As is wont, we saved the best for last and for a good reason. Four and a half years ago, I had the best lunch of my life at BOHEMIC (www.bohemicbistro.com)
and I have recommended the spot to dozens and dozens of folks who have all come back RAVING. You can go back to my first rave at the blog and see why, but this review is all about last week.
This time I was so excited to take my husband and son back to my favorite dining spot in Spain, so I started e-mailing the chef/owner Francesc almost a year ago.
He told me that he was unsure of his August vacation schedule and to contact him back again in late spring. In April, I was e-mailing him again, explaining that we were only in
Barcelona for four nights and that we had to leave on Sunday morning August 25th (and be at the airport at 530AM!). He emailed me back and said that while he had previously planned to reopen
on Monday, but that he would indeed reopen on Saturday for us. Phew!
We arrived at 828pm and the door was locked, but that is because they open at 830pm. Francesc's mom, whom I had met on my first visit, saw us from inside and unlocked the door and in her cigarette-toned
voice said "ALAN!" and gave me a kiss on both cheeks, and did likewise to Sam & Will. We were home.
We sat down and after a bit, Francesc came out and introduced his cousin, Torrenz, who would be his server; this has always been a family operation. I asked him if his father was still helping and he said that he was upstairs taking care of his newborn nephew (or was it niece). In four plus years, Francesc has really improved his English, so now we knew exactly what we were eating, although I never had an issue
with that cause everything was fabulous. I asked Francesc why he signed his e-mails "Mandu" and he explained that often the locals use their mother's maiden names as nicknames. I never did find out his mom's name, but Torrenz is also a nickname as well.
Couples came in, but the place never did fill up (there are still only 8 tables seating no more than 20 people), although there were a number of additional seats outside which we did not notice were full.
My first visit was in January, and at lunch the place was jammed. Torrenz proffered two glasses of CANALS Y CANALS CAVA which was dry but fruit forward and a great start. Samuel had his several last Cokes in Spain for this trip and we settled in for a culinary journey which was accompanied by soft, jazzy or popish music that never interfered.
POTATOES arrived, but not just POTATOES. This recipe is so cherished that Mandu refuses even to give some of the ingredients other than what we can figure out. These were nubby pieces of French fries with TWO SAUCES, one brown and spicy and the other white and slightly creamy. We guessed that the dark was Sun-Dried Tomato and Chili, but Mandu would not even blink. It is a secret he will never reveal.
Samuel saw the sauces and immediately refused to try the dish; this despite our oohing and aahing with culinary orgasms over each forkful. He finally gave in and tried to catch up as he had missed the top layer!
When Mandu asked if we wanted another plate we respectfully declined as we knew there were going to be multiple "orgasms" to follow.
We had enjoyed Pa' TOMAT so much on this trip that we thought we had seen every version in Catalunya. WRONG!
Mandu makes his with crunch and a huge tomato infusion bursting with flavor. he then adds FOIE GRAS MOUSSE, CUCUMBER CREAM, CATALAN CHEESE, DRIED TUNA, Micro greens and even small edible flowers. This is a TOMATO BREAD that will go down in history! Even Samuel, who has loved the bread everywhere, but is not a fan of foie gras, said is was truly amazing. His eyes rolled in his head, and I think he would have eaten a horse head if Mandu brought it out next!
Next came ROAST BEEF with MUSTARD ICE CREAM. This was again a local dish with a modern turn that we saw the earlier in the week as a tartare with mustard ice cream. Here the beef was rare and sliced thin and rolled with Mustard Seeds, Caviar, Garlic, Roasted Scallions and tiny little jelled pearls of Jugos Iberico, as we were told, or Iberian juices....whatever that is. If this is deli food, I can eat it forever.
We switched from the Cava to VALL DOLINA XAREL-LO 2012. We knew this would be our last XAREL-LO before leaving its homeland, so I just keep thinking more and more about how much I was going to miss the food; and more and more of how I needed to get back on my diet as soon as I got home! It was sublime with more citrus that usual and ideal with what came next.
I had enjoyed the Bottafega Negra or BLACK SAUSAGE the previous day for lunch in a terrine with octopus. Even Will who does not care for this said it was great. Here, Mandu has recreated breakfast; SAUSAGE & EGGS gone CATALAN is what I call it. The black sausage has a slow low cooked egg on top which oozes as it is burst at the table. A sprinkling of crunchy sweet mullet makes the texture complete with chewy, oozy and crunchy. You won't find anything for breakfast (or any meal) like this anywhere on earth!
The 5th "course" or tapas was something Samuel would not touch (I guess I was wrong about the horse head--he didn't want the Bottafega Negra either).....
Head-on SHRIMP GRILLED tableside which had been seasoned and salted perfectly. It was a fun show for sure which even Samuel liked (we got it on video). These were paired with SHRIMP TAILS poached in ELDERFLOWER. Pairing the head and tail together made an amazing contrast and a perfect blend of two different aspects of the little guys.
I had praised Mandu on my first visit for the amazing CLAMS & PEAS, and especially for the visual drama and presentation of that dish. This night he brought us CLAM from GALICIA (we are going to miss them as well) in a SMOKED BBQ SUACE with a FENNEL & DILL EMULSION. The crustaceans were smoked just past raw so they were not chewy, yet still very tasty and the sauce was sublime.
We moved to an excellent red wine from 2006 called S'ALQUERIA which is a blend of Carignan, Llebre (Tempranillo), Grenache Noir (Granatxa Negra) and Macabeo Blanco. I guess this is the Spanish version of the Rhone blend, but it's much bigger. I doubt anyone could tell this big red blend has any white grape varietals in it. It was served slightly chilled which was really great as it was a warm night and we welcomed the 58degree cellar temp of the wine.
CHICKEN CANNELONI was a hit around the table, even if Samuel did not know at first that it had a FOIE GRAS and CHEESE SAUCE! OMG! This dish would make any pasta chef jealous.
CALAMARI arrived with PEAS, CORIANDER FLOWERS, EARS of JUDAS MUSHROOMS, in a SQUID INK SAUCE. The peas were actually formed into a slice of a disc with more fresh local peas scattered around. If I were a pea, I would die to be in this dish! Samuel said it was one of the best pasta dishes he had.
The last truly savory dish was a LAMB and POTATO dish with a sauce that did not overwhelm us, but was not bad at all. Sine we had such an amazing meal, I can't recall why I didn't like the sauce.
Our cheese course was a revelation. It came hot and consisted of CARROT & VANILLA CAKE with MELTED MIMOLETTE Cheese, which is an intensely strong French cheese that we do get here from time to time. The combination was amazing and it will stay in my mouth forever; I just hope I can get the real thing again without waiting 4-1/2 years.
Torrenz and Mandu's mom who had been so sweet and helpful all night brought over DOLC MATARO 2010 from Alella nicknamed "De Puta Madre." If you know what puta means you can guess that this is not a nice nickname. The wine is made from Verdelho Dolce and reminds me of the Italian Vin Santo (so much for the "mama prostitute" name, compared to the saintly wine of Italy). It was excellent with
the CREME CATALAN (aka flan--but of course, here flan is a whole new story). Main with Fried Pain Perdu, Pineapple and Sugared the dish has WHITE CHOCOLATE/LIME/FENNEL Ice Cream (yes, that's what I wrote), ALMOND CAKE, Pollen Cru (for crunch), lime and Brandy Glaze. I may have misconstrued some of the ingredients at this late time of night, or missed something in the translation, but the Ice Cream is spot on. Will's eyes rolled in his head and we declared this to be the best flan in existence, even if it really isn't flan.
Sam did not want flan, so Mandu asked if we knew CANT BO, a local Catalan cartoon, to which we replied no. Well, I guess he is something like Count Chocula, and Mandu presented Sam with a plate of
Coke-coated Vanilla Ice Cream with a "BLOOD"-stained Strawberry Sauce which he gobbled up. It was fun for him and fun for us as well.
We took some photos with everyone and began to choke up as we left not knowing when we would be back to our favorite place in all of Spain, perhaps even the whole world.....
I couldn't stop and Will yanked me out the door knowing we had to be up at 415am; it was already past 11PM, but time did not matter on this most special of evenings.