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"Will You Eat Rabbit Brains?"


That's one of the questions they ask when you call to make reservations at El Bulli. Otherwise, you eat what they give you, about 35 separate courses. The cost, without wine, is about $340 per person. Here, an account of the author's recent meal

?? Sake sorbet with yuzu foam and tonic. Tart and bracing?? kind of pale sorbet soda in a tall glass. Wakes the palate right up.

?? Nori-trias. Black nori seaweed made crisp and crackly, like p??te feuillet??, then folded around black sesame butter??ort of a peanut butter cracker elevated to perfection, with an Asian accent.

?? "Easter egg" of frozen coconut milk with curry powder. A large white globe of frozen coconut milk, almost like a thin layer of firm frosting. A server cracked it open at the table and sprinkled on the curry powder. It was to be eaten in shards. Strange but good.

?? Passion fruit "orchid." Thin slices of the fruit turned into three crisp, bright, yellow-orange petals with a sweet carpel of hazelnuts and passion fruit essence??s fragrant as an orchid.

?? Pine nut bonbons. Racy-looking bittersweet chocolate globes, each with a single pine nut extending from it like a nipple. Very tasty.

?? Gominola of shiso. Vinegary little sour plum candies with a strong taste of minty shiso leaves, jellied and a little chewy in texture. Not my thing. (Gominola is Spanish for Gummi bear.)

?? Galetas of tomato and Parmigiano. Medium-thin cookies, one of each ingredient. I would have liked a few more of both.

?? Amaranth with hazelnut oil. A little round of pan-toasted amaranth leaves anointed with hazelnut oil. Nutty and ethereal.

?? Miso turr??n with walnuts. Extraordinary, like a real turr??n (halvah-like Spanish nougat) but cold, salty, and sweet.

?? Peking cr??pes and crab and soya wontons. The former were like fried soup dumplings with impossibly thin skins, filled with liquefied sesame with a touch of heat; the latter were sweet and salty, with some peppery microsprouts on top for texture. I could have eaten a plateful of either.

?? Bra?? de gitano and beet essence. The bra?? de gitano (literally, Gypsy's arm), traditionally a rolled sponge cake filled with cream, was made with a featherweight beet meringue filled with whipped yogurt. It came with one of El Bulli's funny little spoons??ostly bowl, with a wisp of handle??ull of concentrated beet reduction.

?? A single grilled strawberry flavored with gin and juniper. Didn't do a thing for me.

?? Chervil tea. Served tableside by one of the chefs, who performed a kind of tea ceremony. Two chrome bowls on wooden stands were placed on the table; into these he spooned a fine powder of dried chervil, then whisked in very hot (not boiling) water. We were instructed to drink from the bowls. Tasted like medicine.

?? Gorgonzola mochi. A creamy little morsel, snowy white and glistening, in which the traditional Japanese pounded rice paste had somehow been turned into a skin so delicate that it almost broke on the way to the mouth; inside was a subtly blue cheese-flavored liquid. Satisfying after that chervil tea.

?? Black sesame sponge cake. So light in texture that it seemed to countermand some basic law of physics, with a creamy, savory miso paste interior. Perfect balance of salty and sweet. Remarkable.

?? Oyster leaf with vinegar dew. The gray-green leaves of Mertensia maritima were known popularly as lungwort before the menu writers got hold of them. Their new name is no cheat, however; they really do taste like oysters. The presentation here was a single leaf per person, each bearing a few drops of amber-hued shallot vinegar. Pretty, like something in a jewelry ad, but not particularly appealing.

?? Razor clam Laurencia. A single raw razor clam on the half shell, the other half shell filled with a concoction of ponzu jelly and crunchy, slightly iodine-y red Laurencia seaweed. Very Chinese tasting. Not bad.

?? Umeboshi. Adri?s version of the traditional sour-salty Japanese pickled plums.Wrapped in nori seaweed, moistened with plum juice and green and bitter almond oils. Strong flavors, not entirely pleasant.

• Parmesan dumplings with tallarines. Mildly cheese-flavored soft dough wrapped around barely cooked sea-bright miniature clams. Very good.

• Baby cuttlefish with pesto ravioli. Three triangular pale green ravioli—the pesto was "spherified," forming both the ravioli wrapper and the filling—with a lightly cooked little cuttlefish; dots of its ink accented the plate. Just plain delicious.

• Mandarin flower sorbet with pumpkin oil, pumpkin seeds, and mandarin seeds. A dramatic transition from the previous two dishes; a frozen custard, not very sweet, served in a hollowed-out white cube.

• Spherified Parmigiano gnocchi. Very light "pasta" with a pronounced Parmigiano flavor. Sauce of concentrated hazelnut oil overpowered it.

• Anchovy with truffle. Good anchovies are one of Spain's great food treasures; they don't need truffle oil.

• Tomatoes and basil. A wonderful example of how Adrià reinterprets familiar flavors. Confit cherry tomatoes, dehydrated and injected with olive oil, looked like chocolate-glazed profi teroles (they were coated in black olive oil with dots of balsamic vinegar); with them were fake "olives" fashioned out of puréed Japanese black garlic, and "basil leaves" made of dried caramelized mango coated with basil water powder. A triumph.

• Coco with caviar. A yin-yang presentation of coconut milk and thickened coconut water topped with three small spoonfuls of real caviar. Off the wall, but appealingly so.

• Lulo. This is a high-acid tropical fruit from Colombia (Solanum quitoense), with a citrusy, faintly metallic character. It had been concentrated into a kind of firm jelly and was served with little clouds of whipped yogurt and dots of unsweetened cacao. Interesting.

• "Tagliatelle." Usually served atop the lulo, but in this case a separate course: a coil of noodles made not from flour but from frozen foie gras fat, dusted with crystals of salt. A love-it-or-hate-it proposition. I loved it. Don't tell my cardiologist.

• Veal tendon. Like some slow-braised red-cooked Chinese meat dish, rich and very flavorful, served in a tarragon-scented broth, then followed by a small, tiny-handled spoon of bone marrow soup. Really good.

• Abalone. Thin-sliced baby abalone, the pieces interleaved with wisps of ham fat, surrounded by black Codium seaweed, ginger jelly, golden enoki stems, hazelnut oil....Too much going on, could never get the dish in focus.

• Soup of mango and begonia flower tea. Thin, aromatic fruit punch. Okay.

• "Nenúfars." A soup, based on elderflower syrup, that looked like a tiny, yellowish lily pond; the pond was inset with "water lilies" of nasturtium leaf and (very bitter) Australian finger lime and with brittle-like cashew rock and little pink and white flowers preserved in sugar. Floral and sharp. Didn't love it.

• Pork tail. Sweet meat, mahogany in color, crunchy and superb, alongside a ham soup with melon, cilantro, jasmine drops, and carnation flowers. Elegant evocation of prosciutto and melon.

• Green walnuts with endive. An almost recognizable version of the classic salad, with a jumble of soft, herbaceous walnuts glazed in Roquefort, out of which rose a bud of red- tinged Belgian endive upended like a rocket about to be launched.

• Sea anemone 2008. Just your everyday mix of sea anemone, raw rabbit brains, oysters, and calamondin (a sour-sweet Southeast Asian citrus) in lukewarm dill broth. A food blogger described this creation as "Vile. Vomitous. Nightmare!" I found it so unpleasant and cacophonous that I wondered whether Adrià had gone off the rails. It made my teeth ache.

• Game canapé. Duck foie gras and hare sauce made into a paste and spread on a bitter cacao cracker. Very good, despite the ghost of truffle oil in the background.

• Flower canapé. A bar of meringue topped with tiny but pungent yellow-green Sichuan pepper blossoms and two or three other kinds of minuscule flowers. Neither refreshing nor very flavorful. I could easily have skipped it.

• Honey caramel. A crisp wafer of caramelized honey and sunflower seeds glistening with bitter arbutus honey. Brilliant, a perfect confection.

• Elderberry juice. Just that, with honey water jelly stirred in. Tasted like bubble bath.

• "Autumn landscape." Sculpture on a plate, an evocative scene built from spice bread, licorice, frozen chocolate powder, and cherry sorbet, all excellent and all in surprising harmony. A truly memorable dessert, beautiful to look at and a joy to eat.

• Morphings. What would be called mignardises in a French restaurant or pequeñas locuras (little follies) in Spain, something to go with the coffee—in this case, 25 or 30 little candies and confections, most of them chocolate, presented in a beautiful, dark-wood treasure chest (sometimes jokingly referred to as the "Caja [box or strongbox] Willy Wonka"). I managed a few, including a dark-chocolate-framed mint leaf, a chocolate flavored with eucalyptus, an airy but crisp chocolate-yogurt sponge, a bit of freeze-dried peach coated in dark chocolate, and a couple of branches of chocolate "coral," given color by sour cherry powder. All were impeccable.


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