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ABaC | Barcelona | Jun ’14 | “maximalism”

16 Nov
  • Rating: 18/20
  • Address: Avinguda del Tibidabo, 1, 08022 Barcelona, Spain
  • Phone:+34 933 19 66 00
  • Price per pax: ~€190 ($238 at 1 EUR = 1.25 USD)
  • Value: 3/5
  • Dining time: 150 minutes
  • Chef: Jordi Cruz [ex: Cercs Estany Clar (Barcelona), L’Angle de Sant Fruitós de Bages (Barcelona)]
  • Style: Modernist Catalan
  • Michelin Stars: 2

2014-06-20 12.29.56

There are for me two pertinent points about Jordi Cruz’s cuisine. Firstly, he does something memorable with top quality Catalan ingredients. As with the brilliant one-ingredient kokotxas dish at Mugaritz, I found the dish Chef Jordi Cruz made of the Catalan leek calçot absolutely stunning; and the lorito (pearly razorfish) very good. As a food tourist, I dislike restaurants which carry no signature of the region around them, as if they were trying to escape their surroundings, as if they were exiles in their own land. A really good restaurant should push the boundaries of what can be done with local ingredients. Perhaps that is why on this Spanish trip, I liked Mugaritz, Azurmendi, and ABaC more than Arzak and Akelarre. In the midst of modernist anarchy (the rule it seems in Spanish 2*’s and 3*’s) one needs these dishes to remind oneself that one actually is in Spain.

Secondly, he is of that modernist-style of ingredient assemblage, which both rebels against the nouvelle-cuisine idea of purity of taste, and as an extension of that culinary philosophy, a loose fluid plating style. “Nothing is true and everything is permitted”, at least when choosing ingredients for a dish. Chefs experiment, and diners pay for the privilege of trying the most successful of their experiments. Here at ABaC I encountered a cosmopolitan bunch – Momofuku Ko’s shaved foie, the intense savory candy of anago sauce etc. Among the novel compositions, a two part foie dish (foie with mole ice cream, foccaccia + pigeon tea + shaved foie) and a flavorful onion soup paired with spherified gruyere dumplings, were the most successful. Chef Jordi Cruz is one of the most talented chefs in this experimental style. His instincts tend toward bold flavors (there were no quiet meditative dishes, unlike Mugaritz), but the compositional instinct is true. My impression of ABaC is of a meal super-saturated with taste and colour -maximal maximalism.

If anything, that is the one thing that I feel could be improved at ABaC. My impression is that Chef Jordi is a flavor maximalist, with the flavor profile tuned to 11 on all dishes. Chef Jordi could yet vary the intensity of flavor in his cooking and deliver a few quieter dishes, in order to deliver a meal that is more than the sum of his flavorful hits, and has its own logical development. The art of listening to a full album may be a forgotten one in these days of Spotify, but the truth that a great album is never just an album of hits continues to apply. But it is a minor point. Overall, ABaC provides a very strong two-star standard meal.

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  • Nitro bloody mary (4.25/5)
    • vodka, tomato juice, salt, pepper, mixed with liquid nitrogen to form a granite
    • paired with slices of cherry and begonia flower petals
    • a good savory start to the meal

2014-06-20 12.54.47 2014-06-20 12.55.08

  • the dark bread was crunchy and delicious (5/5) but the olive brioche was a bit cardboard-y (3.5/5), with some flour-y tastes inside

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  • Foie gras foccacia and foie gras butter with sweet corn crumb and mole ice cream (5/5)
    • A dish in two parts. First, a crunchy foccaccia slice with shaved frozen foie gras, with pigeon tea. (5/5) This was a fantastic adaptation of the Momofuku Ko technique of prepping foie. The warm pigeon tea, a consomme, helped to cut the richness of the foie even further. (The shaving already helps by introducing a aerated, fluffy texture to the foie)
    • Second, a foie butter, with corn powder and Mexican mole ice cream (5/5). I remember being hugely impressed by the mole ice cream.

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  • Frozen “Gazpacho” strawberries, tomatoes, basil and anchovies (4.25/5)
    • Spherified tomato water with liqueur

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  • Our Chinese bread, fried brioche, roasted eel, smoked aioli and Japanese mustard (4.25/5)
    • it tasted like its description – a salty anago (salt-water eel) burger.
    • full of intense sweet-salty flavor, the fried brioche and aioli was a guilty pleasure.

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  • Young leeks roasted with coconut ice cream (5/5)
    • genius. barbecued calçots, a kind of Catalan sweet leek, was well paired with balsamic vinegar and coconut ice cream. it seems so simple, but the combination of sweet sourness from the balsamic vinegar, richness from the coconut ice cream really highlighted the mild sweetness of the calçots, which had none of the pungency of leek. simplicity itself, and an apparent variation on the Catalan tradition of calçotada (calçot BBQ)

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  • “Parmesan gnocchi” and morels, acidulated water of mushrooms, bergamot and olive oil (4.25/5)
    • liquid parmesan gnocchi, raw champignon “button” mushrooms, fried girolle/chanterelle mushrooms, mushroom consomme
    • BTW, what’s with menus listing girolles as morels? it’s a common mistranslation.

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  • Oyster with beef, baby radishes and sake (4/5)
    • Gillardeau oyster, veal soup jelly, radish, veal tendon. the veal tendon and Gillardeau oyster were similar in texture

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  • Squid treated as a risotto with hydrated tigernuts and caviar (4/5)
    • Tiger nuts, sweet and crunchy as a chestbut, with rosewater and Iranian caviar. A sweet nut cream for the risotto

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  • Onion soup reminiscence, cured egg yolk, onion water, butter bread and gruyere cheese (4.75/5)
    • Gruyere dumplings, 6 in a row, around a yolk, in an onion soup. Great taste, the burst of mild-flavored cheese coating the mouth when I bit into one of those gruyere dumplings was fantastic

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  • Smoked steak tartare, seasoned beef, cooked egg yolk and a veil of mustard with fine herbs (3.5/5)


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  • Palamós prawn with miso aubergine and scorched aubergine infusion (4.25/5)
    • aubergine water, Palamós prawn a la plancha. a sweet combination
    • the miso-aubergine water tasted of a pleasant savoriness, like soy sauce

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  • Marinated Iberian pork with foie gras and barbecued Potatoes (4.5/5)
    • The filet mignon cut of Iberico pork, foie (with spongy texture) with a good sear, charcoal-ed bread; with rice foam. A coming together of very flavorful ingredients, the iberico had a profound flavor. This was a pleasing duet of dishes, the clean taste of white fish segueing into the rich tastes of iberico pork, dabbed with some more foie (a favorite ingredient of the chef). I came to appreciate here two features of Chef Jordi Cruz’s cuisine:
      • Firstly, his cuisine is not a sauce-driven one. Rather, it is driven by the high quality Spanish and Catalan ingredients available to him. Calçots, iberico pork, Lorito, Palamós prawns are clearly meant to drive their respective dishes.
      • Secondly, his style of cooking is a series of compositions that takes those ingredients as starting points; no ingredient is too sacred to be blended into a pop-culture mixer. Even with top-quality ingredients, he does not hesitate to pair them with bold flavors. Not for this chef the nouvelle-cuisine emphasis on how the ingredient tastes. He does not hesitate to put anago into a fried Chinese bun, or Gillardeau oyster with veal soup. When it succeeds, the result is genius – such as the calçots with balsamic vinegar and coconut ice cream. It is a style of cooking with no reference points except the Chef’s imagination. It must be what Arzak once was.

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  • Yuzu & Meringue cupcake (4.25/5)
    • yuzu sorbet, strawberry meringue cupcake in rice paper (obulato?)

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  • Chocolate, summer truffle, and “Tuber Albidum Pico” with yoghurt, flower honey, rosemary flowers and nuts (4/5)
    • I could not detect the truffle – but vanilla cream, white chocolate, yuzu cream was generally pleasant

2014-06-20 14.30.18

  • A dried-flower glass, crunchy yoghurt, flower honey and violet icecream. (4.5/5)
    • Flower paper, violet icecream, blueberry, yoghurt. The violet ice cream had a most brilliant and unearthly blue colour.

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  • Mignardises
    • Strawberry lipstick; yuzu macaron, liquid truffle (pistachio liqueur), tangerine jelly…

2014-06-20 16.16.06