New York City: Il Mulino

Elisa:

For over two solid decades, Il Mulino has been voted as New York City’s #1 Italian restaurant in Zagat guides. Renowned for its fresh and simple, yet vibrant flavors of Italian cuisine, extensive selection of fine Italian wines and impeccably polished and exemplary service, it’s top rank in New York’s elite dining scene is hardly surprising. And it is no wonder that they are slowly, but surely, amassing locations not only in New York City, but also all over the world including Miami, Vegas and Tokyo, for their expansion. But before we get to that, let’s deal with the second Il Mulino outlet in New York on the Upper East Side. Unlike the flagship restaurant in Greenwich Village, this one has a more elegant and modern feel that probably, aptly suits its Uptown location. Yet despite exterior differences, Chefs and founders Fernando and Gino Masci ensure that the authentic preparations and flavors from the Abruzzo, Italy, are projected on every expertly crafted dish in every outlet. And here, it is no different.
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Other than the classics, there are market fresh daily specials your headwaiter will almost sort of “announce” to your table in a proud yet knowledgeable manner, after which he would hand you both the everyday and specials menu and leave to let you ponder over the vast array of items on the menu. In the mean time, several other waiters take turn to offer various antipasti – a huge block of Parmigiano-Reggiano is brought to your table, followed by tomato bruschetta, mussels, osso bucco, a plate of salami, warm tomato bread and finally a tray of wonderfully arranged and fragrant bread. Yes, they pamper you from the start, and amidst the halcyon atmosphere, you are made to feel queen ; )
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Langostino ($28): Jumbo prawns; with spinach
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Linguine ai Fritti di Mare ($40): Spicy seafood sauce
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Branzino ($65): Italian seabass, salt crusted and baked
Everything was seasoned and cooked to perfection – the pasta was al dente and the seafood were fresh and extremely flavourful. The portions are large, but so are prices but everything was made to be so worth it that the prices are forgiven.
Il Mulino
37 East 60th Street
New York, NY 10021
Tel: 212 750 3270
http://www.ilmulino.com
Posted in Italian, Lunch, New York City, Travel to eat! :), Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New York City: Spot Dessert Bar

Elisa:

Spot Dessert Bar is the one place that you would not want to miss when in New York. Even if you’re not that into dessert (which I would say you’re not quite, but extremely unusual to not be attracted by anything sweet), this place will really blow you away with its innovative, calorie-filled yet totally worth it concoctions. Unlike Singapore’s 2am Dessert Bar that focuses on sophisticated, modern, fine-dining desserts, Spot serves up traditional confections that are spiked with a healthy dose of Asian flare with unique ingredients such as Matcha, Kobacha and Yuzu. Currently, they have 2 outlets in New York, one along St. Marks Place in the East Village, and the other in a Food Gallery along West 32nd Street in Korea Town. Both very hip locations I must say, but we decided to visit the original outlet just because we were about a 15min walking distance away at Cocoron for lunch.
It’s easy to walk straight pass it simply because its located in a basement space and you won’t really see the sign unless you look down. But it was packed full of people of all ages, friends and family catching up, or even those who would want to have a dessert all for themselves and a book to read. We actually had to wait for a table.
When I first saw the menu, I wanted to order everything. It was unlike many desserts you get on a daily basis. It isn’t just a chocolate lava cake, it’s a chocolate green tea lava cake; it’s not just a crème brulee infused with vanilla, it’s thai tea crème brulee; and it’s not just a regular cheesecake, it’s smoked coconut cheesecake. They also have cupcakes – Banana white chocolate, Vietnamese coffee -, macarons – Taro, Peanut Butter & Jelly -, cookies, ice cream – Ovaltine, Condensed Milk -, bubble tea, and all sorts of flavoured coffee or soda. Few things to note is that the menu changes with the seasons, and they call their desserts “tapas”. Not sure why, but maybe they want to bring across the idea of sharing.
You could order 3 tapas that goes for $23, or 4 for $31, which I felt is definitely quite worth it because one dessert is about $8-$9 on average, or just 1 or 2 tapas on its own if you’re not up for it. There’s also the omakase that basically just gives you the ultimate Spot experience. Priced at $60, it includes 6 dessert tapas, 2 fresh warm cookies and 1 scoop of ice cream. Perfect when you’re with a large crowd.
We went for the 4 tapas special ($31).
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Chocolate Green Tea Lava Cake: dark chocolate cake, green tea ganache, green tea ice cream, walnut soil. It’s their #1 seller but I’m not surprised because it’s just soooo hard to resist firstly, chocolate in all its forms, secondly, warm gooey overflowing melted chocolate but this time infused with green tea and thirdly, the pairing of a warm cake and cold ice cream together. You can definitely taste the bitter green tea flavor in there, and even in the ice cream as well. But it’s just enough to cut the sweetness of the chocolate so you won’t feel too overwhelmed by the richness of the cake.
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Yuzu Eskimo: frozen Japanese citrus cream bar, fresh strawberries, chocolate pearls. This was my favourite simply because it was extremely light and refreshing and you didn’t feel at all that you were indulging. It had a consistency similar to that of a sorbet, but slightly creamier. The oreo crust at the bottom and crunchy chocolate pearls provided a nice textural and flavor contrast to the dish. Thoughtful presentation as well!
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Green Tea-ramisu: green tea mascarpone cream, green tea soaked ladyfinger, shaved white chocolate, matcha powder dust. One thing I love about green tea is it’s slightly bitter flavor that is able to make desserts that are usually too sweet for my liking slightly more palatable. One perfect example would be this tiramisu which I feel has too much rum or sugar in the ones we usually get outside. The cream was also extremely light and the cake extremely airy and fluffy, not at all heavy in the least bit. The white chocolate gave it it’s sweetness, and here’s one dessert that won’t make you feel like you went on a sugar overdose.
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Kabocha Brulee Cake: warm Japanese pumpkin cake, walnut soil, condensed milk ice cream. The cake was extremely extremely moist, but slightly, just slightly denser than a regular cake. It’s almost like a pound cake, but not too sweet. You would think that condensed milk ice cream would kill you with too much sweetness, but it just had a subtle milk flavor and slightly caramelized note. Again, a warm cake and cold ice cream is always good.
Spot Dessert Bar
13 Saint. Marks (between 3rd Ave. & 2nd Ave.)

New York, NY 10003
Tel: 212 677-5670
http://www.spotdessertbar.com
https://www.facebook.com/SpotDessertBar

 

 

 

Posted in Cake, Cookies, Cupcakes/Muffins, Dessert, New York City, Quick/Easy, Snack, Travel to eat! :), Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New York City: Dominique Ansel Bakery

Elisa:

It somehow seems just yesterday that the cronut was invented. Maybe because unlike most food fads, the frenzy has only barely abated ever since this croissant-donut hybrid first debuted. But this world-famous pastry has in fact celebrated its first birthday 2 weeks ago on May 10th and the mastermind pastry chef and magician Dominique Ansel has since been changing the public perception of pastry and tempting fans with his new creations. Indeed, ever since Dominique Ansel opened his eponymous shop in 2011, he has turned the simple act of baking into a worldwide phenomenon.
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Remember those warm, gooey chocolate chip cookies with a glass of ice-cold milk that you would have for an afternoon snack when you were a child? Well, despite not having grown up enjoying that blissful pleasure like most of us, Ansel seems to have an unexplainable, strange ability, yet maybe not the least bit surprising given his high caliber, to nail the simplicity of a chocolate chip cookie and hit all those childhood notes that we remember with his Cookie Shot ($3). It’s called the “after school” special and is available only after 3pm each day. There’s a separate line for it, outside the bakery (yes I’m not kidding. Outside, on the left hand side) and at 3pm, a staff comes out to lead the first 10 people into the shop to get their afternoon fix and after 5-10min or so, she comes out again to lead the next 10 in. But the cookie shot is totally worth the wait. It’s super buttery, super rich, super soft and crumbly when you bite into it and even with a little pressure from your fingers (do not try it) but sturdy enough to hold it gently between your fingers, and the best of all, it’s studded with a generous amount of chocolate chips. The organic milk that has been infused with Tahitian vanilla beans and sugar for 24 hours, is poured from a chilled teapot into the layer of Valrhona chocolate that coats the inside of the cookie.
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There’s no set method to eating these cookie shots. You could either take a bite and then a sip, or vice versa, and you wouldn’t need to worry running out of milk before you finish your cookie or simply needing a palate cleanser or hydrating your throat once you’ve polished everything off your fingers because you can simply request for a complementary shot of milk. Neither would you have to worry about your cookie getting soggy or softening after a while because the inner chocolate layer miraculously seems to be firm enough to prevent the milk from seeping out or dripping. The only thing you would have to worry about are those few crumbling shards of cookie and not being able to eat this gracefully. But again, that’s no big deal because you’ll have plenty of napkins available at your own service. It’s quite sweet though especially as you work your way through the final stages, vanilla-infused milk plus chocolate chips probably as sweet as the Nestlé Toll House-style, and incredibly filling. But it’s totally worth it.
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There’s a limit to 2 per person and there’s also a take-home pack of 8 sold with a container of milk, together with instructions on how to chill and serve this treat at home, for $25, although the bakery only makes 40 boxes each day. I you like that vanilla infused, organic, ice-cold milk, it is also available as a 16-ounce supplement for $3.
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Another life-changing pastry that I managed to get my hands on are Dominique’s Kouign Amann ($5.25), or simply DKA in short. Think of it as a croissant, but one with a lot more sugar and a lot more butter. Caramelized, gold and crisp on the outside, and layers and layers of flaky and slightly moist dough that has been laced with sugar on the inside. It’s texturally complex, flavor-wise too. It’s slightly sweet, but not overly-cloying, with a little hint of salt from all that butter at the end. Despite being so buttery and rich, it is still quite light and airy given the plenty amount of craggy holes that it is inside. After all, this was named one of Time Out New York’s 100 best dishes in 2012. You could watch this video on how Ansel makes his signature Kouign Amann. But at your own risk… Because that gigantic humongous block of butter that they mix into the dough is what exactly makes everything so gooood :)
Their Canele ($3) was also one of the best that I’ve ever had. The exterior is so beautifully caramelized and dark that you’d probably think that it’s burnt. Slightly sweet with a light crunch, it is the perfect texture and flavor juxtaposition to the custard-like and remarkably moist interior bolstered with vanilla and rum. It’s really one of those rare decadent desserts that you don’t feel guilty at all when you’ve finished it.
I also tried their Madelines that were so teeny tiny you could probably fit 4-5 in your palm. What’s so special about these gems are that they are piped, baked and served by the order. That means that after 8 minutes of people-watching or staring at all the other beautiful desserts on display, you’ll finally get your order warm and fresh from the oven. These lemon sponge cakes are extremely lighty and fluffy and because of their miniature size, you could totally pop just the entire box of 8 into your mouth at no time at all! They are that addictive. Plus it’s so good.
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Having ranked up numerous accolades from James Beard Foundation to Time Out New York, Dominique Ansel has been deemed the “Willy Wonka Of NYC” and a visit to this bakery would definitely be more about the desserts than savouries. The savoury food that we had were merely mediocre. The Avocado Toasts ($7) featured a slice of sourdough bread (that has been cut into 2) topped with (probably a whole?) avocado and finished off with olive oil. While I wouldn’t say that there’s anything incredibly wrong with this, the bread was nicely toasted and crunchy, the avocado was fresh and extremely green, I felt that it was quite overpriced given its portion. The small Minestrone White Bean Soup ($5) was also lacking seasoning and the Salad that included chickpeas, barely, tomato, feta cheese, onion and spinach ($8) definitely needed extra dressing. One small cup of dressing was not enough to coat every inch of spinach. But granted, having burnished his reputation with desserts, I shouldn’t expect his savoury food to be as imaginative and wild and mind and palate-blowing as his desserts.
Too bad the Nutella Milk Bread, Cronut and Frozen S’mores were sold out by the time I got there but that’s another reason to go back. And also to try everything else available :p Dominique Ansel really goes to proves that all it takes is hard work, passion, a creative and imaginative mind to be bold and different, in order to be successful.
Dominique Ansel Bakery
189 Spring Street (between Sullivan and Thompson)

New York, NY 10012
Tel:(212)219 2773
http://dominiqueansel.com
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New York City: Eleven Madison Park

Elisa:

Located right across the historic Madison Square Park with an imposing backdrop of a spacious, light-flooded dining room, soaring ten-meter high ceilings and wooden floors, Eleven Madison Park has always attained a formidable appeal ever since its doors opened in 1998. Granted, it was originally owned by legendary restaurateur Danny Meyer who is known to strive for reliable hospitality and customer satisfaction in every restaurant he operates, including Union Square Park, Gramercy Tavern and Maialino. However, it was the arrival of Chef Daniel Humm and impresario partner Will Guidara in 2006 that lifted this already spectacular restaurant into a whole new level. As masters of reinvention, the two took big bold gambles, forgoing the traditional a la carte menu in 2010 for an abstract grid of ingredients meant to stimulate conversations between diners and servers, and then tossing it again for the current multi-course tasting menu that focuses on the agricultural bounty of New York together with the centuries-old culinary traditions that have taken root. But what makes Eleven Madison Park ultimately different from most restaurants of its caliber is that the meal presented is marked by stagecraft and tricks, yet still somewhat restrained in a disciplined, dazzling fashion and all executed with a gracious sense of genuine hospitality. On the international battlefield of glorified gastronomic destinations, Eleven Madison Park has racked up countless glittery accolades from Michelin to the James Beard Foundation and the S.Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants. 
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Right after we were seated, our waitress comes up to us to ask for our dietary restrictions, and explains the restaurant’s liking for surprises and whimsicality. She then told us to open the white envelope that had been lying on the table and each select an ingredient. We were told nothing more. Since there were the four of us, we chose one ingredient each. I chose strawberry.
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Cheddar, Savory Black and White Cookie with Apple. Starting the meal with an extremely addictive butter cookie that is balanced by the saltiness of cheddar cheese and sweetness of apple only serves to whip up the appetite and leave us lingering for more. It’s like eating junk food on an empty stomach; you’re just left craving for more. Only difference is that this isn’t junk food, and it has every right to be so damn tasty and addictive because of the technique and right amount of ingredients used to perfect this simple yet refined cookie.
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Oyster, Baked Potato Ice Cream and Caviar. The fresh oysters and caviar, both slightly briny yet slightly sweet at the same time, paired perfectly with the ice cream that had an ever so subtle savoury note, clearing the palate for the next course. 
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Silky and smooth Morel, Custard with Maine Sea Trout Roe. Just like the Japanese chawanmushi, but with an even more umami flavor from the mushrooms, and I like how the salty trout roe pops in your mouth to offer a different dimension of flavor.
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English Peas, Warmed with Meyer Lemon and Egg Yolk. Creamy, yet light and refreshing at the same time with hints of lavender. It’s a simple dish. The ingredients aren’t tempered with so much and it speaks for itself.
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Beef, Pastrami with Ramps, Rye, Mustard, and Strawberry. This is the restaurant’s take on the New York deli pastrami sandwich. So in front of you, you are presented with homemade rye bread topped with mustard, peas and ramps, plus a bottle of soda flavoured with the ingredient that you had chosen previously because no deli sandwich is complete without a soda. So for the complete experience, take a piece of beef pastrami that had been cured till it melts in your mouth, place it on your little piece of bread, eat every piece of component together, and take a sip of your soda. By now you start to feel the restaurant’s pursuit of a whimsical feast full of nostalgic tastes yet using the absolute finest ingredients.
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Then, we were served Homemade Bread that almost resembled a croissant, so flaky and buttery, yet just slightly denser, accompanied with traditional unsalted butter and butter that had been mixed with duck fat coming from the duck that will be our main course later.
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Foie Gras, Seared with Fava Bean Marmalade and Sorrel. The foie gras was perfectly cooked, rich, creamy and soft, everything just melts in your mouth. And the crust was nicely caramelized and crispy, giving that contrast in flavor and texture.
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Apple, Waldorf Salad with Celery, Rhubarb, and Walnuts. Our waiter pushed this cart of ingredients next to our table, and prepared the waldorf salad, doubling as a tour guide or historian at the same time, explaining the dish’s history and inspiration. He peels and cuts the apple first before running it through the slicer. Then he mixes it with strips of celery and homemade mayonnaise before portioning out onto each plate, and finishing everything off with candied walnuts, diced rhubarb, a slice of blue cheese, and a few leaves of parsley. Beneath this plate of salad was a bowl of creamy, yet light and refreshing celery soup. As simple as it gets, it is as theatrical and playful as well. 
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Lobster, Poached with Beets, Ginger, and Nasturtium. There’s nothing much to say about this dish just that while it was undoubtedly delicious, it was probably the least exciting given the wildly inventive dishes that we have had so far.
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Asparagus, Braised with Potato and Black Truffle. With this dish, the chef comes out and shows us a puffed-up pig bladder filled with asparagus that had been poached in a pot. He ladles the broth over the bladder and we hear a sizzling sound that he says implies that while the bladder is being stretched and swelled up like a balloon, its contents are cooked in exactly the same principle as modern sous-vide cookery. The flavours are retained and amalgamated during cooking. The result is the most tender asparagus I’ve ever taste, slightly sweet, served with a surprisingly creamy mashed potatoes almost on par with that of Joel Robuchon’s.
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For our main course, we had a choice of lamb or duck and the whole table had to come to a consensus. We chose duck. The chef comes out with a whole Duck that came from Long Island, stuffed with lavender and honey and roasted.
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And while we wait for the chefs to carve the duck and plate our dishes, we were presented with a cracker topped with Broth, Cured Duck and Watercress. Just an amuse to tickle our taste buds before our main course of duck breast Roasted with Rhubarb, Shallots, and Scallions appear.
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My favourite part of the dish had to be the amazingly crispy skin. You could hear it crackle even as you cut it and it was just a burst of aromatic spices as you put it into your mouth. 

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Fresh Cheese, Pretzel, Parsley, and Strawberries. Going to the dessert, we were presented with a picnic basket and told to unwrap it on our own and just have a little fun. There was a bottle of specially brewed Ithaca ale, soft pretzels that had been baked with the beer and goes so perfectly with the heady and creamy Greensward cheese, exclusively created by Murray’s Cheese, that is also hidden inside. There was also a jar of pickled strawberries, a jar of parsley relish, and of course plates to eat on and glasses for our beer.
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With the leftover Whey coming from the cheese in the previous course, the genius Chef Daniel Humm makes it into a Sorbet so that nothing goes to waste, served with Caramelized Milk that tastes like caramel and Milk Foam. Slightly sourish but extremely refreshing. 
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Almond, Baked Alaska with Rum, Caramel and Strawberry. And for the last show of the night, what could be less dramatic than a flaming baked Alaska. Our waitress pours a couple tablespoons of heated rum over the meringue. The meringue caramelizes and a the blue-flame magic appears. The almond cake itself was slightly too sweet for my liking, especially together with the caramel and strawberry sauce (again based on the ingredient you chose the first time round). Maybe it would have gone better with coffee or celery sauce. 
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Pretzel, Chocolate Covered with Sea Salt. I absolutely believe that this was basically a butter cookie shaped into a pretzel because it was so buttery and rich, words can describe how addictive it was especially when it is covered in dark chocolate and sprinkled with a touch of sea salt.
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And as we end the meal like how we started it, this time with Chocolate, Sweet Black and White Cookie with Mint.
By now it’s late, you’re dazed and dazzled having been through not just a 4 hour-long lunch, but a full-fledged production. From the card tricks to unusual serves, a succession of gorgeous amuses to celebrating its particular urban locale in a purely entertaining New York dining experience, nothing about a meal here is humdrum. With $225 per head, I definitely do think that the entire experience is worth every penny. The food, the service, the ambience, everything. Also, you wouldn’t want to give this a miss because Eleven Madison Park’s tasting menu is by far the most inspired, coherent, downright delectable, and of course, the most exciting.
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Last but not least, you are allowed to request for a tour of the kitchen but do request early because if not, there will be a long list of guests in front of you waiting to see the backstage magical show as well. Oh and before we left, we were each given a jar of homemade granola and our lunch’s menu. Now you see, I have a serious love for granola, but actually basically anything crunchy. I love my granola baked up in generous clusters, because thats how I can assure it’ll be extra crunchy, with a hint of maple-y sweetness. Well this one while overdosed with probably maple syrup, has no clusters at all. But that doesn’t really matter at all because you’re getting granola made by the world’s 4th best restaurant with 3-Michelin stars, that is so amazingly able to achieve that crispiness even without clusters!!! I have totally no idea how they do it but every piece of oatmeal or almond or simply whatever mouthful you get is just so crunchy and sweet and heavenly.

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Eleven Madison Park 
11 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10010 
Tel:  212.889.0905
http://elevenmadisonpark.com
Posted in American/New American, Cake, Cookies, Dessert, French, Lunch, New York City, Travel to eat! :) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Barcelona: Moments

Elisa:

My dinner at Moments is by far one of the best meals that I’ve had.
Located in the luxurious Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Barcelona, Moments may seem a little intimidating at first with its exclusive decorations of Patricia Urquiola. The luxe gold leaf and gauzy drapes exude a sense of seriousness, but the pleasant yet professional staffs helped create a relaxing atmosphere for the enjoyment of one of the finest gastronomic experiences offered.
Conceptualized by multi-starred chef Carme Ruscalleda and run by her rising star son chef Raül Balam, Moments presents neo-traditional modern Catalan cuisine that is creative, fresh and healthy. Everyday, the team searches for the finest seasonal ingredients to create new menus and because of their quality products and exceptional culinary techniques, the menu at moments also includes the outstanding offer of “VGA” dishes (with Anti-aging Gastronomic Value) that was created in conjunction Dr. Manuel Sánchez, head of the Antiaging Unit at Clínica Planas, and designed to restore the inner balance of the body and slow down the aging process.
There is an a la carte menu and a tasting menu. But I would definitely recommend you to get the tasting menu to experience the incomparable and brilliant cooking of chef Raül Balam that is pure, delicate and extremely precise and taste dishes that are so eclectic, yet inspiring and exploding with flavor. Every dish was carefully executed and visually attraction that it spurred a sense of excitement in all of us with each dish on.
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The Appetizers of the Month
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From front to back: Pig’s snout and cabbage; Candied and spicy plum snacks; Octopus dice with peppers vinaigrette
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“Torita” with marinated fish an fine spicy herbs
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Rice and wild boar croquette with “julivertada” 
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Sliced Lobster “tiger’s milk” foamed and vegetables
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Ecological Eggplant dashi broth and pistachios
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Prawns black garlic, pumping and “espigalls” *VGA
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Monkfish on stew, artichokes and “calcots”
or
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Chicken Cannelloni with mushrooms
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Deer Steak pear, apple and almonds *VGA
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The Cheese of the Month - a selection of five cheese with sweet contrast
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Oriental Citric bergamot orange, coconut and ginger
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Chocolate Passion chocolate, coffee and passion *VGA
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Petit Four 
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Just look at the attention to details and the steps taken to make everything so elaborate yet refined, gorgeous and just perfect. At 135€, it is definitely worth every penny and cent. What more could I say?
Moments
Passeig de Gràcia, 38-40
08007 Barcelona, Spain
Tel: +34 93 151 87 81
https://www.mandarinoriental.com/barcelona/fine-dining/moments/
Posted in Barcelona, Dinner, French, Spanish, Travel to eat! :), Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment