Sant Pau, Sant Pol de Mar

May 1, 2012

Carme Ruscalleda was raised in a family of farmers and began cooking as a girl. With her husband, grocery owner Toni Balam, she opened restaurant Sant Pau in 1988 in Sant Pol de Mar where they both grew up. It gained its first Michelin star in 1991 and its third in 2006. Ruscalleda is now the world’s only five-Michelin-starred female chef as they own the two-star Sant Pau in Tokyo. They also have a restaurant in Barcelona where their son is the chef.

Linda and I went for dinner on March 13, 2012. Sant Pau is in a little seaside town, Sant Pol de Mar, north of Barcelona. The train takes an hour and is convenient for lunch, but service stops at 11:00 pm so it is not practical for dinner. We stayed in the next town north, Callela, with its big beach. Sant Pau has a parking alley next to the restaurant in a jumble of narrow streets; the staff puts the diners’ cars in a garage.

We started with the chef’s own Cava, CR20, so named as it was made for the twentieth anniversary of Sant Pau in 2008. It is an Grand Reserve Extra Brut Cava made from 60% Chardonnay, 20% Xarel.lo, 10% Macabeo and 10% Parellada, aged a minimum of 30 months. Nice.

We ordered the Menú Degustación which offers a choice only in the meat course.  A freshly baked crusty loaf of bread was presented to us and then sliced. At the suggestion of the sommelier we ordered a bottle of 2010 Lanius, a white organic wine produced with Pansa Blanca, a grape variety typical of the D.O. Alella, complemented with other varieties that increase the aromatic complexity and structure of the wine.  Alella is near the coast between Barcelona and Sant Pol de Mar. The wine was complex and good; it went well with the cuisine.

The first appetizer was
El CALDO DE INICIO

This was a refined version of the traditional bread and garlic soup, a staple of Spanish peasant cuisine. Garlic is cooked with stale bread and is then thinned with a chicken broth. This was somewhat thicker with perfectly balanced flavors.

Next came
Los cuatro APERITIVOS del MICRO-MENÚ de Marzo
nada es lo que parece
Nothing is what it appears to be.

¿Rábano aliñado?

These faux radishes were made from macademia nuts coated with cocoa butter and raspberry purée. The leaves were mâche. Tasty and fun.

¿Corteza de churrería?

These faux pork rinds were made from cod and durum wheat flour.

¿Huevo con patata y chistorra?

This popular Basque dish of eggs, potatoes and sausage was actually made with celery root, carrot, milk, tomato and paprika.

¿Copa Dry Martini?

These were properly mixed in a cocktail shaker at the serving table and poured for us at the table. The “olive” was made of pesto; the “gin” was cucumber water. More fun.

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MONDRIAN GASTRONÓMICO
brandada de bacalao, pimientos de colores, olivas negras

This was first presented in a wooden packing case, as if it were a valued painting. In addition to being a lovely rendition of Mondrian’s style, it was delicious. On top was a plaque of black olives with purées of various peppers and almond milk. Underneath was an excellent, very concentrated brandade of cod with almonds.

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COLA DE CIGALA
salsa de las cabezas, piel de tortilla, pan con tomate, ajo tierno

Three langoustine tails topped a cylinder of a fresh tortilla rolled around a garlic tomato filling. The sauce underneath was made from the sauteed heads of shrimp and langoustine and tender onion. This dish was subtle and elegant.

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PRIMAVERA DE INVIERNO
guisantes del Maresme, butifarra negra hecha en la casa

The delicious, fresh, small spring peas were from the Maresme, the county north of Barcelona which includes Sant Pol de Mar.  On the right was a slab of black sausage made in the house which gave substance to the dish allowing one to linger and enjoy the peas.

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GAMBA
con alcachofas

Local, fresh shrimp were served with small spring artichokes prepared three ways: braised, deep fried and puréed. The flavors were bright and superb. This dish was all the more enjoyable as a more basic version of shrimp with artichokes has been a standard in Spanish cuisine for a long time.

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SUQUET DE SEPIA
patates de dos colores, melsa, tinta, tirabecs

Ribbons of cuttlefish were served with a broth made from its spleen and its own ink. The garnishes were peapods and two-color spheres made from purées of white and brown potatoes.  As in the previous courses, the dominant effect was of fresh seafood being lightly enhanced by the preparation.

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PLUMA IBÉRICA
frutos secos y confitados

Top quality shoulder of Iberian pork was roasted and sliced. It was served with dry and confit fruits and nuts and a log of potato purée. This dish was full of good flavor without being too rich.

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EL DUETO DE QUESO DE MARZO
“Núm 3 de la Segunda Serie”
BLAU D’OSONA,
Elaborado en Centelles em el Molí de la Llavina
Galleta fina de espinacas y pipas, vinagreta de miel y queso. Dado con los mismos ingredientes

A wedge of blue cows milk cheese was served with a spinach and sunflower seed wafer. Alongside were a honey and cheese vinaigrette and a gel of the same ingredients. This was an interesting cheese course of just the right size.

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PREPOSTRE: infusión refrescante

There was a ball of sorbet in a thyme infusion.

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NÁCAR, maracuyá, coco, vainilla, cayena

This faux oyster contained passion fruit, coconut, vanilla and cayenne. One ate the crisp “pearl” half-way through to provide some crunchy texture.

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CHOCOLATE, guirlache, jijona, borracho de ron

The slab of dark chocolate was served with two kinds of traditional Spanish nougats and a rum sponge. This was rich, but not cloying.

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LOS DIEZ DIVERTIMIENTOS DE PASTELERÍA

Polo de piruleta
Plátano con chocolate

The mignardises started with a lollipop and a chocolate-coated piece of banana.

The other mignardises were presented on a model railroad car. Sant Pau has a collection of these, all different.  From the left the mignardises are:
Crumble con frambuesas; Financier de ron; Bombón de chocolate y naranja amarga;  Gominola de limoncello; Crujiente de jarabe de arce y almendra;  Coca de hojaldre y cabello de ángel; Palito de regaliz y sidral.

I won’t translate, but they were all good.

Our meal was exceptional. All of the courses used fine, fresh ingredients, mostly local. The cuisine was successfully designed to bring out their flavors and textures. The presentations were lovely. The playful spirit of much of it kept the evening enjoyable despite knowing that serious work had gone into the event. It can be awesome knowing that one is dining at one of the world’s great restaurants.

The service was always attentive and efficient. The pace was almost too fast, but I am sure we could have slowed it down by asking. The restaurant was not full that night so the kitchen was not stretched.

As we left, the chef came out to chat for a bit. It was a pleasure to meet her.

Brava! Brava!

http://www.ruscalleda.com/the-restaurant

To see Adam’s meal at Sant Pau last August click here.
The only course he had which was the same as ours was the Mondrian.

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