Last year, we visited Gaig, our last 1 star Michelin restaurant that ironically sits directly across the road from what became this year’s first 1 star experience. At the time, it was a birthday gift and one that I hoped would be all that a 1 star experience should be. Sadly, it was not. A smokey dining room with food that failed to inspire, we lamented our choice with a pocket book considerably lighter than before we started.
During the entire week of Alimentaria, we hosted a group of 10 bloggers from around the world. The project was sponsored by the Catalan wine promotion board, INCAVI, for a week of food, wine and fun. However, in order to provide them a complete picture of the region, we wanted the group to experience everything from a typical tapas bar to a top level restaurant on the cutting edge of modern fair. Thanks to the generosity of DO Catalunya this dream became a reality. The night was an incredible success; and now with the issue of disclosure out of the way, let me tell you why this is restaurant should be a requirement on any foodies “to do” list.
Cinc Sentits was started by Canadian-born Catalans Amelia and Jordi Artal, a dynamic brother and sister team. Cinc Sentits in Catalan translates to the 5 senses, and having now dined there, they do not fail to impress every one of them. A smoke free environment and intimate space make for a more pleasant and food focused experience. Combined with an attentive staff and good acoustics, we were ready to begin. I won’t cover each dish in detail, but will instead highlight the most astounding of the 6 course meal.
To start, we shared a variety of small bites, a disappointment being the ‘spiced’ almonds, which appeared to be only spiced with salt, and the highlight being house marinated “gorbal” olive stuffed with pimientos. Big thumb sized olives with a sweet lemony flavor that were immediately contenders for my last supper’s apertif. Juicy and succulent, I lamented the fact that there was only enough for one per person!
When the signature dish was presented, I took an immediate double-take. Maple syrup, chilled cream, cava sabayon and rock salt was served in a shooter with explicit instructions to let the salt at the bottom slowly slide into your mouth before swallowing. Maple syrup before dinner? YES! Amelia and Jordi grew up in Canada and hence, this was dish paying homage to the maple nectar that any of us from far North American climates know well. I don’t think I’ve ever called maple syrup refreshing, but that is exactly what it was. The sweet flavors swept off my tongue, while the salt crystals lingered joyfully in my mouth.
Moving onto the main part of the meal, the following dish was the star of the show in my opinion; so much so, that at one point I had to ask if it was even considered legal. Called ‘FOIE GRAS “COCA”, it’s a rectangular slice of perfectly soft foie gras sandwiched between pastry on the bottom and caramelized sugar on top with a chive “arrope”. This dish will go down on my life list of culinary treasures. Foie, which oftentimes can become overly unctuous and weighty, yet here it was delicate and ethereal, leaving me after each bite regretting that it would soon be gone. I know this sounds rich and overly decadent, but it wasn’t, rather it coated your tongue briefly and was then swept away by the chive syrup, and the slightly crisp pastry crust gave it texture to keep it from sitting heavy in your mouth.
To follow, we were presented with a pan seared scallop on top of a Jerusalem artichoke puree with onion and jamon chips. I’m a sucker for scallops, and when done well, like this one was, they can melt in your mouth and leave slight wisps of the sea lingering on your palate. This combined with the puree was close to perfect. Slightly sweet to complement the flesh of the scallop, and with the jamon acting in the place of salt, the balance between sweet and savory teetered on the edge of perfection.
The next two dishes while good and definitely interesting were in my opinion the weak spots in the line up. Wild Mediterranean Sea Bass with Fideua (short thin noodles) and aoli was good, as the fish was cooked perfectly, but the noodles were a bit too strong having been heavily toasted before cooking and I found they slightly took away from the delicate fish. That said, the compliment often gets overlooked, and the handmade garlic mayonnaise (aoli) was unbelievable! The next dish was the Iberian suckling pig with apples in two textures, poached and pureed. The meat was delicious and the apples sublime, but I felt as if the pork should have been cooked a bit longer in order to render down more of the fat; whereby making each bit a little more crisp.
But let’s take a moment and talk about the wine. Up until this point, the wines, while fine, had been a bit pedestrian, but the Clos D’Argo 2006 served with the pig changed everything. Big, rich and dense, it was a wine that showed finesse and strength, providing the perfect pairing to cut through the milk fat of the pork.
Finally, it’s on to the desserts. Typically, I tend to overlook this part of the meal, but there were two dishes this time that deserved accolades. First up, an oddity that had the table talking right away. Citrus “snow” made up of lemon ice cream with lime rocks and yuzu foam. The ice cream and foam were lightly citrusy, leaning to lemon, infused, delicate and cleansing, while at the same time cloaked a bed of “lime rocks” of the “pop rock” variety below them. Tiny stones popped in your mouth quickly became the topice of conversation, especially after we found out that in Spain the name for them is Peta Zetas. Regardless of the gimmick, the dish was wonderful and the only complaint is that the beautiful bowls they were served on with a lattice work of holes, caused to any attempt to scoop the pop rocks up to the rim, resulting in them falling through the holes onto the table below!
The Chocolate with Bread, Olive Oil and Salt – “Grand Cru” 67% chocolate with bread, olive oil ice cream, salt, shredded coca and macadamias, was thoroughly enjoyed by the table, had a bit too much chocolate ganache for a base which overwhelmed the various other flavors. That said, I will admit that chocolate is not my forte, and I’ll leave others to judge this dish on its own merits.
At this point, the coffees were being ordered, and all of us after two busy days were feeling the need for sleep, but the fun did not stop. A perfect cup of espresso was accompanied by a plate of “treats”, one of which needs a mention. Delivered in a small shot glass, and innocently looking like a bit of sweet cream or vanilla custard, the shot was layered on top with an infused violet syrup that made my head spin. Being a lover of the violet scented Touriga Nacional wines of Portugal, the aroma made this treat an instant hit for me with a purity that made me smile my way out into the night.
Cinc Sentits is doing it right. Long on my radar, but not in the cards until now, I’m glad I finally made it. While not the “molecular gastronomy” that people often think of when speaking of the high end Spanish cuisine, the food was impressive. Were all the dishes hits? No.
But they were made with care and Cinc Sentits will see another visit from me soon I hope!