Quique Dacosta, Dénia
April 24, 2012
Quique (short for Enrique) Dacosta has been getting raves in the foodie world. Adam says that “This was a magical meal and certainly at the same level as El Bulli.” Bonjwing says that the meal “changed my life.” Thai says: “We have eaten and entered gastronomic heaven.” Steve said back in 2007 “This is truely one of the greatest restaurants in the world.” Chuck said much the same thing in the same year. It was one of the first places to be visited by Ferran Adria after he closed his restaurant. … he said: “The Quique Dacosta restaurant is one of the best in the world!”
So Linda and I were expecting a lot when we went for dinner on March 11, 2012.
Quique Dacosta is in Dénia, a resort town on the Mediterranean coast about an hour south of Valencia. The area is full of orange groves, vegetable fields and beach resorts. We stayed in Oliva Nova, an easy twenty minute drive north. On arrival at the restaurant we were seated in a comfortable lounge with white decor. Our first dishes were served on the coffee table in front of us. We started with glasses of 2006 Copa Gramona Imperial Cava. Nice.
For the whole evening we were in the hands of genial and knowledgeable Giovanni Mastromarino, the second maître d’hôtel; he took very good care of us. The chef, as befits his rising celebrity, was in Paris giving a presentation at the Omnivore event where he was given a standing ovation. Two sous chefs and the maître d’hôtel, Didier Fertilati, were with him.
There were three reservations on the books for that evening. One canceled, another was a no show, so we had the entire restaurant to ourselves. There seemed to be plenty of staff and work going on in the kitchen; I don’t think that much of it was for us, but our meal moved along at just the right pace. We had a choice of a menu which featured Quique Dacosta classics, but we chose the other option, the MENÚ “EL SABOR DEL MEDITERRÁNEO.” This was also known as the menu of the brave as only five of its 48 items were holdovers from previous menus. The rest had been created during the restaurant’s four month winter closure, which had ended two weeks before.
1ºActo: Snacks. Jardín.
Sticks de Queso ahumado y frito.
Cortezas de Roble
Consomé de Barricas de Ron Barceló Imperial.
You can’t see them, but on top of the “hay” are two sticks of smoked and fried cheese; they were somewhat crumbly and delicous. The “marinated pancetta” buns had a lovely warm texture and a subtle flavor. In back are two “oak rinds” on a log which were really chips of Jerusalem artichoke. There was also an “oak barrel” broth of chicken stock with Barceló “Imperial” rum (not in photo.)
Grosella de Mar al momento.
Two pieces of seaweed were dropped into the water at the start of these dishes and allowed to flavor the water. We then ate the seaweed and drank the water. This was subtle.
A good, chewy sea snail.
Mini endivias a la naranja sanguina.
Endive cores had been dressed with shredded blood orange peels. Nice.
Raïm de Pastor.
These were a pickled local plant, shepherd grapes. I like the idea, but did not find them of much interest.
At this point we moved to our table in the dining room.
2ºActo: Mesa de Salazones.
Papel de salvado de cereales.
Cebolletas frescas encurtidas.
Giovanni sliced four excellent salt-cured fish for us: bonito, ling fish, sea bass roe and dry octopus with olive oil. They were served with pickled onions, a paper of cereals and figs wrapped in edible rice paper.
The sommelier suggested a glass of Manzanilla sherry to us; it went well with the cured fish, which is always a challenge.
After the Manzanilla, we had a bottle of 2007 Chivite, Coleccion 125, described by the sommelier as “Spain’s Puligny-Montrachet.” It is 100% Chardonnay from Navarra. We liked its complexity and thought it went well with the cuisine.
A piece of mackerel was on top of a local, edible pepperwort leaf, which had a spicy flavor. Nice.
Nido de golondrina.
These faux dove’s eggs were made with an egg yolk encased in a chicken stock gel.
Tarta de manzana Campari.
A small apple meringue had a Campari granité topping which gave a bitter contrast to the sweet fruit.
These were pork jowls flavored with Spanish paprika.
These faux peppers are made from dehydrated watermelon; they were reconstituted with a slightly sweet sauce of piquillo juice and garnished with mustard seeds which added a bit of needed bite. Giovanni enjoyed making us guess the ingredient. There was a concentrated fruit flavor.
Cubalibre de Foie Gras con escarcha de limón y rúcula.
This is a signature dish of Quique Dacosta. It has been on the menu since 2001. To see the recipe in Spanish on the chef’s blog click here. In short, a gel is prepared with a reduction of Coca Cola, good rum and lemon peel. 7 g of it are mixed with 40 g of foie gras per serving. They are then emulsified. Surprisingly good.
Cocochas de jamón al pil-pil.
This is a takeoff on a Basque dish of salt cod under a white sauce which is an emulson of its juices and olive oil. In this case ham is covered in an emulsion of its own fat.
4º Acto: Platos
No bread was served with the meal as there is plenty to eat without it, but at this point five flavored breadsticks were served and left on the table. They included pesto, which logically went with the tomato dish, white truffle and others.
Tomato snow covered a tomato mixture underneath. The flavors were concentrated.
This was made with peanuts and coconut on a chicken stock glaze gel. Kaffir lime was grated on top.
This leaf just acted as a sort of spoon for the margarita ice.
Uña de Tortuga *
This “turtle nail” was made with avocado served on a bonito broth with shaved smoked avocado seed on top.
Horchata y Chufas
This is a takeoff on horchata, a traditional beverage made sometimes with chufas, or tigernuts, an edible tuber. The faux chufas are actually made with cocoa butter and foie gras. The “horchata” is made with truffle flavored foie gras.
Gamba Roja de Dénia
Giovanni told us that Dénia prawns are fished off shore at 800 meters depth where their food has no photo synthesis, creating extra depth of flavor. They are barely cooked in seawater and refreshed in it. Eaten with the hands, ours were absolutely delicious. It was a shame to have only one each. Alongside was a cup of prawn shell bisque.
Underneath are two pieces of fresh eel. The pastas on top are meant to resemble the baby eels which are popular here in season.
Ostra al Rocío
The oysters are from Normandy. Their water is drawn off twice. The first is used to make the cold gel underneath. The second is concentrated and then injected into the oysters, which are served very cold. Their flavor was intense.
Pistachios were served as a mousse, a powder and whole. There were offset by thin slices and a concentrate of porcini, or cèpes.
At this point the sommelier poured me a glass of 2007 Quincha Corral, a red wine grown nearby from old-vine Bobal grapes.
Underneath the carpaccio slice of beef is a deep fried fritter with beef stock inside. The stock is frozen before frying and is a warm liquid when it is served.
Los Siete Servicios del Pichón
(1) Hígado (2) Rostit (3) Coca de Dacsa (4) Pechuga sobre germinados
(5) Consomé (6) Arroz de pichón, regaliz y naranja madura
Pigeon was presented in six different ways: (1) the liver under a Jerusalem artichoke and smoked tea emulsion; (2) slow roasted; (3) a sweet corn tartlet, what the pigeon eats; (4) a piece of the breast on sprouts; (5) consommé; (6) a rice of pigeon, licorice and orange.
At this point I was served a glass of Casta Diva Reserva Real 2. This sweet wine is grown south of Denia. It is 100% Muscatel. It was served as the dessert wine at Prince Felipe’s wedding.
5º Acto: Postres.
Chutney de Mango.
Mangos had been prepared as a chutney and formed into little flowers.
Horchata – Fartón *
A real horchata, made with chufa nuts, was served with the traditional sugared fried pastry.
As the meal progressed, I could sense the exceptional creative culinary skill which went into each dish. The ingredients, combinations and techniques were outstanding. But there didn’t seem to be any unifying principle to the meal, despite its “Mediterranean” title and the five “Acts.” At the start, it seemed to be coming from somewhere and I was enjoying the progression, but eventually it just seemed to be meandering. Evidently there was a logic apparent to the chef, but not to me. In an interview last July he said:
“My cooking is rooted in the idea of proximity: the concepts of context and terroir. In my case, the inspiration comes from the soul and spirit of the products and culture of the Mediterranean. When we talk about the Mediterranean, one of its iconic elements is its diet. We feel that what we’ve done here is make that diet and that lifestyle contemporary. Because we had to. The Mediterranean is at the epicenter of my culinary ecosystem; most of the products I use have to come from my surroundings… And, of course, this is all transmitted through the prism of the avant-garde. In my case, it is a very personal and concrete avant-garde…It’s what defines and distinguishes this restaurant most of all. That’s why people come to eat here…
There are micro-menus within the same menu and everything has a conceptual order that takes into account the greater harmony we are striving for. You could say that if you were to take a course out of the tasting menu and give it to another table with a different menu, it would make no sense…
We are working to make it so that everything is unexpected. If you go into a restaurant, no matter how forward-thinking it is, and you know what you are going to get and how things are going to go, that restaurant has stopped being avant-garde.”
Anyone seriously interested in cuisine should go to Quique Dacosta to experience his personal and concrete avant-garde. I am glad we did even if the conceptual order escaped me. Well, that is true for most modern art or music also. Nonetheless, the dishes, standing on their own, were excellent and interesting.
Alert: We both had serious digestive issues following this meal. On making the reservation, and on arrival, we were asked about allergies. We only mentioned Linda’s allergies to oysters. We have eaten many big tasting menus with “modern” techniques without problem, including several meals at WD-50 and Pierre Gagnaire, so we had no reason to be wary. Linda can have digestive problems with too much hot spiciness or acidity, but that was not a problem here. I thought I could eat anything; I don’t think I have had such a problem since travelling in East Africa many years ago.
Many of Quique Dacosta’s techniques were established and made a part of modern Spanish cuisine by Ferran Adrià, who has been attacked frequently for the quantity of ingredients in many of his dishes used to make gels, foams, spheres etc. A Chowhound post said,
“…truth is that “you feel like total s… the day after eating at El Bulli. …Our assessment? The body was not designed to ingest that many chemicals in one meal.”
Another report said
“…tout l’hôtel sut le lendemain matin que la dame du 115 était malade, car l’on me dit : « vous étiez à El Bulli, ça ne nous étonne pas, car c’est assez fréquent ». Je préfère imaginer que ceci n’a pas été dit. Le malaise de ma femme se prolongea la nuit suivante, ce qui est fort long. Mon étonnement se fit plus fort lorsque la masseuse de l’hôtel me dit : « il m’arrive souvent de masser des gens qui sont allés à El Bulli qui ont vomi la nuit ».
Of course, most diners came away from El Bulli with no problems, having had a great time. The same is true now of Quique Dacosta. I include our experience to alert my readers of the possibilities and to caution chefs to be concerned. I am very glad we went to Quique Dacosta, despite the after effects, although I am not sure that Linda agrees.