For my last tasting dinner in Spain, I visited Gelonch restaurant in the bohemian neighborhood known as Eixample.
Gelonch is a tiny restaurant and its reputation of creating innovative Catalan dishes draws a lot of visitors from different countries to taste the food of Chef/Owner Robert Gelonch. On a Monday night when I dined with my sister and niece, the other tables were primarily filled with English-speaking tourists.
The 74 euro ($90) tasting menu starts out true to Spain’s tradition of tapas, or small bites. A parade of small dishes came out all at once, starting with a bowl of mojito paper, followed by rose-lychee baby scallops, miniature razor clams with sweet ginger and mango, black onion cake with sweet onion foam, and prawn and cod brandade with shrimp chips.
Our table filled with the tiny tapas looked quite festive, and I really enjoyed the prawn and cod brandade and black onion cake, which had a definite umami flavor. But the rose-lychee baby scallops and miniature razor clams were so small I could barely taste anything as I quickly gulped the teeny-tiny bite.
A real molecular gastronomical presentation came with the carrot-orange nitro popcorn, which was basically carrot and orange soup that was dehydrated with nitroglycerin and presented as a bowl of popcorn. It was pretty although the shapes weren’t as much popcorn as they were more like crumpled cardboard. My niece had fun biting into the pieces and watching a puff of smoke come out of her mouth because of the cold, but it lacked any real taste.
The evening improved with the delightful duck maigret mini burrito, which was a tiny burrito filled with tasty duck meat, and a nice presentation of a sliver of silver leaf on the burrito to give the feel of the aluminum often wrapped around a real burrito.
We had a nice server who spoke English and explained the dishes, but we often had to wait because she was the only person working the entire room. (Again, it was a small room with maybe five tables on the first floor, but with one server it can create some wait.) And even though our reservation was for only 30 minutes after the restaurant opened, the kitchen was already out of a few ingredients as our server explained how certain dishes from the tasting menu had to be substituted.
For example, a 24-hour sous vide jamon pork pancetta with grilled octopus was not available for our dinner. Instead, we got a plate of cuttlefish with deconstructed pesto. While it was a delicate dish with nice pesto flavor, it seemed to pale to even the description of the 24-hour sous vide pork pancetta.
While the dinner started off creatively with the tapas, it progressed to the point where most of the dishes started taking on the same savory brown flavor. From the shitake mushroom broth with spider crab ravioli to the black turnip with veal bone marrow, they all seemed to have that brown gravy flavor, even starting to all look the same with the familiar brown gravy touches on the plate.
The dessert courses had interesting touches of Spanish flavor, from the guacamole ice cream to the roasted tomato tiles, but they again didn’t seem to stand out in either flavor or presentation. In fact, many of the plates didn’t seem to showcase the ingredients as refined or cleverly as I’ve seen in previous gastronomical dinners in Spain.
Gelonch is a nice getaway from the tourist scene, bringing you to a neighborly spot for a tasting meal that’s commendable and ambitious but rarely ends with amazement.
Rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps
Gelonch, c/Bailen, 56, Barcelona. PH: (34) 93.265.82.98. Open Mon.–Sat., dinner from 8–10:30 p.m. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.gelonch.es
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