Saturday, September 24, 2011

Santceloni Part I

This is the review I've been promising you all. It was so good that it deserves two separate posts. I cannot thank those who took me enough, it was truly a spectacular meal.

A couple weeks ago I had the amazing opportunity to go to a two star Michelin restaurant called Santceloni. I've been to some good restaurants before, but this was taken to a whole other level. The food was excellent and we got many extra courses in addition to our starters and main courses. 

We were seated and they immediately brought over a drink cart to us and poured us some Cava (Spanish version of champagne.) After that we received menus and two plates of amuses. The first was a long rectangular plate with four little bites on it. The first was sea snail in its shell. The snail was meaty and almost had the texture of a tough lobster tail (in a good way), it mostly tasted of garlic, but there was the unmistakeable after taste of snail. Second was thinly sliced octopus on a round toast. The octopus was tender, but it didn't really taste like much. The crunch of the toast and the bounce of the octopus were nice contrasts though. Then there was a small cube of fried sweetbreads. This was probably the least successful one out of all of them since it tasted like a generic fried item: it could have been anything. The final amuse on the plate was a tiny quail yolk set in a very thin, crispy wrapper. It might have been raw, but regardless it was delicious. The yolk was creamy and exploded in your mouth when you ate the whole thing. There was also a nice kick of paprika at the end that was evidently in the bottom of the wrapper, hidden from sight, but not from the bite. The second amuse plate we had was a small cockle salad. There were razor thin onions in a citrus-y sauce that balanced the ocean flavor of the cockle. 

After the amuses had been downed (they were only a bite each) we were presented with what was described as the "first fish appetizer." This was a blini with a broccoli puree and golden fish roe. It was a textural fiesta. There were fish eggs popping in every bite contrasted by the silkiness of the puree and the airiness of the pancake. There was even an incredibly finely diced crunchy vegetable that I could not identify, but lent a different crunchiness to the dish. 

While there were no more fish appetizers, they did bring out another appetizer for us. Chickpeas with oxtail. The chickpeas were al dente which meant that instead of being mushy and chalky like some chickpeas are (canned for instance), these were perfectly cooked. It could have used more oxtail, but in retrospect, the chickpeas were the real star of the dish. The chickpeas and the bits of oxtail were nestled on top of what I believe was a celeriac puree. When everything was eaten in a bite it was like the most comforting, warming beef stew you've ever had. It was homey yet completely refined and appropriate for a two star restaurant. 

Crispy onions on top

Our appetizers came after a short break and everything looked stunning. Really. There was some very, very pretty food that came out to us. I ordered something simply called "Bivalve dish with fennel aroma." I was presented with a shallow dish that had three oysters, a half dozen cockles, four pieces of razor clams, and some braised baby fennel. They poured the cold fennel "aroma" table-side and to me it was reminiscent of the ocean coming up and swallowing everything at high tide. This is exactly what the dish was: ocean. Everything was very briny (found out later they actually use sea water in the dish) and tasted like the beach sans the sand. While it might not be perfect for some, the combination of fennel, fennel broth and shellfish was perfect. The anise flavor worked perfectly in countering the brininess of the bivalves. My favorite thing were the razor clams. They were sweet, chewy, and were absolutely delectable. 

Ocean in a bowl

The other three dishes ordered were lobster consomme, smoked ricotta ravioli with caviar and the vegetable stew with prawns. 

The consomme tasted like, well...think simultaneously inhaling the steam billowing out from a pot of freshly steamed lobsters while eating the tail floating in an intense lobster bisque. This is what it was. Honest to goodness lobster. Essence of lobster in a small perfect cup. 

Ah, must be in Maine no?

The ravioli was about as rich and over the top as you can get: a huge pile of caviar was generously spooned on top of each ravioli. The ravioli itself had been smoked, as opposed to smoking the ricotta and putting it inside the ravioli, and it was creamy and melt in your mouth. The saltiness of the caviar cut all that brilliantly, otherwise it would have been far too rich to eat more than two (ok, I could have choked it down sans the caviar, but still.)
Give me a whole bowl of these and I will be happy

I didn't actually try the vegetable stew, but it was an incredibly cool and playful interpretation. Instead of having prawns in the stew, I use the word stew lightly since they were just perfectly cooked vegetables, they were instead pounded out into an incredibly thin carpaccio and draped gently on top of the vegetables. It was beautiful, and was gone in about five minutes, so I can only assume it was delicious.    
Pre disappearing act
Everything up until this point in the meal was fantastic. Seriously. This was even down to the olive oil they served with the bread at the very beginning. Good, and I mean really good, olive oil is one of the best things in the entire world. My hunger and waistline would be challenged by the following food that came out...

 For the rest of the meal scroll down...if you dare.  

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