Two sticks happy face

October 1st, 2011 § 2 comments

Chopsticks and toothpicks. Food-handling tools in two different cultures. At Dos Palillos in Barcelona, Japanese cuisine is presented tapas-style. It’s the fusion of one cuisine with another’s way of eating, rather than a confusion of two food cultures. Owned by Albert Raurich who cheffed at elBulli for 11 years, you know you’re in for something special when you slide behind the bar at this voyeur-friendly kitchen.

 

Precision poetry in motion

 

I was damn near hypnotized by the measured, calm fluidity with which the chefs worked. If I ever had to fall prey to insomnia, I’d watch footage of Takeshi Somekawa (pictured above) working because it can only be described as kitchen Tai Chi. Yet the dishes appear at a rapid rate. The chefs at Dos Palillos are also known for their interesting hairstyles.

 

Impeccably coiffed and taking the heat

 

I love Asian food. The punchy sweet, salty, sour flavour combinations developed over centuries to stimulate appetite and guarantee satisfaction. Bear in mind that at this point, I’d dined at Ferran and Albert Adria’s new Tickets restaurant twice (once for savoury tapas and once to have six dessert courses) in the previous few days, so my taste buds had delusions of grandeur and were blown out on the best modernist tapas the world has to offer. In spite of this, I loved the Dos Palillos experience.

 

Homemade vegetable tsukemono

 

Shrooms and mild green peppers marinated in sugar and soya. My tastebuds started perking up.

 

Sardine tempura

I’ve grown to dislike tempura because often there’s just too much greasy batter and not enough of the main ingredient. And there’s nothing worse than tempura that gets soggy from sauce contact. The tempura here was so light you could hardly see it. I munched my way through this hot, crisp offering with absolute gusto. A sprinkling of green shiso added just the right top note. Shiso is related to basil and mint, although my first taste impression was of mint geranium. Very fragrant.

 

Sea life sunomono

 

The pic probably doesn’t do this little beauty justice. An artwork comprising shellfish and seaweed lightly pickled in rice vinegar. I’d seen navajas (razor clams) and percebes (goose barnacles) at Barcelona’s amazing Boqueria produce market and was happy to encounter percebes in this dish. It’s the marbled pointy claw sticking out, top right. The salad was a chewy medley of fresh marine flavours.

 

Goose barnacles (left) and razor clams with a serious case of the droop

 

I visited Boqueria market with Andres Condé, head chef of Tickets, for his daily shopping run. The razor clams pictured above look grim but establishments like Tickets and Dos Palillos get theirs fresh. Still alive. We walked to the other side of the market where Andres purchased razor clams that popped out of their shells when the fishmonger tapped them. Having seen both fresh and dead McDroopy clams, when next in Spain I’ll take care where I order these…

 

Razor clams with attitude

 

Delicious razor clams with ginger and red onion

 

A favourite of the evening – razor clams in a light ginger dressing that complemented the sweet freshness of the clams.

 

Chow-one-mushy

 

The chawanmushi did not work for me. If I remember correctly the waiter described it as flan with tuna water and pieces of crab. Or langoustine. I didn’t like it for the same reason I won’t like an omelette poached in the brine drained from a tin of tuna. It wasn’t offensive. I just don’t like fish-flavoured loose egg.

 

Tempura cherry tomatoes

 

Two little tempura tomatoes rebooted my palate. They very kindly allowed me to swap a few dishes from my menu with the mega-taster menu. And this was one of them: dumplings. And the best I’ve ever tasted.

 

Basket case

 

Made right, I love dumplings. They’re little pockets of homey goodness. These were incredible. Two with langoustine and pork belly and the other with spinach and shiitake, served with their own sauce. I do declare the langoustine and pork belly dumplings are just about topping my Best Thing I’ve Ever Had In My Mouth list.

 

Roll-your-own tuna belly temaki

 

Mini Moo on a lovely little steamed roll

 

Stir fried vegetables in soy

 

I spotted large chunks of meat slow-roasting on a rack above the grill and although it wasn’t part of my menu, they swapped dishes so I could try it. Iberian pork jowl. Pork neck seems to be a popular cut in Spain. Here, chunks of neck are sealed in the bag with a basting sauce, sous vide for 12 hours (‘boiled’ in the bag at low temperature) and then placed on the rack to temper for a few more hours. Absolutely wicked, suffused with flavour and unapologetically moreish. But so rich, this little plate at the end of a tasting menu was as much as I could handle.

 

 

Iberian pork jowl

 

Smoky and sweet, this could have been my dessert. To finish, they served a version of kuzumochi. A gooey berry-flavoured ball with slivers of fresh fruit in a liquid centre, on a puddle of chocolate and with a bowl of shiso ice, done the nitro way. You’re supposed to bust the ball, mix in the ice and then scramble the whole lot with the chocolate sauce. It looked like a crash test in a jelly factory. After the incredibly delicate savoury and sweet sphericals that I enjoyed at Tickets, the glutinous texture of the berry blob seemed unsophisticated to my (erm… less than 24-hour old) awareness of spheres and things… plus it tasted starchy. But let’s not compare, this meal was masterful in so many ways. And I’m not the biggest dessert head. The chocolate ningyo yaki (cold choc centre in hot batter) that followed provided the sweet full stop to an incredible meal. I had the 55 Euro tasting menu but you could opt for the Jap-tap extravaganza, which weighs in at 70Euro for 18 courses.

 

 

Kuzumochi

 

 

Cold hot choc bomb

 

Once again, as with Tickets and 41, the service was fantastic – informed, friendly and fast. Owner Albert Raurich arrived halfway through my meal and stepped into the fast-flowing production process. Cool, calm and with an unassuming friendly twinkle in the eye. After 11 years at elBulli, Albert’s new culinary home bears testimony to the elBulli brilliance albeit in a different format.

 

Nice touch

 

Situated in the hip Camper Hotel building in Las Ramblas, it’s easy to miss the entrance. Book online. There’s a Dos Palillos in Berlin too, if that’s on your path.

Reviewed 41 and Dos Palilllos on SABC3 Expresso on 28 September. Click here to view.

 

 

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§ 2 Responses to Two sticks happy face"

  • Lauren says:

    Hi there, found you through Sally, the Cafe Cat. Welcome to Barcelona! (albeit belated). I had never seen fresh razor clams before arriving to BCN, and I’m still am a bit baffled by them. So they must pop back and forth out of their shells when bumped by the fish monger? I suppose if they don’t move they are dead. Did Andres mention size being a factor? …of the razor clams I’m referring.

    • admin says:

      Hi, thanks (for the welcome to BCN) and yes, they should preferably be alive with a nice green shine to the shell. Now that I know this I could never order razor clams from a display window where the muscle hangs from a dull brown shell in a sad droop… Regarding size, not sure what you mean but all the razor clams I’ve seen have been much the same size in terms of length of shell. Some just seem fleshier. Honestly, a dead droopy razor clam is not an appetizing sight!

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