Wednesday, January 28, 2009

ABAC is above many (but still not better than Bohemic); back in Barcelona

My last night in Barcelona, Catalunya and Spain was hopefully going to be an amazing evening at the one-Michelin starred gastronomic temple of Chef Xavier Pellicer ( in his new digs and small hotel north of downtown (where he used to cook in a smaller restaurant near the water). The buzzer gate gives way to an oasis of paths and greenery leading to the restaurant which is modern but not too much to take away from the food. The lighting is superb with each of three rooms having 9 or 6 oval tables for two or four (I saw no groups larger than this). Above each table is a light fixture on a balance the same shape as the table but with two small pointed lights in it to light the table area. Big comfy beige leather chairs match the velvet drapes along all glass walls. There seemed to be an outdoor area for warmer nights. The linens are crisp and white, the china is Versace with a Greco-modern pattern in black, silver and white; the crystal is Zweisel styled like the modern Riedel Vinum Extreme and have the name of a sommelier etched in them. Each table has a small glass cube about 2x2x2 with two soft lychee-like spiny green fruits and a persimmon-colored gourd-like deformed pepper-like item with about 5-6 odd polyps at the top. Any ideas?

I chose the tasting menu since the appetizers and entrees all seemed to be 30-45 Euros each and the tasting was 125Euros with five courses plus desserts; made sense to me financially and offered many more tastes which I love. I chose a red wine with the help of the ever so sweet sommelier, Dani. The 100% Albarino form RIAX BAIXAS was called VENDETTA 2005 and came from the Pedra Longa Vineyards. It had a huge nose, lots of body, some minerality and a big finish. YUM.

The little touches arrived (these are not considered amuses): TWO spicy POTATO CHIPS that were flat and rectangular (about 2x5 each) and were so transparent they looked like alabaster. Large salty CALAMATA Olives from Greece and soft, less salty, but also large FRENCH OLIVES.

A deep fried VEAL CHEEK "chip" that can only be described as looking like pork rinds, sitting on a tray of rock salt, and yes, tasting VERY salty. Luckily they had good sparkling water that was NOT salty. FINALLY!

Amuse numero uno was a baby scallop covered with a slice of local jamon with a past-like spread of Jerusalem artichoke underneath it. It was indeed yummy, but not so with numero dos, called MUSHROOM ROYALE. I already worried when I saw that old disliked friend, the cappuccino foam atop the glass. It had some croutons in the foam and underneath was a gloppy cream of mushroom concoction with some long stringy mushrooms in it.

The tasting menu began with a simple but perfectly cooked COLD PRAWN CONFIT in WATERCRESS Sauce with 1/2 grape tomato, artichoke hearts, the local puffy oyster-like crackers and a rose petal. This was where the wine began to go oh so great with indeed every dish (thanks, Dani).

Course #2 was two squares of VEAL TENDON faced opposite and across from two raw CLAMS (one had a piece of grit;oops!) and a Pureed disc of BROCCOLI at the center of the "cross" scattered with tiny broccoli florets and some Ossetra caviar. Poured over this was an oddly lukewarm veal broth. It was a delicious dish save for the grit, but I think it would have been vastly improved with a warm broth.

Number 3 was one of the evening's highlights: Flash Sauteed WHOLE CALAMARI with WILD MUSHROOMS,ARTICHOKES, Chives and an ALMOND CREAM that was more of a light cream sauce. It was at this point I felt that great gourmet status had been achieved, despite the saltiness of most everything.

It was here, also. that I saw the domes start to appear; you know, those silver things all the waiters stand around and lift off at once in unison. For this reason, I was grateful to be alone, so no coordination by the staff was necessary!

I had arrived a about 8:40pm (they open at 8:30)and at that time only one other had been seated in the room behind me. By this time, around 10pm, the place was about 1/3 full, but by 10:30pm about 75% of the place was seated; the first couple that came in right behind me departed after a short dinner at 11pm.

The 4th course was a HAKE FILET with BLACK TRUFFLE and SOUFFLE of LEEK on sauteed leek. The dish seemed to smell of mushroom, but there were none and had a tasty Espuma foam of leeks as well. The 2x4 piece of fish was tasty yet quite salty, but the saltiness dissolved when eaten with the layer of freshly cut black truffles layered generously across the top as well as with the leek espuma. On the side was a crispy sliced thinly into 25+ layers Napoleon of potato that was brown, crunchy and divine. Again, a perfect pairing with my Albarino.

As I finished the white, I moved onto a half bottle of red from the nearby PRIORAT region where we had spent some of time this past week. DOFI 2006 made by Alvaro Palaceos came from the town of Grallatops in Catalonia and had huge body (huge lines--or tears as they are called in Catalan), structure and a bit of tartness, which was perfect with my main course and cheese. The wine did not beg for food, but once it opened up it was a great treat alone as well.

The main course was PINTADA, local PIDGEON in CARDAMOM Sauce served with Sauteed SPINACH, Mushrooms, Onions and Carrots with even a huge clove of cooked garlic. The meat was not as intense as the woodcock the previous week. It was tender, fleshy and tasty and the sauce was worthy of the star the chef had earned.

I take a break here as I did at dinner to report on the bathroom, as it is notable, though perhaps not a destination like the one in Vienna's Steierereck. There are cool Grohe confusing faucet fixtures which rely on touch on a red or blue light for temperature. The high faucet has an internal blue light which comes one with the water flow and was totally neat.

The cheese trolley brought French and Spanish options and I went for the 1/2 portion and chose CASA MANTEJO an intense sharp and also spicy sheep which had a hard edge and softer interior, the edge being spicier and the center sharper.

CARAT was a local goat that was ripe and creamy and just soft under the rind VACHERIN MONT d'OR from France was a mild soft runny cheese; the kind that I just ADORE. I adored them all as midnight approached and only 3 tables remained.

The pre-dessert was the chef's version of CREME BRULEE with CASSIS. It was a creamy fruit custard with an oddly crunchy top that I could not pinpoint at all. I am totally unsure of what the "brulee" or burned sugar was or of it was there.

The dessert was called TEXTURES of APRIL, I know not way. There was a small apple cooked with saffron and scooped like melon balls into cigar-like pastry, buttermilk ice cream, caviar pearls, and lemon intense cream which would not win any major awards from me. The post-dessert cookies and such were all dry and not worth mentioning; I did not even consider taking the remainders home.

Admittedly, I had drunk 1/2 the bill, but when the check came for 270Euros (125menu +water+1/2 cheese+135 wine) I was in a bit of shock. At $350 I really felt I should have returned to my newly beloved bistro BOHEMIC and pigged out for under 100Euros total! I have learned a lot about Catalan cuisine and there are many superb 1-3 Michelin starred restaurants in the region (only 1 star in the city, though), so I guess I will just have to return to give the others a chance and be sure to check some reviews beforehand.