I wrote this post immediately after dining at Comerç 24 in Barcelona. I just didn't have time to edit pictures and perfect this post before putting it up while I was still traveling. I could go through and change all the verb tenses, but then I think it'd lose something. Therefore, I'm going to keep it as is :)
Last night, I had an eye-opening meal here in Barcelona--one that was spectacular enough to catapult me back into blogging. I've had some awful touristy meals as a result of time constraints and convenience, but I've also had some pretty damn good tapas. However, nothing had really compelled me to rush home and blog about it. Then, along came Comerç 24. I knew it'd be Spanish influenced cuisine with a liberal dosing of molecular gastronomy, but it was beyond anything I expected.
After a short metro ride and a nighttime stroll past the city's Arc de Triomphe, the glowing bright yellow banner of Comerç 24 beckoned me into a dark, yet inviting street. We were just in time for our 10:15pm reservation. All the shops and stores around the restaurant seemed to be closed--the only bright light coming from within the restaurant. We entered and were immediately seated at the largest table in the middle of the room. And open kitchen occupied one side of the room and a beautiful bar the other. Obviously I opted for a clear view of the kitchen. Immediately, one can sense the immaculate precision of the kitchen--everyone was busy doing their tasks, but there wasn't even a hint of chaos. My kind of kitchen.
I went with a group of fellow students also in the business travel study program with me here in Barcelona. The tasting menu at Comerç 24 is pretty pricey for a student budget (72 euros for the shorter FESTIVAL menu), but I managed to get together five of us who were willing and able to spend that kind of money on food. We had some spherification virgins in the group and let's just say the expression on someone's face when they pop their first spherification is priceless ;) None of us left disappointed. I don't know about them, but I left with a whole new perspective on what food can be.
dining date: 8/6/10
Carrer del Comerç, 24
08003 Barcelona, Ciutat Vella
tel: 93 319 21 02
(closed for 3 weeks in August)
We were given printed menus at the end of the meal and not at the beginning. We had fun trying to decipher each course...or at least, I had fun :)
A bread basket and box of olive oils were brought to our table. As the server explained each olive oil in the box, he pour, in a long stream, the vibrant green oil into four different dishes--in order from lightest to strongest. I enjoyed dipping each bite of the rustic sliced bread into different pools of fruity oil before deciding that the strongest was the best.
Filo, PARMA, lime and basil
To start, these adorable filo "cigars" were delightful. With a remarkably thin, crunchy, slightly thin wrapper and a filling of mousse-like parmesan cheese flavored with lime and basil, they left everyone wanting more.
BANGKOK asparagus soup
Served in little teacups with a pearly white spherification at the bottom, a chilled broth was poured into the cup at the table. With the first cool sip, I was reminded of Thai flavors, of lemongrass and kaffir lime. When the spherification rolled into my mouth, a gentle squeeze against the roof of my mouth resulted in the release of slightly sweet coconut milk. Definitely Thai.
MONKFISH with black sesame and black garlic
This was the first dish that knocked me off my feet. It was remarkable. Not only delicious but also unbelievably beautiful. Someone compared it to a Chinese watercolor, and I couldn't have agreed more. I watched as the kitchen literally painted the plate with a jar of black sesame paste "ink." The seared monkfish, still rare and translucent at the center, had a salty, briny taste that paired so surprisingly well with the nutty, savory sesame.
I didn't quite catch what kind of fish topped this innovative pizza but we deduced that it was some kind of smoked, salty fish--maybe a spanish mackerel? The little pizza had toppings of a white, fresh, crumbly cheese, oven roasted cherry tomatoes, baby arugula, and pitted cherry halves on a thin, crispy crust. Our server used a cute little pizza cutter to cut it into four pieces. The sweet bit of cherry went well to balance the fishy, smoked flavor.
SARDINES with orange and fresh wasabi
The first actual dish in the 7 savory courses, it blew me away. I love sardines and anchovies and all small salty fishes. This was the best preparation of sardines I've ever had. The slivers of sardines were accompanied by fresh citrus segments to cut the fishiness, with slightly sweet and crunchy crumbles creating a contrast in texture. The micro greens added a touch of freshness to the dish. It just worked.
I was not particularly impressed or surprised by the tuna tartar. It tasted exactly like how it looked--raw tuna, lightly marinated in soy sauce topped with salmon roe. The only interesting component was the sauce of raw egg yolk. I've only had raw egg yolk with beef tartar...never with tuna tartar.
CONSOMME with egg, truffle and parmesan
Absolutely beautiful, this soup looked like a work of art. Three different colored spherifications, each containing a different flavor (the yellow being egg, brown being truffle, and white being parmesan) it was arranged into a colorful pyramid. A delicate sprinkling of sea salt adorned each of the egg spherification. Then a warm, wonderfully scented, black truffle consommé is poured over the spherifications. We were advised to eat each spherification separately, resulting in a different flavored bite each time. It was not only delicious, but also such a joy to eat.
COD with romesco and carquinyolis
Another gorgeously plated dish--I love the use of a piece of slate as a plate. A bright orange romesco sauce covered a moist, flakey piece of salted cod. Carquinyolis, which is apparently a Spanish version of biscotti, left a trail from the cod to a piece of edible flower that reminded of a asparagus. Taken together, it was a very interesting preparation of fish. However, I would've liked some acidity. The sweetness of the biscotti crumble and the saltiness of the fish were not enough.
duck RICE with foie
How could this dish not be good? It was amazing. Each grain of rice was cooked to a perfect toothsome al dente in a duck stock. There were no actual pieces of duck in the dish but it's essence was definitely there. The quenelle of foie gras was so rich and smooth. We were advised to mix everything together before eating. Unfortunately, there was also a kind of crumble in the dish--one that tasted like crushed corn nuts to us--and it's flavor was a little overpowering for the foie.
CHIAVARI red mullet
Such interesting plating. The translucent disk is solidified fish stock made from the bones of the red mullet. A single leaf of basil and a surprisingly pungent purple flower (reminded me of garlic and chives) adorned the plate. The drops of sweet, thick balsamic vinegar provided the acidity I tend to enjoy in fish dishes. The red mullet, apparently from Chiavari, was cooked to a tender, juicy doneness.
BRESSE chicken with king prawns
The last savory course, was a perfectly cooked piece of prawn. I've never had prawn so sweet and succulent. It's snappy texture reminded me of perfectly cooked langoustine...only better. The chicken thigh meat underneath was definitely not as memorable compared to the prawn. It was a little heavier than previous dishes so it was a nice conclusion to the savory portion of our meal.
This unassuming shot of orange colored juice and green foam is a lot more impressive than it seems. We were told to take the entire shot of white peach juice, lemon zest, and green tea foam in one gulp. We all thought it was a questionable combination of flavors, but as we said cheers and all started drinking the shot, everyone's eyes started to widen in surprise and then in awe. It was an amazing shot of juice. The white peach juice was sweet and pure, and the matcha foam was a pleasantly bitter contrast. It was ridiculously good. Ridiculous.
Bread, oil, CHOCOLATE and salt
A smaller portion of the same dessert I had at the more casual Tapaç 24, the combination of chocolate mousse, fruity olive oil, and sea salt works so surprisingly or not so surprisingly well. Great for a chocolate lover like me.
Sheep milk YOGHURT with apple and raspberries
A light and fruity dessert offering, it was slightly unmemorable when compared with the rest of the meal. Vibrantly green, though not much else. It tasted like yogurt with some fruit and crumble.
NOUGAT with tuille cigar, chocolate and coffee
Black sesame OREO with vanilla
Sablée with pineapple and meringue
A cute little offering of mignardises came on another black slate. However, at this point, we were all too full to really appreciate them. That being said, they were all delicious. Of course I still managed to eat my share. The black sesame oreo ice cream sandwich was cute--something I might want to replicate at home. The pineapple treat tasted like a Chinese pineapple cake/tart/thing (hopefully someone out there knows what I'm talking about) just more delicate and with a hint of lime zest. The nougat tasted like some kind of chocolate bar.
When Carles Abellán come up with the concept of Comerç 24, he himself wasn't quite sure how to describe it. While the chef is Catalonian, the food isn't decidedly Catalan. While it bills itself as a tapas restaurant, it's dishes don't really resemble traditional tapas fare. The food leans so heavily on molecular gastronomy, it's hard not to rest on the fact that Abellán was a pupil of Ferran Adrià. Still, it was a dining experience unlike any I've ever experienced before. With attentive service that was there for me with my every bite, I'd never been so perpetually surprised and challenged by every dish. Everything I ate was like a new discovery for me.
My lovely dinner companions. This was fairly early in the program so I was still excusing myself with every picture I took of the food. Needless to say, we all became close friends, and by the end of the trip, they came to anticipate my camera whenever food was close by :)