“Squeeze it out like toothpaste onto the cracker.” Not instructions expected in a Michelin starred restaurant. But when confronted with a white tube of “olive oil butter” and a boat shaped receptacle, one follows directions without undue questioning. The tube looks like an over-the-counter cream, suspiciously unmarked. The “olive oil butter” even appears akin to antibiotic ointment, translucent yellow and gelled. This rather medicinal, almost surgical procedure feels creepy, because the juxtaposition of medical objects and food products is, to be frank, revolting.
At La Terraza del Casino, chef Paco Roncero follows in Ferran Adria’s footsteps, preparing a menu similar to El Bulli’s: cocktails, snacks, tapiplatos, desserts, and morphings. Of course, Adria consulted on the restaurant back in 1998, so his strong influence comes as no particular surprise. Nevertheless, rethinking Spanish cuisines within an avant-garde framework seems tired in 2010. However delicious a “sphericated green olive” tastes, mimetic canapes no longer shock, especially since chefs like Grant Achatz introduced Adria’s best known tricks to Americans.
Therefore, Roncero’s techniques typically stray into familiar territory: liquid nitrogen tableside? Jaded diners have seen it all before. Roncero does manage to chart new cartographies of gustatory sensation though, manipulating ingredients without inducing the freak-out factor.
For example, “meringued cashew with soya” (picture far right) concentrates the known universe of nuts into a singular, crisp bite. False “espardeña” (center) mimics a sea cucumber with nori and puffed rice, an intellectual approximation of fishiness without the fish. Finally, pumpkin seed and yoghurt sponge (far left) billows in the mouth, the softest pumpkin bread imaginable, its sweet squash flavor tightening the platter’s composition.