At Gastromondiale, we are moved by dishes that entice our senses and only subsequently instigate us to consider the technical or semiotic dimensions of a dish. The organoleptic aspects may provoke comparisons. One tastes the rey fish at Güeyu Mar and the variegated textures also encountered in wagyu are superseded by a depth of flavor more profound than any beef. The historical relevance of a dish can equally follow suit. Alain Passard’s vegetable pasta transports the diner to an alternate history of Roma, where the spaghetti carbonara might have benefited from the minerality of potatoes. Suffice it to say, both dishes send one uncontrollably on a path of rumination. In their initial, visceral appeal, they resemble madeleines. It is in this spirit that we appropriate the Proustian icon to denote three privileged moments from the dining year 2017.
When a living legend is no longer living, the air immediately after the demise is filled with no shortage of eulogies, remembrances, idolatries, and platitudes. Never is heard an oft-told discouraging word until someone writes an unauthorized biography of the subject in question. The loss of Paul Bocuse, while waiting for such a biography, is no exception. As I have a gastronomically-oriented Facebook feed, nearly half of the posts I received on January 20 were chefs’ tributes to Bocuse or obituaries from publications throughout the world.
I have dined three times in the new location in Girona. Now, besides being a Michelin three-starred restaurant, Can Roca is the second best in the world according to Restaurant Magazine’s infamous “Top 100” list. I think that fame and a very busy schedule has taken a toll on Juan Roca. He does not have the time, nor the energy to concoct and perfect new great dishes. So what we are seeing at Can Roca is also endemic to many of the world’s highly prized trendy hot spots: There is a shift away from concocting memorable dishes towards creating a unique experience for the diner.
It is probable that neither Abel of Güeyu Mar, nor Aitor of Elkano perceive themselves as great chefs. Probably they consider themselves as having mastered “a la parilla” (grilling) techniques. But there is no way you can find this level fish in any Michelin three star restaurant or in any of the so-called top 20 restaurants of the world (with the possible exception of Asador Etxebarri).
In recently planning the most rigorous European dining trip since going back to living full-time in the States, my goal was to find out to what extent I would be able to dine for two weeks in London, Glasgow, Paris and Cancale by returning as much as possible to my formative dining roots; in other words, going home again, gastronomically-speaking. Accomplishing the goal meant doing away with tasting-menu-only restaurants and fixed three-or-four course meals such as those belonging to the class of bistronomy restaurants.
If one ranks Mediterranean countries in terms of their handling of seafood, Greece will not make it to the top three of the list. I especially have a hard time in the islands where it is hard to find non-frozen fish, and it is even harder to find a place to eat grilled fish that is not dried out. I was therefore quite stunned to find this rather simple looking fish shack in the Kalithea district of Athens, with a jolly and a touch tacky atmosphere.
Tasting menus have played a major part in the debasement of dining in better restaurants. I derive it from being a veteran eater, cutting my gastronomic teeth most notably in highly-rated and otherwise interesting restaurants in provincial France in the last 30% of the 20th century, and stuying change in mass or popular culture. As a result, I have witnessed, noted and participated in the changes between upper-level restaurants then and upper-level restaurants now.
Is there a French chef of the 21st century who has done more to jettison the hallowed conventions of the Classical French restaurant than Passard? What I admire is that the iconoclastic gestures are primarily effected towards reinvigorating the pleasure of eating in a convivial environment, rather than towards gratuitous statement. When he cuts his roast to include the offal or when he serves a simple ratatouille of vegetables, he lifts the inhibitions of Classical restraint and overly sublimated dishes.
Few meals in recent memory have left me as frustrated and angry. I was disappointed because we had ordered the menu degustation and had a succession of 12 courses before cheese, and I do not recall any Michelin three star meal that left me so baffled because of inconsistencies. I was also angry because we had had an excellent “bouillabaisse” meal at Le Petit Nice not too long ago
"If you eavesdrop on the culinary press and tastemakers, you are likely to overhear the bombastic claim that French haute gastronomy is dead. What this translates to is that French gastronomy now shares the limelight, as markets seek to shift and expand, and novelties are most expedient to the marketing apparatus."
Once a year in the early spring, the restaurant world holds the equivalent of a beauty contest for restaurants and their chefs called the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. This initiative's metamorphosis from a modest initiative aiming to “provoke discussion and spark debate” into a supposed “absolutist food-first ranking” conceals certain flawed and disheartening aspects to the undertaking.
A recent meal there in April 2017 moved me sufficiently to write about Hedone. To put it very bluntly, in my first meal I have had some good and very good dishes, but not a single great or signature dish. Now I have found three to four signature dishes. As such, I can say that it is a destination place.
The world looks like a bigger place when you stand on the edge of a hill in Piedmont, Italy. Light blue, dark blue and green… These are the colours that you can see on the horizon in Piedmont, Italy. It is clearly a landscape with an inspirational spectrum of colours for any artist. But, if you are into food, the colour that you should associate with Piedmont is actually white. That is because of tartufo bianco, which almost single-handedly places the region on the world gastronomy map.
A Pierre Gagnaire dish might be extremely cerebral at its initial conception and dangerously experimental during its development. Such a process may strike one as cunningly relying on accidental discoveries. One may also be tempted to qualify this practice as tainted by a self-absorbed, self approbating ego who presumes the fatality of circumstances will often bring about flavors he is entitled to, feeling certain that when that doesn’t happen his clientele should still be more than content to be able to take part in “his” adventure.
Ca l’Enric makes me think of the cold, game, mushrooms, the forest floor, and savoury truffle. Their fireplace and the woodcock spring to mind. It transports me to a rural setting that has been transformed to the 21st century and it makes me think of what it would have been like in the beginning.
Ettore Botrini is an excellent chef with a clear vision. Before heading to his restaurant I had the wrong impression that his cuisine was dominated by the molecular philosophy. It is not, except one amuse with a green olive served in a spoon where he uses the spherification technique, and another amuse with squid ink caviar with the same technique. Otherwise his cooking respects the natural and local ingredients, and the tastes are clear. He achieves depth without sacrificing clarity.
I started serious dining out in 1986 when I had a fellowship to study for a year in France and lunch menus in three star restaurants were affordable. [...] Nowadays things are very different. While it is still very difficult to get the highly-coveted third star, many three star restaurants are not worth the special trip. This is the bad news. But the good news is that there are still quite a few great product-driven destination restaurants. They are simply not captured by the criteria used by Michelin.
Manresa’s multi-course degustation menu is among the few exceptions for several reasons. Chef Kinch knows well how to build a progression throughout the five hour meal and the courses are not repetitive. He also does not adopt the trendy Scandinavian formula of composing multiple dishes around the same theme of the trio of “raw seafood-fermented green-dairy” and “lots of vegetable stocks”. His cooking is more complex, but remains focused and balanced.
Le Petit Nice is the only three starred restaurant in the close vicinity of Marseille. Some claims that Michelin accorded three stars to Petit Nice due to political reasons. I disagree, based on my own experience. The service, wine list, surroundings, product quality, conceptualization, execution, etc., are all first rate and what I would expect from a Michelin three starred restaurant.
Joan Roca’s cooking has always technically very elaborate but also delicious. He often subjects the same dish to multiple cooking techniques. He is a master of sous vide, but he does not solely rely on it. He does not shy away from using rustic ingredients (offals), and he re-interprets tradition by adding one contrasting element to dishes made up of complementary ingredients. On the most recent visit he seemed to underemphasize the delicious component of his creations in favor of aesthetics and to display technical skills. Some dishes were not balanced or well conceived. However, good dishes are really good. One wishes that this hard working and talented chef moves away from trendy modern Spanish cooking and finds a better equilibrium without losing the Catalunian focus of his best dishes.
"The Michelin guides awards more three stars to Tokyo than to any other city in the world, but for many of us, including myself, the very best of the Japanese cuisine remains a black box. Kinch, owner and chef of the Manresa Restaurant in Los Gatos, where I had some of my best meals in the States, has visited Tokyo with a Japanese friend who helped him navigate some terrain unknown to Westerners." Vedat Milor
The participants in the event included Albert Adrià of elBulli, Andoni Luis Aduriz of Mugaritz, Alain Passard of L'Arpège, Pedro Subijana of Akelaré, Santi Santamaria of Can Fabes, Martin Berasategui of the eponymous restaurant, Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca, Claude Bosi of Hibiscus, and Oriol Balaguer. Chefs, such as Heston Blumenthal, Gianfranco Vissani, and, probably my favorite under 30 years old chef in the world, Fabio Barbaglini of Café Groppi in Trecate, were among the guests.
The sheer utterance of this name conjures up images of romance and beauty, but not culinary treasures. This is strange because the Venetian lagoon is a very special place to have some of the world’s best seafood. One can feast on simply prepared superb seafood in Venice that cannot be found elsewhere.
The seafood of Venice and the Adriatic coast to the south is one of the very best and unique in the world. However, it is not always easy to find authentic restaurants which make the best use of fresh and local ingredients. One restaurant that had been recommended by some frequent visitors of Venice with discriminating palates is Osteria alle Testiere.
Sensationalism and marketing gimmicks aside, is it true that the Haute Cuisine in France is on the verge of death? My answer to that question may sound equivocal at first: Yes, and No. Yes, it is dying when the French cater to the level and expectations of an international clientele and start cutting corners in classical dishes, or, supposedly move in a “fusion” and creative direction by, say, imitating techniques and using ingredients from Asian cuisine in a superficial way.
Following our trip to Alba, we had four more outstanding meals in Italy: superb fresh seafood at Alla Testiere in Venice, some of the best charcuterie from cinta senese pork products at Pompiere in Verona and two unforgettable meals at Le Calandre in Rubano near Padua and Da Vittorio in Bergamo. Le Calandre has been a favorite of mine for some time.
6 trips in the last 7 years and we are as thrilled about the Spanish Basque country and cooking as we were in the beginning. Perhaps more so as we have finally understood well that what made this place a gastronomical mecca is more than the existence of a few internationally renowned restaurants but the prevalence of a culture, which sustains a way of life that puts a premium on community and tradition over full capitulation to the forces of globalization.
Main courses are equally successful at Da Renzo. Roasted suckling pig with balsamic vinegar is as good as one can get in Spain (say, at Zuberoa) and the pork is the noble Cinte Senese variety(very rare and an endangered species). They also prepare a traditional dish called finanziera consisting of internal organs of very young veal and cock's comb, held together by cooking juices and cream. Brain, sweetbread, kidneys, heart, liver, tripe and gelatinous feet all vye for attention in this memorable dish. Certainly a cardiologist's dream.