Carrer de Villarroel, 163
Our second “fancy” meal in Barcelona was Disfrutar, a 2 Michelin star molecular gastronimical experience. The 3 chef/owners, Mateu Casañas, Oriol Castro, and Eduard Xatruch, were veterans of elBulli, having spent many years in the kitchen compared to some other chefs that just passed through including Grant Achatz (Alinea) and Massimo Bottura (Osteria Francescana). Since elBulli no longer exists, I was really excited to get a taste of an elBulli inspired meal to really understand all the hype around the famed institution.
Our welcome into the restaurant was warm and friendly. We were given a tour of the restaurant and open air kitchen. I think they must understand that the type of people who dine here don’t just come for the food, but appreciate the whole experience that goes into making the food. I love touring kitchens! The kitchen separates the front and back dining rooms. We were seated in the front dining room which is adjacent to the bar. It definitely lacked the beauty and brightness of the back dining room, but apparently those who are seated there made their reservations very far in advance. Giiiiirrrrl, I booked my reservation like 3 months in advance! Anyways, small potatoes…
Frozen Passion Fruit Ladyfinger with Rum
The first few bites were light starters to all that was to come. They mirrored the airy texture of a ladyfinger well with an icy start and a kick from the rum.
Lychee and Roses
A common theme in molecular gastronomy is “clever deception.” I’ve eaten scallop that looked like fried tofu or a sunnyside up egg that was actually egg yolk surrounded by bacon cream. Here, we have what appears to be a white raspberry that’s actually a frozen lychee. The flavor was unmistakable. The “dew” on the rose petals were actually encapsulated spheres of gin. The roses were not meant to be eaten, duh!
The Beet that comes out of the Land
The fun presentation of these is lost in the still photo. It literally looked like a bowl of dirt, but after some shaking and swirling from our waiter, these 2 “stones” rose to the surface.
Ruby red and sweet meringue puffs. They reminded me of raspberry macarons.
Panchino filled with Beluga Caviar
I finally figured out that “panchino” actually refers to “pan chino” or Chinese bread. They are trying to channel the deliciousness of a treasure filled Chinese bao. I would liken this more to a fried stuffed donut. It had a delicately crispy exterior that was wonderfully chewy and soft. The savory caviar center welcome change from the previous light bites.
Savory Hazelnut Candy with Mango, Tonka Beans, and Whiskey
Sweet fruity flavors were paired with with a salty, nutty, sticky candy. It was like hazelnut peanut butter.
Mille-feuille of “Idiazábal”
Crispy light pastry dough sandwiched a creamy savory cheese hailing from the Basque country. It was intended to be enjoyed with the following drink.
Smoked Instant Apple Cider
Table side presentation seems to be a common thing at these molecular gastronomy restaurants. Scenting a glass with burning oak chips, made for an interesting twist on a house made apple cider. Together, the pairing of cider with mille-feuille reminded me of the fanciest after school snack. The smokey oak brought out the earthiness in the cheese.
Lychee Flower Wafer
I can’t say I appreciated the light airy texture of this wafer. I found the whole thing to taste like perfume.
Gilda is a classic “pinxto” from San Sebastian. It is a simple combination of pickled pepper, salt cured anchovy, and an olive skewered on a toothpick. Disfrutar’s version here was elevated and deconstructed. Mackerel and anchovy were paired with different forms of olives and olive oil. I’m not usually fan of these fishy fishes so it was hard to appreciate this course. Gilda, in its original form, is probably a pinxto I would not appreciate all that much.
Gazapacho Sandwich with Vinegar Garnish
Deception again. What looks like a simple cheese sandwich, turned out to be meringue-like “bread” filled with gazpacho sorbet. The flavors were nice, but the airy texture of the whole thing wasn’t for me.
These “sandwiches” were served with a glass scented in vinegar. We were instructed to take a few bites and then take in the aroma of the vinegar from the cup. It’s almost as if the acidic scents were another flavor profile of the sandwich, but experienced not through our tastebuds but rather through our olfactory senses. I experienced a similar trick at Alinea, but I did not find the vinegary notes enhancing to the dish overall.
“Super tender” Almonds in Vinaigrette
The different preparations of almonds here was definitely not my cup of tea. Nuts should never be served that soft.
Crispy Egg Yolk with Mushroom Gelatine
The tempura egg yolk was rich and runny as any yolk should be. After the first bite, we were instructed to mix the rest of the yolk with the mushroom gelatine that hid below in the egg shell. It was an umami burst of flavors from the mushrooms enriched with decadent yolk. We quite enjoyed this dish, as the last few were a bit disappointing.
Multi spherical tatin of foie gras and corn
The shape and appearance of corn-on-the-cob was expertly mimicked here. Each spherical ball exploded with corn flavor, but I wished for something sweeter and more intensely corn flavored. It was an interesting pairing with creamy smooth foie on top of a thin crispy cracker. It was subtle and clever, yet I wished for something more dazzling in my mouth.
All the flavors of ceviche were deconstructed in various textures of liquids, creams, and purees. A puree of carrot and tuna comprised the orange center. It did a nice job without any whole seafood.
Salmon Ribs with Tarragon Mojo
Finally, something straightforward. Smokey and served like meat, the salmon had wonderful contrast and heightened flavors with the mojo and roe.
Razor Clams with Seaweed in Salt
No meal is complete in Barcelona without razor clams. The presentation was seemingly fancy with clams encased in large salt shell. But they weren’t in direct contact with the salt since they were also wrapped in plastic. We weren’t sure if the whole salt bake thing was for show.
The clams were fresh and tender, but not the best we had during our trip. The marinade of seaweed and arbequina olive oil didn’t hit it out of the park for me.
Our Macaroni Carbonara
Pasta is probably one of the few foods that are pretty perfect as it is. If you’re going to mess with it, you better be making something damn amazing.
The pasta was made from the gelatin of iberico ham. It had an odd texture that was so distracting from the creamy sauce and smokey bacon bits. The ham flavor was prominent throughout, but could not make up for the bad “pasta.” I recognize the innovation here, but it was a complete fail for me.
I enjoyed the tangy vegetal flavors, but The Annoyer did not enjoy drinking his salad the same way I did. It was paired with the “polvorón” below.
Tomato “Polvorón” and Arbequina Olive Oil Caviar
Polvorón is a type of Spanish sweet shortbread. This was made into a savory version that highlighted the sweet tangy notes ripe tomatoes topped with pearls of arbequina olive oil. Being a lover of almost all things tomatoes, this dish worked for me.
Sea Cucumber Noodles
The flavors became more bold with the next 2 dishes. Sea cucumber “noodles” were bathed in sauce of fish stock with saffron and aioli.
Langoustine in “suquet”
The langoustine were sweet and tender, served in the style of a traditional Catalan seafood stew. It is traditionally served with potatoes, but here we had cute soft gnocchi. Certainly, one of my favorite dishes of the night.
A foamy savory drink was made from the same broth of the langoustine dish.
Pigeon cold juice with tarragon
I think a true connoisseur of crafted cocktails would probably have appreciated this more than The Annoyer and me. Savory cold consommé was poured into glasses scented with brandy.
Pigeon and Foie Gras Bonbon
I was expecting something sweet, but was met with something completely earthy and savory. The flavors were subtle, and not too impressive.
There were subtle Asian influences dotted through the meal, but none so apparent as the laksa noodles. The flavors of curry, lemongrass, kaffir limes, and coconut milk were bold.
Pibil style Pigeon
Perfectly medium rare. One of the better pigeon dishes I’ve had. I was pretty stuffed by this part in the menu, which made it harder to enjoy.
Finally, onto the desserts, which I found to be much more impressive and tasty than much of the savory courses. Coconut, pandan, and mango were married in this tropical Asian inspired dish. It looks unimpressive but it delivered on every level. YUMS!
Black Sesame Cornet
I do enjoy most things black sesame. Delicious.
I was thoroughly impressed by these unassuming flavor bombs. They exploded with cherry juice and finished with creamy cherry mousse. Pretty tart, but I loved it.
“Tarta al Whisky”
Our waiter poured a bit of whisky in our palms and we were instructed to “wash” our hands in the scent of this alcohol while enjoying the next few bites.
The small bites of hazelnut encased in an amber of sweet sugar and sweet frozen egg custard were fine, but I was distracted by my moist alcoholic hands. I can’t say the whisky aroma from my hands were enhanced the eating experience for this dish.
A cream of vanilla bean and yuzu finished off this dessert course. Simple and straight forward.
Coffee Swiss Roll
I think I had enough sweets at this point so I was intimidated by these gigantic looking roll.s They turned out to be so light and airy that they were easily finished in 2 bites without weighing me down too much. I’m not much for egg white enhanced textures so this was just ok for me.
Cotton of Cocoa and Mint
The presentation of our last dessert was unique and playful. What looks like a stalk of fresh cotton turned out to be mint and cocoa flavored cotton candy.
We were warned that not all the puffs were actually edible. The whimsy was nice, but I don’t like cotton candy or mint chocolate flavored things so I can’t say I was in love.
I can see the common themes of playful whimsy, clever deception, and reinvention that weaved its way throughout our meal here and at my meals by other elBulli veterans, like Grant Achatz of Alinea. Thinking outside the box is what these chefs strive to achieve. They certainly succeeded in delivering a unique meal and experience. Unfortunately, I cannot say the flavors necessarily lived up to the hype around Disfrutar. Some things were tasty like the panchino, crispy egg yolk, langoustine, pigeon, and half of the desserts. But many of the other dishes were just not that good, like the gazpacho sandwich, super tender almonds, corn and foie, carbonara pasta, and the other half of the desserts. Maybe if elBulli were still around, I would have the same conclusion about their food. Most of the dishes were more cerebral than they were tasty. When food goes into my mouth, I want my tastebuds to explode, and later my brain can analyze and find pleasure after the fact. I think many people feel this way about food that is heavy on the molecular gastronomy, but I feel it can be very successful since Alinea is one of my top meals. This may be as close as I’ll ever get to the legendary elBulli, so I am glad for the experience, but I would not recommend Disfrutar if you have limited time to dine in Barcelona.
10 – You NEED to eat here
9 – Awesome
8 – Very good
7 – Good
6 – OK
5 – Average
4 – Not bad
3 – Not good
2 – Terrible
1 – Do NOT eat here