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Monday, December 7, 2009

Dos Palillos

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Last Saturday night, I was lucky enough to snag a last-minute seat at a magnificent Barcelona restaurant called Dos Palillos (which is Spanish for Two Palillos).  Blending local Catalan ingredients with an array of Asian and modern gastronomical techniques, this tiny bar-only restaurant is the absolute epitome of fusion cuisine.  Dos Palillos is owned by Chef Albert Raurich, who before this venture was the executive chef of El Bulli for close to ten years.  The place came highly recommended by my friend from work, and you know me,  I require very little arm twisting when there’s a new restaurant to try.   I opted for the (very modestly priced!) eighteen-course tasting menu, pulled up a bar stool slash front-row seat, and watched the talented chefs create my fabulous meal.  And here are my notes on that meal:

pina colada     A whimsical start to a fun-filled dinner.  Freshly juiced pineapple topped with coconut foam.  A toast to the siphon, my new best kitchen friend (and the newest addition to my Christmas list, for those of you who pay attention to those sorts of things!).

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tsukemono     Three bit-sized salads:  Crunchy and refreshing ribbons of radish topped with yuzu. Salty (and very yummy albeit ugly) fermented cucumbers.  And pickled daikon – sweetly tangy and sweetly pink.

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crispy chicken     Simple as can be, but isn’t all comfort food?  Simple of course, and always delicious.  On both accounts, these chicken cracklings fit the comfort food bill.  And with a trinity of sauces hitting all the sweet and sour notes,  I dunked these addictive salty sticks to my heart’s content.

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vietnamese summer rolls     A precious package filled with chicken, white grapefruit, carrots and cilantro.  Tightly wrapped with rice paper and topped with wispy, red ribbons of dried chili.  A perfect little gift. 

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sunomono, with fresh seaweed and mollusk     I think this is the most gorgeous dish I’ve ever seen.  The colorful collection of translucent seaweeds shined like stained glass windows.  Nestled in its rays of rainbow light were small and exotic fruits of the sea – purple and green, tender and chewy, salty and sweet. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was eating, but I relished its foreign beauty. 

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monkfish liver japanese style     A first for me, monk fish liver.  And a hit to be sure. Its rich smoothness was a perfect backdrop to the myriad of complex flavors and textures that accompanied it:  ponzu sauce, pickled seaweed, Chinese spices and lemon jelly. 

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oyster with sake     A perfectly content oyster, warm and drunk on sake, dozing blissfully in its shell, dreaming a salty dream of the sea. 

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cherry tomato tempura     Complete and utter perfection.  And my favorite bite all night.  The delicately peeled cherry tomato was at the sweet red height of its ripeness, exactly as warm as one  just plucked off a sun-soaked vine,  lightly clothed in a fall jacket of tempura and a cap of pungent green wasabi, dusted with a snowfall of sea salt.  I never would have thought this flavor combination could work so well.  But the tomato and wasabi have great chemistry – the Jim and Pam of tempura, if you will.  (Oh how I miss The Office!)  Her simple sweetness, his kick of feistiness.  A perfect (and completely adorable, don’t you think?) pair.

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steamed dumplings fresh prawn     Pink prawns, more tender than you can even imagine, so tender they were nearly creamy, enfolded in an equally velvety sauce with little specs of steamed cabbage, all enclosed in a delicate and chewy rice paper wrapper.  These were ethereal. 

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shrimp mushroom thai soup     Every restaurant is allowed a gimmick or two, I suppose.   Here it was Soup Cooked in a Bag.  Stuffed before service (with shrimp, clams, herbs, mushrooms and broth), the chefs simply pulled the bags from the refrigerator and plopped them onto the flat-top grill.  In under a minute, the soup was heated and bubbling, and still perfectly confined within its (heat-proof) plastic bag.  Into the bowl the bag would go, and in front of the guest.  A snip with a scissors, and the bag opened up to release a fragrant aroma of fresh green herbs and briny seafood.  Such a gimmick, but well-executed, lots of fun and really tasty.

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te maki     Japanese for ‘hand roll’, this sushi was do-it-yourself.  Complete with gorgeous pink slices of fatty tuna belly, sushi rice, wasabi and sheets of nori seaweed, it needed no special instructions. 

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eel with shiso     Another perfectly delicious bite.  Smoky eel brushed with a sweet-salty kiss of barbeque sauce, wrapped in a minty-spicy shiso leaf.  I could have eaten ten, at least.

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squid with miso     From the very start, this dish has an auspicious head start towards being a favorite; baby squid is one of my favorite foods ever.  But this dish may well rate as my favorite baby squid ever, and that’s saying a lot!  It’s sweet and tender pink flesh was topped with a smooth, salty, honey-like miso reduction and sprinkled with crunchy shards of sea weed and chewy toasted sesame seeds.  Beautiful in its simplicity, and deliciously refined.                 

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japo burger     A Kobe beef burger with pickled cucumbers, zesty something sauce and shredded shiso on a black sesame steam bun.  Only a bite or two, but fun to imagine super-sized. 

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pan-fried crispy gyoza     The ugly duckling of the group, no doubt.  But you know the moral of that tale.  A cross between a dumpling and a crepe, with a deliciously smooth mix of pork and shrimp hidden beneath its crunchy top, this simple dish just exuded inner beauty.

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iberica pork jowl cantonese style     Oh how rich, oh how lovely, oh how I wish this delicious dish came earlier in the meal, before I was way too stuffed to give such rich loveliness its due appreciation.  I must say though, it really was magnificent.  Steeped in Cantonese spice, meltingly tender with crisp, chewy seared edges.  Truly something to behold.

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mango mochi     The evening’s penultimate dish, this mango-coconut flan rested atop of a ginger-caramel base.  It was a refreshing combination of fruity, spicy and cool.  I’m always a little bit sad when tasting menus turn to the first dessert course, but after the rich and heady parade I’d just experienced, this was a welcome dose of fresh and lively flavor. 

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chocolate ninqyo     My last bite:  a small doughy orb filled to near-bursting with liquid chocolate.  Who could ask for anything more?  Certainly not me.  I was the picture of contentment after this long and gorgeous meal.

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  1. Foie Gras of the Sea! Yum!
    Tomato Tempura sounds good.
    Seems like a one or two michelin Japanese Restaurant. Not too familiar with the rating criteria, but I'm thinking one star.

  2. You know, Keith, I'm not sure if it even has a star yet. It's newish, so maybe soon. And who know's, maybe I'm just out of the loop. But I too definitely think it deserves (at least) one!

  3. Hi Kate,

    Thank you for writing this blog; it's a pleasure to read it and it's very informative at the same time. I am a student of the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy (founded by Slow Food) and I'm considering an internship with Alicia. Could I get in touch with you through email or Skype to pick your brains on the organisation and your experiences there?

  4. OrganicSassy,

    Thank you for your kind words! I'm glad we could connect though this blog. Please feel free to email me, then we can schedule a meeting on Skype. My email is KateFrench23@gmail.com

    I'm thinking this could be a fortuitous exchange for me too - My husband and I are planning a trip to Italy later this summer. Perhaps I could pick your brain as well!

    Looking forward to talking with you!