Lest it has been forgotten, the theme of our trip to Spain was food and wine. On Thursday we headed an hour outside of Barcelona to Girona to visit one of our favorite restaurants in the world, El Celler de Can Roca. This would be our second visit to this two star Michelin Restaurant that currently is ranked number five in the world on the San Pelligrino list of the best restaurants in the world.
We took a taxi to the train station for our trip north to Girona. As the cab wove its way through Barcelona’s traffic, the driver tried to convince us to let him take us to Girona. Yes, the taxi ride would cost around $150 but, according to driver, the train was “a hassle,” “unreliable,” and it would take us “four hours.” We took the train. A little more than an hour later we were in Girona.
When we arrived in Girona, we explored a little before heading to the restaurant. Since our last visit, El Celler de Can Roca relocated to an open, modern building. We entered and were quickly seated.
Without much debate, we both ordered the “Menu Degustacio” with the wine pairing. The food at El Celler de Can Roca is prepared using some of the same molecular gastronomy techniques used at Mugaritz and El Bulli. While the preparation and presentation is modern, the ingredients tend to be traditional and familiar. Unlike Mugaritz, there’s not much need to search on the Internet after your meal to determine what exactly you just ate. The result is a meal that is comforting and satisfying, but not particularly challenging or exotic.
As much as I like the savory dishes at El Celler de Can Roca, Pastry Chef Jordi Roca’s desserts are the stand out. On first visit to El Celler, Ganesan ordered two desserts and would not share them with his wife, Catherine, or anyone else at the table. This was not typical of Ganesan, but it was a sure sign that the desserts were good. With our Menu Degustacio, our own domestic crisis was adverted as we each received two desserts. Becky chose “A fragrance adapted: Miracle by Lancome” and the simply titled “Milk dessert.” In the “Miracle by Lancome,” Jordi Roca mirrors the nose of Lancome’s cologne in a fruit based dessert. A piece of filter paper infused with Miracle by Lancome lets the diners decide how successful the aromas of the dessert and perfume matched. The “Milk dessert” is minimally described on the menu. This dish, a combination of ice cream, custard, and caramel, is seemingly straightforward. The result, however, transcends the apparent simplicity with rich milk flavors permeating the dish. Maybe you could describe this as the best ice cream dish, ever. It is hard to say. This is rightfully one of the most popular desserts at El Celler de Can Roca.
My first dessert was called Orange Chromatism. This dessert combines strawberry sorbet, an orange puree, and a boiled carrot to produce an intensely orange-hued dish. The combination functioned as a palate cleanser. Next up was “A trip to Havana.” I had this dessert on my first visit to El Celler and I was definitely looking forward to having it again on this visit. The dish has two parts. First, a lime soup and a mint granita mimic a mojito. Along with the “mojito” there is a chocolate-coated rum cake formed into the shape of a cigar, complete with spice ash. Cigar smoke is incorporated into the cigar-shaped cake giving the dish distinctive tar and tobacco accents. The first time I tasted this dessert, the tobacco flavor was unexpected and surprising. This time I knew what to expect and enjoyed the complex combination of flavors. “A trip to Havana” ranks with the best desserts, ever. Without a doubt, it is one of the most creative.
After the end of our meal, we asked to see the kitchen. Inside the modern kitchen, the Brothers Roca were all receiving the diners on kitchen tours. El Celler de Can Roca is a family operation. Joan Roca is the head chef; Jordi handles the exquisite desserts; Josep handles the front of the house, including the extensive wine collection. We thanked Joan for the fine meal and talked to Jordi about the rotary evaporator in the kitchen. A rotary evaporator or “roto-vap” to chemists is a device that gently concentrates solutions in rotating round-bottomed flask under reduced pressure and mild heating. This piece of lab equipment is becoming commonplace in kitchens that practice molecular gastronomy techniques. Jordi was unduly impressed when mentioned we were chemists and was happy to show us some of his toys.
Our tour ended after our waiter took us back to see the wine collection complete with a computerized tracking system. We were tempted to stay, drink all the wine, and eat dinner, but we thought better of it and finally left the restaurant. El Celler de Can Roca remains as one of our favorite restaurants, anywhere. It is shocking that Michelin considers this restaurant, number five on the San Pelligrino list of best restaurants in the world, as worthy of only two stars. If the restaurant were located a few miles north in France, it would easily have been given three stars.
From the restaurant we wanted our taxi driver to take us to Girona’s old town. Not knowing how to describe this location in Spanish, we requested that we be dropped at Girona’s large cathedral. As we got close to the cathedral the roads got tight and narrow. This was as good a place as any, so we told the driver to stop, and we got out and started our walking tour.
Girona sits along the confluence of two rivers near the foothills of the Pyrenees. With the mountains and hills nearby, the town has served as the training base for numerous professional cyclists including Lance Armstrong.
We disembarked the train at the Passeig de Gràcia station. Up on the streets, we were back on the Ruta del Modernisme seeing the buildings that we had seen on the prior day spot lit under the lights at night. It had been a long day, but there was time for tapas and cervezas before we headed back to the room. We did not find pimientos de Padron on offer this evening. Back at the room, we wondered whether missing our nightly dose of green peppers would result in physical withdrawal symptoms. The cravings had already started.
El Celler de Can Roca pictures:
Girona and Barcelona pictures: