Girona, Spain / July 22, 2009 / dinner
Winederlust Rating (details below): 8.5 out of 10 / Winederlust Worthy: Yes
We (subconsciously?) continued our tradition of arriving about an hour late to all our Spanish dinners at Can Roca in Girona, about an hour-and-a-half drive north of Barcelona. The ride up from Barcelona was fairly easy, but we started running into problems when we got to Girona, a large and rather ugly modern town with a very cool walled medieval core. Turns out our hotel, while full of charm, was located smack in the middle of the medieval part of town by the cathedral, up twisty and narrow cobblestone roads that didn’t seem like they should hold cars, yet were the only way in. (Unfortunately, we hit a bit of a snag when we ran over a pylon on a cobblestone street and tore off one of the car’s front running lights. Luckily we got full insurance on our rental!)
Once we left the car and found the hotel on foot, we were already past our restaurant reservation time of 9pm, so the hotel called for us to say we’d be late – which Can Roca didn’t seem so thrilled about, considering they only have 16 tables that you have to book a couple of months in advance. But what could we do? (One thing we could and did do was to let a cab navigate the way back over to the restaurant!) Turns out that Can Roca was actually a few minutes outside of town, and we finally arrived an hour late and a little frazzled.
A bit of background: The restaurant has been around since 1986 and is run by the three Roca i Fontane brothers. Joan is the chef, Josep the sommelier, and Jordi the patissier. From reading reviews before we booked the trip, Can Roca was widely written up as one of the more innovative and experimental of the highly rated Spanish restaurants (it has two Michelin stars and, according to Gary, the wine/food writer we met in Rioja, could be close to getting a third but may have been held back by the location – the other three stars near there are both closer to the coast).
Our first impression was of a beautiful entrance with a lovely garden. However, once we walked in the door, the atmosphere became strangely sterile and hospital-like, all white walled and bright, a strange juxtaposition with the natural and serene outside space.
The restaurant was also set up in a slightly strange way with visible and large prep stations for every few tables. Our table ended up being directly next to a busy station where the servers kept coming and going (though as we reminded ourselves, we probably deserved the worst seat in the house considering our late arrival!).
As we started with our glasses of cava, we decided to go with the less extensive of the two tasting menus, since I was still fighting a rather bad cold I’d had all week that lessened my appetite. But since we hadn’t yet done wine pairings with any of our Spanish meals, we decided to give that a go.
We were first presented with a selection of “tapas”: anchovy bone chips; caramelized olives; black sesame crackers; a soup of tomato with what our server said was tuna, but tasted like pieces of jelly; mini razor clams with pesto and Parmesan; and a spoonful of pigeon with chocolate and Bristol Cream sherry. Some worked better than others (for instance, the flavor of the Parmesan with the razor clams with a little overpowering); our favorite was the pigeon, which tasted of chocolate while we were eating it and not of the pigeon till the very end.
Razor Clams with Pesto and Parmesan.
Our first wine was from Beaujolais – ironically from Morgon, the area where we were supposed to have a wine tasting the week before but had to skip because of our VERY long lunch at Troisgros. This was a 2007 Morgon Cote du Py from Je
an Foillard, very light with not a lot of flavor to it.
The dish it was paired with turned out to be one of our favorites of the meal – cherry soup with smoked eel, served with cherries stuffed with a jelly and one cherry filled with ginger ice cream. The balance of the fruity, slightly sweet cherry and the smoked fish, while surprising, worked really nicely together.
Our next wine was a 2005 Agusti Torello Trepat Mata Cava, supposed to be a much higher-end cava than the one we started the meal with. Interestingly, this cava was also used in the dish paired with it, poured over an oyster atop an apple compote, and served with curry and pieces of pineapple and candied ginger. (Our server told us this was the Spanish version of “champagne and oysters.”) This dish was pretty creative and actually very good – the cava and other flavors were a nice complement to the delicious, plump oyster.
The next wine was a 2004 Can Ràfols Dels Caus El Rocallis from Penedes, a light, minerally white. It was paired with one of Jay’s favorite dishes, a perfectly cooked piece of sole with five different sauces smeared next to it: olive, pine nuts, orange, bergamot (a citrus favor), and green fennel. The idea was that each bite of fish would include a different taste of sauce, which worked very well and was a concept neither of us had ever seen before.
Our next wine pairing was a 2004 Pezas da Portela from Valdeorras, a richer wine reminiscent of a Chardonnay but made of the godello grape, native to the Galicia region in NW Spain. This was served with the Catalan cod pot-au-feu (“pot on the fire” in French, in which everything is cooked in one pot until tender). This Spanish version included codfish served three ways: a codfish “tripe,” with a spongy texture; a rich bacalao, possibly with cream sauce, on pasta; and a more traditional piece of cod, all topped with what our server described as a traditional Catalan broth, foamy and olive oil-based. This dish sounded better than it actually tasted; the flavors of the three preparations didn’t seem pronounced enough and could have used more oomph.
Catalan Cod Pot-au-Feu.
We moved on to a red wine next, a 2005 Gratallops Partida Bellvisos from Priorat (made by a female winemaker, Sara Perez; interesting sidenote: we found out that many of the winemakers in Spain are female, which we need to find out more about). The wine, about 60 percent grenache and 40 percent carignan, was fabulous (and made us wish we’d gotten more reds throughout the meal!) – rich, smooth, and complex. It was served with an Iberian suckling pig prepared with baby onions and watermelon, a combination that worked well, though Jay thought the pig wasn’t as tender as others he’s had. (Since I rarely eat pig, I had no comment!)
Iberian Suckling Pig with Baby Onions, Orange, and Clove.
Our next wine was a German riesling, the 2006 Scharzhofberger Kabinett from Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. It was tasty when paired with what the restaurant called a “green chromatism,” a cucumber granita with cucumber slices underneath and cucumber candies that squirted into our mouths – a dish full of interesting textures and very refreshing.
Our final pour was a rich Spanish wine made from moscatel romano grapes, the 2007 Casta Diva Moscatel Cosecha Miel from Alicante. This was paired with a caramelized apricot with vanilla ice cream, a shell of sugar, and foamy apricot sorbet – really, really yummy.
At the end, we were presented with a box of chocolates, one for each of us, in five flavors: passio, romani-llima, gerds, palet d’or, and rosa. I have no idea what any of them contained, except for the “passio” passion fruit, and we were so stuffed that we could only manage nibbles of a few.
Chocolates in Five Flavors.
Overall, we really enjoyed Can Roca. Most of the pure flavors of the foods came through without being overpowered by sauces or other gimmicks (sorry Arzak), and there were some real flashes of innovation and creative flavor pairings, especially in the cherry and eel soup and the preparation of the cod with the sauces. However, the service was a little uneven; some dishes arrived quickly, but then there were long lag times before others arrived, and we did feel like we were sitting in the middle of a prep station, which wasn’t exactly relaxing. We would definitely want to come back, though, and see what else the talented brothers are up to.
– by Liz Humphreys, Winederlust Eater in Chief
Winederlust Rating Details (out of 10):
Food: 8.5 (preparation, presentation & taste)
Wine: 9.0 (selection, recommendations, pairings & taste)
Service: 8.0 (helpfulness, attentiveness, knowledge & pacing)
Place: 8.5 (location, view, decor & vibe)
Price Range: $$$$ (Incredibly Expensive)
El Celler de Can Roca / Can Sunyer, 48, 17007 Girona, Spain [map]
Direct Line: (34) 972 222 157
Closed Sunday and Monday; Reservations Essential.