I have to admit the first meal we ate after dining at El Celler De Can Roca was at Restaurante Chino Pagoda in Tossa Del Mar. It was #99 on TripAdvisor’s list of places to eat in Tossa.
It wasn’t a budgetary decision. Sure, eating at the third best restaurant in the world set us back a bit, but we were craving the comforts of ordinary Chinese food. Street pizza, and first-rate Taco Truck Mexican were next on our list. Mission accomplished!!!
How does a restaurant become the third best restaurant in the world? 50 Best Lists recruits a collection of 1,500 food professionals that includes chefs, critics, and food fetishists. They are each given ten votes. The votes are then tallied by the global consulting firm Deloitte.
This process put El Celler De Can Roca in first place in 2015. That spot is currently held by Eleven Madison Park in New York City. All of this is prologue. The real question is, “How was the food?”
Here I will use my own criteria.
1. Does the restaurant produce food I can’t easily duplicate at home?
2. Does the food inspire culinary experiments?
3. Is the service seamless?
By these measures El Celler De Can Roca hits it out of the park. That being said, I would need an army of cooks and prep cooks to attempt even a sliver of their menu. To deliver the meal to the table I’d need a squad of top flight servers.
How was the food? The concept is to pack perfectly balanced and lively flavors into compact dishes. In a tapa the size of the average gherkin there were all the flavors and textures of perfect patatas bravas. In a round opaque sphere the size of the shooter in a game of marbles there was a refreshing splash of Campari.
There were other surprises as well. If you fiddled with the globe the first course of appetizers came out on, it popped open to reveal a sea water and caviar filled sphere. The langoustine with sagebrush, vanilla oil and toasted butter was supernaturally paired with a Reynard Grand Cru Les Preuses 01 A.O.C. Chablis. That sounds pretentious, but it was damn good!
What the Can Roca experience created was an intense awareness of every component in each dish. In the dessert The plant, from roots to flowers there was a sprinkling of tiny seeds. They imparted the flavor of strawberries. “Strawberry seeds???” Then the intellectual exercises began. “Is that even possible? How would you isolate strawberry seeds? They are gone! How can I test my perceptions?”
Were there misses? It depends upon your tastes. The four levels of aged and fermented mackerel paired with equally aged and fermented sherries was a challenge. It produced an obvious conclusion. Aging and fermentation does wonderful things to grapes. The effect on fish? It’s like eating tideflats!
The Old Book dessert was very clever. At the last moment a server dribbled the distilled essence of old books on the concoction. My brother’s research back in the states revealed the aging process of books creates a byproduct called lignin. It is closely related to vanillin.
Who knew? I always thought old books smelled like mildew. What my brain produced in my mouth was closer to my own notions about old books. Clever, but sort of like trying to determine whose socks smell like truffles.
The overall impression is that eating at El Celler De Can Roca was a once in a lifetime experience. It will forever change how I eat, and how I think about food. At l’lamber in Barcelona, and Compartir in Cadaques the influence was deeply felt. El Celler De Can Roca will always be the yardstick I use to measure other restaurants.
At home I am more likely to try making l’lamber’s Bloody Mary Jell-O shots, or Compartir’s gazpacho ice cream. I’ll try to make a Negroni as smooth as the one I had at Nykteri’s in Girona. The quest for “The Best Restaurant in the World” is one I’ll gladly leave to the professionals!