Restaurant Review: El Celler de Can Roca, Girona, Spain

 Last Monday, I shared with you the first few days of our Spanish adventure in Traveling the World: Running with the Bulls, Pamplona, Spain.  After three days in Pamplona with food that was okay but not memorable, we were ready for an incredible meal.  Our amazing friend Francis managed to secure a lunch reservation at the restaurant currently ranked #2 in the world by The Diners Club World’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy: El Celler de Can Roca in Girona.  El Celler was ranked #1 last year with Noma as #2, this year they swapped spots, and this restaurant has been ranked as one of the World's 50 Best Restaurants for eight years.  El Celler de Can Roca was opened in 1986, has three Michelin stars, and is run by three brothers: Joan, Josep, and Jordi Roca.  Joan is the head chef, Josep is the sommelier in charge of the wine celler, and Jordi is the pastry chef in charge of desserts.  It takes a little over one hour to get from Barcelona to Girona, and you can either drive or take a combo of train and taxi (which is what we did).  The lunch menu is the same as the dinner menu, so we arrived hungry and excited for our 1:00pm reservation and settled in the for the meal ahead.  We had the option of two tasting menus, and of course chose the larger one.  Please read on for details of this outstanding culinary experience.

First dish to the table: caramelized olives hung with metal hooks on a mini tree for our first of the snack bites.

The next dish was called "The World," with five individual bites representing five countries presented inside a paper globe.  The staff opened the paper globe to reveal the five bites.  

Starting from the bottom left of the photo is Mexico: a mini taco with mole poblano and guacamole.  Above Mexico is China: pickled vegetables with plum cream inside a rice paper cone.  The top middle bite is Korea: panko-fried bread filled with bacon, soju sauce, snow peas, kimchee, and sesame oil.  To the right of Korea is Morocco: a crispy almond crown filled with rose, honey, saffron, ras el hanout (spice mixture), and goat yogurt.  Finally, the middle is Turkey: a tartlet of vine leaf with lentil puree, eggplant, spices, goat yogurt, and cucumber.  Talk about presentation!

Next to the table was a carpano bonbon filled with juicy grapefruit and black sesame.  It reminded me of gushers candies (remember those?), but 100 times better.

Crispy sesame crackers for a palate cleanser.

Next up was a silver dish that looked like a mini tree with branches, containing two sets of silver spoons with identical servings.

The top spoon contained a pickled barnacle (I can't remember the name, but the staff mentioned it was local to the Mediterranean) with bay leaf in an albarino (white wine grape) foam. The bottom spoon contained a Mediterranean lobster ceviche.

After these raw bites, we were presented with little St. George's mushroom bonbons.  The scientific name for these mushrooms is Calocybe gambosa, and these are popular in Northern Spain as well as Southern France.

Ah, the first truffles.  This was one of my favorite dishes, a brioche filled with mushroom and topped with shaved white truffles.  A perfect bite, indeed.

After the last of our snack bites, we took a little break from our food for a kitchen tour.  Our friends Francis and Rebecca live in San Francisco and brought a bag of their favorite local coffee (Philz) as a gift for Head Chef Joan Roca.  The staff was so kind to give us a tour of the kitchen and time with Chef Roca.

Our group photo with Head Chef Joan Roca!

After we returned to our seats, we were served a cool summer vegetable soup with peas and edible flowers.  So pretty!

I initially thought the next dish was cheese when it was set down, but soon realized it was ice cream on a cold plate.  This was a white truffle "viennetta."  Do you remember Viennetta?  I haven't seen the layered ice cream dessert in years, but this was a delicious version with chocolate shavings and a white truffle slice.  Happiness on a plate.

A white asparagus spear that was served with the truffle viennetta.

Here we started with the seafood dishes.  This intricate plate contained bites of mackerel marinated in sugar and salt served with a silver colored sauce made of mackerel infusion, white wine, lemon, capers and chilis in vinegar, fried tomato, and mullet roe.

Next up was a salad of sea anemone, razor clam, royal cucumber, and seaweed in escabeche (a fancy term for a dish marinated in acidic sauce, usually vinegar, and then served cold).

These are charcoal-grilled king prawns, served with foam and juice from their heads.  The green sponge on the top left is edible, and made from plankton!

Here we have Palo Cortado steamed langoustine.  Palo Cortado is a type of sherry, which was poured over the raw langoustine.  The dish was sitting on top of hot coals and covered to let the meat steam.

The post-steamed langoustines--so tender and delicious!

Next we were served a confit skate fish, with mustard oil, hazelnut butter, honey, chardonnay vinegar, bergamot, aromatic mustard, confit capers, and smoked hazelnuts.  Trying a piece of the fish with each of the accompanying sauce pairings was so interesting.

This dish was called "Surf and Turf," and was the link between the fish dishes and the meat dishes.  It looked like a piece of fish, but it actually was a piece of pork cheek with fish skin on top!  The meat sat on a sauce made of suckling pig and chervil oil.

Now we were into the meats with this dish called a spicy Mandala.  A Mandala is a sanskrit term describing a geometric pattern that represents the universe.  It's used in both Hindu and Buddhist cultures, and this Mandala dish was made of artichoke flower, milk-fed lamb belly, lamb sweetbreads, curry yogurt, beetroot, spinach, turnip, lemon, tangerine, sweet potato, leaves, and edible flowers.

This dish was a one of the favorites at the table: veal shin and St. George's mushrooms with marrow, tendons, avocado, and white truffles.

The final meat dish was called the "Pigeon Trilogy," with Tatje pigeon breast, pigeon botifarro (Catalan sausage), and pigeon heart in a cloud of rice.  Below you can see the pigeon breast and botifarro, I didn't get a photo of the pigeon heart but it was a little dumpling.

After the meat dishes, we received these lemon popsicle nose-shaped palate cleansers.  So funny, and perfectly refreshing.

The first dessert was a bergamot cream, lemon compote, lemon and distilled water granita, muffin ice cream, and lemon sugar.  A cool, light, and refreshing first dessert.

Sourdough ice cream with cocoa pulp, fried lychee, and Jerez vinegar (Spanish sherry vinegar) macarons.  The combination sounds odd on paper, but it was light, sweet, and delicious!

The final dessert was called "Chocolate Anarchy."  As you can see, it was a variety of delectable chocolates smattered together on a plate.  Chocolate is always the perfect ending to a meal in my opinion.

Having been to a few of the three star Michelin restaurants in the US: Le Bernardin (#21 on the World's 50 Best list this year), The French Laundry (#44 on the World's 50 Best list this year) and Joel Robuchon, I have to say that El Celler de Can Roca is my favorite three star Michelin dining experience so far.  The US based restaurants that I've been to were fantastic, don't get me wrong, and I am so blessed to be able to dine at these amazing places.  I would love to live in Europe for a few years in order to have easier access to more of the World's 50 Best list, maybe someday I can make that happen!

I hope you enjoyed this visual tour of our dining experience at El Celler de Can Roca, and that it inspires you to try a new restaurant or a new dish!  Thanks so much for reading, and I hope you have a great remainder of your weekend and week ahead.


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