08 August, 2010

Eating well in Barcelona, and a bowlful of American summer.

So I left you hanging there for a bit. For me, multi-tasking usually results in a lot of stuff being done...poorly. Accordingly, during the holiday influx(es) of friends and/or family, blogging takes a backseat. This is neither a reflection upon you nor the subject at hand: good food. Which I can't wait to tell you about.

Sometimes food just tastes better because someone you love (or hell, someone other than you) is making it. This is not the case at Cinc Sentits. I'd decided to go for broke and check out their haute Catalan cuisine for myself, as they are considered one of the better tables in Barcelona, which is saying something. The chef is young Jordi Artal. The setting is formal and spare, nearly monastic (except for maybe the one splash of pink). The slightly severe tone of the room is lightened by the fact that Mr. Artal's sweet mother and his sister are busy attending to your every potential need.

I'd come in speaking Spanish, and was taken aback when Mr. Artal's sister, who'd evidently overheard us chatting amongst ourselves, suddenly spoke to us in perfect "North American" English; as it turns out, the family has spent time in Toronto. This might explain the origin of the little amuse: a shooter of maple syrup, a touch of cream, and sabayon of cava (Catalan sparkling white wine), with a sprinkle of coarse salt at the bottom. An eyebrow-raiser by description alone, but wow. 'Goooal!' for the salty and sweet side. This was followed by the tried and true Catalan tapas, pa amb tomaquet, normally a thin baguette, logically called a flauta, toasted and rubbed with fresh tomato and garlic. Here, adroitly turned on its head.
Thus, a fresh tomato sorbet, topped with a vivid garlic 'air'--i.e. the foam bit--and toasted croutons, judiciously dosed with gorgeous olive oil. This was followed by a classic, chilled Andalusian ajoblanco (garlic and ground almond soup) reworked, with fresh cherries, cherry pit granita and Spanish Marcona almonds. Forgive me for the lack of a photo, we were too busy talking about the maple syrup starter. And then enjoying the startling soup.
All talk ceased abruptly, however, when we were presented with the foie gras coca. A coca is a sort of thin pastry. Between the precise layers of crisp crust, glazed leeks and chive garnish--and the caramelized foie gras itself, well, now I have to tell folks the best foie gras I have ever tasted was outside of France. Nothing short of sublime.
Apparently still under the enchantment of the foie gras, I clapped my hands like a five year old when I saw that the next course featured my favorite Mediterranean fish, red mullet (or rouget). This was accompanied by a basil risotto and an apricot sauce. Again, eye-rollingly good.
I'd already bitten into the first melty forkful of cochinillo (Iberian suckling pig) when I remembered my camera, and you. The apple accompaniments were somewhat forgettable, but the meat. Lord. Sous-vide (slow-cooked at an exceedingly low temperature) with a crackling crust. And to think I was once a vegetarian. For years. (Problems with anemia, etc. and so on.)
The cheese, a Blau de l'Avi Ton, was gorgeously presented with orange marmalade glaze and a delicate, perfect spice bread. Too intense for the likes of me.
My overwhelmed mouth got a welcome reprieve with the 'citrus snow', an ephemeral, playful combination of lemon ice cream, powdered white chocolate and lime 'pop-rocks' (effervescent, the carbon dixide is released in your mouth and fizzes and sizzles like Carnaval in Rio)--and oh yes--yuzu foam. This was followed by the (ahem) actual dessert.
The chocolate you see is an intense 67%, with a dollop of olive oil ice cream, shattered bread, and underneath some extraordinary, deeply fragrant macadamias. Whew. Again, he revisits, recalibrates, redefines a Catalan standard. I O.D.'ed on chocolate.
Or so I thought.
Because these little sweet nothings were what accompanied coffee. That's not a raw egg you see, it's a gelee of pomegranate...And yes, I still managed the tiny, perfect chocolate truffle after downing the glass of blanc-manger perfumed with...lilac.

Do I even need to mention he has a Michelin star?

On the way back home, once off the highway, we passed farm stand after farm stand, flush with fruit, vegetables and hand-painted signs. At this time of year, they are hard to resist. So why bother trying? After all, those fuzzy peaches, tree-ripened and juicy as all get out, they need to be eaten. Half were gone before the crate I walked off with actually made it to my kitchen table. The rest went into the obvious: the quintessentially [colonial] American farmhouse dessert: peach cobbler. The only thing that comes close to a cobbler in France is the Limousin flaugnarde, but that involves eggs, which make it closer to a flan or a clafoutis. I've gussied up the cobbler a bit, using as a base the online recipe by a certain Ms. aeposey. Ginger and even paprika pair beautifully with intensely flavored fruit (just ask those who had my ginger blackberry crumble last night.) This takes mere minutes to pull together. You'll spend more time hearing out the compliments. Honest John. But no beauty awards; this is to be filed in the ugly but good category.

That's why you only get an extreme close-up...

Do I even need to mention I don't have a Michelin star?

Cobbler aux pêches épicées (Spiced Peach Cobbler)
Serves six.

6 or 7 fresh peaches, peeled and coarsely chopped in largish chunks
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup finely minced candied ginger (optional but delicious)
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger (or ground galagal)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon paprika
a scant sprinkling of freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup ground almonds
1/4 cup finely chopped almonds (also optional but delicious)
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and finely cubed
1/4 cup boiling water

Preheat oven 220C. In a large bowl, combine chopped peaches, sugars, both kinds of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon juice, and cornstarch well. Place the mixture into (medium-sized) baking dish and bake for 10 minutes. While this bakes, combine the flour, ground and chopped almonds, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Blend in butter using your hands (yes!) rubbing the cubes of butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal, or bread crumbs. Stir in very hot water until just combined. Remove the now hot peaches from the oven and slop/drop the dough by casual spoonfuls over the fruit. Return to the oven, and bake until deeply golden, 25-35 minutes. Can be served hot, warm or the next day at lunch, for a more rich, cakey taste.


  1. Wow.

    I'm intrigued by the olive oil ice cream. I've been contemplating an ice cream machine, but my hubs laughs at me because our old one sat unused for years until it finally died of a broken heart.

    I keep waiting for one at the thrift shop, but to no avail.

  2. Hello Rose,

    Olive oil ice cream, I forgot to mention, was really good, in a really hard to describe way. Oliv-y. And dessert-y. See? Hard to describe. Fun to eat.

    Hmm, thrift shop? Might be waiting a while. Why not try freecycle? And then you can try making a cherry pit granita, while you're at it.

  3. That meal looks divine, but I'm more intrigued by the addition of ginger and paprika to peach cobbler. It's that whole accessibility thing, ya know?

  4. Yeah WC, I really like adding paprika (or pepper) to sweet things. Just finished turning 2 kilos of the first ripe greengage plums from the garden into plum butter. That involved cardamom, star anise, cinnamon and yes, paprika. And I just have a thing for ginger (I even add a touch of ginger syrup to my gin and tonic).


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