I was bored one lazy afternoon last spring, so I randomly decided to check whether Tickets Bar, the Michelin-starred restaurant owned by Albert Adrià, Ferrán Adrià’s brother, had any tables for two. It was a little silly hobby of mine since reservations were almost always only available for parties of eight. Just wishful thinking…
The 4th of July. I will never forget that date. I had no excuse anymore and I booked it really quickly, in case somebody else was about to. I was really, really nervous. Excited, but also scared: this restaurant is not exactly on my wage scale. But I’m a hopeless foodie, I needed to experience something like that at least once in my life.
Fast-forward half a year and a friend of mine suggested that we went to this other restaurant featured in the Michelin guide but in my hometown. She had seen this offer over Christmas, a reduced version of their tasting menu was half-priced. It was a great opportunity… except that, being the nomad that I am, we couldn’t agree on a date. And the offer expired, but the desire was already lit.
Once I’ve set my heart on something, it’s hard for me to let go. And La Cabaña Buenavista had two Michelin stars. I hadn’t tried that. So we decided to go anyway, full-price, last week. I tried to repeat myself that, for the two meals, I had to save «only» one dollar a day for a year in order not to panic. The moral issues this statement brings in me and what a privileged brat I am can be discussed another time.
Anyway, I figured I could share with you my impressions on both… I’m trying to find the right word, because they are more than restaurants, truly. They are food playgrounds. They are sensory teasers. They are something to be tried first-hand.
That’s why I will not really talk about any specific dish, because of course it is delicious and of the utmost quality, but the surprise factor is what makes them unique. That’s where the big bucks truly are. So I will be vague, but I hope you’ll find it intriguing enough to save a dollar a day for a year.
Tickets Bar is in downtown Barcelona. This restaurant was my neighbor for almost three years and I didn’t even know it. I had passed by it so many times, but it never really caught my attention. From the outside, it just looks like any other hipster, food truck-wannabe place in the area. The décor is circus-inspired, sort of, and it has a little terrace with views of a big, not really attractive avenue (Avinguda Paral·lel).
There are two types of seating: if you are a party of more than two, you get a table. If you are just a couple, as we were, then you are seated at a very original bar, with curvy lines and a view of the open kitchen. And I loved it there. We had two very young waitresses, one that brought and explained the food, and another in charge of the wine-pairing. They were casual but deeply professional, fun but elegant. They weren’t too on our backs, but they sure were on top of things. Service was, in my opinion, perfectly balanced.
Now, the food… During dinner, I had fits of laughter, I cried, I experienced a fierce philanthropy outburst. All because of the delicious, gorgeous, unexpected food. It was one of the most amazing culinary experiences of my life. I am not even exaggerating, not one tiny bit. There was not one single dish that left me indifferent. There was this moment I even doubted my sexual tendencies and decided I was not attracted to humans anymore, I was more inclined to date food from then on. Well, here I am indeed exaggerating, but you get the picture.
And the beauty of it. Whoever says cooking is not an art, apart from being dead inside has obviously never been to Tickets Bar. They take the concept of tapas to a whole new level. Every single dish is a masterpiece carefully designed to fool your senses and awaken your deeper instincts. A trompe l’oeil after another, colors and shapes are there just for the sake of beauty but are only illusions. Texture and flavor then dance in your palate and you feel lost and found all at once. You lose your preconceptions of what an ingredient is supposed to look, taste and feel; you find yourself in a whole new concept of food heaven.
Now you understand why, when given the opportunity to repeat a similar experience, I had to jump on it… Except that it was very, very different.
La Cabaña is part of a country estate, sort of a plantation, where celebrations are held, Finca Buenavista. The urbanite and trendy vibe of Tickets Bar is substituted by a calmer halo; space was not an issue, open-air was part of the meal, and tables were ample. We were four friends in our early thirties and we felt kind of underdressed for a second there; we forgot all about that when we started walking through its beautiful garden and stopping in tiny huts that were offering us different appetizers.
The main dining hall is a huge wooden cabin with a minimalist design, therefore the name in Spanish. Although the food, while indisputably delectable, didn’t have the same ecstasy effect, the presentation of each and every course was simply spectacular. Instead of being a museum, where you are a speechless spectator of a finished work of art, La Cabaña was more of a highly sophisticated craftsman workshop. We didn’t have a waiter assigned, but many of them were parading with a little cooking station, involving us in the creative process of the exquisite plating. Mostly, we were just an attentive audience of a very, very interesting cooking show; sometimes they made us actively take part.
I really appreciated several details. First of all, the cheese platter for dessert (I can’t help it, I am half French after all), was succulent. Secondly, they gifted a couple of souvenirs, including the written menu. It may seem like a petty courtesy, but taking into account that in both occasions the pictures don’t have to necessarily evoke the innovative taste, and since these menus included around fifteen courses… a reminder of what you ate is something for which to be grateful. And last, but most definitely not least, the chef Pablo González-Conejero came to our table twice to make sure we were happy. I almost asked him for an autograph, but I got ahold of myself. Maybe I shouldn’t have…
So I went from daydreaming about going to a Michelin-starred tapas experience, to going twice in one year. Surreal! Do I recommend it? An empathic YES. Would I repeat? I am not sure. Being so used to eat street-food while traveling, or homemaking the recipes I enjoy when at home, I have mixed feelings about spending such an amount of money in a four-hour meal. Then I remember this was not only food, but much, much more. What do you think about fine dining?
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