In addition to tapas, Barcelona is known for “cutting edge” food and cooking. One of the city’s most forward-thinking restaurants is Comerç 24, and it’s one of the few restaurants that my two guidebooks actually agreed on. When my friends Jess & Garrett came back from Barcelona, they told me that the best meal they had their entire trip was at Comerç 24. The restaurant was only about a 10 minute walk from where I was staying, and I walked past it almost every day. I stopped in one of those times and asked if they could accommodate a vegetarian. The maitre’d asked me a few questions: Do I eat dairy? Yes. Do I eat seafood? No. Do I eat eggs? Yes. He assured me that they could put something together for me. I made a reservation for lunch the next day. I got the Festival tasting menu, a series of many, many courses. Together with the wine and the olive oil tasting that “every meal” at Comerç 24 begins with, the lunch cost me over $100, making it the second most expensive lunch of my life. However, where I felt the meal at Per Se was worth the price, I thought the meal at Comerç 24 was overpriced. Good, but not worth the cost.
The lunch was more than 10 courses, so I won’t go into great detail about everything. After the olive oil tasting the meal began with two small courses. The filo tube filled with parmesan and lime, capped with a tiny basil leaf, was striking in that my mind expected it to be sweet based on the appearance, but was in fact savory. The cold asparagus soup tasted more like asparagus water, and was interesting only for the small ball of solidified liquid coconut at the bottom. This was my first taste of so-called molecular gastronomy, and the combination of asparagus and coconut is unexpectedly nice.
What you see at the top is called Pizza 24, minus the usual anchovies. A thin layer of filo, topped with mozzarella, microgreens, and strawberries. This was ok.
The prettiest course was the Winter Salad. Lots of fresh greens, wild strawberries, crisp beans, edible flowers, and a flavorful vinaigrette. I’m not sure how wild strawberries are a winter fruit, but I got the impression that in Barcelona flavor trumps seasonality.
The next course, playfully named “Kinder Egg”, was the best thing I ate the entire time I was in Barcelona. In fact, it’s one of the best things I’ve eaten in a very long time. If you’ve never heard of a Kinder Egg, they are chocolate eggs with a toy surprise inside. When my server brought this out, he told me that at Comerç 24 they “never reveal the surprise inside” their own Kinder Egg. I dug through the custard-like first layer to find a rich mix of warm eggs, butter and truffles underneath. This was a dish that demands your attention, and is calculated to induce maximum pleasure. After I finished it my server came over and asked if I’d guessed the surprise. When I told him I got the eggs and truffles, he asked if I knew what the top part was. I hadn’t even thought about it. “Potato cream!” he announced proudly, before telling me I’d guessed very well. I should point out that this is inside of a hollowed out chicken egg, not chocolate.
The next two dishes were not as successful. Llavaneres Peas with truffles were way too salty, though the peas themselves were cooked to perfection. Each one burst in my mouth like a tiny pea-flavored water balloon. The Vegetable Yakisoba featured noodles made of vegetables and grilled tangerines, but the balance of flavors was off and it was a bit too sweet.
Then we were on to the cheese course, with five different cheeses each with its own condiment. A couple of notable things: one, the clear jelly on the cheese second from the right was a pumpkin marmalade with edible gold flakes, gold being completely tasteless and only a fancy affectation (check what David Cross has to say about edible gold at 3:38). Better was the cheese on the far left, my first taste of real Roquefort. Funky, gooey, burning my throat, and wonderful.
My first dessert course was a play on a traditional Catalan dessert, called Mel i Mato. This version had honey ice cream, chocolate cake, some kind of cheese, and truffles. I assumed that when my server told me truffles, they were shredded chocolate bits meant to look like truffles, but no, these were real truffles. I’ve never had truffles with a sweet dish before, and the combination was strange but pretty good.
Then came five more smaller desserts. They were all good, but the most interesting was the Natural Nestea, which is that shot glass full of multi-colored liquid. A blend of peach, lime, and some other stuff I can’t remember, when you drink it all at once it tastes exactly like Nestea.
Finally some petit fours, including a hazelnut chocolate dusted in more edible gold and an “Oreo” ice cream sandwich with black sesame.
It was a very good meal, to be sure. I just don’t think Comerç 24 was quite worth the expense. I will remember the Kinder Egg as the best thing I ate on my trip, but I will also remember the waste of the edible gold. Perhaps those two conflicting feelings sum up molecular gastronomy — when it’s good it’s very, very good, but when it doesn’t work it feels like an affectation. If you’ve got the money to spare in Barcelona, I’d recommend making the trip yourself to make the decision for yourself.