Wednesday, October 14, 2009

El Celler de Can Roca, Girona (2/2: Desserts)

September 2, 2009. 11:30 PM

Seriously, I wasn't sure what to expect from desserts at Can Roca. They're known for having cute twists that are more conceptual and could be described as precious, and I wasn't sure how I'd feel about them in practice. But I was hooked immediately, and looking back feel like there's a great overarching intelligence to them, plus some excellent execution hidden in the apparently casual forms.

The first of the menu desserts, Green Chromatism, shows off, yes, the conceptual and precious 'color dessert' theme that Jordi Roca has expounded. But this was a straight-up awesome dessert. Partly sweet, partly palate-cleanser, it mixed sugar and mint in unexpected ways (for example the green 'peas' at the front are candied shells filled with menthol oil (or something), and combined the whole with weird elements - the tangle is shredded cucumber. Just great.

This must be technically precious in some way, but only because I don't know how they did it. It was just great. Double great. It's a big apricot (looks like a nectarine to me) that's somehow frozen and jellified inside while retaining the beautiful exterior.  The menu describes it as 'caramelized', but that word is so overused now (the whole food discourse is practically infused with it, doncha think?), that I'd rather not think of it that way.

A kooky angle because I loved it so much. The popcorn is actually 'vanilla puffs', which I guess is also derived from liquid nitrogen in some way. I can't remember how they tasted (it's now over a month).

I can certainly remember the taste and texture of this though. Awesome, like cold syrup with an intense fruit flavor. Those were the two 'course' desserts, and we moved on to the special orders (one each).

This is Orange Chromatism. Beyond orange and papaya flavors, I'm not at all sure what it was! I like the look though - it's sort of festive-but-precise.

The Lactic Dessert is also an old favorite. This was mainly goat cheese-themed, including whipped cream, cotton candy, more solid textures, and a bit of fruit for contrast (I'd like to say papaya again but can't remember). It's really a 'textural study', I think, with the milk flavor as a constant throughout (I did say the desserts were conceptually precious, didn't I?). Again, I think this is precise execution in a faux-chaotic form (he also made a dessert called Anarchy for a while that was 40+ different elements arranged separately on the plate).

A Trip to Havana might be the most famous dessert, looking as it does like a burning cigar and a mojito chaser. The mojito was very sour and fresh, which was a good thing since the cigar really does have a pile of ashes in front of it. The experience of eating a dessert that tasted like a cigar will stay with me for a long, long time (even though it wasn't my dessert). Interestingly, we tried the 'cigar' by itself and seemed to discover that the tobacco flavor was actually smoked into the ice cream!

Mojito, in loving off-angle close-up.

Finally the dessert that I actually ate - Tresor by Lancome. Finishing off our examples of the famous desert concepts, this is a dessert that 'adapts' a famous fragrance (past targets have included Calvin Klein's Eternity). The idea is to isolate the different scents of the perfume (vanilla, mango...) and then mix them together, but with some thought given to form. This there are fresh fruit bits, sorbet, cream, and gelatin all mixed together. I love how this is complex but not overly fussy - the ingredients are somewhat jumbled, and you don't have the option to carefully eat them one-by-one. To finish off the conceit, they bring you a bit of paper with the actual scent on it. To me, not much resemblance, but I still liked this a lot.

Mignardises are thankfully a bit less extravagant here than at El Bulli; just one each of 5 flavors. Passion fruit, lime, vanilla, palet d'or (choco ganache) and rose. Helpfully labeled! If you can read Catalan.

You can see again how they make some effort to differentiate the textures. You can also see that the vanilla treatment is a thin gummy, which is dangerously reminiscent of the 'vanilla sheets' treatment at El Bulli. In conjunction with the oyster leaves, it made me wonder.

This sure was good. Best meal ever? Maybe, maybe not. But definitely thought-provoking and fascinating while remaining just within the bounds (for me) of the normal dinner course form and the relative comfort it provides. We stood outside in the quiet courtyard for a couple minutes, not at all eager to go back to normal life, until our taxi roared around the corner and we gave in.

I've heard that Spanish restaurants are unforgiving about email (as in, they just don't answer your requests) but I should also point out that ECdCR just hit me back within a day confirming exactly what I asked for (and which of course I mildly messed up on the night). The service in the restaurant was a bit distant, but professional, and even friendly by the end (like when we ran into our waitress outside, in street clothes). I thought the segmentation of the place was weird - from where we sat, you really can't see other customers much, and our table was divided from others on all sides by at least some type of barrier. In retrospect, my memory feels like we had dinner at Can Roca all by ourselves, which just adds to the memory.

Back at the hotel there was a medieval party, and things were already way out of hand among the carvings...

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