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Alkimia review (Barcelona)

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willyum Nov 12, 2013 05:23 PM

Alkimia is one of the five restaurants we visited in October on our trip to Barcelona and Bilbao. I have a complete trip thread at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/921710 but when I post photos for the different restaurants they get appended into one photo group, so I'll break out the last three restaurants with separate threads to make it easier to view the images.

ALKIMIA – this is one of the seventeen Michelin 1* restaurants in Barcelona. We had lunch here on Monday, our last day in Spain. This and Cinc Sentits were the two one-stars I had highest on my radar based on reviews and since Cinc Sentits isn’t open on Mondays (most of the best restaurants are closed) Alkimia was the easy choice.

They offer a popular daily lunch special on week days, five courses plus wine, water and coffee for just 39 euros. There is an à la carte menu with twelve savory courses and four desserts, and two tasting menus – a seven course “Traditions” menu and a twelve course “Alkimia Menu”.

I had recovered nicely from the Saturday night feast of gluttony at Lasarte, mainly by walking the streets of Barcelona from the suburbs to the beach and back on Sunday and only eating two small tapas all day. So I was game for the longest menu. My wife was not and wanted to just order a couple of items from the à la carte menu.

Ambiance: on one of my Sunday walks I hiked to Alkimia, about 30 minutes from our hotel. I was a bit surprised to see it’s in a somewhat gritty neighborhood – not exactly a slum, but not where I’d expect to find a highly rated restaurant either-- and has a very narrow entrance, about the width of a one-car garage.

As we found out Monday the inside is long and narrow but widens out at the back for the kitchen. There were about a dozen tables arranged on either side of the center aisle. The interior is tastefully done, with recessed arty panels near most tables.

For our meal the restaurant was full but there were only four servers, all of whom spoke fairly good English. Both Sant Pau and Lasarte had a similar number of tables and guests, but at least double the number of staff, so the service here tended to be shall we say “brisk” as the staff was busy bringing out plates and pouring wine and water. So we didn’t get to ask as many questions about the food and wine as we normally would, hence some of the short descriptions below.

The food: my wife initally ordered three items from the à la carte menu, then I explained that my wife couldn’t eat as much as me this day so would it be possible from me to have the longest menu, even though it clearly states “The menu is intended for all the guests at the table”. Our server Sònia is one of the partners in the restaurant so she had the authority to graciously permit this. She even mentioned that the à la carte dishes were so big that my wife should probably only have two of them instead of three, which turned out to be good advice. So we were treated very kindly here.

I had the wine pairings, which included pours from Italy, Portugal, France and Germany. This was the only restaurant to break out of the “all Spanish wines” box and at 40 euros it was a bargain.

We started with two appetizers. First a slice of sausage that looks like Miley Cyrus’ tongue flattened to a carpaccio (photo) with a glass of tomato-infused water capped with a layer of olive oil. Zesty.

Second app (photo) featured a quenelle of lime ice cream with vegetable leaves and several gelees. A lot of different flavors jousting for attention here but this did cleanse the palate.

Here are my wife’s two larger plates:

1) Seasonal mushroom dish (photo) – two kinds of mushrooms, pine nuts and a sauce. My wife rated this ‘excellent’.

2) Provincial style lobster (photo) – pretty much an entire lobster including body and claws. I had a small bite and it was very tasty. My wife rated this dish “somewhere between excellent and exceptional”, which would make it one of the top dozen dishes of the entire trip.

Here are the dishes I had from the “Alkimia Menu”:

1) Sardines with ratatouille and black olive (photo) ... sardines were fresh, I guess the “ratatouille” was some molecular trick.

2) Green beans with cod fish (photo) ... tastes about like it sounds.

3) Buillabaisse with seafood (photo) ... the seafood bits were all good. Not sure if the blue ‘soup’ brought anything to the plate taste-wise but it looked pretty.

4) Natural cuttlefish (photo) ... from the photo you can see this is a beautifully plated dish, but taste-wise it was just OK.

5) Pickled oyster with glazed pork face (photo) ... the server stressed ‘pork face, not cheek’ ... nice comparison of textures with the oyster and the gelatinous pork face.

6) Fish of the day, a small slice of sea bass (no photo).

7) This wasn’t listed on the online menu so I don’t have the exact name, but it was rice with a bit of celery (?) wrapped with iberico ham (photo).

8) Iberian pork with homemade curry and sliced pumpkin (photo) ... shredded pork covered with curry sauce. Somewhat heavy.

To my tastes all of these were B, B+ or A- type dishes. That is, all were good but none were what I would call ‘excellent’, much less ‘exceptional’.

Then to desserts ... they had four listed on the menu and my tasting menu said I could pick two of them. My wife had saved room for dessert (she always has room for dessert) and for the heck of it we decided she should get two desserts too so we could try them all. Last meal in Spain, why not?

Her first dessert was “Caramelized apple with cheese flam” (photo), then “Figs with soft cheese and black olive” (photo). She liked both of these, especially the figs.

I took the remaining desserts, “Strawberries with cream and vermouth” (photo) and “Chocolate fondant with mint ice-cream” (photo). The strawberries seemed a bit out of season (and this dish was gone from the menu a few days later) but the cream, vermouth and the second dessert were otherwise quite good.

Pros: My wife rated her food here higher than her meals at Lasarte and Sant Pau. Good wine service and pairings. We appreciate that they bent the rules to let us order both à la carte items plus a tasting menu. Good desserts. Moderate prices.

Cons: not as ‘molecular’ as I had hoped (and been led to believe). No ‘excellent’ or ‘exceptional’ dishes on the tasting menu. Service was good but not to the same high level as the other restaurants due to the small number of servers.