Can Fabes, Sant Celoni
May 15, 2012
Can Fabes opened in 1981 as an informal bistro serving meals to farmers who came to the market in Sant Celoni, a modest Catalan town. The house, which still serves as the main dining room, had belonged to the Santamaria family for 200 years. The late chef, Santi Santamaria, was born in it. Can Fabes was awarded a Michelin star in 1988 and the first Michelin three-star rating in Catalonia in 1994.
Linda and I went for dinner on March 14, 2012. We stayed in one of the five rooms upstairs. Can Fabes has been a member of Relais & Châteaux since 1989; Santamaria was a vice-president from 2003 to 2006. He became very controversial in 1997 when he sharply criticized Ferran Adrià for his use of laboratory techniques and chemicals in his cuisine. Successful as a chef, he was also a good businessman and expanded his family’s restaurant holdings. Then, at the age of 53, he died of a heart attack in February 2011 while visiting Santi, his restaurant in Singapore managed by his daughter.
The kitchen at Can Fabes was taken over by Xavier Pellicer. He had apprenticed at Arzak, had worked for Jacques Maximin in several of his restaurants on the Côte d’Azur, then at the Carré des Feuillants in Paris. He then spent six years as chef de cuisine under Santamaria at Can Fabes. He went on to be chef of Abac, a hotel restaurant in Barcelona, but in 2010 he had disagreements with the owners despite having earned two Michelin stars there. He rejoined Santamaria at Can Fabes in September 2010; the two announced that one of them would always be in the kitchen, assuring their top culinary standards while also allowing for development, travel etc.
Michelin has reduced Can Fabes to a two-star rating in its 2012 guide, which Pellicer told us he regards as normal after a change of chef.
Here you can see the old farmhouse with the former entrance to the restaurant on the right.
On the far left is the old building with the main dining room. On the right is the new, modern building with the new entry, the large kitchen, a second dining room and the guest rooms upstairs.
We arrived in the mid-afternoon, after a walk around old Girona, an hour to the north. This gave us time for a siesta and relaxing before coming downstairs a little after 9:00.
Linda started with a glass of Chardonnay from Can Fabes’ own Cuvée Santamaria and I had a glass of their Cava; both were good. We ordered a bottle of 1989 Miguel Torres Mas La Plana Gran Reserva from the extensive wine list.
It was excellent and a real bargain for this well aged, prestige wine.
We ordered the seasonal Menú de Invierno. There was also a winter truffle menu, which was in its last days. It was very tempting, particularly with its Woodcock à la Royale, but we wanted a broader range of Can Fabes’ cuisine.
The appetizers started with a sweet potato dip for breadsticks and two kinds of black olives.
Next came anchovy and black truffle macarons, ham and cheese puffs and sea urchin fritters.
These were nice, particularly the savory macarons, but the sea urchin didn’t stand up to being frittered any better than it does for the many Japanese chefs who try to tempura it.
Then there was white trout with roe and a leek cream alongside a frothy potato cream with ham.
TAJÍN DE COLIFLOR ECOLÓGICA
Como un cuscús, cebollas y piñones garrapiñados
Cauliflower ground to the texture of couscous was mixed with poppy seeds. It was topped with pickled onions, pralinated pine nuts and dried fruits, creating a good faux-Moroccan dish.
CREMA DE TUPINAMBOS DE GALLECS
Trufa y apio
A cream of Jerusalem artichokes was flavored with black truffle cubes and shards with celery shards. Very good.
CABEZUELAS DE COL
Grasa de ibérico, zanahorias y mandarina
Lardo of Iberian pork was wrapped around a dark green cabbage and mini-carrots. Tangerine slices were alongside. This was subtle and seemed very organic.
RIS DE VEAU
Pan crujiente de hierbas mediterráneas, puré de alcachofas
A veal sweetbread was topped with an herbed breadcrumb crust. It was garnished with a puree, half-heart and stem of artichoke.
PESCADO DE LA LONJA DE BLANES
Cocido en cocotte con pieles de patata, boniato y naranja deshidratadas
A piece of local sea bass had been lightly braised. It was served with various potato garnishes and orange peel. Alongside was a cup of fish and vegetable broth.
TERNERA À LA MODE
Salsa con mostaza antigua
A piece of braised veal was served with a dark sauce of veal glaze and grainy mustard. It was garnished with shallots, tiny asparagus and showy spinach leaves. This was a very rich dish and showed more of Pellicer’s French training than his Spanish roots. (He told us that his mother was French and his father Catalan.)
QUESO DE TRUFAS
A wedge of a creamy local goat cheese layered with black truffle was served with small salad greens and apple sticks.
The predessert had a bar of litchee ice topped with red fruit sorbet and beet shards.
Navarin con mandarina
This pretty and tasty dessert combined oranges, tangarines and meringues.
DULCES DE SOBREMESA
There were extensive mignardises.
We enjoyed our meal. The ingredients were top quality, well prepared. There were no disappointing courses, but none that were truly memorable. The meal lacked focus; with inspiration coming from different cuisines it was hard to adjust. A heavy, cream soup followed the light cous cous. The light sea bass preceded the heavy veal. Of course, one doesn’t want to be bored with sameness, but some progressions are more logical than others. A well constructed menu provides the good feeling that its whole is more than the sum of its parts.
The service was always excellent, the pace just right and the ambience of the old dining room charming.
In the morning we came downstairs to a sumptuous breakfast. There was a pitcher of freshly squeezed orange juice followed by a mixed fruit plate.
Here you can see part of what was laid on our table: a thin sandwich of top quality ham, flat little nut cakes, a tomato with olive oil, three jams: eggplant, tomato and banana; greek yoghurt, cheese, Viennoiserie: croissants and pains au chocolat. One could ask for a cooked dish, such as an omelet with sausages, but we did not. We did not need lunch.
We had a chance to chat with the chef, Xavier Pellicer, for a while at breakfast. He was quite philosophical about the effect the economic difficulties of Spain were having on his business. There had been 30 clients for lunch the afternoon we arrived, but just eight of us for dinner. He would like to regain the third Michelin star, but doesn’t seem to think it will happen soon and has other priorities now. He talked about using more local biologically sound ingredients.
We wish him all the best.
After breakfast Linda went to the main square of the town and started this watercolor of the picturesque town hall.
We are glad we went to Sant Celoni and Can Fabes. It should continue to be a stop for anyone visiting the great restaurants of the region.