Frozen Sangria with Grilled Strawberries
The dinner show began with sangria mixed with liquid nitrogen and placed in a simple cup. Smoother than gelato, it had the same intense flavor as sangria, just a different texture,. The grilled strawberries were meant to be eaten intermittently with the frozen sangria. The warm and sweet berries were a great temperature contrast and accentuated the wine's sweetness. The chefs before us were using tweezers and other fine implements for the next course. This was going to be something very special, I could feel it.
The Clavel is the national flower of Spain given to us here in a cast of Chef Andres' hand. The flower made of papered yogurt with a dab of pomegranate in the center was ethereal. Tangy, floral, sweet and sour in one fleeting bite.
Appropriately served in a golden jewelry box, these beet rings adorned many of our fingers before we tasted. The dehydrated beet curls sprinkled with gold dust were unexpectedly salty and savory. I think because they were so pretty and sparkly, I expected sweetness. Instead we got intense beet flavor in crispy chip-like form. So playful!
Membrillo and La Serena Cone
The bite inside of a pastry cone began with La Serena, a very pungent soft sheep's milk cheese and finished with membrillo, quince paste. The sour and salty followed by sweet and jammy was a contrast of tastes and textures.
Apple "Brazo De Gitano"
I was forewarned of the delicateness of this course but still pierced my fingers through it. The light apple meringue with blue cheese espuma inside dissolves in your mouth. With a thin strip of caramel and a hint of apple, it was both sweet and salty.
Jose Taco & Artichoke with Caviar and Quail Egg
Gasp. That is what I did when this beautiful plate was set before me. It was almost too pretty to eat...almost. I will remember these two dishes forever. This crispy small artichoke housed a soft cooked quail egg and was topped off with sustainable Rio Frio caviar. The harmony of flavors and textures left me wanting more The crispy earthiness of the artichoke, the succulent creaminess of the quail egg and the rich, savory, saltiness of the sturgeon roe were compliments both familiar and surprising to my palate. I am pretty sure "oh my God" came out of my mouth. From here, I wrapped the jewel colored jamon iberico de bellota around the dollop of caviar and paused. Jamon iberico de bellota is the finest jamon iberico, from happy free ranging pigs who spend their last three months eating acorns from the forest floor of southwestern Spain. I first tasted a small fat-swirled ribbon by letting it rest on my tongue. The supple flavor of the acorn rich fat as it melted in my mouth was supple and lingered like a fine wine. The combination of the iberico and caviar was, in a word, sublime.
Bocata "De Calamares"
This adorable little sandwich was an homage to the fried squid sandwiched Jose loved to eat at the beach as a boy. It was adorable but instantly filled me with terror when Stephanie said the word "uni." I am a very adventurous foodie. I will try almost anything. I love offal. But a date in college where the first bite of sushi lovingly thrust into my mouth was uni scarred me for life. This is not the place to pass on a dish so I dug in. Incredible. The fried uni was robust and flavorful with a bit of aoli on a beautiful mini brioche. The cucumber was the perfect cool and crisp addition. Loved it.
Ajo Blanco is a centuries old Andalusian chilled white soup that is often called a white gazpacho. Made from simple ingredients, garlic, bread, water and oil, ajo blanco replaces tomatoes with the regions famous almonds for a creamy and subtly flavored white soup. The soup is thickened with stale bread and garnished with white grapes. 'e's version is a fun deconstruction. Guests are given a bowl of arranged components: sliced almonds, ground almonds, microgreens, grapes and a granita and then a marcona almond liquid made without cream is poured over. We were encouraged to taste the ingredients separately and then mixed. In this way, each layer stood out when sipping the mixed soup. I loved the sweet nuttiness and could imagine myself sipping this on a hot Spanish day. Here is a great recipe/history page if you would like to make it at home.
During our dinner one of our guests inquired about a wine paired with a course. The lovely and gracious Stephanie walked over to the Underwood typewriter and typed out the name and vintage for him. Such a small gesture but so meaningful. I heard this was one of Jose's favorite things about 'e. He was excited for the bill to be typed out for such an intimate experience. I agree.
Santa Barbara Spotted Prawns with Roses
Luscious Langostines in a sauce made from the head and accompanied by rose foam. Rose is not a scent or flavor I enjoy but here the herbal contrast to the Langostines was lush, fitting and delicious.
Smoky Oysters in Escabeche
Secreto is the meat sourced from between two layers of fat from the pig's shoulders. Three slices lightly grilled arrived on a slate plate with copious amounts of shaved black truffles and chanterrelles. The rich, highly marbled meaty goodness was perfectly balanced by the earthiness of its fungal sidekicks.
This fruit version of the ever present chocolate molten cake (which I happen to love at restaurants or to make at home) oozed cool apricot liquid when pierced with my fork. It was bright, naturally sweet, and nectarous.
At the end of the dinner (say it isn't so) the staff lined up much like a theatrical curtain call and we applauded. The applause was not only for the refined food we enjoyed, each dish steeped in Spanish tradition and taken to cutting edge, but for impeccable service.
I left 'e walking on air after the most extraordinary gastronomic experience of my life. Truly. Jose Andres is a creator of genius. I cheered for him when he deservedly won the 2011 James Beard award for Outstanding chef on May 9. Accepting his award Jose said "Food has the power to change the life of people." On this particular night the food and Jose changed mine.