On July 31st, 2011 elBulli served its last meal as a restaurant. It’s owner and brilliant chef Ferran Adria is transforming it into a sort of think tank for innovation in cooking. He is not closing it because business is bad or because it’s a fading “fad”. elBulli still gets a few million reservation requests (yes that’s a few million!) for every season and they can only serve about 8000 of those. It is now, as it has been for over a decade, one of the most influential restaurants in the world. You can find many articles about elBulli’s last season across the web and in print, one of my favorites is by Anthony Bourdain in which he really captures in a few paragraphs why elBulli and Adria are so beloved and improtant. My post here is more personal. On May 26th, 2005 my wife and I were lucky to get a reservation at the restaurant for our 4th wedding anniversary. It was my first ever try. I sent the email and in a few weeks I got a confirmation for the exact date I requested. It was easily one of the most memorable meals of we shared.
The whole trip to Barcelona that year was amazing. We ate great food and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the city. We visited La Boqueria market and took in all it’s glory. Then on the day of our elBulli dinner, we drove to the tiny town of Rosas, on the Costa Brava in Catalunya. Of course we stopped along the way to visit the Salvador Dali’s museum in Figueres and had a light lunch there (seafood Fideos to be exact). We wanted to drive to the restaurant from our hotel. That was Hotel Goya, a small but very welcoming hotel that since then closed. The elBulli staff wisely suggested we take a cab to the restaurant. Afterall, the meal will last a good 4 hours, the road is treacherous and we will be drinking a good bit of wine. Like I said, that was a very wise decision.
The meal was magical and like nothing I’ve had before. How do I know that a film is great? I do because I cannot seem to forget about it. After watching a truly good movie, I cannot wait to see it again and every so often I want to revisit it. Sometimes it is more of an emotional connection than a technical one. I love the movie “Love Actually” because my wife and I saw it years ago and enjoyed it very much. We watch it at least once a year. It has “something” that we love. The meal at elBulli was like that. It was technically superb. The service was perfect, polished and casual at the same time. The tastes and presentations remain unique and unmatched. However, it goes beyond that. It’s a time and place that my loved one and I shared. We could’ve had a spectacular meal somewhere else, somewhere local in Houston and it would have been fine. We did not. Even though we did not have money to spare, we booked our trip and went to Spain when I got the confirmed reservation. It was a special occasion and it remains special because we will never be able to repeat it.
We still talk about our trip to awesome Barcelona and the small amazing restaurant that is elBulli. It’s a rare experience that I am glad we got a chance to share. We talked about trying to snag a reservation at some point in the future, but now we cannot anymore. We’ll see what Adria makes of elBulli next, but for me, for now, I like to remember it like it was on the eve of that May 26th.