July 30, 2011

El Bulli — reputedly the best restaurant in the world — is closing.

"Dinner consisted of a set menu comprising some 40 small dishes costing about 250 euros (£220)."

I've never been there — or even to Spain — but I love that format for a meal: lots and lots of tiny dishes, predetermined by the chef. It's a paradox of choice and no choice that's quite delightful.

59 comments:

ricpic said...

Big bucks for foam.

ironrailsironweights said...

It may have a reputation as the best restaurant in the world, but in the 27 years it's been open it has never turned a profit. I'd much rather own some greasy spoon diner that actually makes money.

Peter

Carol_Herman said...

Everything was made of foam!

And, served in spoons.

Not only that, you'd think he did it with a Cuisinart. Or a Waring Blender. But NO. He used nitrogen. Containers of gases.

It was like eating the Periodic Table!

But you can SELL ideas! Imagine having to take a trip to Spain to go!

And, beyond. Except for a chemist, nobody could duplicate this "food" in their home kitchens.

I say YUCK! I'd walk in hungry. And, I'd walk out hungry. And, I wouldn't even want to drink the wine. Gi'me Pepsi.

Palladian said...

"Best restaurant in the world" is obviously a highly subjective designation. El Bulli was, at times, incredibly inventive. But it wasn't really "food", in the sense of a place where you go with friends and family to converse and enjoy a delicious meal. Ferran Adrià, while quite talented, is more of a showman than a chef and his style has spawned some of the most regrettable, pretentious crap to hit expensive plates since nouvelle cuisine. There are now an unconscionable number of restaurants serving Parmesan foam, gelled soup balls, crystallized beef, balloons filled with bouillabaisse-flavored gas, desserts shaped like sashimi (or sashimi shaped like desserts), and uncountable other art school postmodern Dadaist deconstructions posing as high culinary art. At a certain point (usually right away) it becomes gimmicky and irritating, and you yearn for coq a vin, a basket of bread and a bottle of cheap Burgundy.

Personally I'd rather skip the foam and eat at the real "best restaurant in the world", The French Laundry, whose food manages to be elegant, inventive and satisfying all at the same time.

LarsPorsena said...

Check out 'No Reservations' on the Travel Channel for an recent episode at El Bulli.

Jason (the commenter) said...

But it's not closing and it was never a restaurant?

Palladian said...

"Check out 'No Reservations' on the Travel Channel for an recent episode at El Bulli."

If Ferran Adrià crapped on a big plate, Anthony Bourdain would eagerly lap it up.`

Palladian said...

"But it's not closing and it was never a restaurant?"

Right! It's going to turn into a place where you can sit around and talk about the semiotics of making tripe foam.

John Burgess said...

Hell, I'd regularly east dinners of 50 or more small dishes at restaurants in Allepo, Syria over the course of four hours. All accompanied with arak and coming in at $20 for two.

That foam thing, btw, jumped the shark ten years ago. How El Bulli was able to keep it going for so long is a miracle of marketing and should be applauded.

Jason (the commenter) said...

Palladian: Personally I'd rather skip the foam and eat at the real "best restaurant in the world", The French Laundry, whose food manages to be elegant, inventive and satisfying all at the same time.

I'd be happy with a Chinese bakery. No reservations needed, and every choice is a cullinary adventure!

Jason (the commenter) said...

Palladian: Right! It's going to turn into a place where you can sit around and talk about the semiotics of making tripe foam.

Now you're being ridiculous, tripe should be cut thin and floated in bowls of pho. It's about the texture, not the taste.

LarsPorsena said...

"If Ferran Adrià crapped on a big plate, Anthony Bourdain would eagerly lap it up.`"

If your want to see Anthony Bourdain eat crap see the 'no Reservations' episode in Botswana

Palladian said...

Actually tripe should be slow cooked for 20 hours in a dough-sealed earthenware pot with a calf's foot, carrots and hard cider.

David said...

If I want foam, I'll have a beer.

Palladian said...

"If your want to see Anthony Bourdain eat crap see the 'no Reservations' episode in Botswana"

Is that the warthog rectum episode?

AST said...

They'll wait a decent interval and re-open as a Chinese restaurant called Woo Lee Bulli - specialty: stir fried bull testicles

edutcher said...

The Blonde and I went to a restaurant with a similar format the last time we were in Orlando, for one of her Legal Nurse Consultant conferences.

A lot of fun, really, but I can imagine a lot of things in Espana are going belly up.

That green thing never worked out for them.

ricpic said...

Palladian, Anthony Bourdain seems to me to be pretty skeptical about the claims that a particular restaurant or chef is fabulous. I didn't catch him on Ferran Adria but usually he's pretty level headed.

rhhardin said...

It'll never replace the old management Summit Diner in Summit, NJ; known for enormous portion sizes at breakfast.

Jason (the commenter) said...

Palladian: Actually tripe should be slow cooked for 20 hours in a dough-sealed earthenware pot with a calf's foot, carrots and hard cider.

Tripe cooked that way is dangerous for pregnant women. Remember when that lady delivered her baby through an armpit and it grew up to become a giant? All because she ate tripe which wasn't sliced!

Alex said...

Remember now matter how pretty it is on the plate, it always comes out the same on the OTHER end. Hint, it's brown, smelly and disgusting.

John said...

I don't think I've been to the Summit diner but whenever I find myself in NJ I always seek out a diner.

Outside of NJ, parts of NY and parts of PA nobody else in the US does diners right.

For my money, they are the best food in the world.

There used to be one in NYC right in front of the Coliseum that had about a 20 page menu. If you wanted Greek, there were a couple pages of Greek dishes. If you wanted Italian, ditto. Chinese? Several pages. American comfort food? Great selection. And any deli selection you could imagine.

I love diners. I'll go quite a bit out of my way to go to one.

A couple years ago I went to Le Cirque in Las Vegas. Over $700 for a party of 5. Plus wine.

The food was great but the portions were miniscule. I had to stop at McDonalds on my way back to my hotel just to get some dinner.

When I go out to eat, I want to eat.

John Henry

rhhardin said...

I have heard, but do not know, that the Summit Diner is under new management and a pale shadow of its former glory.

It's across from the Summit commuter station, whatever they're calling the railroad there these days.

Chip Ahoy said...

FINE! I'll take my business elsewhere to have my culinary experimentations. The Fat Duck.

rhhardin said...

The Summit Diner reviews seem to be okay.

You won't get 200 tiny dishes, at least.

LarsPorsena said...

Blogger Palladian said...

"If your want to see Anthony Bourdain eat crap see the 'no Reservations' episode in Botswana"

Is that the warthog rectum episode?
--------------------
Yep. Never wanting to be seen as an ungracious Ugly American, he ate the asshole out of a warthog.

Joe said...

(The Crypto Jew)
I've never been there — or even to Spain
Hear the ladies are insane there....have you ever been to Oklahoma?

Harsh Pencil said...

There's nothing wrong with dropping that much per person for a dinner. You do it once a year or so, and it makes little difference in your standard of living the rest of the year.

And the food can be SUBLIME. I too love a place that gives me a ton of good food at a good price, but places like this, with crazy obsessed chefs trying new things, are a treasure.

And Palladian, the French Laundry (which I've yet had the pleasure to eat at) is VERY innovative. Isn't that the place where they sous vide (sorry to use it as a verb) everything?

Lincolntf said...

"Yep. Never wanting to be seen as an ungracious Ugly American, he ate the asshole out of a warthog."


Countdown to Titus...

The Crack Emcee said...

Foodies make me ill. I've eaten all over the world, in supposedly great expensive places and greasy spoons, etc., and my favorites are always the little hidden away gems that few know about, but are trying harder.

A multi-course meal is nice, on occasion, but I'd get a bigger thrill from a good dim sum restaurant any day.

Basically, to make me "happy," there are really two choices:

A big meal, with drinks and lots of people and talk, or something quick and tasty that I can eat while walking if necessary. I don't really care what's served in either case. Surprise me.

Anyone who thinks different, as far as I'm concerned, is either egotistical or anal.

The Crack Emcee said...

Here - eat this.

Paul said...

You have any idea how much 250 euros is in bucks? Ann, that place is way to expensive.

And I bet not so chic anymore.

I guess it's part of the economy that's downsizing. Blame it on Bush, or Sarah.

Christy said...

At first this sounded to me like Tapas taken to the extreme. Not so much, huh? I love Tapas places.

@John Henry, Baltimore has a couple of good diners.

Fred4Pres said...

Bourdain was bully on El Bulli.

Fred4Pres said...

I lived on miso and ramen for years. It is amazing what you can do to it.

Fred4Pres said...

Paul: Dinner there is $400 (depending on the exchange rate). But remember people flew there to eat, and the place still lost money. I would not drop $400 on dinner, but if you are really into food I could see why you would. I know plenty of people who would spend $400 to see a championship game or a concert with great seats, so I can see how one might spend that on dinner.

I took my wife to dinner at C in Vancouver. We had the tasting menu with a wine paring. It was around $200 or so, but damn that was a great dinner.

Now that same dinner is $300.

Personally, I like a really old school steak house. The service is almost always great. Drinks are strong and tasty. Steaks are delicious. Dinner will likely cost you between $75 to $150 if you don't go crazy on the wine. But you can always go at lunch too, where it is half the price but pretty much just as good as dinner. I know a few that serve absolutely kick ass steak sandwiches at the bar for less than $20.

I was flying through Newark in February and I stopped in Ironbound (the Portuguese neighborhood next to the train station). I got a plate of stewed octopus at Iberia. It was $20 and I got a half pitcher of sangria. I highly recommend that place (they have a lot more than just octopus).

Lincolntf said...

In 48 hours I'll be digesting a lobster roll and trying to decide if it's time for another Sam Adams.

Ann Althouse said...

You guys are knowledgable! I'd never heard of this place.

Lgbpop said...

Best diner food I've had was at the Miss Worcester Diner on Southbridge St. in Worcester MA. When I lived there, they were open at 5 AM and closed at 1 PM. Breakfast all day, lunch from 11 to 1.

Best sitdown restaurant meal I ever had was for my sister's college graduation in 1972 at the Yankee Pedlar Inn in Holyoke MA. The roast beef was carved at the table from a steamship side of beef on a cart, and was tender enough to cut with a sharp glance. Desserts were brought table-side on a cart as well. Never go here on a diet.

David said...

Woo Lee Bulli!

Very clever.

You are not L7.

Fred4Pres said...

Iberia's web page.

Chef Mojo said...

FUCK!

[simmers...}

MayBee said...

I think Ezra Klein flew to Spain to eat there. Which is funny, because Ezra likes to talk about the carbon cost of various types of food.

ironrailsironweights said...

Never wanting to be seen as an ungracious Ugly American, he ate the asshole out of a warthog.

Maybe he was inspired by the hyena and the giraffe.

Peter

Chef Mojo said...

It's a Chef thing. You wouldn't understand...

Seriously, people. This is the culinary equivalent of trying to understand Stephen Hawking. Being flippant doesn't negate the man's impact on the culinary arts. If you're not a chef, then you really don't have a clue.

If you don't get Ferran Adria and his place in the culinary stratosphere, then you really are lost on this thread.

Palladian said...

"Being flippant doesn't negate the man's impact on the culinary arts."

So what? Artists can have a negative impact on their field of endeavor. Just because someone is influential doesn't mean the influence is a good one.

"If you're not a chef, then you really don't have a clue."

LOL. So the guy fries rabbit ears and fills them with snail eggs solely for the benefit and comment of "chefs", and the rest of us aren't enlightened enough to comment? Then either he's a bigger fraud than I ever imagined or, more likely, you're deploying the weakest old crutch of the pretentious connoisseur.

No truly great artist does their work for the benefit of critics and other practitioners alone, and I believe that Adrià himself would object to your characterization.

"If you don't get Ferran Adria and his place in the culinary stratosphere, then you really are lost on this thread."

Again, artists do not work for the benefit of the guild. If you're going to present your work to the world, then you're also presenting it for criticism, both fair and unfair. No one gets immunity simply because he's famous or beloved.

I've been a serious cook for a long time, and I've eaten at some of the best restaurants in the world. I'm entitled to my opinion of Adrià (or Heston Blumenthal or Thomas Keller or Grant Achatz or José Andrés or the short order cook at the Utopia coffee shop), as is someone who has never eaten his food.

Fred4Pres said...

Paladian, spot on.

Good food is good food. I have had street food for less than a $1 that would compare to a dish at French Laundry (BTW there are some kick ass taquerías in Napa where you can get a fabulous burrito for about $6).

I have not been to El Bulli, but I assume it is as good as people say (although I respect Palladian's view on the subject). Let's face it, whether you like it or not is subjective. But to suggest, Chef Mojo, we common folk would not "get it" is the height of arrogance and a sign of insecurity on your part. Either it is good or it is not.

Chef Mojo, you are like the critic in Ratatouille.

chuck b. said...

"I've never been there — or even to Spain — but I love that format for a meal: lots and lots of tiny dishes, predetermined by the chef."

The place for you is Elemental, in Seattle.

Palladian said...

Thanks, Fred4Pres. I just want to clarify that I'm not saying that El Bulli wasn't "good" or a fun experience, nor am I claiming that Adrià isn't brilliant and innovative. I'm merely saying that, regardless of these things, I don't think that Adrià has been a net good influence on gastronomy, and I think that his style at El Bulli is ultimately gimmicky and a bit tiresome and does not meet my criteria for a truly great restaurant.

And I think Adrià is closing El Bulli partially because he realizes that there's nowhere to go with that particular set of tricks anymore.

Palladian said...

"The place for you is Elemental, in Seattle."

Or any great, traditional sushi restaurant.

I'm a big fan of table d'hôte service.

Fred4Pres said...

Palladian, that is what I thought you meant. I am not going to blame Adrià because of some second rate imitators. But I agree with your views of the subject. I have not been to El Bulli and I doubt I would go out of my way to do so.

I would go out of my way to French Laundry...or (given I got the kids to feed too) La Luna taquería in Rutherford.

Fred4Pres said...

Elemental's website

cryptical said...

Ann,

If you want something comparable closer try Alinea in Chicago. I missed a chance at eating there a couple years ago, but I've heard it's fabulous.

The head chef cooked at the French Laundry, and does all the molecular gastronomy stuff.

timmaguire42 said...

Agreed on the restaurant style. On the downside, they're expensive, though usually not that expensive! On the upside, you don't have to go through the menu trying to decide if now's the time to try something new or stick with something you know you'll like, maybe coordinating your dishes with everyone else so you can eat family style.

Just sit down and they start bringing out plates, and lots of them. A little bit of dozens of things.

Too expensive to do regularly, but once in a while is really nice.

Michael Haz said...

Alinea? Spent waaay to much money there for dinner for two.

The food was fun to look at, but was it food-like in the sense of being a satisfying meal? No.

The meal wasn't about the food; it was entirely about how cool and cutting-edge the chef is, and how many gadgets he has invented. Very few diners return for a second dinner, except for the hopelessly trendy.

It reminded me of the movie L.A. Story, and the scene in which Steve Martin's character makes dinner reservations at the newest, most hip, most trendy restaurant in Los Angeles. The name of the restaurant was L'Idiot.

Jose_K said...

The food was great but the portions were miniscule. I had to stop at McDonalds on my way
That is true every time a normal person eats at a french restaurant.

Sabinal said...

where I live (hampton roads area), there's not much culinary excitement, but a few self owned cafes that serve various creations. I guess being a very middle class and military area, stick to your ribs, cheap food is the requirement. Foam is meant for either bathing or to fill cracks in ceilings :)

Oligonicella said...

Jose_K --

The food was great but the portions were miniscule. I had to stop at McDonalds on my way

"That is true every time a normal person eats at a french restaurant."

My first date with my ex, I was taken to a bistro. Quaint and nicely done, but a little pompous for an old brick building.

I ordered rack of lamb ribs.

Three stinking ribs with a 'spray' of carrot shavings and about eight fried cucumber slices. For around $20. That's a lot to pay for atmosphere.

I hear people in Japan pay good money to bathe in a solid gold tub.

Same thing.

PS: I love good food. Just don't try to screw me over on portions and call it genteel.

KLDAVIS said...

Althouse should just head down to Chicago and eat at Alinea...the same idea, much closer to home. We ate there for the first time in '08 prior to our first trip to Europe. We were planning to eat at a couple *** Michelin places and wanted a basis for comparison. To this day, it's probably the best "fine dining" meal I've ever had.