Dinner at elBulli, May 25, 2005 - part 3

R's course 23: "omelette surprise 2003"

This was to be eaten from the bottom up. It was a thin shell around a cream/meringue foam, which became somewhat passion-fruity, and got more intensely fruity as she went up. It finished with a bitter herby floral flavor from the line of lavender powder across the top. It's like a French (souffle-like) omelette crossed with a creme brulee.

My course 23: "sopa de hierbas y especias con tofu thai"
("Soup of herbs and spices with Thai tofu")

An aromatic herbal soup with cubes of what tasted like coconut cream, grapefruit, and mint leaves. It was rather disorienting as a dessert, because the soup was salty while the cubes (and the fruit) was sweet. The Thai flavors were neat.


Course 24: "liquid de melocotón" ("Peach liquid")

Two bites, brought out on a very cold stone slab: a spoonful of beautifully tangy peach juice, reduced to a syrup (though not oversweetened), and a cold peach "candy". The candy was slightly peach-flavored, had the texture of very cold white chocolate, and had a startling liquid center of peach liqueur. Just what my palate needed at this point of the meal.


Course 25: "helado de lima con platano y crujiente de guisantes"
("Lime gelato with banana and crunchified peas")

This looks like several desserts I've seen in the elBulli 98-02 cookbook: a dessert most easily described just by the handful of flavors used in it. This one had sweet green pea (jelly), yogurt (the white cube), fried banana, pineapple with clove (the yellow cube), and lime (the tuile and the gelato). It was light, tropical, and pleasant -- about all we could ask for at this point.


Course 26: "Morphings"

This was the one course that was completely prepared tableside. We'd seen this cart go to a few other tables over the course of the night, and now it was our turn.

The metal box labeled "TEPPANNITRO" was very very cold. I don't know exactly how it worked, but the name suggests to me that the box was chilled from the inside with liquid nitrogen. In this first picture, the waiter was scraping part of the box's top clear of frost, though more frost started to form within seconds of the scraping.

After some space had been cleared, he made two squirts with the whipped-cream canister onto the surface:

After a minute of "grilling", he picked each one up with a spatula (carefully!), flipped it over, set it back down, and pressed a bit with the spatula to flatten it. Another minute on the second side, and they were done. He picked each one up, expertly placed it on a flat spoon, and topped it with some "caviar" from the big blue tin. (I didn't catch what this "caviar" actually was, but it tasted fruity rather than salty.)

The whipped cream itself was flavored with guanabana (soursop). It was chewy, cold, and had a slightly hard surface where it had been touching the metal.



Conclusion

So what did we think of the meal?

The one negative experience was that the meal was too big. R and I had only enough food during the day to stay standing, and arrived at the restaurant very hungry, yet we were full up to our eyebrows at the end of the meal. R enjoyed the dishes up to the Morphings, at which point she became very uncomfortably full and wanted to leave. Since we didn't get the menus until the end of the meal, it was hard to pace ourselves. And since we left quickly, we didn't have a chance to correct the apparent mixup in the menus we did get.

Obviously, we could have solved the problem of "too much food" by eating less. If we'd had the menus, we could have eaten less of each dish, though the food was so good that that would have been hard. A more radical solution might be to not serve the three main courses -- the dishes with a significant piece of fish or meat (#20, #21, and #22). Not to disparage those dishes at all, but they didn't seem to be as experimental as most of the other courses, and they came at a point in the meal where we were already getting full. Even if the main course is the centerpiece of a "fine meal" at most restaurants, elBulli questions everything else -- why not question the concept of a main course?

Another small negative from the evening was that R thought the service was somewhat overwhelming. There were a lot of small courses to be served, and potentially a different menu for every customer, so there was a huge amount of work for the waitstaff. There was certainly a lot of hustle and bustle, which I found entertaining to watch, but R thought the flurry of service was distracting. She also noticed a couple disputes between waitstaff being quietly aired in the dining room, which could just as well have been dealt with back in the kitchen.

It certainly was markedly different from our meal a week later at Mugaritz, where there were only eight diners, five or six people very calmly working the front side of the house, and (as we got to see later) about thirty people busting their asses in the kitchen.

Everything else about the meal was fantastic. Almost all the dishes were between "very good" and "toe-curlingly good" for me. At the same time, they were creative, whimsical, beautifully plated, technically virtuosic, and respectful of their ingredients. I'm very happy when I have a meal that has a single dish that's as good as any one of the dishes I had here. The building and grounds are gorgeous, and are a nicely mellow contrast to the high tech of the kitchen. The service was very professional (I'd call it "badass"), smart, helpful, and thankfully, multilingual.

The event lived up to its impossibly high reputation for me, and is so far "the best meal of my life".


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Comments? Send them to <blakej (at) foo.net>.