I hadn't felt this nervous since the day my daughter was born. I kept asking the employees at the front desk of the hotel what I should wear. I had crossed the Atlantic, spent a few nights at La Rioja, taken a plane to Barcelona, and then driven for almost three hours to the little town of Roses in Spain. In the days prior to this meal, I had visited a number of other restaurants. Every time I mentioned where I was going, they all had a story. It was like the old E.F. Hutton commercials -- when I spoke, people listened. I was having dinner at the restaurant that dethroned French food. Yes, I was going to El Bulli, Ferran Adria's cathedral of modern cuisine.
First things first -- if you have a rental car, get a driver, or take a cab. The restaurant is located on top of a mountain, with a winding road leading up to it which makes Lombard Street in San Francisco look like a highway. Once you get there, you realize that the place which for years has been the best restaurant in the world is also the most relaxed and unpretentious. I could have left my sport coat at home.
No short rib, Chilean sea bass, or rack of lamb on this menu. Here Ferran Adria, partner Juli Soler, and his staff will serve you caviar made out of mango, eggs fried in nitrogen, olives made out of pasta, ham turned into gelatin slices, Parmesan ice cream sandwiches and whatever else you never expected to eat in this world. He is the king of culinary foam, there is more foam here than at the old foam parties in South Beach's discotheques. The difference is that here everything tastes spectacular. The olives explode in your mouth, swiftly turning into pools of the finest olive oil. The 34-course meal takes about three hours. If you get there early, start with a drink on the terrace, overlooking La Costa Brava.
The food looks like art. Even my wife was impressed, and she's never been impressed with me.
Good to note that the restaurant is only open for about six months of the year. Reservations are taken a year in advance. The other six months are spent at El Taller in Barcelona, a warehouse where they experiment with products for the following year's menu. It's like visiting NASA.
If you want to go, hurry. 2010 is sold out, and there are no scalpers here. If you are lucky, you might get in for 2011. Reservations start again in September.
Adria announced a few months ago that he would close his doors after the 2011 season for a few years. When the New York Times falsely reported that he was closing for good, it felt like the gourmet world's Titanic had just sunk. There were articles everywhere lamenting the closure. Ferran, however, denied the report and all was right with the world once more. The only recent frenzy has been trying to get a reservation before he goes on hiatus. If you do get one, here's something to bear in mind -- the restaurant is losing about half a million Euros a year. So don't give the chef a hard time.