El Poblet El Poblet El Poblet El Poblet El Poblet El Poblet
When I was in Belgium back in January, my friend J.P. Perez couldn't stop raving about El Poblet and the cuisine of Quique Dacosta. According to J.P., Dacosta, along with a handful of other young chefs, was the future of cuisine. It was a bold statement, but one that I wasn't going to take lightly considering the source. In fact I took it so seriously that three months later I found myself in a van which was on its way from Valencia to Denia in order to have a Saturday lunch at the restaurant. J.P was driving and he was attempting to explain Dacosta's cuisine to the others in the van. "There's a mongol between Denia and the sea" he told us. Mongol, from what I could understand, was a swamp. Still I was having a hard time understanding him. Food that tasted like a swamp. Now what would that be like? I soaked up the conversation and stored it away for further use. Still I was having a hard time processing the information.
The setup at El Poblet is a bit unusual. The kitchen, rather than being tucked away at the back of the restaurant, is located just off of the entrance. That means that the pass is literally at the head of the entrance to the restaurant, and the first thing you come upon when entering is Quique Dacosta standing at the pass barking out orders to his kitchen staff. Talk about having an open kitchen! But there was something else that was unique about it. After the hostess greeted you, Dacosta was able to personally greet his guests as they were led to their tables. I have to say it's an approach I preferred and more chefs should try it. Most chefs greet their guests after the meal is over. Why not greet them before the meal begins?
Sao Pao, Gaig, Buerhiesal, L'Arnsbourg, Le Cerf, Le Meurice
The second and final installment of reviews of meals in Spain and France which I haven't had time to write up. The meals all took place between late January and May of this year. Looking back at these dozen meals, what strikes me are the significant number of meals that I can easily describe as less than acceptable. I would love to explain it by being able to point a finger at a single cause but unfortunately it isn't that simple. Some restaurants have chefs that appear to be overrated and some restaurants are cooking in culinary styles that are dated. When a restaurant douses more than one dish with a salty and overreduced veal demi-glace, it makes one wonder when the last time the guidebooks who continue to award the restaurant their highest honors have tasted the cuisine. Or maybe the problem they don't know the difference between contemporary cuisine and one that has is long out of style? On the other hand, there were a few bright spots in Spain. But given the price of a haute cuisine meal in Europe, some of these restaurants need to do much better. Or maybe the guidebooks shouldn't be as slow to demote restaurants whose culinary style has become a bit long in the tooth.
My second meal at Mugaritz came on a cold and wintery evening, one where it snowed the night before and where flurries were forecasted for the next few days. The last time I had visited the restaurant was in November 2003 and it was half empty. But this time it was so empty that there were only three tables that were occupied including our party of eight who sat in the corner at the back of the restaurant. I spent some time looking over the restaurants very simple, yet elegant, modern, yet somehow classic decor. It is both quite comfortable as well as attractive with high ceilings and a lot of space between tables. Despite the casual environment, the service staff is serious and their demeanor encourages one to speak in semi-hushed tones. The restaurant doesn't offer an ala carte menu and your choices are limited to one of two tasting menus – Menu Sustriak at 77.15 euros (how on earth did they calculate the .15) and Menu Naturan at 99.50. Both menus are five savoury course affairs plus amuse and desserts, and after a small conference we decided on the more expensive Naturan.
One of the most difficult reservations to get is a table at El Bulli. So what was I doing trying to get a reservation for twenty people? It’s a bit crazy don’t you think. But when you run a dining forum discussion group, and twenty members or more express interest in going to the restaurant, you do the best you can. And so it was that many, many months ago I started an email campaign to try and get a table at the restaurant. The first thing that happened was that my table for twenty got whittled down to a table for eight. Then the restaurant and I played a game of musical chairs regarding the date. But somewhere on the fifth or sixth try, it finally worked, and one morning I woke up to find the following in my inbox:
I am sorry for the delay. We are overwhelmed and without options to grant most requests for reservations. We are doing our best to try and move things around so we can accommodate as many people as possible, and we have found an option that satisfies your request.
With pleasure, I confirm your dinner reservation for April 30th for 8 people at 7:30-8:00 p.m. under the name Steven Plotnicki. I ask you to confirm your reservation a week in advance and to give us a contact telephone number.
Note: Ferran Adria will prepare for you a personalized tasting menu. It is important to know if there are allergies or products people do not eat so we can make sure we don't serve them.