Salvador Bulli

The Dali Theater Museum and El Bulli Restaurant are the perfect museum/restaurant pairing. Neither is suggested by any words you might use to describe them. To call Ferran AdriĆ  a chef is as descriptive as calling Salvador Dali an interior decorator. Of course they are. I am sure that Mr. Dali would greatly appreciate the experience of eating an olive flavored bath oil bead whose relationship to an olive will be reverse engineered by all the other chefs on the planet for the next ten years. He wouldn’t have to carefully put his moustache out of the way either; Dali wore his in a position convenient for eating. And who knew that braised rabbit brains in noisette butter were such light little egg yolk lookalikes with a barely crunchy surface? (As Dali painted straight-ahead portraits of Gala in the 1940’s, so must AdriĆ  prove that he can deliver the basics. At El Bulli, rabbit brains are the basics.)

Putting your moustache out of the way is the least of it. The waiter instructs you how to eat at least half of the thirty courses that comprise the experience. “Half bite the raspberry, then the spoonful of vinegar, then the rest of the raspberry.” That one was actually bogus; our waiter didn’t say whether the first or the last half-bite should be the half of the raspberry with the wasabi on it, which resulted in Dave’s and my having fundamentally different experiences of the course. We probably will never get along quite as well in the future.

Being advised how to eat things is not unique to fine dining. I don’t know if it’s just that we look confused, but now that we’ve arrived in San Sebastian, the bartenders tell us how they want their pintxos (tapas) consumed. If you keep coming up with original food, it becomes part of the culture to be advised, deep into middle age, how to hold a knife and fork.

One side effect of this is that the waiters at El Bulli never really have time to sit and chat with you. A week earlier, we went to Bagatelle, another Fine Dining place (liquid nitrogen counts as fine doesn’t it? except in college when you pour it over Rice Krispies), and the waiter told us so much about the food and his life plans that it was like we’d been to his facebook page.

And I always look forward to hearing the stories of the gang at Caffe Riace in Palo Alto.

I’d love to go back to El Bulli, but on the other hand, their reservation situation is difficult since the prices are so reasonable*, and I feel I’d be depriving somebody else of the opportunity. But get in if you can.

*El Bulli? reasonable? They charged us 3 Euros each for one bottle of water each. They kept the glasses full all evening, and we were hydrating heavily, you have to in a mentally and physically challenging situation like that. Same with the wine. The blue plate special, which is pretty much what everybody gets, costs 185 Euros. For that you get 30 named courses of incomprehensible complexity, all of which contain more than one part and some of which have a dozen separate elements which must be prepared and plated by the kitchen staff. The cost to put before us that individual haricot simulacrum, filled, by a technique I can’t imagine, with the most divine pork drippings, and wrapped in a gossamer perfect prosciutto, is rather less than an order of flautas at Taco Bell. It has fewer calories, of course. Make of that what you will.

And in the morning, it’s time to hit the road again. Thursday was a driving day. The traffic was terrible. Summer time is construction time in all the Empire. I had the bright idea to mail post cards from Llivia and Andorra so we drove back roads over the Pyrenees.

Llivia (a Spanish town entirely enclosed by France) turned out not to have a post office. But it’s complicated talking about the border between Spain and France because half of it is Catalonia, and the other half is Basque Country.

I have not heard anything good about Andorra and I can’t break the streak. We only went just as far as the border town of Pas de la Case. It is about like Nogales, except that French shoppers are a lot more earnest than American drinkers, and earnest in the rain isn’t any fun. I don’t know what’s happened to postage stamp republic philately, either. Unlike Liechtenstein, there was scarcely a postal presence at all. Drive away from Andorra.

We got to San Sebastian at dark and began eating pintxos and haven’t stopped. The Nogales drinkers have showed up here. Six or seven teenage girls accosted us just this afternoon and said our beards made us look like characters in the Lord of the Rings. This introduction would have been much more useful to persons other than ourselves.

Now it’s 8 PM and time to continue eating. Our Rough Trade Guide says about San Sebastian that the dinner pintxos ramble starts at 8 and goes to 11, but they omit to mention that the drinking starts about noon and continues until 8. Ask the Spanish girls. More accurate to say: There are the times that you drink, and then there are the times that you drink and eat. Unless you feel like doing the other one, in which case there is always plenty of food, which is always on display at the bar and practically free, and wine and beer, which is the same price.