El Celler de Can Roca – One of our favourite restaurants around the globe, but C’MON…THIS CANT’ BE WORLD’S NUMERO UNO! lol…

Posted: September 14, 2013 in michelin star restaurant
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El Celler de Can Roca
Type of cuisine: Modern Spanish
Michelin stars: 3 
Date and time of the event: Saturday September 14th 2013 20:00
Addr: C/ de Can Sunyer, 48, 17007 Girona, Spain
Phone: +34 972 22 21 57
URl: http://www.cellercanroca.com/index.htm

Sorry, no pics. This was a romantic dinner with my wife. I was not even interested to post about this meal,  but given all the hype about El Celler, I thought it would have been constructive to throw couple of words about this dinner.  IMPORTANT: Both my wife and I are great fans of El Celler de can Roca and Spain in general. The following post certainly does not contradict our love for Spain  and one of their finest tables, but it adds an important observation: it is NOT what the hype is trying to portray it.

This was our second visit to El Celler de Can Roca. First time was over 5 years ago and I remember finding El Celler deserving of its 2 star Michelin at that time, though not one that was going out of the way of what is expected from a good 2 star Michelin (read: a good but not an great 2 star Michelin). Then in September 2013, we seized the opportunity of a hard earned reservation (1 year) at El Celler as an excuse to also re-visit France. We basically spent just that 1 day in Spain with the sole excuse of dining at El Celler then moved on to France. Well, given that Restaurant Magazine has rated El Celler as World’s #1 restaurant and in light of their now 3 star Michelin, we logically hoped that the meal would have been way better than what we have experienced over 5 years ago. Unfortunately, even with food items that were different, it was even less impressive.

Overall Food rating : 7/10  this being a romantic dinner, I took no note, no photo, just enjoyed my food with my sweet half. We still have couple of food items that we have sampled all along this meal, as well as couple of key observations on which we would like to elaborate a bit.
-Salad of razor clam/royal cucumber: this was the highlight of the meal, for both my wife and I.  The clam swiftly steamed, which is how you should always do it,  its quality irreproachable,  marine flavor simply sublime. My type of seafood dish. 8/10
-Elderflower infusion/smoked eel – Perhaps the dish that I wanted to like the most. After sampling this dish –think of an elegant soup with cherries and smoked eel  in it –  (did not have it on my first visit here), I created,at home, plenty of amazing food based on the elements of eel / elderflower infusion  + the amaretto (another component of this dish).  This is a beautiful dish, I won’t argue with that. But I was surprised that the looks happened to be more memorable than its looks. Surprised because I found it so effortless to pull off amazing flavors based on the components of that dish ( and we do not even have, in Montreal,  top eel of the level that they were offering).  The idea is sharp: Japanese have proven that using the right type of eel with the right sweet concoction (unagi tare) can be a hit. So,  starting from that base,  you end up with an endless list of possibilities to replace the Japanese sauce and its thick texture. Here, Elderflower infusion and amaretto are thoughtful. Alas the broth was not as flavorful as I wished and honestly, my impression was that I was having cherries simmered in an ok broth. The eel really unecessary on a dish where it could have easily played an amazing role. Months later, my wife and I still consider that dish, in the form that we found it on that evening, to have been a ‘missed opportunity’   6/10
-the proteins: there were couple of meats. Mine was chicken, grilled on charcoal, having good depth of flavor but I had far more memorable  chicken  cooked at home on my bbq 6/10 for that chicken. My wife was luckier with her proteins. She had lamb, grilled on charcoal too, and it was indeed flavorful, though, again, pretty much something I could have enjoyed at many lesser restaurants, save for the quality of the lamb (that one my wife had was of top flight quality, indeed). 7/10 for that lamb. Here, both my wife and I found the accompaniments pretty much average for this level of dining: for eg, sweetbreads and egg plant, coffee flavor. It’s done well, make no mistake about that, but they are certainly not covering the grounds of creativity and surprise one would expect from a table that is widely buzzed as world’s #1 table. You know, I never talk about what does not exist…so go to the Fat Duck or Noma, since they have been world’s champ too, And oh…give a try to Alinéa in Chicago ….and come back and tell me if there’s still room for discussion, Lol.
-the most interesting dessert was an assortment of layers of crème anglaise / hazelnut cream / dark chocolate.  It was, at first glance, an elaborate dessert (mainly for efforts that went into shaping it) that does indeed  take  thoughts and good technique level to be interesting, which it was. But with careful focus on each of the layers of those flavors, this is no benchmark pastry creation. Let’s dig deeper: the hazelnut cream, my favourite of all creams in pastry, was a far cry from the stunning hazelnut cream that a good level pastry Chef will pull out, in say, France. If you tell me ‘yeah, but this is Spain’, I’ll reply ‘yeah…this is supposed to be world’s current #1 table’! So I need each of those layers of flavors to be , at least, among the most memorable of their categories. The crème anglaise flavor, same thing: just Ok. I had far more delicious versions of that. My wife agreed that it was a fun dessert but not one of the sort of spectacular effect that’s expected from  a pastry creation at this l vel of dining. Again, a good but not great pastry item. The description of the dessert was far more spectacular than its effective classic/normal/nothing-that-special effect on my palate  7/10

PROS:  Elderflower infusion with smoked eel! In cooking, I love using the term ‘sensuous’ to describe the  type of food that provides me with a personal feeling of ‘sensuality’. Naturally,  It does not mean much since it’s personal, but a big part of food appreciation  (which is what all opinions about food — are made of ) is based on that . That’s obviously why food will always be a subjective matter, Lol. Anyways, that ‘sensuous’ feeling is what I was able to provoke in my food  whenever I’ve been cooking using components of El Celler’s elderflower infusion/smoked eel recipe. I did not like this dish, but had to mention this since It’s rare that a dish inspires its dinner to create plenty of highly satisfying food (usually, it’s an ingredient – not a dish – that has that kind of effect. For eg, coriander and celeriac have been prolific generators of cooking ideas for me).

CONS: When I was here, 5 years ago, I hoped  El Celler would become one day what it truly deserves: world’s #1 table (for whatever that means). I wrote ‘I hope’ because they work extremely hard (their long journey going   from 2 stars to 3 stars is an epic story of tremendous efforts that few restaurants around the globe can be proud of )  and if there’s one table that would deserve just that — being  on top of the roof of the gastro world – it should be El Celler. So when I heard that they finally earned their position of world’s #1, I was certain that I’d find an improved version of the El Celler I already knew. To my surprise, that was not the case (yes, there were plenty of changes, but no, I did not find it necessarily better). I’ll let you with  this comment of my wife upon completing this meal ‘’’this is a superb place, we really had plenty of fun here, but how on earth can this  be world’s number #1 ‘. I mean, please….hit me at least with one…just one mind blowing item and I’ll start be a believer (I am a fan already, just not  a believer of the title of  crowned champ of world’s haute dining). I know it’s not your fault if you have the champ belt, but I waited 1 year (reserve one year ahead! Yep, one year! ) to see what the champ is now, up to. As world’s champ, creativity is key. I am not saying they are not creative,  to the contrary they are, just not of the sort of benchmark creativity that would justify being considered in, say, a world’s  top 10 .  El fuego, por favor!  IN CASE I WAS NOT CLEAR ENOUGH, THIS MEAL LACKED OF THE DELICIOUS FLAVORS AND BENCHMARK SENSE OF  OUTSTANDING CRAFTING OF THE SORT OF FOOD THAT BELONGS TO A TABLE PERTAINING TO AT LEAST A WORLD’S TOP 20.

CONCLUSION: I can see why so many people find El Celler de Can Roca to be a very special place:  they offer a lot of charming  attentions, the caramelized olive tree over here,  plenty of food in amusing shapes (spheres, foams, etc) overthere, then the plating that look like a painting, etc. Nothing revolutionary for this level,  but it is plenty of fun, truely amusing, we found. Then of course, the very low cost of the meal. All of that for the price of some appetizers at certain 3 star Michelin destinations in France, for eg.  So of course, the magic builds up. And I have no problem with that. I even find it to deserve its 3 star Michelin. But as the #1 table in the world,  Alinea, the Fat Duck and Noma are  far more convincing in their benchmark creativity  than El Celler. You may or may not like them, but they are.

I can’t manage — because of a lack of time —  the ‘comments’ section in timely manner. So, I’ll publish questions received by emails and that I found interesting to share with you.  Off topic comments will be discarded.

Q&AErica:  So what did you eat, what did you like and what did you dislike? A few food details, please. What restaurants in Spain do you love?

Hi Erica: Thanks for your question. So, as explained, disliked: the déjà vu gimmicky take on the olives, the desserts, the elderflower course. The proteins (so, roasted chicken in my case, was casual /normal stuff anyone with basic cooking skills would have been able to cook) Liked: no dish in particular, but as mentioned, we had great experience here (well treated, and we love Spain). In Spain, we loved: Abac, DiverXO, plenty of other less popular eateries but it really does not matter given that we had none of them in mind when eating at El Celler (El Celler, we judged it as a restaurant that’s known as one WORLD’S finest, not a competitor of our favourite eateries in Spain, which are countless since we are really fond of plenty of the casual / traditional eateries of Madrid as well as Southern Spain…so no fair comparison to make with a place like El Celler that needs to be judged as a completely different type of restaurant ). What we liked have no impact on our appreciation of El Celler (we’ve cooked for 20 years, both my wife and I, so we do not trade in terms of this is great because that other restaurant is bad, but we certainly know what to expect at X standard of dining) .Again, as I stated: we love El Celler (especially for its cost performance) but found the idea of electing it as world’s #1 over-rated. To each, their own, but that is our personal/subjective opinion, of course.

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