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A Critic's Dinner

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Can radical food be a form of radical art? Art critic Blake Gopnik and chef Jose Andres spend an afternoon at minibar to taste and explore. Video by Jennifer Carpenter for The Washington PostVideo by Jennifer Carpenter/The Washington Post

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The 32 courses I ate on my elBulli visit included five things new to the menu this year:

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1. "Cane: mojito -- caipirinha" (new): Sugar-cane wands infused with rum and cachaça, garnished with mint and lime zest. A chewable cocktail.

2. "Coniferous" (new): The tender tips of pine tree boughs, dipped in rosemary honey, then Maldon salt, served with a yogurt cocktail made with pine-infused gin. Like a walk in the forest, nibbling as you go.

3. "Passion orchid": A passion fruit-yogurt crisp served with saffron powder, hazelnut praline and hyssop blossom. Looks like a flower and tastes like one, too.

4. "Mimetic peanuts" (new): Seems to be a peanut, but is a crisp skin filled with a thin peanut cream. "To be bitten in half," says the waiter. (Watch for squirts down your shirt.)

5. "Tomato biscuit": A crisp disk of concentrated tomato, served with basil butter and gold leaf. The Eucharist for vegivores.

6. "Spherical olives": Look exactly like olives but are wobbly, "spherified" capsules of olive juice, flavored with lemon zest, orange zest, rosemary, thyme and garlic. An icon of Adriànism.

7. "Rabbit ear crunchy": Two rabbit ears, fried crisp. They won't let you forget that a wascally wabbit got whacked.

8. "Virgin olive oil spring": A mini-Slinky made of olive-oil hard candy. Crisp; sweet; geometric; olive oil: terms that don't often describe the same thing.

9. "Black sesame sponge cake with miso": A pitch-black, rough-edged fragment of ethereal brioche, with a smear of beige miso. Looks like jagged volcanic rock, but eats like a cloud.

10. "Pinenut shabu-shabu" (new): Translucent pouches of edible Japanese paper filled with pine-nut cream and pine oil, served with surgical tweezers and a bowl of cold "pine-water" to dip them in. Another whiff of the forest.

11. "Oyster leaf with a dew of vinegar": A grayish leaf from Canada, graced with a very few drops of pinkish shallot vinegar, the classic "mignonette" served on oysters. The leaf's just a novel ingredient, but what an ingredient: It turns out mother nature does the taste of oysters twice. An early high point in the meal.


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