Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Dinner at El Bulli (Long, lots of photos), April 2nd, 2011

My wife Kristie, sister-in-law Samantha, our friend Amanda, and I were lucky enough to enjoy the dinner of a lifetime at El Bulli, just this past Saturday, during their final season before closing the restaurant permanently. I wanted to share with you my photos of this amazing dinner.
When we sat down, the only thing on the table was this base plate, which looks like a napkin, but is made of some kind of glass. After being seated, they added water glasses and napkins, and eventually wine glasses, but no silverware for a couple hours!
#1. "Pillow like a cocktail" This was a piña colada! The cotton candy on the outside was actually pineapple, the little white balls were coconut, and there were crystals of FROZEN clear rum in there too. Pick it up, rip into it, and you're eating a piña colada!
#2. "Mojito and Apple Flute" This looks like a sandwich right? The waiter instructed us to eat it quickly. When I took a bite, the "bread" and the filling both instantly dissolved into a mojito in my mouth- delicious!
#3. "Almond-Fizz with Amarena-LYO" This was an unsweetened almond fizz, which was not a hit with our group, but the freeze-dried cherry was great!
#4. "Nori Seaweed with Lemon" This nori had somehow been softened, seasoned with sesame oil, and wrapped around a peeled wedge of lemon like a dumpling. Simply great.
#5. "Hibiscus and Peanut" These guys had a nice strong hibiscus flavor, and a little peanut. Texture was kind of like a dried cranberry (craisin).
#6. "Pistachio Ravioli" These each had one or two pistachios inside as well as a some kind of creamy filling, probably pistachio cream, powdered sugar on top. Loved it!
#7. "Parmesan Cheese 'Macaron'" This had an airy, marshmallow-like texture, and I expected it to be sweet, but it was decidedly savory, and very Parmesan-y.
#8. "Parmesan Cheese 'porra'" This was a crunchy parmesan stick, which was delicious. It looked like it was wrapped in plastic wrap, in fact I tried to unwrap it, but it turned out it was all meant to be eaten!
#9. "Olive Oil Chip" This crunchy chip was totally clear, and I believe it was made of olive oil. It was also drizzled with an unbelievable olive oil, and a sprinkle of sea salt.
#10. "Bloody Mary" Although messy to eat with your hands (that's right, still no silverware around), this tasted exactly like a delicious bloody mary.
#11. "Cod Fish Crust" This was cod skin, somehow fried or puffed till very crunch, and drizzled with a little honey, WOW.
#12. "Shrimps Tortilla" These TINY shrimp were on top of a really thin crunchy disc. The disc was only about 3" wide, so imagine how tiny these guys were! They did, however, impart a nice strong shrimp flavor.
#13. "Beetroot and Yoghurt Meringue" Self-explanatory, not one of my favorites.
#14. "Boiled Shrimp" This very large shrimp was only lightly boiled on each end, leaving the middle section pretty much raw. I'm mildly allergic to raw shrimp, so I skipped this one, but the rest enjoyed eating the entire shrimp tail, and sucking the shrimp head.
#15. "Sea Urchin Nigiri" Actually, this was two kinds of nigiri- Uni (sea urchin) on the left, and a bone marrow jelly of some kind, with a dab of soy done tableside, on the right. Both were on a rice puff instead of traditional sushi rice. Fantastic.
#16. "Thai prawn brain" Again, I skipped this course, but Amanda said it tasted like miso soup, with a little brain flavor, whatever that means.
#17. "Prawn Two Firings" This was interesting- the waiter said they saute ONLY the tail first, keeping the body/legs/head raw, then the flip the shrimp over and deep fry the legs and body and head. Yum. (Photo credit- Amanda Kidd).
#18. "Air Baguette" This looks long, but it was actually only about 4 or 5 inches long. It was also entirely hollow and crunchy. Yet somehow, it tasted EXACTLY like a regular baguette. Exactly. So cool.
#19. "Roses with ham won-ton and melon water" Another 2-component course- The wontons were made out of rose petals, wrapped around a jelly made from Jamon Iberico, that most amazing of cured meats), and sealed and steamed. To accompany it was a melon water, which we all tasted a lot like canteloupe juice. The instruction was to alternate between them, and it was truly delicious. The flavor combination is the same as when you make prosciutto-wrapped melon balls, which are one of our favorite hors d'oeuvres!
#20. "Soya Matches" These little "matches" with gold foil-wrapped tips were entirely edible, and carried an intense soy flavor.
#21. "Marrow and belly of tuna sushi" This was plated tableside- the Tuna Bone Marrow on the bottom (I had never heard of it before), a slice of raw Tuna Belly with a dot of ginger, and then a couple of paintbrush strokes of soy. Unbelievable. The tuna bone marrow was 2 different textures- a gelatinous slice in the middle, surrounded by a looser almost egg-whitey material. It had a somewhat briny flavor.
#22. "Soy Cristal" This was ice, in a crystalline almost slate-like form, drizzled with soy sauce and sprinkled with some ginger, both tableside. They provided tweezers to eat it with too! Interesting, but very strange. I ended up using the ice to scoop the soy and ginger out of the paper envelope, almost like a spoon. Is it bad if I like salt so much that I will eat soy sauce with a spoon?
#23. "Tiramisu" Another 2-component dish. A savory tiramisu- it had the coffee flavor and the texture of a regular soft tiramisu, but it was not sweet at all, not sure what flavors were in there. The accompanying espresso cup had some kind of an infusion that had been prepared tableside, involving dashi, sake, iberico ham, and something else. Again, very odd.
#24. "Caviar Cream with Hazelnut Caviar" As best as I could taste, this was two mounds of caviar- the one on the left was sitting in a caviar cream, the one on the right was in a hazelnut cream. I mixed it all together to eat it, and it was absolutely wonderful.
#25. "Liquid Hazelnut 'Porra'" This was liquid hazelnut, encased in a crust so delicate that we were instructed to pick up the wax paper and eat it from there, instead of picking it up. So good too . . .
#26. "Only Truffle" Here we go with tons of black truffle!!! This one was a truffle jelly, on top of thickly sliced raw black truffle. Delicious, but the raw truffle has a grainy dry texture that I wasn't a huge fan of.
#27. "Truffle Cake" This was layers of thinly sliced raw black truffle, over some kind of spread, on top of a thin crunch sweet disc of some kind, and drizzled with something. MUCH better than the last dish, mostly because of the textural variation. (photo credit- Amanda Kidd).
#28. "Endive in Papillote 50%" These are before and after shots of the presentation. The first is how it arrived, wrapped in plastic, presumably cooked in there too. The waiter opened each packet up with tweezers, and grated fresh black truffle on top of the endive, which itself was swimming in a fois gras sauce. OH MY GOD. I couldn't get enough of this one.
#29. "Truffle Cake" We called this one the "Fat Kid Snow-Cone!" It was a sweet crunchy disc on the bottom, much like several other courses had, but then topped with fois gras, which appeared to have been frozed, and then grated. Melted in my mouth, could have eaten 5 more of these!
#30. "Steamed Eels" These baby eels were steamed, and tossed in some kind of a sauce that actually tasted a little bit like alfredo! If you ignore the eyes, and twirl them, they could have been fettucine.
#31. "Octopus Shabu-Shabu" Like true shabu-shabu, we had to do the cooking on this one. The waiter had us pick up the baby octopus with tweezers, dip it into the simmering broth in the cast iron pot for exactly 5 seconds, remove it, dip it in olive oil, sprinkle a pinch of paprika, and eat it. Amazingly tender, simple, and tasty.
#32. "Lulo 'ceviche' and mollusk" This was sitting in a hollowed out half of a South American fruit called Lulo. The white sections were coriander and clam juice, the green was cilantro and lime. The waiter said to alternate white and green, which turned out to be really really good.
#33. "Oaxaca Taco" This had all the flavors of tortilla chips and guacamole, but in different forms- the wrapper was a really soft corn flavored material, a slice of avocado was in the middle as well as some greens, fresh lime, and who knows what else. One of our favorites.
#34. "'Gazpacho' and 'Ajo Blanco'" - This was two wonderful things on one plate- the grainy-looking center area was a spicy white tomato gazpacho, and the sauce around it was Ajo Blanco, a garlicky white Spanish soup. Both were given a swirl of olive oil at the table. SOOOO good.
#35. "Tomato Tartare" This was so delicious, especially once I bit into the crispy honey-filled ravioli it was served with. (Photo credit- Amanda Kidd).
#36. "Peas 2011" This dish had real peas (bottom) and pea purée-filled spheres (top), as well as some kind of chorizo and some salty translucent jellyish material. All of these together were really delicious.
#37. "Hare 'Buñuelo'" Now we started getting into some richer flavors. These Buñuelos are basically deep-fried fritters, which are filled with a rich wild hare sauce/gravy/reduction of some kind. Gamey and delicious.
#38. "Game Meat Capuccino" This was an espresso cup, full of a frothy liquid which tasted strongly and simultaneously of both espresso and very gamey meat flavor. Very interesting, I liked it, although my dining companions didn't as much.
#39. "Oyster with Woodcock" How's this for a strange pairing? A large oyster, topped with a "tenderloin" of woodcock, and a gamey sauce, with a bone marrow jelly on the side. The briny oyster together with the gamey flavors was a bit too strange for me, not a big fan, although it was interesting.
#40. "Blackberries Risotto with Game Meat Sauce" This was an awesome combination, to be eaten all at once off the spoon. Delicious together.
#41. "Hare Ravioli with 'Boloñesa' and Blood" The triangular packets in this photo are the ravioli, the bolognese is all over, and there is bone marrow in the middle. Top right, you can see the small glass of "Blood" they brought over, which turned out to be a somewhat sweetened cinnamon syrup, maybe made with some blood?
#42. "Wild Strawberries with Hare Soup" These sweet little strawberries were floating in a nice strong wild hare broth- sounds like a strange pairing, and my dining companions didn't love it, but I thought it was great!!!
#43. "Mimetic Chestnuts" These chestnut-looking things were really a cold shell surrounding a filling of more gamey gravy-like sauce!
#44. "Yogurt Blini" A light, savory course.
#45. "Saint-Félicien Dollar" The first of a couple of cheese courses before dessert. This gold-wrapped coin tasted exactly like brie cheese!
#46. "Gruyère with Kirsch" This was a Gruyère flavored foam, with freeze-dried cherries of some kind. Pretty good, although strong Swiss flavor.
#47. "Sugar Cube with Tea and Lime" These "sugar cubes" were actually really strong lime-cubes, and then we drizzled the sweet tea syrup from the eyedroppers on each cube.
#48. "'Coca de Vidre' - Crystal Cake" These were crystallized sugar sticks, with pine nuts embedded in them. Super sweet and great.
#49. "Mini-Donuts" These mini chocolate donuts were filled with coconut cream. Yum.
#50. "Apple Rose" This was a stunner. The outside rings were finely shaped and sugared apple, the inside rose bud was frozen, sour, apple juice, and there were a couple of jiggly spheres with dill sprigs and some kind of jelly inside. Sooooooo refreshing and gorgeous.
#51. "Box" As if we needed to eat more, they brought us this ENORMOUS box of a hundred or so fine chocolates. All just for us, unbelievable. We brought most of it home, of course.

To go with all this wonderful food, we had some wonderful wines:

First, one of our favorites, the Paul Bara Grand Rosé de Bouzy:
Then, for the lighter courses we started on a bottle of Godello, oak-aged on the lees, called Godelia Blanco Selección 2009:
Then for the meatier courses we moved on to a bold, old-fashioned, sediment-heavy rioja from Marques de Riscal, called Barón de Chirel Reserva, 2001:
And last but not least, when we finished the red we moved on to a cava from Cava Llopart, called Ex Vite Brut Gran Reserva, which had a gorgeous textured, pressed-on label:
The first wine we chose, the other three were all recommendations by the sommelier, based on Kristie's descriptions of what we were looking for, and all 3 were fantastic wines.

Anyway, we are so grateful that we were able to go, and we hope that others can enjoy a meal at El Bulli vicariously by reading this post!!!

-Jesse "Boston Travel Guy" Weiss.


  1. Out of curiosity, how much did you spend?


  2. Hi Jes,

    The tasting menu costs 270 Euro per person, not including wine. With no hesitation I will tell you it's worth way more!

  3. I was happy to visit El Bulli at the end of May. 20 of our 45 courses (and the chocolate box) were the same as your menu, but enough interesting differences.
    If you are interested, I made a commented photo series about the visit on:
    cheers !