CONFESSIONS OF A                                                                  
A San Francisco Girl's Down and Dirty Adventures in the Culinary Playground

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Part 4 -- Impressions and Aftermath (El Bulli -- Roses, Spain)

Read Part 1, Part 2 or Part 3

This is the final installment of the El Bulli saga, and I'm sure you're all as relieved to see it end as I am. There are some things missing from the previous posts that I felt warranted mentioning before I put this bad boy to bed.

First of all, one thing Jon and I were particularly surprised to discover (and the thing that seems to shock everyone else when we mention it) is that you feel like total shit the day after eating at El Bulli. No one that we knew who had been to the restaurant let us in on this one. Actually, I'm beginning to think our friends don't like us, between this and the taxi thing. could chalk this nastiness up to too much drinking, but since we had our own vehicle to navigate back down the mother fucking winding road of death, we were fairly conservative in our imbibing and cannot blame alcohol. We also had to get up early, to catch a flight to Paris (or so we thought -- we ended up being delayed 3 hours. Fucking EasyJet!). Still, we managed about 6 hours of sleep, which is about what we were tending to get at home those days, so we can't blame sleep deprivation either.

No, none of those things were the cause of the shit-feeling. Our assessment? The body was not designed to ingest that many chemicals in one meal. I remember the drive back to Barcelona, roundabout after fucking roundabout, being filled with burps that tasted like we'd quenched our thirst at a toxic spill. Stomachs distended, our conversation on the road to the airport consisted mostly of us saying "Wow, I feel like crap," "Yeah, me too." Repeat.

Next question: Do I think it's the best restaurant in the world? In a word, no. Top Five? Sure. I certainly have not eaten at all of the best restaurants in the world, but I've been lucky enough to experience a handful. El Bulli loses the number one spot in my book because, well, everything doesn't taste good. I appreciate what they are doing there, and as I said in Part 3, I love that they are pushing the boundries of cuisine and using their diners as guinea pigs. This makes it the most unique restaurant I've ever been to, and there is something to be said for testing out something that has never been done with food before. This makes it the best culinary experience I've ever had, but the best restaurant? No.

The best restaurant that *I've* been to is Alinea. And without El Bulli, there would be no Alinea so there you have it. Why Alinea? Because Grant Achatz is still testing the boundries of cuisine, but it doesn't hit the dining room unless it actually tastes good. Make that great. What I loved about Alinea is that I enjoyed every single bite of my meal. Not so at El Bulli.

Would I go back? Fuck, yeah. The thing about El Bulli is that they like to play, and they like to challenge and be challenged. You will never have the same dish twice if you return (they keep track of everything you've ever eaten there, and never serve it to you again unless you specifically request it). And while there certainly were things that did not rock my world, the things that did were worth the flight, the crazy roads of Spain, the hotels, the mother fucking winding road of death, the cost, the feeling like shit and the delay to Paris.

Perhaps that is why it took me so long to get through writing about it. I didn't want to let it go. Holding our breath, waiting for a reservation, getting the reservation, waiting 10 months for the reservation, planning an entire European adventure around the reservation...the whole thing was a pretty big fucking deal to us.

It was the experience of a lifetime.


"To eat is a necessity. To eat intelligently is an art."
-- La Rochefoucauld

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Part 3 -- "Taking One For the Team" (El Bulli -- Roses, Spain)

Read Part 1, Part 2 or Part 4

So picking up where we left off, oh several months ago (I suck, I know, I'm sorry)...

Luis shows us to the dining room, which actually feels more like someone's house than a restaurant. The colors are all warm and in general, the whole shebang feels a fuckload more casual than I would have expected. I can see that there is another dining area off to the right, which seems a bit more like a "dining room" but still like someone's home nonetheless. I dig it. P.S. We have no idea who those people are in that picture -- they just happened to be in the dining room that night.

Now El Bulli is about to rack up some major brownie points because as they show us to our seat, they do what we like to call "our favorite." They seat us both side by side on the banquette. Now there are drawbacks to this, because we can't really look at each other as well, but we CAN grab the other person easily when something is particularly tasty or disgusting. And we can whisper about the things and/or people we don't like. And this allows our server to present our dishes very theatrically.

That last sentence aside, the lovely chiquita who was our server was anything but theatrical. In fact, I would almost use the word timid. No matter, she was nice and she was informed and that's about all that I give two shits about.

Since we passed the small bites portion with flying colors, we were feeling pretty darn smug about what was yet to come. It started with a tonic soup with cucumber and roses. This was lovely through and through. The tonic was an ice, and the cucumber and roses were each a gelee. And it was pretty. The flavor was scrumptious and the texture was downright silly. Super duper.

What came next was one of my most very favorite parts of the meal. This was because it a) had several things I very much enjoy and b) it was kind of like a present in that you had to dig through the foam to get to the substance. This dish was honey/flowers/pistachio. The honey was the foam, which (as you can see) was sprinkled with pretty leetle flowers. Underneath it all sat the freshest, smoothest pistachios I've ever had the pleasure of eating. The flavors paired nicely, and all in all, I'm thinking "OK, there has been a little weirdness so far, but really, not so scary." Famous last words.

We gets ourselves some plates of anchovies with "raisins." The "raisins" are various sweet wines all spherified and such. The anchovies were perfect and briny and I could have eaten the raisins all night long (can I get a little Lionel Richie going on?). Jon and I both despise actual (as opposed to virtual) raisins, but I was able to get past the association. Jon had a bit more trouble. Pussy.

I am a dumbass. Let's just establish that right now. I can't really tell you much about the next thing we ate, and you'll see why. It was gorgonzola pie/nuts/lyo. Now you may remember that in Part 2 (if you can remember that long ago) that I had no idea what lyo was. Well, the charming Alex e-mailed me the following:

"hello. i read your hystericall blog on el bulli, wich i loved and iam
waiting for pat 3, and saw that you are asking what is LYO. It is a
technique where you freeze food and then you put it in a lyofilzadora, (i
dont know the name in english), but what it does is that it takes the water
from food without it been liquid and you end up with a styrofoam like
texture.its what NASA does to ice cream sandwiches for the astronauts."

I see. OK. Now from the picture, you can see that the gorgonzola pie is what has received the lyo work up. And there are some pine nuts. And where would we be without foam? Sweet young thing instructs us to lift the foil like bit and use our index finger to slide the "pie" into our mouths. I slide it right into my lap. I try to save it and lick some off my fingers. Sweet young thing is horrified "Oh, ma'am, ma'am, it's OK!" (And, by the way, when did I become a fucking ma'am???? I mean, for fuck's sake, I got carded at Trader Joe's 2 months ago even in a visibly knocked up state, with my husband, and wedding rings. This was because I had the genius idea to try to save time by using my wallet to pay for the alcohol Jon was going to drink. TJ's thinks I'm an underage pregnant alcoholic apparently. But I digress.). I must confess, I don't really like bleu cheese, so it was just as well. Jon liked it. I thought the texture was fun. Lesson here? Listen to your mama and mind your manners by always putting a napkin in your lap. It was my saving grace with this little treat.

Rolling up to the plate now is perhaps the most memorable dish of the evening. It wasn't the best, or the worst, but it was perhaps the most unusual. It's definitely the dish we always mention whenever we are asked about the El Bulli experience. This would be "seeds." And that's exactly what it was. Seeds. Lots of them. In pretty little piles on the plate. Cucumber seeds. Padron pepper seeds. Several kinds of tomato. Passion fruit. Sesame. Pumpkin. It was, hands down, the coolest thing I've ever been served. I liked it way more than Jon. Jon was kind of grossed out by the whole thing. I liked having to guess which seeds I was eating. As you can see, no El Bulli dish would be complete without a bunch of crap on the plate (foam, gelee, spherical balls, etc.).

It's a damn good thing for Jon, then, that the next thing was not only interesting and weird, but very, very tasty. Tomato soup with "virtual Iberian ham." Looks gross, right? Not at all. The jelly bits tasted just like the perfection that is jamon iberico, and the soup, well it tasted like tomatoes. Who doesn't like tomatoes and ham? Yummy, yummy in my tummy.

Oh yeah, we're still drinking. Bubbly. All the way through. Of course, the nice couple next to us, who hailed from LA, shared their exceptional Reynard with us as well. We love them.

Let's dig into some razor clams in vinegar sauce. For some reason, Jon is having more trouble dealing with some of these dishes than I am. Perhaps that's because I already pussied out by telling them in advance what I wouldn't eat. I do kind of get it. Razor clams in vinegar sauce with some peanut goop on the side isn't particularly interesting. I wouldn't kick it out of bed, but it didn't rock my world either.

Sometimes you just have to laugh. And that's what I did when I was presented with a plate of seaweed. Several different kinds fanned out around a chunk of watermelon. Now, I like seaweed, I do. But heading to the beach and grabbing a handful of crap to throw on a plate is not cooking. In fact, we happen to have one of the items on the plate in our fish tank. At home. I still ate it all, and it was fine, but I certainly wasn't enlightened to the wonders of "the sea" (the name of said dish). I will give this particular plate an A+ in the presentation department -- it was real purty to look at (then again, everything at El Bulli was nice to look at).

Story Time: At one point, Jon decided he had to pee so he excused himself and made his way to the loo. Now earlier in the meal we had noticed some boisterous young men (Spanish), clad in jeans, living it up at a table next to us. Rumor had it that it was Ferran's nephew and his friends, but we don't know this for sure. As Jon was relieving himself, he heard two of the young men in an adjacent stall, sniffing away. They returned to their table more animated than ever. Now I'm no prude, folks, but if you're going to be getting your substances on at El Bulli, I'd think something akin to a psychadelic would be a better choice than a stimulant. I'm just saying.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I was awaiting a plate of olives. Not real olives, but little green spheres that look and taste like olives. These were not intended for us. Everyone eating at El Bulli gets a unique meal. Some of it overlaps what other diners are eating, some does not. When Jon saw that our next door table neighbors were receiving the infamous olives, he HAD to have some. Um, OK....but, honey? Neither of us likes olives unless they are mushed up and mixed with other stuff. Chalk it up to our belief that we were tortured in the Mediterranean in a past life (we don't do raisins -- see previous, feta cheese or dates either). In any case, if you want something at El Bulli, you get it. Your wish is their command.

Of course you know how the rest of this goes. We get the olives. 4 of them. Jon just about puked after tasting the first one. I was not thrilled by them either, but since we had fussed about it, I took one, or rather THREE, for the team. I really, really love my husband.

Fortunately for me, this was followed by more seeds and more balls, which I hadn't quite grown bored of yet. We had a zuchhini risotto with curry-peanut capsules. The "risotto" was zuchhini seeds, and the capsules were just what they sounded like. The taste of this was oh-so-tasty, but the texture was what made it really remarkable. The gelatinous balls mixed with the zucchini seeds pleased my palate to no end. It's right about here where I start to feel ridiculously full. Anyone that tells you that you don't get full at El Bulli is a liar. Sure, the portions are small, but when you are dealing with 142 million courses that doesn't really matter now, does it?

Moving on. Crab -- marrakech. I have to be honest. I suck really bad. It took me so long to write this that I remember nothing about this at all. Which means it was probably unremarkable in either a good way or a bad way. Or it means that I'd had my fair share of wine at that point. As I wrote this, I desperately called out to Jon to come and help save me from admitting that I'm a hack who can't remember one of her courses from EL BULLI for fuck's sake, so he came in to help rescue me. I showed him the picture. His response? "Oh we liked it. It was yummy." So there you have it. I remember that the crab was delicate and lovely and that the spices were well balanced but that's about all I remember from this. I think it scored pretty low on the weird scale, which may explain my foggy memory.

The next course was different for the two of us. Mostly because there was no way I was going to be eating no lamb brains. Jon's lamb brains "in their own juice" (brains have juice????), actually looked really cool. And he was a super trooper wolfing them down and, *gasp*, enjoying them. "The sauce was particularly good" is his recollection. Sauce? You mean the brain juice, honey?

I was blessed to receive a plate of potato mounds that had been whipped into an airy, delicate puree, topped with thin slices of Iberian ham and surrounded by liquid parmesan. This was so lip-lickin' that I wanted to go and punch the kitchen staff for serving it so late in the meal when my stomach was already so full that I thought I might need it pumped before dessert.

Praise be to Jesus, then, that we were actually moving on to "cheese" and "dessert." Notice the quotes.

Cheese was "sheep -- the cheese and the wool". Excellent on all fronts. A gooey pecorino was topped with a cotton-like incarnation of the same cheese and paired with some fruity paste. The cheese I remember, the paste I do not. It was a good foible but not nearly as memorable as the cheese itself.

Our first dessert was a piquillo pepper and banana tatin. The banana goo was on top of a pastry rectangle and covered in frozen piquillo pepper stuff. It was actually very, very good. The temperature and texture contrasts were what really stood out here, and I was so grateful that it was not a filling dessert as I was already busting out of my pants.

The same cannot be said for the next dessert. Freeze dried carrots with coconut cream and some other grossness (and I love carrots and coconut, but maybe not together, and maybe not like this). I'm all for adventure, but this simply did not taste good. Weirdness for weirdness sake does not a yummy dinner make. Now I appreciate this -- I like that El Bulli basically uses it's diners as guinea pigs to test the limits of cuisine. Still, it doesn't mean that I'm going to pretend that I liked the results of each of those experiments.

Fortunately, my palate was cleansed with a chunk of peach drenched in a peach syrup/gelee type thing. It was refreshing and we got to eat it with the coolest utensil I've ever seen (tuning fork is what comes to mind here).

We finished up with "morphings," which were little freeze dried bits of peanuts and chocolate covered in gold. No complaints there. Jon enjoyed a perfect espresso alongside these little morsels.

And then we were done. How is that possible? How is it that something we'd waited for for so long could be over so fast? And how was it that I was actually grateful that it was over? Partly because I was full, and partly because I felt relieved to have finally experienced what I'd anticipated for so long.

We thanked everyone in the restaurant -- up, down and sideways -- before paying our check. And while it was not cheap, it's a steal for what some consider to be the "best restaurant in the world."

We made our way back to our car and cursed all the fucking taxis waiting outside. And we made our way back down "that road," wondering if and when we'd get to return.

Now for the million dollar question: Do *I* think it's the best restaurant in the world? Well, I think you can probably figure that out on your own. If you need me to tell you, though, you'll have to wait for Part 4.

You knew I was a bitch when you took me on.


"To eat is a necessity. To eat intelligently is an art."
-- La Rochefoucauld

Monday, October 08, 2007

You Take the Good, You Take the Bad

I'll wait a second while you finish singing the "Facts of Life" theme song. We good? OK.

As a kid, I fucking hated raw tomatoes. I'm talking serious passionate hate, people. They were mealy, flavorless and had a color so muted that you could barely call it red. Or pink. I could not understand why anyone would eat them. Ever.

Fast forward to now. I have been scarfing down the heirlooms like it's my job. Green zebras, Brandywines, you name it. Jon and I recently bought a package of Fatted Calf bacon, a fuckload of heirlooms and some Acme pain de mie. We used the entire package of bacon and the majority of the tomatoes on two BLTs. That's right, not seven, two. At least I have a (weak) excuse.

More than any other piece of produce, tomatoes are the reason I believe in eating locally and seasonally. There is just no comparison.

The whole season I have been dreading the day I knew would come. The day that the tomaters start to suck again. And, unfortunately, judging from restaurant menus, the Farmer's Market and Whole Foods, that day is here (or at least near). That's the bad.

Now for the good.

Holy fucking shitballs: Costco carries Mexican coke. When did this happen? And why did no one tell me? A fair argument would be that because Jon and I practically live at Costco (you can't beat the return policy, even with the new caveats, and they are 100% blue to boot), one would assume we would know. But that's not how it works.

Jon and I use Costco for very different reasons than the masses. We buy household items and appliances. Books. DVDs. Liquor. Wine. Magazines. Electronics. Paper towels and toilet paper. Drugs. Flowers. Fuzzy socks. Q-tips. You get the idea. What is missing from this list? Food and beverages.

You see, I have no need for 18,000 processed rice crispy treats. Occasionally we will buy a hunk of Parmesan or something but that's about it. And when we hit the beverage section, it's to grab a case of Pellegrino before we make a run for it.

But yesterday we lingered toward the back after grabbing the jumbo sized paper towel bundle and the aforementioned case o' sparklie water. And out of the corner of my eye, I spied the most glorious case of beverages known to man: Mexican coke.

I'm not a soda drinker usually, but I do enjoy the coke. In fact, Mr. Food Musings has agreed with me that coke is a secret magical elixir that cures ills like no other (case in point: it was the one thing that soothed my morning sickness). And since a coke a day falls well within the acceptable caffeine guidelines for knocked up chicks, and since Diner #3 seems to really want me to drink coke (the only true craving I've had), I've been enjoying that sweet cola goodness (in safe 12 oz. per day doses).

Now, I have not been purchasing the coke for home use. Regular coke is just not special enough. Besides, most restaurants we eat at have bottle (or Mexican) coke so there was no need. But when I saw them there bottles could come live at my house with me, I started crying in the aisles of Costco. I loves me the Mexican coke. Why? Well, because it's better. It tastes better and, one could argue, it's better for you. Sure, it's packed with cane sugar, which isn't great, I'll admit, but at least it's not the corn syrup river that makes up the coke that we get here in the US of A.

This new discovery is a dangerous, dangerous thing for my ass size.


"To eat is a necessity. To eat intelligently is an art."
-- La Rochefoucauld

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

3295 Meals Later

That's right -- Restaurant Whore is three years old today. As in years past, I will post a little round up of what the year has been like. Some categories are obsolete at this point, but I will do my best.

Highest Number of Visitors in a Single Day: With RSS readers in the mix now, I have no friggin' idea.

Highest Number of Visitors in a Month: see above

Number of Visitors All Year: see above

Total Number of Posts: 273, including this one (55 this year -- which is still more than 1 per week so there)

Total Number of Mesh Articles: None, as Mesh is no more. Editor Brian has gone back to school, and I really need to get off my ass and move this blog to a different domain.

Most Disturbing Search Term: "two one fuck bitch"

Most Unexpected and Welcome Bonus: Same as years past, but new and improved. I met the best friends I have in this life through this blog.

Biggest "You've Got to be Kidding Me" Bonus:
Getting an offer to co-write a book. And taking it.

Most Unlikely Reader Demographic:
Yet again, people who are easily offended. Honestly, there are enough food blogs out there that keep their panties on so I don't see why you are wasting time with me if you can't handle a fucking swear.

Best Meal(s):
French Laundry (4th visit), Cyrus (4th and 5th visits), Delfina (every visit).

Best Food I Ate Outside of the County this Year:
Mexican coke in Mexico. I was 9 weeks pregnant when we were there, so I don't remember all that much about what we ate since, well, I didn't really feel like eating.

Pieces of Hate Mail for the Michael Mina Post:
0 (hmmm...interesting)

Pieces of Fan Mail for the Michael Mina Post:
4 (guess no one even cares about MM anymore)

Number of Chefs/Restaurant Owners Who Have Posted On the Blog/E-mailed Me:
I didn't keep track this year what with all the traveling and family drama and baby making but I do know that every time I do get a cheftastic comment, it makes my day.

Number of Oysters Eaten:
About 3 dozen, mostly before I became a human incubator. I have had cooked oysters, though.

Number of Burritos Eaten:

Number of Times My Grandma Has Asked Why I Have to Swear So Much In the Blog:
0 -- she's accepted it and moved on.

Thing That Makes Me Happiest:
Knowing that once there are three of us in the house we can order even more food to try. I guess this is dependent on Diner #3 eating solids and not being picky but that's just logistics. Besides, if he's picky, we're trading him in. That said, he's already pretty well trained -- he starts moving the second I enter a restaurant whether I've eaten anything or not. It's like he knows we're home or something.

Thing I'm Most Proud Of:
This has not changed since I started the blog and I think (hope) it will always be the same -- Staying true to myself and not compromising my style or ethics to please anyone else. I still don't write anything down, I still make friends with my servers, bussers, chefs and bartenders and I still own my opinions, popular or not. Fuck, yeah!

And, finally, my blog birthday wish for this year: Last years wish partially came true, so let's give it a go. I wish that I'd stop sucking so bad and just finish the fucking El Bulli post once and for all.

Those of you who have been with me, or joined me, over these past three years -- thank you. I am not always the best blogger in the world, but I am, without a doubt, the luckiest one for having readers that stick around even when I'm a no-posting loser.

Love you. Mean it.


"To eat is a necessity. To eat intelligently is an art."
-- La Rochefoucauld