Birthdays come with expectations. Maybe a party, maybe a gift, maybe just a day to one’s self. For me, it’s always a meal. Every year, I either take the day to cook for myself, or if I’m lucky, I find myself with my lovely wife, or good friends, at a restaurant. This year, thanks to a healthy bank account, and generous gift from my sister, we found ourselves heading to Gaig, a restaurant with quite the reputation. According to Best Spanish Restaurants:
Gaig, based in the ultra modern Barcelona design hotel, Hotel Cram, is a Michelin star winning restaurant serving the best in modern Catalan cuisine…. The Gaig family has been in this business for years and owner Carles Gaig is one of Spain’s top chefs.
Prior to its current location of 5 years, Gaig was previously situated just outside Barcelona for a very “short” 184 years, whereby making this dinner rather exciting by its rich history.
We ordered the menu degustacion (tasting menu), at 85 euros per person, which consisted of approximately 10 courses, if you include the appetizers. However, unbeknown to us, the appetizers were not included in the tasting menu, and we most likely would not have ordered them if we had known there would have been an additional charge.
And rather than choose a few bottles of wine, we asked to have the sommelier pair glasses of wine with the meal. We tasted 6 wines, with one being sent back for lack of, well, character! (wow that sounds pretentious, but it’s true. It was really boring!)
Ok, there you have the ground rules, the layout and the plan. I’m going to give a spoiler right now and say that in the end, we felt we could have spent our money better. The meal was good. The service was pleasant. The wines fortunately stood out as fine, and we credit that to the sommelier, Kiko, who upon realizing that we wanted wines that surprised us, went out of his way to attempt fun and unique pairings. And for this pleasant moment of the evening, we have Kiko to thank.
The food was well made, flavorful and correct, but not being someone who regularly dines in places of this caliber, I hope that when I do, I’m more than satisfied. The one truely great part of the meal was the simplicity. There were no foam concoctions, strange smoking dry ice creations or complex plates that required instructions to consume. That said, there was little flair, sparkle and pizzaz. The entrants included corn chips, which albeit were handmade, were still corn chips ala Chi-Chi’s Mexican food restaurant back in Minnesota! A fun little entrante consisted of a Hershey kiss sized dollop of creamy blue cheese with a squid ink cracker. Remove the cracker, dip into the cream cheese to lightly coat and bite. Delicious! Although, if you eat the entire dollop all at once, as suggested, you may find yourself a little overwhelmed and incapable of swallowing.
Other nibbles included two types of croquettes and an olive coated cherry tomato. Both tasty and made way for the first course of Butifarra Negre with a Jerusalem artichoke sauce and bits of truffle. This was absolutely delicious, however, by the third bite, you hoped for less. This was all pork, pork, pork, without any complementary flavors coming into play.
The ultimate herring club sandwich followed our rich pork adventure. This was a small, tasty little concoction, perfect for a picnic, but not as convinced it went with the menu.
Canneloni stuffed with pork and beef, coated in a dense truffle sauce, immediately followed. The was the second time truffle made its debut of the night, and wouldn’t be the last. The canneloni was well made and the sauce was delicious and could have been paired with just about anything and still taste good. I’d be happy to order this again.
Up and until this point, we had been poured a Cava, Angela Marques de Rigot, Torrelavit, “Reserva Familiar”. We love Cava and this was a nice bottle with good structure, pleasant acidity and was overall, well made. And to be honest, I might have written more notes on this wine, but I didn’t, simply because of one simple issue. Allow me to interject a short rant at this point.
We will not recommend this restaurant for one simple reason, smoke. As we began tasting the cava right at the start of the meal, the smoke in the room became increasingly worse. So much so, that I really don’t have good notes on the wines, as all of them began to have “touches of smoke”. Seriously, you want to be a star chef and make people fall in love with your food, well make sure they can taste it, or else it’s not worth trying. And if you do need to have smoking, make sure you can ventilate the space well, or give the people who do want to smell the food an option. At the end of the meal, we learned of a small room they use for this purpose, but it would have helped to have known this small piece of info ahead of time. And to be clear, I’m not an anti-smoking nazi. I could care less if smoking is allwed in a restaurant. That said, it blows my mind that Michelin is giving stars to places that allow smoking, or do not offer a non-smoking option. Shame on them! If you want to give out stars, do it to people who put the food before the smoke. Ok, I’m done.
Like I mentioned before ,the wine was the redeeming factor, and Kiko, our sommelier, was a gem. When he chose the 2006 Jean Leon Chardonnay to start the meal, which showed as flat and lacking character, he quickly took it away and brought back a favorite of his, and ours, the As Sortes 2007. If you haven’t had this 100% Godello wine, stop reading this, run to the store, snooth or elsewhere and buy a bottle. This is proof that Spain is a white wine producing country, and the following wine, the Cervoles, Barrel fermented, Chardonnay and Macabeo from Costers del Segre 2007, was only a testament to this fact. The Cervoles floored both Gabriella and I with its intergration of the oak, and complexity that stood out above the smoke! Seriously great wine.
Oh, the food! Where was I? Ah yes, poached egg, potato sauce(?), and black truffle, followed by an incredible fish called San Pedro, with a beef reduction sauce, without truffle, and salty vegetables. And finishing the series of savories was a roasted lamb, cooked at low temperature, and potatos served two ways: creamy and crunchy. All lamb in Spain is good, nuff said.
At this point, we were enjoying a nice young wine with plenty of acidity from Montsant called, Costers del Gravet 2006 from Capcances, which perfectly cut through the heavy, rich flavors. Great fruit, a touch of oak, and a nice zingy structure to clean the palate. This wine is absolutely worth looking for.
I’ve already spent too much time with this, so I’ll finish with the desserts, a “reinvented” crema catalana, which probably would have been better in its original condition, followed by a chocolate lump served alongside a chocolate sorbet of sorts. Now back to wine…
Azpea Moscatel from Navarra is made from Moscatell and said to be rather difficult to find, as a result of its small production. We’ll make sure to check on quantities before giving you any details, because if the quanitity is small enough, we want to make sure to buy it all up for ourselves! Insane acidity on this unctuous glass of liquid fruit, and citrus. Wow, we fell in love with this treat. And if it couldn’t get any better, we ended with our coffee, some black truffles infused with lavendar bushes (subtle was not a word I could use here), and a glass of East India Solera from Lustau. This sherry is a unique blending of PX wines, with oloroso, which takes the best of both styles and creates a wonderfully contemplative union. These last two glass had me smiling as we waited for the bill.
One visit does not equate to a comprehensive review. I’m sure they earned their star at one point for something interesting and worthy. Maybe Tuesday night is not the night to visit, but for my money, I can think of a few other places I might visit next time. The fact is this, I have recounted my experience after reviewing my notes, which I’m glad I took. In comparison to other restaurants, however, I can tell you down to the last detail meals eaten 10 years ago from memory. Gabriella and I had fun. We didn’t talk shop, focusing instead on the food and wine, while enjoying each others company. That ended up making the birthday all worthwhile.