Restaurant Reviews, Part 2

15 Jul

Today, I’ll be reviewing Cinc Sentits and Compartir.

Al, Maren, C and I decided to do lunch up right one day and head to Cinc Sentits. A picture of the 4 of us looking very happy we did is below:

They only have a tasting menu, no ala carte options. Their tasting menu is comprised of 1 tapa, 2 starters, 1 fish, 1 meat, cheeses, and 2 desserts. It’s not as elaborate as the menu at Alkimia, but for the most part, each dish is perfectly executed. I also rated it 2nd out of the 6 over the last 2 weeks because of the service and the environment.

First, the welcome note on the table is a nice touch. When I made the reservation, they asked what language we spoke.

I loved the interior of the place – very modern. The ceiling was really cool. Here’s a pic of the ceiling:

Onto the food….First, I loved the different olive oil tastings and bread. I really enjoy that about several restaurants here, including Osmosis. There is so much great olive oil here. To be able to compare by dipping a little bread in it is something I think of as luxurious, but is pretty common.

Before the first course – the tapa – we were served an “opener”. This is what hooked me. It was a “shooter” of sorts, with 4 layers: 1) maldon sea salt on the bottom, 2) Canadian maple syrup next, 3) whipped cream in the middle, and 4) a cava sabayon on top. Wow! That was delicious. Perfect sweet, salty, creamy to get the palette going.

I also loved the presentation in a wooden box of different hues of grey to match the interior walls of the restaurant.

Our tapa was a small almond-milk based soup with a scallop and asparagus on top. It was excellent. Nice and light, bright flavors.

The first starter was a foie dish. Although I have become quite the good foie eater lately, this one was just too rich. I think it was the thickness of the foie and the sweetness of the caramelization. I could only take a few bites. The rest of the group managed to finish theirs, so it was indeed very good.

The second starter was a dish C loved. It was a cold soup of sorts. The components were just beautiful. It was pickled mackerel, olive oil balls (spherification), herbs, fresh plums, a crouton and sorbet.  All of the components eaten together were marvelous. By itself, the fish was way too briny for me.  I have a conflict. I think each item should be “perfect” on its own and then when combined, divine.  But, I suppose if something is meant to be eaten as a whole, I shouldn’t discredit it for one part not being perfect on its own. I’ll have to contemplate that more when doing my own menus.

The fish dish, along with the meat dish and the maple shooter, were my favorites. This trout was expertly seared with crispy skin on the outside and barely done on the inside. The cucumber-melon sauce it was over made this a great summer dish. The crouton added a nice buttery crunch to the whole thing. It looked pretty simple, but the devil in always in the execution.

If I had to pick just one thing I loved on this menu, it would indeed be the suckling pig, with a layer of blood sausage. It might sound scary, but it was so ridiculously good. The suckling pig melted in your mouth, the crispy skin layer on the outside was so crispy that I wondered if they fried it separately and then meat glued it to the rest? Under the crispy skin was the thin layer of blood sausage, which is a very typical Catalan food. I don’t really love it on its own, but when done right and incorporated into another dish, it elevates the richness of that dish. The little, sweet apples around the dish were the perfect touch, as of course pigs and apples always go together.

If you’re a consistent reader of this blog, I think you probably have a good idea of what is “typical Catalan” fare, and what it’s like at its best. Some of the restaurants have “similar” (and I say that loosely) dishes, but as Miles says, it’s about endless reinvention. But, some do seem very similar to me, especially because I gravitate toward the restaurants that say they use local, seasonal ingredients, which honestly is what most of them do here, anyway. So, for instance, artichokes are out of season, so you won’t find them on any menus now. Chanquetes were the baby fried fish that was on several menus 2 months back, but now it’s another kind of baby fried fish. Melon is in season, so that will be the star of many sauces and soups.

Okay, onto the last parts of lunch. The cheese plate. It’s a very popular course in Catalonia. The pairings were a goat cheese with an apple compote, a cow’s milk cheese with a carrot compote, and sheep’s cheese with a bite-sized, sweet hazelnut “pie”. Mmmmmm. The carrot compote was such a different and good idea. The typical pairings are with quince paste or with a llimona (lemon) compote. Here’s the plate:

Finally, dessert. The first dessert was my favorite, after such a rich meal. It was a 2-3 biter of 2 different granites and red fruit underneath. It was slightly sweet, very tart, slightly herbal and refreshingly cold.

Finally, the chocolate course. It seems like most restaurants here have a chocolate course.  I learned from my friend Diana that there used to be a very big chocolate factory located right on La Rambla.  And, nowadays there are few excellent chocolatiers who sell in Barcelona, although the larger factories are not in Barcelona proper.   Having tasted hundreds of different types of chocolate, I declare myself an “expert” on chocolate – haha.

Cinc Sentits’ (“5 senses”) chocolate course was decadent and very good.  My personal preference these days is to pair something lighter with deep, rich chocolate, so this dish didn’t come close to the chocolate ganache and mango course at Alkimia. Having said that, I still very much enjoyed it and scarfed it all down.

To me, service is part of the dinner and it’s always a treat to speak to the chef. Jordi, the co-owner and chef came out to talk with us at the end.  He was very personable and interested in our thoughts. He asked what restaurants we’ve been to and liked. I mentioned I liked some of his plates and designs. He brought out a small booklet for me explaining who makes their plates.  His sister and co-owner who runs the front of the house also stopped by for a brief chat.  Very fun!

Next review:  Compartir in Cadaques.  It was opened by a former cook at El Bulli. His name is Mateo.

Unlike some of the other places we’ve been, Compartir doesn’t offer a tasting menu, which in a way is refreshing. So, we just chose a bunch of things we wanted to try. I would put them either in the “excellent” or “very good” category. Nothing was less than very good, except for the service, which I’ll get to later.

Here’s my ranking in the excellent category:

1) The endive and burrata salad with passionfruit dressing. It was endive 2 ways (1 braised, which was superb), over melt-in-your-mouth burrata with a very light passionfruit dressing. It was a knockout!

2) The smoked ham over mashed potatoes. The smoked ham was unlike any other ham I’ve ever eaten. The smoke was perfect and the ham also melted in your mouth. Is there magic in these dishes? This dish wasn’t all that pretty, but it was stunning to the taste buds.

And, 2) There’s a tie for 2nd place here, between the truffled, poached egg in cream and the smoked ham. The luxurious mouthfeel of this dish was the star. I think the poached egg was a 63 degree egg (cooked in an immersion circulator), with just the right amount of real, shaved truffles. My only complaint is that it should have been a bit hotter, as a hot dish.

3) The tuna tartare. Although I am so very used to many different raw tuna preparations, the use of olive oil and citrus in this made it a perfect tartare. Thanks to my friend, Diana, as she’s the one who got us this “off menu” dish. She heard our first very bad waitress offer it to another table and so she asked the sommelier why we weren’t offered it. He said the people next to us were special friends of the chef, but then Diana said I was a chef, so he told us he’d bring us a plate. I love that she pulled that card out! It was kind of embarrassing, but Diana, C and Shannon have no hesitation throwing that out there, and it does get us better service and often-times some things not on the menu 🙂 I can’t quite do it, as I don’t think of myself as a chef yet. I know I’m a good cook, but until I open a business of my own, I don’t consider myself a chef. Anyway, here’s the beautiful tuna:

Here’s my ranking of the “very good”:

1) The lobster and fennel dish:

2) The sea bass with mushrooms in a yuzu-citrusy sauce.

3) The desserts: I had the “pina colada”, Diana had the espuma (foam) of crema catalana, and Maren had the tasting of white chocolates (they were hidden in milk chocolate ball coverings):

My dessert and the espuma probably tied with the sea bass in my mind. They were creative and delicious!

4) The navajas (razor clams)

5) And, finally, the monkfish (keep in mind, it was still very good, but I had to rank something last):

Overall, the food in the “excellent” category rivaled any dish at Cenc Sentits, although the styles of food were very different. But, the service definitely made Compartir 3rd in my overall list. It started out horrendous and, at the end when we told the chef that we loved his food but that the service was a bit rough, he defended the poor service instead of taking the critique and using it to make his restaurant better.

He said, “We wanted to hire local servers from Cadaques.” Well, that’s great, but then train them because when they don’t know the term sommelier – in any of the 3 languages our table spoke – that’s a bad sign. When the second young server didn’t know what cut of meat was on the menu and said, “I don’t know,” that’s a bad sign. How about, “I’ll go find out right away.” Instead, we had to ask her to go find out. What saved the service was the young sommelier. In fact, he ended up being our server because I think he knew we were irritated at the first 2 young women who didn’t know anything. With some coaching, he suggested a great bottle of white which we all very much enjoyed. Here it is:

I liked it to so much, we went in search of it in Cadaques the next day, as it’s from that region in Emporda. We found it at great little food and wine store in Cadaques for 6 Euros! That’s one to remember.

I also really liked the atmosphere in Compartir. They kept the original design of the old house that was converted into a restaurant and you can see some of the original tile in places. It was homey and beautiful.

Here’s Maren and dad looking very happy to be there.

Overall, it was very successful food and I wouldn’t hesitate to go back there if I ever go to Cadaques again.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of the Restaurant Reviews….

One Response to “Restaurant Reviews, Part 2”

  1. Diana July 15, 2012 at 6:09 pm #

    It was a great night with exquisite food and excellent company. Thank you Rachel, Maren and Al.

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