husband more often.
Imagine someone ground up some chalk and mixed it with a marshmallow and that's what we're looking at up in here. I think we ate all four, because we didn't want to look like the lame asses we are, but it was not fun. We will come across this problem again in Part 3.
Fortunately this was followed by oil caviar with anchovy. This was old school Ferran shit right here. Little balls with a gel-like texture topped with some gold leaf. It's dishes like this that really illustrate the sheer brilliance that a mad scientist like Adria is capable of creating. These little balls had the purest taste of olive oil and anchovies you can imagine.
The thing about this was that I could not help but giggle as I slurped it down. We're talking little-girl-on-the-playground-unbridled-joy. Worth the wait, worth the plane ticket, worth the mother fucking winding road of death right there.
This parade of fun continued almost up until the end of the first part of our gorging. The next six dishes rocked the Casbah so hard that I had to put on a seatbelt. Here they are:
1. Pineapple paper with shredded parmesan over it. The paper was similar in texture to the meringues and the combination of the tarty pina and the salty parm just about made me pass out in ecstasy.
2. Passion/Campari. A little frozen hockey puck icey of passion fruit and campari. Almost reminded me of an otter pop in texture. We all know how I'm a dirty slut for the passion fruit, so I was thrilled to see this.
3. Liquid croquette 2006. So I guess there are different versions of this every year. Ours involved a spherified ball of hot liquid parmesan (please excuse me while I wipe up my drool and compose myself) with bits of jamon iberico fried and sprinkled over top. Hot, hot, hot. If this dish was a person, I might have the new title of adulteress.
4. Crab anemone -- Romana style. To be honest, I don't remember all that much about this. What I do remember is that the fry on this bitch was light and delicate, the flower foam cut the richness of the crab and I wanted more.
5. Won ton. Perhaps my favorite thing of the night. We got some plate lickin' going on with this one. First we get a huge tureen with two round balls floating in it (not those balls, although I can see how you'd make the mistake considering who you're dealing with here). The liquid is chicken stock, the balls are ravioli. In front of each of us is a dish of basil foam. We are told, in no uncertain terms that we are to drop a ball in the foam and eat it all in one bite.
Holy orgasm, Batman.
More hot, liquid parm squirts out and cozies up to the basil in my mouth. Jon and I cannot possibly figure out how the hell they make the parmesan juice with out getting thick, nasty, coagulated chunks of cheese. We are given the answer promptly: Parmesan foam. Of course. The pasta itself felt like gossamer. I could have eaten a hundred of them. It's a good thing I didn't ask for a hundred, though, because as you will see in Part 3, requests are generously obliged at El Bulli even when the requester freaks out like a little girl when the request is granted (And I certainly wouldn't be referring to my husband there).
6. Brioche-Thai. It's as if they knew I was coming. Oh wait, they did. A profiterole is stuffed with green curry ice cream. GREEN. CURRY. ICE CREAM. The ice cream was sprinkled with various Thai flavors and then drizzled with peanut sauce. Forget what I said about the wonton, because I was ready to pack my bags and move into this here ball of tongue lovin'. Even more impressive was that the pate-a-choux was among the best I've ever had.
Jon didn't love this the way I did. His brain doesn't like to reconfigure a savory item as a dessert item unless it involves sea salt or truffles. It was too sweet for him. I thought it was fucking genius.
At this point I'm thinking nothing is going to stop us. Sure we got thrown a bit with the sesame waffles and walnut cakes (I mean, seriously, who the fuck calls chalk a cake?, this I ask you), but we were feeling pretty arrogant about our ability to gobble up just about everything that was placed before us.
Then we got "horchata"-truffle. A shallow dish that had two liquids and a nut in it was placed before us. One side, we were told was horchata, the other was truffle. OK, I don't know what kind of truffle they are talking about, but the truffles I know do not taste like Satan's love juice. We asked repeatedly about this and got a broken English answer that still sounded like "truffle." The menu I have in front of me right now says "truffle." I say the elixir of hell. Definite taste violation on this one.
The last thing in our amuse parade was spherical mussels. We'd heard about these. They were mussels encased in seawater. Had the horchata shit been left out, this would have been number 7 in an uninterrupted streak of deliciousness. This dish tasted like the ocean, if the ocean was trapped in a bubble.
Once the mussel plate was cleared, we were moved inside to continue the culinary insanity. For that, though, you'll have to wait until Part 3.
"To eat is a necessity. To eat intelligently is an art."
-- La Rochefoucauld