Rafa's in Roses
After getting mauled at Comerc24, and blessed at Bar Inopia…..we bailed on Barca headed up to Roses. Who goes to Roses in winter….except true geeks who want to take pictures of the El Bulli driveway? Well, we did…..to go to Rafa’s. Well….. and take pictures of the El Bulli driveway.
Rafa’s sounded like my dream restaurant: fresh fish, simply and perfectly prepared; reservations iffy, depending on the catch. You make your reservations, then call in the morning to see if they will actually open or not, depending on the fish situation. As a chef who once smacked a diner with a still bleeding halibut carcass after the guy implied my fish was frozen…..I was intrigued. My kind of guy. And, every eGullet El Bulli diner has eaten there and loved it.
The problem was FINDING Rafa’s. Nothing on the Google search but Brett Emerson’s review. Rafa is a Luddite, obviously. I prowled all over eGullet. Lots of mentions, lots of praise. No address and no phone number. Even the concierge at the high priced hotel the Inopia guys bought us after the debacle at Comerc24 could come up with…..nothing. All I had was “across the street from Snack-Mar” in Roses. And, of course…..Snack-Mar was closed for vacation.
We drove up anyway and checked into a beachfront hotel…. for 50 euros a night for a room with a balcony (another reason to go in winter!). No one had heard of Rafa’s….somewhat worryingly. We looked up Snack-Mar and found it on C. San Sebastiá. No one was really sure where C. San Sebastiá was either, but we finally found it… it takes a couple of turns….. two hundred meters from the hotel. And…..as promised, right across from Snack-Mar on San Sebstiá was Rafa’s.
Well, maybe. There was a small restaurant with elaborately carved hardwood around the door and a sign: “RHODEROSESRAFA” carved over the door. The place was all torn up, and there was a woman inside painting. I screwed up my courage and inquired. Yup. Rafa’s. Might be open tomorrow. Or maybe Wednesday.
What to do? Wait around for a ‘maybe’? Well, on a Monday or a Tuesday in Spain in the winter the options are limited. We decided to wait.
Had a bad hotel meal. Drove the back way to Caidaques…..past El Bulli….then on the dirt roads. The Dali House…..closed for the winter. The Museum in Figueres…..open.
I am one of those restaurant guys who has trouble not working. Every few hours…bored, anxious, hungry….I would stroll past Rafa’s. Now, all the furniture was out in the street. The woman was still there, working like a dog. I screwed up my courage again, and offered to help. Non, gracias. Are you sure….I am just sitting around, I would rather clean than sit…..Non, gracias.
I checked back a couple times, finally at ten at night. The Rafa lady was sitting on the curb, surrounded by furniture, eating shitty pizza from a styro to-go container. “Come on, I can at least cook you a meal!” Non, gracias. All night I had nightmares about storming the Roses Pizza Parlor and commandeering it to make the Rafa Lady a proper pizza…….
Well, of course, Tuesday didn’t pan out, what with all the furniture on the street on Monday night and all. We found a one-star outside town that was open….unfortunately. The only good side of the meal was the hostess/waitress is best friends with the Rafa lady….they are both Rosas. As in Roses. Go figure.
I did not commandeer the pizza parlor.
I did take pictures of the El Bulli driveway. And I stayed away, mostly. I did get reservations for Wednesday lunch. Name? “El Americano Limpio”….the American who must clean, even on holiday.
Wednesday morning I was up at the crack. Prowled the town looking for flowers. By now, I was getting well deserved weird looks from the town folks. Oh, that Clean American…..He is waiting for Rafa to open…..I found a florist. No roses, of course…but I found some beautiful tulips next to the internet place.
On the way to Rafa’s we encountered a group of well dressed older people wandering around Roses’ tiny little streets, looking lost and confused. “Buscando C. San Sebastiá? Rafa’s? Sigame…..” I made them go in first…..Just in case Rosa had called the Guardia about The Clean American Stalker.
Turns out Rafa and Rosa could not have been sweeter. I gave her the flowers as apology for my stalking, and in tribute to her hard work, and the crappy pizza. She was stunned. Note to self: always bring flowers to restaurant hostesses.
Rafa turned out to be the short stocky guy I thought was the plumber two days before. His kitchen is right there in front, and tiny: one oven, a flat grill, a couple of burners and an expresso machine. He has a deli-style display case for the fish. That is it.
I discreetly filmed Rafa working to show my super-star chef son. Brendan’s reaction? “The guy doesn’t move.” Rafa is so at home in his environment that it appears that nothing is being done. The fish arrives (deliveries take place all during service), the menu changes….Rafa growls. Rafa takes his giant knife and filets something. Rafa throws fish on the grill. Rosa deals with the people. The dishwasher is next door….the machine, not the guy….so Rosa busses out the front door, down the street, through another door and into another space. There also seems to be a basement that she climbs down into…..No way Rafa is getting into that space. Rafa goes to his window and has a cigarette while Rosa is charging like a greyhound.
The food was magic. I watched Rafa’s every move…..and there weren’t many. Like Leon Spinks in the 80’s, he had two magic bottles of liquid. Olive oil and seawater, it turns out. That is it.
Rosa turned people away right, left and center…..ruthlessly. We offered to share our table….don’t even think about it…..
The meal? Jamon Iberico…from a friend. Some prawns….from the bay. Some baby razor clams…..the best thing I ever ate. From where? The fuckin’ bay, you idiot. What was the sauce? Olive oil and seawater, dummy. Oh, and sea salt. From where? The fuckin’ bay, dummy!
A fish was delivered. Rafa wacked it up and cooked it for us. Another better fish was delivered…..he gave me the look: You want? Can’t do it….I will explode. A shrug and a growl. They don’t do dessert….
Me either!! Well, kind of…..
Finally the wine hits and I have the nerve to move into his space to gossip. Now, Rosa growls….thank god for the flowers.
Rafa claims that the whole thing with his food is the iron grill. His grill is solid iron…..everyone else is cooking on stainless. You have to watch the steam…..and listen to the fish. The steam starts out white, then goes gray…..and the fish stops talking. Then you pull it.
Rafa remembers Txema, Brendan’s buddy from Inopia, from his Bulli days. A really good kid. Rafa knows all the cooks at Bulli, because they come to him on their day or half day off. I tell him about our horrible experience at Comerc24. He is not surprised. He gestures with a shoulder out the window. That guy Abellan opened a cooking school and restaurant across the street…..lasted three years. Rafa still keeps in touch with a couple of Mexican kids who came to the school from Puebla, Mexico, though…….Maybe I know them?
Rafa’s favorite thing to do is have beach parties with the Bulli guys. They go out to the little coves around Bulli, build fires and cook up the local shellfish, fish fish they catch in nets on the beach, along with wild asparagus from the old Roman terraces surrounding the place and whatever mushrooms they can scrounge from the hills as well. His only bummer is the pans that they have available…..not iron, can’t retain heat. Rafa has heard that American cowboys cooked on iron pans over fires…..Can I get him one? And……Hey, we did this yesterday….where were you?
Uh…stalking your wife….trying to help paint. Damn!
Rafa’s deal is he is trying to make it seven more years….then retire and just do beach parties and relax with his friends.
So, you El Bulli guys who are jockeying for your 2008 reservations…….don’t forget Rafa.
C. San Sebastiá 56 (across from Snack-Mar)
972 254 003