Gaig Restaurant: One Michelin Star restaurant with roots in traditional Catalan Cuisine

Last night, my boyfriend and I were lucky enough to eat at this amazing restaurant.  I’ve lived here for ten years, and this is the first time I’ve been, and I am so incredible pleased.  I know the now defunct El Bulli changed food forever with the inception of molecular gastronomy, but that has never been nor will ever be my cup of tea.  Yes, I recognize the importance, and have had a lot of fun trying some of the things that they have come up with, but if I never had to eat another foam or spherification of something, I would be a happy girl.  I like FOOD.  I like composite plates of perfectly cooked food, be it simple or complex.  But to give me a spherical olive, that isn’t an olive but tastes like an olive, well, the first time you’re impressed and surprised, the second time, it’s like, just give me the (expletive) olive for God’s sake.

Gaig is not one of those types of Restaurants, and I am so, so happy.  A week ago it was my boyfriend’s “Santo”, which is Saint’s Day.  Here the celebration of your Saint is almost as important as your birthday.  In Catholic tradition, you are generally, if not exclusively, named after a saint, and there is a Saints Calendar which tells you what day your name-saint is celebrated.  Anyhow, I digress.  So, as a present to my man who has almost everything, I took him to Gaig.  We both enjoy food, be it casual burgers and ribs, to places like these.

Gaig can be found in the second floor of Hotel Cram, in the center of what we like to call midtown Barcelona.  It is a small, warm and inviting space, the decor in red, white and black.  It is very calm and elegant.  It’s very much understated, and I believe that it to let the food be the star.  Which it is.

I always like taking a picture of the place setting and the menu before the meal.  It gives me an inkling into the personality of the restaurant.  This was beautiful and simple.  The menu was beautiful as well.

A head of garlic, star anise, the third one looks like an apricot stone, and a vanilla pod.

The house hors d’oeuvre were, from left to right, Ham crisp, Cod fritters, Croquettes, and Wonton chip with parmesan cream and sage.

We started with the wonton, because of the delicate flavor.  The sage was powerful for its tiny size, complementing perfectly with the creamy parmesan.  The cod fritter was creamy and subtle, the ham crisp was just that, a tiny morsel packed with that wonderful Iberian ham, and the croquettes, well that was the best I have ever tasted.  These are simple, Catalan flavors.  Done well, they are truly incredible.  And these were just that.

  Our first starter, on the left, creamy scrambled egg with yellow chanterelle mushrooms.  Ok, I have mentioned in the past my love affair with eggs.  For me, an egg is a thing of beauty.  This was a PERFECT scramble, super creamy, the only addition to it was the delicate chanterelle.  Such a humble, yet divine dish.

Next to it was a cold Vichyssoise.  Also perfect in its simplicity.  Food that is well done does not need any smoke and mirrors.  I really applaud chefs that present food like this, because, no they aren’t giving us anything we haven’t tried before, but it shows their confidence that they are giving you the best of an already amazing dish.

Here we have a beautiful and colorful plate.  This was Oyster, mussels, scallops, razor clam with pickled (escabeche) vegetables, with tuna lightly marinated in soy sauce.  I really commend the Chef on this dish.  This dish was über delicate.  The vegetables were almost raw, and there was almost no seasoning.  The accomplishment to this was that the seafood sung.  I have never tasted mussels this good.  The oyster was sublime.  I loved my razor clam, my boyfriend found his too chewy.  In the mix was a little bit of shiso…..and that was just about all the flavor this dish needed.  Shiso is such a delicate and lingering flavor.  It paired well with all the crustaceans without taking away their natural sweetness or briny flavor.  And the tuna.  It was again, perfect.

Meat cannelloni with a Truffle Bechamel.  This, my friends, is what I am talking about.  This is what put Carles Gaig, head chef and owner of Gaig, on the map.  This is heaven on a plate.  I cannot tell you how incredible this was.  If I was at home, I would be running my finger over the sauce to sop up every last teeny bit of it.  It was that good.  Why mess with perfection?  He didn’t.  By far, hands down my favorite dish of the night.

Baby octopus with artichokes in a red wine sauce.  This is a dish that is just fantastic.  The octopus was so tender, the artichoke hearts perfectly cooked.  The red wine was never overpowering but lending it a depth that it could not have had without it.

On the right, is another very traditional Catalan dish called “Suquet de Peix”.  I am not sure how to literally translate, but to sucar is to dunk.  I imagine the reason is because the sauce begs to be dunked or dipped by your fish, potato, bread, spoon….whatever.  This was a perfectly cooked piece of John Dory with potatoes.  The sauce is very rustic, onions, tomatoes and peppers, slowly cooked until their natural sugars come out.  Lightly seasoned with Pimenton, which is spanish smoked paprika.  It was heavenly.  Another one of his triumphs.  Why mess with it, again?

Now we are starting off with the meat courses, the first one is pan seared foie gras, with salsify and a baby red swiss chard leaf. I have never tried salsify, which is a root vegetable.  But it was caramelized, and paired with the foie, along with the swiss chard, it really lightened up the whole dish.  It was equally umami, tart and bitter.  Wonderful.

Our last savoury dish was “Pichon”.  Pichon is a young pigeon that is bred for eating.  Not the street pigeons.  It is a dark, very tasty meat.  But, this was my least favorite dish.  Although the preparation was fantastic, on the left you have the breast that was grilled, and on the right the leg was in confit.  The only thing that made me not enjoy this dish was the sauce.  It was made from the birds own kidneys.  I am not a fan of kidney.  It just reminds me of my mother making me eat kidney as a kid, and as soon as the plate came out, that brown hue just took me back there.  It was delicious, but I didn’t enjoy it, having my thoughts plaguing me with images of me crying as soon as I saw what my mother was putting on the dinner table.  But, to you kidney lovers, this was a very, very good dish.  The kidneys were very delicate, and I am assuming if you love them, you would give this a thumbs up.

Here we have the cheese plate.  This was lackluster, at best.  I love cheese.  But I think that my boyfriend and I have had so many cheese plates, and buy cheese so often, that this just did not measure up to our standards.  By no means was it not good, just not what we have gotten used to.  The plate is amazing.  And the apricot and orange marmalade was fabulous.  But you had to use it sparingly so it would not over power the delicate cheeses, except the Stilton.  And even with that one, it only needed a little bit.  The one to the left was a Petit Nevat.  It’s a creamy goats milk cheese, from Catalonia.  In the middle we had a dry and cured sheep’s milk, which I don’t remember the name.  It wasn’t my thing.  Very reminiscent of a Manchego, which I am not a huge fan of.  And on our right, Stilton.  I love Stilton.  So, obviously this was my favorite one.

When our first dessert was brought out, I was about to cry.  I knew exactly what it was going to be.  A deconstructed Crema Catalana.  I was going to cry not because I don’t like crema catalana, but because I make this on a weekly basis for my cooking classes, and cannot have another bite of it.  But thank God I did.  It was incredible.  On the bottom, Lemon jam.  Middle, caramel ice cream.  Top, catalan crème foam with the caramelized sugar.  Amazing.  Delicious.  I ate the whole thing with reckless abandon.  This is probably the best Crema Catalana I’ve had in my life.

Having said that, the chocolate textures dessert was rather disappointing.  Yes, it was chock full of “African Chocolate”, but it was lackluster and failed to deliver that rich chocolate flavor I so crave and desire when I eat it.  But the dish and presentation was beautiful.  It was a chocolate sponge cake, with chocolate mousse, chocolate ganache, and dark chocolate crisp.

My favorite part of the night, was when the Carles Gaig, the head chef, came to our table, and invited us into the kitchen.  I am definitely starstruck with chefs, as how some people would be with celebrities.  They are my celebrities.

Except for those two teeny things I didn’t enjoy as much, this evening was perfect.  It was a special night for both of us, and it was an incredible meal.  If you can, you must make it to Gaig.

Gaig Restaurant

Aragon 214, 08011 Barcelona

+34 93 429 1017

http://www.restaurantgaig.com

A night in Collioure, France

So after our post-lunch walk and a bit of shopping, we hopped back in the car to our final destination for the night, Collioure, France.  Funny thing is, I wasn’t even going to take them there.  My original thought was to take my family to Cadaques.  But on the Thursday night after we had rented the car, I got on the internet and tried to find a place to stay.  There was NOTHING in Cadaques.  By this time I was getting nervous.  All the websites kept on offering us rooms in Roses, which is a seaside town 25 km from Cadaques, but not exactly the place you want to stay.  The only draw Roses has, or had, I should say, is that it is home to El Bulli, which is now a center for investigation and learning,  Culinary investigation that is.  Then I remembered that my business partner had talked about this little town right across the border of Spain.  He was always waxing poetic on its beauty, so I thought I would give that a shot.  And we got lucky!  We found an incredible hotel for 170 euros per night, for four people!  At that price, (43 euros per person) we didn’t care if someone had to sleep on the floor.

So, anyhow, we began our drive up, and were pleasantly surprised on how near it was to Spain.  This region of France is called Pays Catalan, although it is in the Languedoc-Roussillon.  Between the 10th and 17th century, France and Spain fought over this region like rabid dogs.  So although it is undecidedly French, it has many Catalan influences everywhere.

We finally arrived at the hotel, and were amazed at its beauty.  Les Mouettes is a wonderful place to stay out of the hustle and bustle of the main town, but only 2km away.  We had 180 degree views of the ocean, and there was a fantastic pool to boot.  But, we wanted to head into town to explore and then grab a bite to eat.  So we drove in, and were “oohing” and “aahing” at the beauty of it.  Little did we know.

As my uncle and I were waiting for my aunt and her friend to finish shopping, we continued to walk towards the port.  We came across this little square, that was just spectacular.  The photos do not do it justice.  Behind us (from this vantage point) there was a large stone arch.  We could see the water, so we slowly meandered down towards it, and as we passed through the arch, we both looked at each other with mouths agape.  The port of Collioure is one of the most breathtaking vistas I have ever seen.  Its half-moon beach flanked on either side, to your left by a church, whose bell tower dates back to the middle ages.  And on our right, was this massive Fort, that housed the Kings of Majorca from the middle ages until French occupation.

I was flabbergasted.  I couldn’t stop turning my head, akin to a tennis match, and thinking to myself, we are really lucky.  Walking a little further on to the beach, you realize there is another half-moon bay behind the fort, and high up on a hill behind it there was an old windmill, and higher up another fort with a watchtower.

Then if you turned completely around, in the distance, on two mountain peaks, were another two other watch towers.  It was truly, truly amazing.  I’m not going to get into the history of it, but if you want to browse and read a little about it, you can look it up here.  We ran back to grab my aunt and her friend like two excited school children to show them the sights.  After a round of 1,000 pictures, we began to look for our restaurant for the night.

I had been warned that Collioure was expensive in terms of food, but nothing could be farther than the truth.  We decided to eat in the little square above, and found a great little place, which I don’t remember the name of, and had a menu worth 14.90 euros.

It was a simple dinner, but exactly what we wanted.  We got a salad to start, unfortunately, we all tucked into our salads so fast that no picture was taken.  But mine was Salade Collioure, which had anchovies, white anchovies, olives, tomatoes, rucola, lambs lettuce, and a gorgeous balsamic vinaigrette.  It was simple, but delicious.  My aunt chose to have an incredible salad, whose name again I do not remember, but it was full of orange slices, white asparagus, hearts of palm, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, avocado, tomatoes, and of course, tender lettuce.  Then along came our mains.  Oh heaven!  We all chose to have the Bavette a L’Echalote avec Pommes Frites.  That’s basically flank steak with a caramelized shallot and red wine reduction sauce, and of course, french fries.

It was perfect, it was exactly what we wanted on that wonderful, magical, oh so Francaise night!  The meat was cooked to perfection, Au Point, and the fries were crispy without being greasy.  Needless to say, we didn’t eat our side salad.  I mean, how much lettuce can a girl have?

Dessert was amazing too, there was a choice of Ice Cream, Fruit Salad, Crema Catalana (which in my head I wailed, NOOOOOOO!  I prepare crema catalana on almost a daily basis for my classes, so it is so not what I want to eat.) and Ile Flottante.  Of course I chose Ile Flottante, which translates to Floating Island.  It is beaten egg whites, or meringue, that is quickly poached, and then placed over Creme Anglaise, basically custard.  It was all topped of with a caramel sauce.

It was delicious.  I was so happy, humming between bites.  It’s been a long time since I’ve had this dish, and my belly was congratulating me on such a wise choice.

After dinner, as per European custom, we took a long walk along the seaside, walked around the Fort to the other half-moon bay.  We meandered, taking in the sights and sounds, of families and couples strolling just like us.  It was a magical night.  It was exactly what we were hoping for, but more than we expected.

The next morning, we woke up to rain and choppy wind.  It was COLD.  I did not bring anything to warm me up, since the week before we had been in a heat wave, and ended up having to buy a sweater so we could visit the fort.  Here are some pictures of the fort, and the only history note I will leave you with is this, cause I think it’s super cool.  The fort was briefly occupied by Louis the XIII and his musketeers, and D’Artagnan fought in the battles with him here.  Now how cool is that?

This is a must see for any traveller.  Collioure is absolutely worth a visit for longer than a day.  And if you are looking for somewhere to stay, I recommend Hotel Les Mouettes.

 

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Castell d’Emporda: A relaxing get away near Girona, Spain

Hello hello friends,

I have been quite quiet…..I know.  You see, I went away.  Far far away. (Not really)  I went to a castle, and there were dragons everywhere.   Really….there were. (Not the real ones though)  There was this moat, and damsels in distress. (Read: fabulous pool, and ladies who needed sun-cream.)  I am not just dreaming up some hyped up fantasy.  It is a fantasy.  My wonderful boyfriend discovered this magical place after searching on horseback far and wide. (Google search.)

So, anyhow, we went away.  And it was mahvelous darling, mahvelous.  If any of you have the opportunity to go to the Costa Brava, do not miss out on making a side trip to the interior, called L’Emporda.  From the moment we walked onto the grounds, I knew we were in for a treat.  The front entrance to the castle was full of blooming flowers and there was a gorgeous pond.

As soon as we walked in, I noticed the menu, the name of the restaurant “Drac” which means dragon in catalan, and the chef.  The menu was ok at first sight, but I knew that the food would be surprising, if not good, at least, because the chef hails from Oud Sluis in The Netherlands, which is the no. 21 top restaurant in the world, according to the San Pellegrino list.  We lazed in the back courtyard, which has these wonderful sofa-beds for you to read, sleep, sunbathe etc. next to the fabulous pool.  Made reservations for dinner, but before that I had a massage which I thought was pretty cheap, 35 euros.  It was brilliant.  The best was the view from the room.

Now on to dinner.  The decor I thought was beautiful.  It really captured and complemented the old world feel, the gorgeous large stone walls were flanked by wrought iron dragons everywhere.  It was sparsely yet extravagantly decorated, but the dragon motif followed us everywhere!

We decided on the tasting menu, as we always do cause I am a hungry hungry hippo.  No, really, as a chef I think it really gives you a feel of what the chef de cuisine wants you to try.  It could fail completely, but this night, it was perfect.  And, I thought after I ate, that the price, 50 euros (not including wine) was a steal!  I’m used to paying exorbitant prices for more disappointing meals.

We started off with the amuse bouche, a small sampler of teeny bits to whet our appetite:

At the very top end, there were some catalan olives, the small plate in the middle had “olive sponge cake”, and then an olive mayonnaise, and a black truffle mayonnaise.  In the glass was a taster of gazpacho, and on the spoon, was marinated salmon with a dill and lemon mayonnaise. I was hesitant about the sponge cake, since black foods is not something I am used to, the same goes for the olive mayonnaise.  But they were sublime.  Incredibly flavorful, yet delicate, with a final punch on the palate.  And the truffle mayonnaise.  Well…..I love truffles, so you can imagine me and my boyfriend duking it out with our pieces of bread to sop up the last bits of the stuff!  The gazpacho was perfect, but I eat gazpacho a lot, so it wasn’t something that I was super excited about, the same goes for the salmon for the same reasons.

Our first starter was a Corvina Ceviche.  I was so pleased with the little green ice scattered around the plate.  My first guess would have been basil ice, but they were made out of parsley.  And as you moved the beautiful leaves and fish around, you would find little surprises of dill mayonnaise drops.  The different textures and temperatures of this dish made the difference to a very well-known appetizer where I come from (South America).  I have never been presented with a ceviche that mixes iciness and crunch, with the smooth bursts of the dill sauce and then the perfectly acidulated fish.  The touches of the baby spring lettuce gave a welcome freshness to the dish.

Our second started was pretty monochromatic, considering the vibrancy of the previous dishes.  This was a Cabernet wine meringue, with a foie gras and wild mushroom mousse, with a fig marmalade.  I have never been so surprised at something in my life.  I surely thought, vinegar, mushrooms, foie and marmalade……uh huh.  But boy, was I in for a ride!  Again, the play on textures and flavors, acid, sweet, umami……sumptious!  Decadent!  Rich, without  being heavy.   I now was thinking, this guy knows what he is doing!  And…….then…….

Turbot with two types of asparagus, truffle potatoes, poached egg yolk and “migas” which is basically a spanish fried bread crumb.  I was bowled over by the poached egg yolk and the truffle potatoes.  But to be sincere, I NEVER would have thought that fish and egg would work together.  Needless to say, this was my HANDS DOWN FAVORITE DISH of the night.  I can’t explain how amazing this was.  So, I am going to let you in on what I was actually saying, or more like sounding.  Ummm.  Ohhhh. MMMMMMMMMMM!  Grunt grunt.  “This is amazing”  (Imagine me saying that with my mouth full and eyes open wide then closing.)  Ahhhhh.  Nuff’said.

I had to put the two pictures in.  I had to take separate ones.  I am in love with this presentation.  Look at that lamb.  Look at those zucchini rolls.  Look at the tomato mousse.  And the eggplant mousse.  Now look at the Jus below………

The lamb was *perfectly* cooked.  The zucchini was crisp, yet tender.  The eggplant lent this dish a smoky flavor, while the tomato tempered the bitterness of the eggplant.  And the Jus….Oh the Jus!  I couldn’t get enough of it.  I wanted to tip the bowl and drink it instead of my wine.  I wish I could muster up some fancy words to describe this, but hey, all I am going to say, DANG THIS WAS GOOD.

And then there was dessert.  I wish I could tell you what this was, apart from chocolate mousse, chocolate crumbs, lime sorbet…..it was good.  But, I am not really a dessert person unless it is ridiculous.  But, it was a great ending to an amazing meal.

I kid you not, YOU HAVE TO COME HERE.  It is the perfect place to lose yourself and RELAX.  Do nothing, swim, read, get a massage, ponder years of yore……..and eat like you’ve never had food before.  You’ll love it.  It’s simply perfect.  Have I said that before?  Yeah, I have.  I know.  Hey, if you’re still not convinced, the owner of the castle is a model fanatic.  Apparently his ancestors were in the battle of Waterloo.  They have not one, but two display cases of battles.

Oh, and did I mention how gorgeous it is at night?

I hope you can come to this magical place.  You won’t regret it.

Carla

http://www.castelldemporda.com