Monday, January 15, 2007

24 horrors

I can now begin to come to grips with being back in California, and reliving our three weeks in Spain....for those of you who have bitch-slapped me for the info.

Oh, Lord...stuck in Bilbao...with those Barca blues again. We lost a day waiting for our luggage to arrive....(well, not lost really....since we discovered Andra Mari and Zortziko). Still, we had reservations at Comerc24 that had been made months in advance and had to have Igones move them up a day.

We were excited about eating at Comerc24. This place had the hot buzz last year among all the young chefs that Brendan worked with at Mugaritz. We got Carles Abellan's cookbook flown over from Spain at great cost, and stole his chocolate/olive oil/sea salt dessert recipe. We were excited enough to drive six hours across the entire country to make our reservation.

Here is the result.....typed in the penthouse suite of a hotel on aptly named Street of Grace....the Fifth Avenue of Barcelona, sort of.

Wow......Last night we finally ate at Comerc24. We drove all day from Bilbao and were very excited.....The two hour traffic jam on the autoroute, no problem, the awful hotel we had reserved that fucked us for our missed day, no problem. Two hours lost in Zaragoza, the worst town in the Universe, no problem; an hour lost in the Senegalese ghetto in some other weird town, no problem. In my kitchen we have been aping several of Carles´ dishes for years and we were pumped. Even the completely insane Barca drivers (an order of magnitude beyond Roman drivers) could not still our ardor.

Too bad: Comerc24 absolutely sucked from beginning to end.

The place is on a commercial surprise, Comerc means Commercial.....right around the corner from a cute, Greenwich Villagie type area. The building is very Villagy....a shit hole that is chic because of copious amounts of plywood and black paint.

Upon arrival we were instantly treated like dumb Americans and dumped at the worst table in the house, in the back by the waiter´s station and baños. There we sat for 20 minutes. A brusque mesera finally came over and took a drink order: "Two copas de cava, we have been driving all day! This order she unceremoniously dumped into the glasses and over the tablecloth and my arm. Ditto the water. Perhaps she was not a robust supporter of our administration's foreign policy? She also didn´t like the way I moved my silverware around my place setting, and put it back her way. Twice. OK......

She brought bread, salt and poured olive oil into a bowl, onto the table and on my other sleeve. A theme was emerging.We finally got to order food and wine. I had to ask for Spanish menus, and ask each person to explain the dish in Spanish, not badly fractured English. I mean, we COOK in Spanish......we also EAT in Spanish.

The cava had been awful, so I opted for Billecart to wash it away, and asked the wine guy to pick a nice local red. Meanwhile, Amanda suddenly turned grey and sprinted for the bano....luckily only feet away behind a curtain. She was poisoned by her non-one star meal in Bilbao. Great.....though she is proud to announce to all that she vomited ten times in Comerc24. Instead of Stars, we could award Barfs!

When the champagne came I was alone.....and it took another struggle with the waitress to just put the damn bottle on the table and let us pour our own.....she insisted on an ice bucket in the tiny gap between us and other Americans next to us. I tried to explain that: "Senora, this is not a is a fucking DRUG! I need this right now....."

The first course, exactly as pictured in the earlier post was OK......the olive spuma was nice, as were the ootato crisps. The olives were just olives. Fried macadamia nuts? Is this sexy and revolutionary? My Grannie made this in 1959 in Honolulu. She served them with Tang. Hey, what was good enough for the space program was good enough for Grannie.

Things went downhill fast. There was a greasy mushroom ravioli with instructions from the mistress to use our hands to dip it in an utterly tasteless sepia (squid ink) coulis. Then came a cloudy broth with a crusted over (not on purpose, just sitting on the line too long) quail yolk with a little cracker stuck in it. Awful......and it went well with the sommelier´s red wine: thin, acid and annoying.

Finally, out came sort of truffled glop on some white glop. It looked like brisket, and was stone cold. I pushed it away and asked for coffee. The coffee came.....also stone cold.

I am not a hard guy.....I love food. I have worked alongside Andoni from Mugaritz and David Kinch from Manresa, and a bucketful of Three-Star froggies. We had had two one-star meals the day before in Bilbao (Zortziko and the wonderful Andra Mari) that each featured at least a couple of glorious dishes.....and no dingers....with really nice, sweet, accomodating service, despite our either growling desperation, or our desperate growling.....

I have survived the restaurant wars in NYC, so I have ancestral memories of the snotty, condescending and incompetent service of crappy, pretentious, overpriced food. Who knew I would have to drive all across Spain to find it at Comerc24?

We had the festival menu, if you are insane or disbelieving enough to go there. Trust me, it was awful. I have been doing this for thirty years, and if any of my staff had acted so badly....or produced such murky glop, no one would ever find their bodies....To add insult to injury, they charged me for Amanda's meal she did not eat...and Carles himself was standing in the bar when I paid for my abbreviated meal. He wimped out on talking to me about my obviously ridiculously awful experience.

Fuck him. As I said in my posted review: "If Carles Abellan had any pride he would draw a warm bath and open a vein.....if he could find a knife sharp enough and a waiter not busy texting his dealer to help him turn on the taps....."

The good news.....I was so upset with the meal, I called my friend Txema who is working at Bar Inopia. Txema worked with Brendan at Mugaritz. He told me to calm down.....and called me back and sent us to a hotel. When we arrived, the room was bumped to a suite on the roof with a deck, a hot-tub, a giant plasma TV, a revolving bed that Britney would marry for........ the whole thing comped by.........who knows? A Barcelona llocal with pride.....and not Carles Abellan.

Talk about locals: we went to Bar Inopia for lunch next day to seek out our benefactor from the night before. Turns out the owner of the Hotel (the Prestige on the Gracia) is a regular and was there when I called with my report. He was so appalled at the story that he comped us a suite to save his city´s honor.

The owner of Inopia is an in Feran Adria of El Bulli, and the chef is Txema, our buddy, ex Mugaritz, who started at El Bulli) so they knew that if I said it was was BAD.

Sorry guys. Inopia was everything one would want in hospitality, grace, and quality. It looks like a cross between a sushi bar and a Baskin Robbins, and jumps with locals. Everyone treated us as locals...well, me (Amanda sat in the plaza in the car with residual food poisoning, and made a cameo appearance).

I sat for the entire service (2pm to 4:30pm) and ate 15 dishes at the bar.....drank a full bottle of Cava, some peach booze they make, plus plus. The place started out slow: I came in just as the owner was raising the steel gate over the entrance. The place quickly filled up until it became insane.....three deep at the bar.

Inopia is simple, local fare, perfectly prepared. I had a "brava", chips with pepper sauce; local anchovies; local sardines tempura; tuna belly grilled by a little geeky intern guy working in front of me where the chocolate sauce would be at 31 Flavors who had no other job. I had tempura baby sole.....maybe two inches long, eat em whole. I had a Catalan goat cheese warmed with Catalan honey that you had to ask the fat guy next door to pass over. The twenty something local girls next to me watched what Txema brought me and mirrored my orders......these girls could EAT, and they could DRINK....still thin, gorgeous, smart and raucous. And employed. Not Carmel in any way.

The owner was a dead ringer for Guy Richie. I saw this over and over in Spain. The guys with a vicious aura, bad razors, short hair, soccer-style fitness and a simmering hostile/friendly attitude.....had some of the best food. Wow, just like Brendan! Hmmm.....they were all his friends. Hmmm.

Despite the presence of his famous brother, the owner took the time to say "Hi" to me and to Amanda on her brief visit. He knew the story of the bad meal. He had arranged the hotel suite with Txema. He knew Amanda was sleeping, nauseous in the rental car on a beautiful Saturday in Barcelona. A passing car honked. The guy sprinted out of his busy restaurant, ran into the street and pounded on the hood and windshield of the car until the terrified occupant not only stopped honking, but probably left the city. He did this three times, to three different honkers. "Do not disturb the peace of my diners! I will fuck you up!"

I did not know that I had a brother.....or, more accurately...a Barcelona.

Txema is coming to California to work for us in August. As a vacation.

There is a god, after all.

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