There are meals that transcend memory in one’s life, an experience that lingers and transports, leaving an indelible mark on one’s food soul. The reverberations that ensue are subtle, then profound, then life-changing.
This past summer I was extremely blessed to be offered an invitation to El Bulli, a gastronomic mecca, a mathematical impossibility, a convergence of providence and good fortune, reinforcing the adage, “It’s who you know.”
So, as part of my yearly summer road trip in La Patria (Spain), El Bulli was to be the culinary crowning highlight.
The restaurant is located near the seaside town of Roses in northeastern Spain along the Costa Brava. After a day of cloudbursting in the sunshine, a van arrived to pick up the party because driving to El Bulli is treacherous, even for the natives.
A very integral component to the dining experience of your lifetime is who is in attendance. This aspect is almost more important than the actual food and wine. Maria Jose of LDH, joined by her US business manager Monica, El Capitan (my road warrior), and DJ (an old time road warrior wine biz friend of El Cap) rounded out the crew. All of us are in the industry, and appreciate the magnitude of the affair.
El Bulli sits high on the cliff facing the ocean. After a trip to the kitchen and pictures with chef Ferran Adria and Jules Solner, we are led to a patio where I am transed by the sounds of crashing waves beneath us. Sea air fills the skies, and the sun begins its natural descent. We settle in, and all nervousness and excitement is met with a bottle of Gosset Grande Reserve Champagne – it was like drinking the foam from the restless waters. The first two courses were some play on cocktails, fueling anticipation. Then an enormous egg shell made out of gorgonzola arrives to the table, with fresh nutmeg shavings. We are instructed to burst in with our hands, the egg shell cool to the touch and so mind-opening, truly we were a part of a circus of food, and what a wondrous show we were in for. A few more courses and then the spherical green olives, not so much a dish as a concept, a turning of a pure food item on its head, a liquid orgasm of olive essence, a sphere that danced on the spoon and the tongue before conceding to internal pressure, liquefying in the mouth while exploding in the mind. It was the only course that we received two of, the secondary olives were housed in a glass aquarium for us to fish. I am still living in those olives.
I am not sure when, still in an olive daze, but we were ushered indoors, a hacienda like aerie with scarce twenty five patrons scattered about in privacy, soothing white walls and wooden beams with stony floors and vistas of the night blue sky. We are seated at a table designed for a large party, exceptionally homey for five. We move on to a Corton Les Vergennes Cuvee Paul Chanson 2005, a nice Grand Cru effort, begging the question on how we are going to pair wine with the extensive menu and myriad of flavors. Maria Jose took care of this, generously gifting her wines from cellar, white and red, with the theme for selection based on birth years present at the table. Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva ’57, ’61, & ’70 for white, ’47,’54,’64 for red (some Bosconia), throwing in 2000 (rosado), 2001 & 2005 (tinto) for tasting. The elegance of these fine aged wines elevated the meal to a stratospherical level. There were intermittents, 1964 Oloroso by Gonzlez Byass and Hidalgo Pascada Pastrana manzanilla, and a finishing wine of PX Solera 1830 by Alvear. You could imagine how many wine glasses we were surrounded by.
It was a real task to take a photo before eating every dish, and I managed admirably, only eating part of a gamba before snapping a shot. Many dishes could serve as the highlight of any meal, and some begged bewilderment, puzzling analysis, and folly. A baguette made out of meringue filled with angula (eel) liver is still on the tip of my tongue’s memory. Tuna bonito broth French Pressed in a bodum, se anemone, sea urchin, and sea eel to name a few. There were no meat courses, save for a hare broth, deep and intense. There were 38 courses in all.
Morphings, a box of chocolates in a dizzying array of flavors and scents, accompanied by tea cut from fresh leaves brought tableside finalized the sweetness portion of the program, followed by a digestivo back on the patio where it all began. A quick glance at the clock struck 3 am, time lost from a 9 pm start time.
What did we discuss? Friendship, love, generosity, and of course food and wine, the universal elements that binds us all, without which the world would be a less magical space. Life holds in store for us moments, simple and grandiose, with dear friends and family, filling for us that space in our hearts, minds and stomachs.