El Celler de Can Roca
We had one very good and one great meal here in the summer of 2007. Then, in 2008, our meal was disappointing at the time the Roca Brothers were trying to find a new place for the restaurant. Now the restaurant moved to a new location in Girona, and they have recently been awarded the third Michelin star. The new room is airy and tables are spaced, but some may call it “soulless” and too rectangular. On the other hand, the service is attentive. They have designed a very nice wine cellar where, Josep Roca, whose taste in wine is unquestionably remarkable, reigns. The wine cellar is organized in terms of major wine regions, such as Bourgogne, Bordeaux, Priorat, Tuscany, and they have created a different theme for each sub-section of the cellar to emphasize its unique terroir. I think a visit to the cellar is a must after your meal. To my taste, the design of the restaurant makes it more appropriate for a business lunch than for a romantic dinner.
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.
Amuses were a mixed bag, but we enjoyed the plant whose branches hid some candied olive and anchovy rolled green olives. This was a nice welcome to accompany the Pierre Peters champagne offered by the house. I found the various crackers to be tasty and the campari bonbon had a nice bitter taste to whet the appetite. On the other hand, the chocolate covered foie gras tasted more chocolate than foie gras. The steamed bun (they call it brioche) with ceps and the consomme of ceps were also somehow bland. This dish did not capture the unique taste of ceps.
Pork feet dish is one of the best of the day. It is not only aesthetically pleasing but also delicious and balanced. Maybe it is cut a bit too thin though. Saint Pau beans, micro greens, and ceps blend well with the gelatinous pork feet. This dish is a Roca classic and should stay on the menu.
Foie gras is wrapped in pyllo with caramelezed apples. This is delicious, with just the right acidity and sweetness to balance the excellent quality silky duck liver. The next dish has local lobster, but somehow it had a cottony in texture. Was is sous vide? The mushroom-lobster stock is overwhelming. It came with quite a reduced sauce.
Palamós prawns... The menu says that they were grilled, but the gambas tasted almost raw. Probably they were blanched for a second and smoked. They were a bit overwhelmed by the smoky taste. The pulverized shell, jellified juice from the head and dried seaweed form the other elements of the dish (the sand). This is conceptually interesting but unnecessariy complex. It falls short when compared to the sweet taste of the Palamós Gambas cooked in a salt crust.
The next dish has bacalao, brandade, bacalao tripe and gnocchi. It contains a nice play on complementary textures. They pour an infusion made from fish bones with garlic and olive oil. The sous vide method works better with cod fish than with other sea food in my opinion. The dish is a re-interpretation of traditional Escudella which is made from different meats with offals and vegetables. I liked this dish.
Sole fish is the most problematic dish of the day. The accompanying five sauces (bergamot, fennel, oranges, pinenuts, green olives) taste too sweet and artificial, and they overwhelm the bland tasting thinly cut fish. It was not balanced.
Cochinillo was probably cooked sous vide and then finished under the grill. It has just the right smokiness. It is served with small watermelon balls, baby leeks and beet juice. The watermelon is a refreshing nice contrast to the fatty pork. It is very good.
The next dish is a nice lamb sandwich. It is served with tomato bread, frisee salad and its own jus. It is good comfort food but not as memorable as the other lamb dishes I had there in the past.
This is long-cooked goose breast. The dark sauce reminds one of lièvre à la royale. It is really gutsy, rich and very satisfactory. The peach coulis cuts through the richness and provides a nice contrast to the other elements. The dish is intense and balanced, and is a three star dish.
The first dessert is a nice refreshing melon, green apple, cucumber, mint and green Chartreuse soup. This is followed by a modern dessert with licorice, vanilla ice cream and black olive. Then we had a lactic dessert made from whole milk meringue, cotton candy, guava and caramel. Both of these desserts are quite creative but somehow they do not come across as harmonious. Finally we had a “Trip to Havana” which is visually beautiful and tastes good because citrus sorbet, lime granita and rhum contrast well with the richness of the chocolate and cream. But unfortunately one bite from the oversmoked “ash” overwhelms the palate and leaves an unpleasant aftertaste which lasts five to six hours.
2005 As Sortes Valdeorras
Rafael Palacios is concocting a great white wine with character from the Godilla grape in Galicia. This wine especially impressed me with its minerality which may be due to its granite terroir. The nose develops a smoky component, in addition to nutty nuances, and the wine is quite intense and creamy on the palette, revealing old vines and low yield. It is not fruity at all, almost the anathema to a New World Chardonnay. Grade: 18/20
2005 A. Rousseau, Gevrey Chambertin "Lavaux St. Jacques"
I am still not sure if 2005 is truly a great vintage as the press and wine writers declared it to be. This is a well crafted Bourgogne with all components of a great Bourgogne intact, except the mid-palette does not have the weight and the length I find in top vintages and top Rousseau wines (I think most 2005 wines lack the mid-palette, but are very pleasurable and easy to like wines). It has good acid-tannin balance and is a fair buy for 100 Euro. Grade: 17/20