In 2007, only 1 week after a memorable dinner at Ferran Adria’s El Bulli, my brother and I had a meal at Quique Dacosta’s Michelin-starred restaurant El Poblet. Back then we found many parallels to the just-discovered molecular gastronomy of master Ferran Adriá but also, in comparison to El Bulli, we found the meal at El Poblet to be much closer to a regular meal, with slightly bigger portions and more time to savour what’s on the plate. We agreed that in a week we just had one meal representing the very foundations and another meal probably representing the next step of molecular gastronomy.
Only in March 2015, 8 years after that meal, I made it back to this place. A few things have changed. Mainly: the name of the restaurant isn’t El Poblet anymore but simply Quique Dacosta. Plus, it now carries 3 Michelin stars. According to many, a well-deserved distinction that chef Dacosta had to wait for far too long.
It’s the beginning of the season and only 2 parties are entering the restaurant for dinner. We are passing the large glass windows of Dacosta’s lab and the master himself is leaning on his desk, taking some notes. Maybe he just had a new idea?
We are seated in the pavillon in front of the house for the aperitif (we opted for a dry sherry) and are receiving the menu. We have the option to chose in between 2 menus. One menu called “universo local” featuring many of Dacosta’s classics throughout the years and another called “QDR 2015” comprising his newest creations – you might call it spring collection 2015. Also because 2 of my companions are first-timers at this restaurant, we are opting the classics menu .
Petals of roses and gin tonic of apple is the first of a series of amuse-bouches. As my companions are already starting to eat the actual rose petals, the friendly restaurant manager explains we should only grab the fake petals that are in the middle of the flower. With metal forceps we are then pulling out thin slices of granny smith apple that were infused with grenadine and rose water. Together with a fruity glass of apple gin tonic this is a very welcome refreshing start.
How can a menu start without some crackers? Here we have 3 types served on a large wood plate. The one on the bottom has ceps flavor and goes particularly well with the sherry we are having as an aperitif. Then there are 2 kinds of leafs. The yellow one has a sweeter flavor of corn, the green one has a more acidic taste of herbs and vinegar.
Another “illusion” comes in the shape of black stones. The two stones in this plate that are edible contain a luscious Parmesan cheese filling. The crackling shell of the stones seems to be made of chocolate, but it doesn’t transport any sweetness. This is delicious.
Carbon of “pericana” is one of two amuses in this series which are part of the brand new 2015 collection. The pieces of charcoal which are presented on a Chinese tea-board are in fact colored meringue which are to be dipped into a rich “pericana” cream. Pericana is a traditional sauce of the Alicante region made of dried peppers and salted fish. I liked this one very much. The slight charcoal flavor of the meringue fits so well with the dip and the whole setting transports some kind of local barbequue atmosphere.
Tomato in vinegar are simply some sweet blanched and skinned cherry tomatoes that are filled with some type of vinaigrette. A simple, honest and refreshing pleasure that would fit well into any series of amuses. It’s always good to have some tasty basics.
Another 2015 creation is this sublime ravioli of edamame. It is not only an eye-catcher, but also damn flavorful. The ravioli is filled with crunchy edamame mixed with a kimchee-flavored vinaigrette. This one is much more powerful in flavor than all other nibbles but it is still very balanced. Great engineering!
The last of this playful series of starters is a pickled local plant which is picked on the nearby hill Mongo. It is called Raim del pastor and has a taste that is a little reminiscent of capers.
We are now being seated in the inside dining room of the restaurant at a large, round table, ready for the next act of the meal with the title “delicatessen“.
The first set of delicatessen is a not too chewy and flavorful piece of dried octopus as well as a slice of dried mullet roe (also known as bottarga in Italy).
Along with these comes some onion in vinegar. This is somewhat the bistro-phase of the meal.
Ans then there’s “fig”, which are acidic and fruity bits of dried figs caught in a transparent and edible envelope. Playful!
The first wine we ordered is absolutely incredible and probably the best Chenin Blanc I ever had. It is a 2005 Les nourrissons by Stéphane Bernaudeau. It shows at the same time the typical seductive Chenin Blanc fruit notes of quince and apricot but also appears extremly vivid and mineral on the palate. No way I would guess this is 10 years old. It shows very complex, slightly smoky, has delicate fruit notes and is holding on to your palate with a nice acidic grip. I am totaly in love with this wine. Unfortunately it seems to be very rare. But while we’re at it: the winelist managed (and hand-written) by José Antonio Navarrete is absolutely fabulous, with many hidden gems among the usual big names.
The next act, Tapas, starts with a grandiose set of bloody mary and snow of tomato.
Mary is a tiny wafer candy filled with liquid bloody Mary and served with a genius string of celeriac. The latter has been dehydrated and then re-hydrated with Vodka. This added a sweet edge to the celeriac which was in incredible harmony with the regular peppery celeriac flavor. A wow-moment.
The snow of tomato which is accompanying the bloody mary is some kind of paco-jeted tomato essence with incredible flavor atop a few other elements which are a cream of dried tomatoes, a crunchy powder of dried tomatoes as well as semi-dried tomatoes. The whole thing transports an incredible spectrum of tomato-flavor. I might have preferred it with a little less of the cream underneath but this is still a great great dish. (A video of the preparation can be seen here)
Ceviche fo sea urchin is a delicate composition with intense aromatics. Smoky aromatics are confronted with iodic notes of the sea. A nice dish.
An extra course, corvina (croaker), comes as a one-biter on a spoon. It is composed of thin layers of raw fish enveloping some kind of fresh marinade. A bit like a raw fish candy. Wonderful!
The Mediterranean taco is a fabulous composition of monkfish bits, chorizo and cilantro. Refined fast food.
Coca of sweet corn. This is a thin and crunchy wafer with perfect sweet corn flavor and some grated cheese that heavenly complements the corn flavor. Also, this is a beautiful match with the Coulée de Serrant Chenin Blanc which itself has a smoky nose of corn.
These fragile pockets simply called “Pesto” have the most incredible pesto fragrance. This tastes like the freshest basil that has just been picked and representes an amazing in-between bite.
Last but not least, these little candies called Jerusalem trunk . They are composed of truffle, topinambour and pigeon broth. Yes, this tastes as good as it sounds!
From the other menu I had a trial of the Moshi of torta de la Serena (a local cheese) and black truffle. It is incredible how it simulates actual mochi with a slightly chewy texture and at the same time brings soulful aromatics of goat cheese and truffle. An amazing candy, a genius creation.
After an extra as an interlude, a Champagne sorbet, the 4th act with the main courses is following
Cubalibre of foie gras with lemon granité and rocket salad is probably one of Dacosta’s oldest signature dishes. This is also the only dish of today’s menu I once had before during my meal of 2007. It is as nice as it used to be altough nowadays I prefer my foie gras a little less creamy and I have a feel that flavors used to be a little different back then. The Coca Cola flavor used to be bolder and bring a better contrast. Nevertheless, a nice classic.
The next one comes with a big hocuspocus and has all reasons to be called “the haze“. It is composed of crunchy pork cracklings, tiny mushrooms, herbs. On the very bottom there is a carpet of green jelly (peas?) that seems a little odd to me. I have to admit that this one didn’t incrust into my memory as some other of tonight’s dishes. Probably not my cup of tea.
Of course the Gamba de Denia is never omitted at Dacosta’s. This specimen was just boiled, meaning it still is half raw. It is soft and has the unmistakeable subtle flavor of the red gamba from this region. It is served with a glass of hot Tea of chards which is a rich buttery crustacean broth. Incredibly rich, and nearly hard to finish. That said, no one is forced to finsih the thing and a single sip is enough to be transported to culinary heights.
Rice of smoked eel and beetroot. Creamy, cracking, comforting. Loved this one.
Fish from Denia fish market. These are delicious, fragrant pieces of mullet, perfectly cooked. Unfortunately the other components are overpowering the fish. In particular the sauce which is a little bit too salty. The chewy tapioca pearls do not add much and thus are superfluous. Maybe this is a harsh judgment, but sometimes less is more.
Iberian pork filet and woods. This one is on the other hand an impressive course. First, the meat, which comes rare (we were asked at the beginning of the meal if we like it that way), is so tender and has the most subtle aroma that it is hard to tell if we are eating beef or pork. On the other hand, I couldn’t imagine beef with such delicate and unique flavor. A whole new world of meat on one plate. Along with it there are some crunchy sunchoke chips sprinkled atop and below a reduction with intense truffle flavor. Great dish!
Pizzon (=Pigeon pizza) is a dish from the current menu of which I am stealing a bite of. Rather than a pizza this is a very thin crust covered with small mushrooms, tiny bits of pigeon and shavings of truffle is lying on a glass filled with a thick and intense pigeon reduction. It has the viscosity of a thick PX sherry. Incredible composition!
Both of these meat dishes paired marvelously well with another highlight. A 1950 Vina real Rioja which our friend Toby brought over from his cellar in New York. Actually this wine would deserve a blog article on its own. Its colour is not different from many other aged wines, from the 1990’s, let’s say. But for a wine from 1950 this looks incredibly young. The colour is still darkish-red in the middle and only to the sides it appears transparent with a brown edge. At first the nose shows some notes of age with the slightest oxidation and some fall leafs. But after a couple of minutes in the glass, these notes disappear entirely. What’s left is a very focussed nose with red-to-black berries and some earth tones. On the palate the wine shows a nice vivacity as there’s a beautiful acidity that is at the same time in harmony with the other elements of this wine. Tannins have melted away completely but the wine has exactly the body weight that it needs. it is extremely elegant and long-lasting on the palate. A once-in-a -lifetime wine, I guess. A great experience. Thanks a lot, Toby!
Mojito of cucumber and seaweed. An original composition as a transition between entrées and dessert, somehow also acting as a refreshing palate cleanser.
Moss. Ok, I have to admit that I don’t remember how exactly this tasted. So I must have eaten it fast which means it must have been good! :)
Dove Nest. Refreshing frozen yoghurt candies on a crunchy nest.
Stones of almonds, gold nuggets, truffle. All 3 are excellent sweets!
Quique Dacosta ist delivering a very versatile menu, not only involving the many ingredients and flavors of his home-region but also building in quite a few elements from far-away locations. It somehow is a cuisine without boundaries, both regarding ingredients and cooking style. Also, not all dishes are using molecular techniques, some are very puristic and product-centered, which is a great thing. So what’s the Leitmotiv of Quique Dacosta? I guess it is to share with his guests his own discovery path, his own combinations of local and foreign styles. He keeps his guests entertained, as most of the combinations are at the same time creative, well-executed and accessible flavor-wise. This is not an avantgarde-restaurant which is being too intellectual. Flavor is always at the first place.
Quique Dacosta Restaurant
Ctra. Las Marinas, km 3