Nintey-nine kilometers north of Barcelona, in the incredibly charming city of Girona (Gerona) on the Costa Brava, the Roca Brothers Joan, Josep, and Jordi (respectively: chef, sommelier, pastry chef) work their magic so skillfully as to have earned the coveted third Michelin star in 2009, and this year were bumped from #2 to #1 on the World’s Best 50 Restaurants list.
Inconspicuous from the street, El Celler de Can Roca is housed in a stunning, purpose-built space that facilitates an extremely efficient operation delivering a magical experience to a house full of patrons thrilled to be at their table. Beautifully appointed in wood and glass, it brings the outdoors inside, literally, with a courtyard filled with trees enclosed in glass forming the center of the dining room, and glass walls looking out to the yard.
We were seated at a table set simply, but elegantly, with only white plates, white napkins, water goblets and three rocks symbolizing the three Roca brothers. Cutlery was brought as needed for each course and cleared before suitable cutlery was brought for the next course. Wine pairings were served in glasses selected specifically for each varietal, designed to highlight the experience of each wine. The lighting is very precisely designed to show off the food in all its glory.
The menu for our visit began with a trip around the world: A quintet of amuse-bouches presented atop a log. A tiny Mexican “burrito” with mole poblano and guacamole. From Peru, a ceviche broth enclosed in a shell of white chocolate and quinoa that exploded into the mouth when bitten. Chinese pickled vegetables with plum cream. From Morocco: almond, rose, honey, saffron, ras el hanout, and goat yogurt. Finally, from Korea: panko fried bread, bacon with shoju sauce, snow peas, kimchi, and sesame oil.
Next, a bonsai olive tree was brought to our table, hanging from which were four olives, each wrapped with a caramelized olive and stuffed with anchovies.
Next, a plank with two whole crispy shrimp that didn’t look like shrimp, but sure tasted like it!
Next, a Carpano bombon with grapefruit and black sesame cleansed our palate.
Next, a zucchini omelette, then a truffled bombon, followed by a mushroom brioche — all of which were essentially a liquid encased in some kind of solid so that when you bit into it, the mouth was flooded with the flavor: zucchini, then truffle, then mushroom. All were delightful, but the mushroom brioche (boletus edulis), was spectacular. Brian, who is not a huge fan of mushrooms, said he would be a fan if all mushrooms were like that. I just wanted a plate full of them to stuff into my mouth.
With the amuse-bouches finished, the menu commenced with a consommé of vegetable stock, sprouts, flowers, leaves and figs.
Next up, a “fig leaf” of vinegar and fig cream, with a treat on each of the fronds: fig-leaf cheese, green almonds, Physalis, fresh and charcoal-grilled fig, fig-leaf terrine with fig skin and rind. Cumin, fennel, tarragon and chervil.
Next a white asparagus and truffle “viennetta,” paired with Joh. Jos. Prüm Kabinett 09 V.D.P. Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. I mention this particular pairing because, though all of the pairings were great, this one was absolutely magical. The flavors balanced each other in a spectacular fashion. We were both so enamored of this pairing that we sought out the sommelier to let him know just how great it was.
Next, mackerel with pickles and mullet roe: mackerel sauce with white wine, lemon, capers and chillies in vinegar, fried tomato, mullet roe, mackerel marinated in sugar and salt, mackerel infusion.
Next, salad of sea anemone, razor clam, royal cucumber and seaweed in escabeche.
Next, a whole prawn: charcoal-grilled king prawn, head juice with seaweeds, seawater and sponge cake of plankton.
Next, Palo Cortado (sherry)-steamed langoustine, bisque velouté and Jerez (sherry) caramel. The langoustine was brought to the table raw on a mesh strainer over very hot rocks. The sherry was poured in and the vessel covered. The hot rocks vaporized the sherry and steamed the langoustine a-la-minute at the table.
Next, grilled sole with black and white garlic, parsley juice and lemon juice, plated so the last four ingredients looked rather like a stick of striped chewing gum!
Next, cod with miso and hazelnuts.
Next, charcoal-grilled lamb breast fillet and sweetbreads, with eggplant coffee and licorice.
Final course before dessert: pigeon parfait and onion, curry-caramelized walnuts, juniper, orange peel and herbs.
First dessert: Sourdough ice cream with cocoa pulp, fried lychee and sherry vinegar macaró (meringue).
Next, an edible adaptation of the fragrance Shalimar by Guerlain: chai cream with blood orange, vanilla, mango and roses. Served with a sample of the fragrance for comparison.
Next, a sphere of cinnamon and viola with coconut and honey toffee. (Looked like a macaron, but was all ice cream!)
Finally, they brought out a special chocolate plate to celebrate our anniversary.
After we finagled a tour of the wine cellar with Josep Roca, the sommelier, we wrapped up the evening with a Cuban cigar, petits fours, coffee and a twenty-year Madeira on the terrace.
On the way out, we got to shake the hand of Jordi Roca, the youngest brother, who is the pastry chef. The eldest brother, Joan, the chef, was not in that evening.
(Whew! I’m wiped out again, just writing this meal up!)
For the wineaux reading this, the wine list:
- Albet i Noya Cava El Celler Brut C.O. Cava
- Capficat Celler Credo 12 D.O. Penedès
- Domain Vacherone 12 A.O.C. Sancerre
- Joh. Jos. Prüm Kabinett 09 V.D.P. Mosel-Saar-Ruwer
- Vidonia 11 Suertes del Marques D.O. Valle de la Orotaba
- Equipo Navazos 44 Flower Power D.O. Jerez
- Viña Tondonia Blanc 98 D.O.Ca. Rioja
- Pedra de Guix 10 D.O.Qa. Priorat
- Els Bassots 09 D.O. Conca de Barberà
- El Puntido Magnum 04 D.O.Ca. Rioja
- Idus 09 D.O.Qa. Priorat
- Sake Katsuyama Gozenshu Gen
- Càligo Esencia Vi de boira
- Franz Haas Moscato Rosa 11 D.O.C. Alto Adige