A Critic's Dinner
The 32 courses I ate on my elBulli visit included five things new to the menu this year:
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.