It’s not only in Santa Monica that you find first-rate restaurants that have survived the various changes in food styles over many years. While playing golf near Girona, Spain, we heard of a restaurant — El Celler de Can Roca — reputed to be among the top three restaurants in the world (check out www.theworlds50best.com if you don’t believe me). So we went for lunch.
One of the three brothers that own it was there, and we enjoyed hearing his story. His mother started the family restaurant business just a short walk from where we were about to lunch. Did he say 50 years ago? She still cooks there, but about 25 years ago three of her sons opened their own restaurant. A few years ago they moved into the present location, still in the same neighborhood.
And what a beautiful restaurant it is. We needed a GPS to find it, in a residential neighborhood just outside of the main town. There is a private parking lot across the street from the main entrance. Just inside the entrance is a patio dotted with olive trees. At the other end of the patio is the entrance to the main building, enclosed in glass. Through the glass one can see an interior forest of slim trees, with tables on the other side.
At 1 p.m. we were the first to arrive, but by 2 p.m. on a weekday in September the restaurant was filled. So much for the myth of any financial crises in Spain. Many of the guests were local people that ate there once a week or so, we were told.
After a complimentary glass of champagne, the waiter brought over a bonsai olive tree and placed it on the table. Hanging from the tree on little hooks were four olives. Each had been pitted and filled with a mild anchovy cream. The skins had been lightly caramelized in sugar. They were truly delicious.
Next, one after another, came five “little tastes,” each of which had an intense, distinctive flavor and texture. My favorite was a little mushroom and truffle brioche. The wine steward brought a glass of local white wine which was light but floral and served as the perfect compliment for the little tastes.
As a first course I had a poached lobster tail in a rich black sauce, along with a different glass of a somewhat more full bodied and richer white wine. Bonnie had cold cherry soup; a beautiful cherry color with two kinds of cherries floating on top. Pieces of smoked eel and ginger combined to yield very different, but at the same time, very compatible tastes.
Then arrived my main course, with a glass of local red wine. This turned out to be one of the best dishes I’ve ever been served. A slice of pork breast about a quarter of an inch thick had been cooked so that the fat kept the meat very moist and tender. The layer of fat had then been removed, with the skin, and the skin was crisped and put back onto the pork. The result was reminiscent of Peking duck, with the same texture and crisp skin, but with the richness of the pork flavor instead of duck flavor.
We didn’t order dessert. But with coffee came a little jewel box that when opened displayed a dozen or so little sweet bites. We paid the check, about $300 for the two of us, and left around 3 p.m. The restaurant was still full, and a group of local ladies had moved into the private dining room on the other side of the interior forest for a private luncheon party. We agreed to eat at home for the next week.
Merv Hecht, the food and wine critic for the Santa Monica Daily Press, is a wine buyer and consultant to a number of national and international food and wine companies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
If You Go
El Celler de Can Roca
Can Sunyer 48, Girona 17007, Spain
+34 97 222 21 57