Sunday, November 18, 2007
It was September 11th, La Diada Nacional de Catalunya, a holiday commemorating the siege of Barcelona during the War of the Spanish Succession. With the exception of some Catalan separatist flags and assemblies, the day was unmarked by the same raucousness that can characterize other holidays in Barcelona. Instead, Catalans flocked with their families to what few restaurants remained open and to outdoor lunches organized to commemorate the day.
By the time it occurred to me to have lunch myself, every place I passed was completely packed. This was a problem. It was already 3pm (the equivalent of 1pm in Canada from the point of view of lunch); I was a good half hour from home; and, as always, I was hungry. I walked along hopefully, but pragmatically, i.e. in the direction of home.
Just as I was about to leave the Born and all reasonable hope of lunch behind, I happened on Comerç 24 (c/ Comerç 24, 93 319 2102, reservations generally required) . I had heard of it. I had read about it in several guidebooks, in fact. The chef (Carles Abellan) had worked at El Bulli, reputedly the best restaurant in the world, for many years. Comerç 24 is the place he opened after he left. It's a tapas place. How expensive can tapas be, I thought rhetorically, and went in.
It was busy, but not packed, and the chic maitre d' gave me a seat at the bar, already populated by a couple of lone food boys.
The menu was slim and, when opened, slightly troubling. The two tasting menus, recommended by the maitre d', were 55 and 78 euros, respectively. That's more than my weekly food budget, I thought. Then immediately, what can I get away with?
The a la carte tapas were somewhat less expensive, though by no means affordable. I decided on the two cheapest, ignoring the maitre d's recommendation to select three. I would have the summer salad and the canneloni. The menu doesn't over promise so neither was described in any more detail. For all I knew, for approximately 30 euros, I was about to get a few pieces of artfully arranged iceberg lettuce and some Chef Boyardee. I asked for a glass of wine to help it all go down more smoothly.
As soon as I closed the menu, a linen mat was spread before me and things I hadn't ordered started to arrive--the amuse bouche: a handful of gold covered macadamia nuts, two enormous anchovie stuffed olives, a creamy pesto with fresh bread sticks, the lightest pork fritter known to man with a Peruvian sweet sauce and a parmesan tart. And the wine. The wine was good. I was starting to loosen up a bit. I took the pins out of my hair and let it down. Then, I undid a couple of buttons on my shirt.
After the amuse bouche came the summer salad: a small flower pot of sweet cherry tomatoes, baby courgettes, peaches, and an impossible variety of tender greens, herbs and edible flowers. The vinagrette tasted softly of honey. I crossed and uncrossed my legs, sighed, and closed my eyes.
When I next opened them, the main course lay before me, sizzling. It was a sublime meat filled canelloni topped with sauteed chanterelles in a rich beef reduction. The perfect balance of agression and surrender. I arched my back and let out a moan. Then I lost consciousness a little bit.
When I came to, the waitress was bringing dessert. I must have asked for it at some point. It was a tasting...of nine. I braced myself against the bar. I wasn't sure that I could keep going. But I couldn't stop: three takes on fruit and six different variations on chocolate, including a dark chocolate mousse topped with olive oil and salt. I can't really give you a more detailed account because it was at this point that I shivered and blacked out again. At one point, I'm pretty sure I left my body and floated overhead for a few seconds.
When it was all over, I slid my credit card across the bar without a word. Then, I drifted home and collapsed, spent.