Sant Pau....Why We Fight....
Sherman! Set the WayBack Machine for 15 January 2008.
This was a Tuesday. We had picked up Conall in Barcelona on the Saturday, had a killer lunch, and then partied, ate and drank with Txema at Inopia until all hours. Sunday we drove five hours south to Denia for brunch at El Poblet. More of that anon.
Monday we drove five hours back to Barca for lunch, then another two hours north on to Roses. Check in with Rafa. Meet Albert Adria. This is Roses:
Tuesday morning we got up early and drove to El Bulli. El Bulli is of course closed, but just standing next to the entrance and the sign does for food geeks what walking to Santiago de Compostella does for Catholics.
El Bulli is located in a private cove about 10 km from Roses. In Carmel, it would be as if El Bulli was Rocky Point....if Hwy 1 were a tiny, one lane road with no houses. We went on down to the beach and spent some time picking up Greek and Roman marble from the beach and marveling at where all the people who had done all the extensive terracing had gone.
The terracing covers every inch of the mountains between Roses and Cadaques....a mind blowing amount of work.....not quite up there with the Incas in Peru, but in the same league. And, like Peru, all trace of the terracers is gone.
We had a 2pm lunch date at Sant Pau, about an hour and a half south of Roses in another seaside town, Sant Pol de Mar. Sant Pau is a Michelin three-star rated restaurant....the best of the best.
Dear Conall has been living in Prague, which qualifies him as a Bohemian, in every sense of the word. He is living the Spartan existence of the true artist, while doing short films for the Communist Museum. Big decisions are whether or not to pop for the twenty cents that a famous Prague donut will cost. Has he earned it? Has he been true enough to his Muse to reward himself with this donut?
I am not mocking the man.....I am serious. This is how hard he is on himself, and how driven he is to stay clean and focussed.
Meanwhile, two days before......we had kidnapped the lad, driven 600km south and spent two months rent in Prague on brunch for three, on insane food of galactic quality. Conall told us: "Guys, enough is enough. I can't do that again."
Well, we had reservations for three at Sant Pau. Conall agreed to drive us, drop us off, and he would hang at the beach and do his thing.......
Well, I am a bad Dad. Conall drove, like a good lad. Turns out that Sant Pol de Mar is so small that there is basically one street, and it is one-way the wrong way......unless you are going to Sant Pau. Then you can turn up the street.
Immediately, two big guys from Catalan Homeland Security stop the car and basically grab you. Conall was trapped. We coaxed him into the lobby of the restaurant...where we had a discourse worthy of Hegel, Marx or Kafka....all of whom spent quality time in Prague. All the while, in one of only six three-star restaurants in Spain...the staff stood quietly and discreetly by while we tried to convince the kid to help us blow another two month's rent on lunch.
In the end, Conall relented. He only had a wrinkled shirt...so he went back to the car for a sweater.
Here is where I wax on about how much I love Spain. In Spain, food is a passion....and such an integral part of the culture that they really don't give a rat's ass how you dress in even the finest restaurants. Did you bring your heart? Corazon? Do you really care? Are you paying attention?
No matter how you are dressed.....the moment you sit down, everything is equal.
And so it was with Conall. Kafka would have been proud. There were no class issues at Sant Pau....they just wanted an audience for their art.
The dining room is smallish....who needs big at $200 a pop for lunch? It looks out over a small garden and the ocean....very nice. It was like being in church, or a really nice gallery. Quiet. Contemplative.
So here we were with restaurant politics again. We got through the door....now we deal with the whole "how to take pictures" thing. We don't want to be churlish....but we want to remember. Conall shines in this world...quick, discreet, and very very good. I rely on my trusty DAT recorder.
As we sat there, calming our breathing after the scene in the door....we heard a really loud, crunching sound. Crunch! Crunch! Crunch! What the hell? The DAT agrees....all you here is crunching.
It was the supermodel two tables over, chewing her crunchy bruschetta.
Gotta be able to relax after that! We all thought at once of Mrs. Hatfield: "No audible hors d'oeuvres!" And Brendan....who once dumped a supermodel because she was a mouth-breather......
At this level, you get a lot of handouts.......you can double-click on these to see better.
Caldo de Bienvenida is the Welcoming Soup. Garbanzo essence. No foto.
Then the four appetizers from the micro-menu. The entire micro menu is dedicated to the Spanish writer Manuel Vazquez Montalban. Each dish is from a different restaurant who has served dishes from the author's writings.
ball of squid and ink in strips (Amanda's notes say "if you are going to serve squid, cut it like fettucine, and do the zucchini the same way."A mussel with spinach, and mousseline of garlic. Amanda: "Bury all unsavory shellfish in fondue!" Don't listen to her...she hates mussels. It was magic.
Then the Callos....no idea, and no memory.
Meanwhile, there were different flavors of breads, olive oil and sea salt being handed around. And the wine steward was on us like white on rice.
First "real" course: Sopa de Bacalao......Cod soup. With marzipan foam and almond granilla
Then a little caviar......sustainably harvested from Riofrio...
With a little pistachio cream and a vegetarian couscous gel....
Then, on to Skate without Cartilage.......with apples, citrus oils and rose peppers, and a chip of the cartilage.....
Then a little Gamba....prawn with artichokes of different textures and a gel of the coral of the prawn.
We had now been at Sant Pau for a little more than an hour.
Time for Tuna!
With the first peas from Pineda....with spicy oil
No more screwing around....now time for the main courses: young ox untranslatable part and young ox sweetbread; loin of hare with a pumpkin/eggplant situation.
We hit the tape.....done!
Now, on to cheeses. I refer you back to the handout. We were on wine 9 by now....and no longer so into the whole artistic, journalistic preservation of the moment....
But the wine guy.....David Escoset.....had kept us as equally enthralled with the wines as the foods. And he kept a straight face, and ignored our many and multiplying faux-pas. Some of his choices were brilliant....some subtle.....some well-deserved.....some possibly ironic.
Some people never understand what the big deal is with the conductor of the orchestra...the guy who keeps all the hundred instruments in synch.....yeah, well...that is David Escoset. A master....
One of the interesting things about his choices for us is that one of the most idiosyncratic..... Manzanilla Pasada Pastrana (a Palomino Fino) was a wine that Jose Antonio Navarette at El Poblet had given us with a similar shellfish course two days before. The wine is almost unavailable in the US, but it turns up also at El Bulli in their wine pairings. Crisp, clean...but still with all the richness and depth of a sherry, but with no cloying sweetness whatsoever.
Anyway...it was now 4:3o pm...and time for dessert.
First up...Red Fruits and White, with peppered vanilla ice cream
Oh....you thought dessert was one thing? Peasant.....
Next up....Bread, Oil, Tomato, Chocolate and cold textures, hot and frozen
NOW, we get into the ten special desserts in the handout.......
Mini magnum of vinegar, etc....
And some final snaps.....The men's room....note two different flush volumes on the commode.....
The waiting area for the men's room.....
A view back through the lobby towards the dining room.
All year long, normal people come up to me at different times....often deep into a hundred and twenty hour week...and say, "Why do you do this? Are you crazy? How do you do this?"
Being able to spend three hours at Sant Pau.....being served by Carme Ruscellada and her crew.....wonderful, subtle, thoughtful food.....kind, respectful, attentive service......unbelievably artistic, instructive, challenging, ironic, comforting wines.....in a gorgeous, thoughtful environment.
If you are a food geek....or an art person.....double click on the menus at the start of this post. The thought, the focus, the concentration and force of will....driven by a wildly artistic sense....and a desire to communicate something way beyond food, wine and service ....is layered all around Carme's menus. And she has the empathy, organization, the communication and technical skills to inspire a crew of forty to express her vision.
Two month's rent?
Even my Bohemian son was in awe of the afternoon.......
A final snap..... 5:41 pm. Three and a half hours after the start of lunch.
Mike and Amanda.....look closely for the tear stains......standing on the hill above Sant Pol de Mar.
Ars longa....vita brevis.