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elBulli: 2008

by Adam Leemon

After six months of e-mails and phone calls, we finally booked a reservation at elBulli, the planet’s most-difficult-to-get-into restaurant, for a dinner more than six months away. elBulli is the premier restaurant in the world for molecular gastronomy, the temple of modern cooking. It’s where science meets food, and chef Ferran Adrià is the most recognized genius in the field. The restaurant is only open for six months out of the year and seats less than 5,000 people in that time; the chef spends the other half of the year in the lab working on futuristic food preparations for the following season. For the most part, the locally driven menu changes with each dining season, though a few Adrià staples make return appearances. The restaurant itself is located in a secluded bay on the Mediterranean near the resort town of Roses, which is north of and just south of France.

Upon arrival, we were shown out to the seaside veranda where we were greeted by the staff and served four courses, including a sake cocktail and the classic elBulli explosive “spherical olive.” Once we were seated for dinner, the meal started off with “mint leaf with coconut,” a liquid nitrogen inspired dish that was to be eaten rapidly and with the fingers so as to keep it from melting. It was absolutely refreshing and clean. The next handful of courses included the “gorgonzola moshi,” “mandarin flower with pumpkin oil and mandarin seeds” and the “black sesame sponge cake with miso.” The texture of the cake was remarkably spongy and soft.

Course after course came, and with each a new surprise. One of our favorites was called “the soup.” This was Ferran Adria’s humorous ode to the traditional soup course, and it featured a twist on the traditional “alphabet soup.” Small, clear, pillow-like letters literally spelled out the words “the soup.” Each letter could be eaten separately, and would pop in your mouth. The feeling was delicate, and the flavor was bright with hints of floral notes.

Starter courses, including the "spherical olive" “the soup”
Starter courses, including the "spherical olive"
“the soup”

Rounding out the final bunch of courses was the “suckling pig tail,” which was delicately crispy and deep with flavor. The “haricot beans with Joselityo’s Iberian pork fat” were delicious with a taste of rich bacon and snappy texture, and the creation “peas 2008” was delicate and playful. Peas and engineered peas (the essence of peas in a skin of pea emulsion) in the same dish, how fun! The unassuming but always attentive battalion of wait-staff kept a constant but comfortable watch of the dining room.

If the dinner itself wasn’t enough, the dessert was the topper to an already spectacular evening. The “fresh mozzarella and blueberry ganacha topped with cypress honey” was light and fluffy and just sweet enough. One truffle later and we finished where we had started, back on the terrace, but this time in the moonlight sipping sherry and sampling bite-sized amusements called “morphings.”

“peas 2008”
“fresh mozzarella and blueberry ganacha topped with cypress honey”

The food was an amazing sensory journey, the wine was wonderfully selected, and the service and the setting were world class. After one year of anticipation, and almost five hours of dining, we’ve learned something is important with elBulli, and that is patience.

Adam Leemon is an award-winning sommelier based in Los Angeles. His writing has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Wine Enthusiast and Playboy.

*photos by Laurence Benard

Stay in a romantic mood with this Rosé Champagne.

Read GAYOT's review.