Friday, October 10, 2014

And the winner is...

Well, we scrapped our plans to go to Belgium because we don't have enough time to make a road trip there worthwhile.  Instead, we're going to go to Colmar, France.  It's a very charming city in extreme eastern France.  We meant to visit last time we were here, but we ran out of time.

Colmar is maybe a two hour drive away through the Black Forest.  Should be a pleasant ride.  I booked us in a basic and inexpensive hotel.  I'm hoping for good food and a change of scenery.  Colmar is a pretty town.

I was thinking of going to Switzerland, too.  But to go to Switzerland and use the motorway, you have to buy a vignette.  Unless things have changed, the vignette is good from December 1 until January 31 of the following year.  So if we bought one now, it would expire at the end of January 2015.  I'm not aware of any discounts, either.  No wonder Switzerland is so lush and pretty!  It's better to wait until December to go to Switzerland, if only to get ourselves a vignette.  They cost 40 Swiss francs or, I believe, 30 euros...  That's about $40 or so.

Vignettes are a fact of life in a lot of European countries.  Some places let you buy vignettes that are good for a few days and they don't cost much at all.  Others, like Switzerland, require you to buy one that is good for a year or so.  The countries that don't have vignettes usually have tolls.  Germany is a rare country where there aren't road tolls or vignettes.

I often see people with Swiss plates driving around here.  It's hard to imagine what would lure them to Germany, although I'm sure a lot of things are cheaper here.  Like, the other day, I saw a guy driving a big truck on A81 with four big tires strapped to his roof.  I bet he bought those tires here.

Another thing that's kind of cool is that a lot of Europeans use English to get by in places where they don't speak the language.  For instance, when Bill and I visited Trier a couple of years ago, we had dinner at a little gasthaus.  A French family was also dining and instead of speaking French or German, they spoke English.  I guess it makes more sense, since English is a bit more global than German is and French and German aren't somewhat similar the way Spanish and French are.

Ooh... this reminds me of an experience we had in Barcelona at a fabulous restaurant called Cinc Sentits.  Here's my review.  It's from 2009, but boy did that place put a smile on Bill's face...  Hope we can go back to Barcelona and enjoy it again.  It's one place where you'll hear plenty of different languages.

Cinc Sentits is a five star feast for the five senses...

 Apr 21, 2009 (Updated Apr 7, 2010)
Review by   
Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Excellent

  • Food and Presentation:  
  • Ambiance and Decor: 
  • Quality of Service: 

Pros:Outstanding food. Impeccable service.

Cons:Very expensive. Reservations required.

The Bottom Line: Cinc Sentits is an amazing place to eat in Barcelona, Spain!

My husband Bill and I recently spent a weekend in Barcelona, Spain. Whenever we go on trips, we like to dine out at fine restaurants. We've used OpenTable.com online reservation service to find excellent dining spots worldwide. OpenTable.com did not let us down on our trip to Barcelona; it was through OpenTable that we found Cinc Sentits, a very unique restaurant offering a tasting menu that engages all of the senses.  Indeed, the name itself translates to five senses and we soon found out this restaurant is aptly named.

From the very beginning of my quest to secure a table at Cinc Sentits, I knew this restaurant would be different. When I first tried to make a reservation, I found that the only reservation available on Friday and Saturday was at 10:30pm! Now, I know it's normal for Spanish people to dine out that late, but 10:30pm was just too late for Bill and me. Luckily, I checked back and managed to grab an elusive 8:30pm reservation. I guess someone canceled.

Arrival

On the evening of April 4th, 2009, Bill and I found ourselves on a tree lined street in Barcelona. Our taxi driver had just let us out in front of Cinc Sentits, an establishment we easily could have missed. The sign out front is very small to go along with the restaurant's diminutive size. Moreover, there was a graffiti covered garage door pulled about two-thirds of the way down. Bill and I waited outside for 8:30pm; that's when the restaurant opens for dinner service. We were the first party of the evening to walk into the small dining room, which appeared to have about sixteen tables or so.

Cinc Sentits is outfitted in crimson and cream. Fresh orchids are placed on every table. The small but very professional wait staff is dressed head to toe in black. Everyone we came into contact with spoke excellent English, but I also noticed that several staff members also spoke French.  Although we did have one server who appeared to take care of us more often than the others, Cinc Sentits servers seem to work as a team.  We came into contact with all of them at least once during the evening.

Reservations are an absolute must!

Although Cinc Sentits will take walk ins if a table is available, the restaurant is often fully booked. That was certainly the case when Bill and I dined there. We were seated at a nice sized table for two as more people streamed in. Every single one of them had reserved a spot.

The whole experience takes at least a couple of hours and it appeared to Bill and me that Cinc Sentits entertains only a few people a night.  We did not see any of the tables turn over while we were there.  This is not a restaurant you can just drop into or come by for a quick bite to eat. Two ladies who tried to drop in unreserved were politely turned away because the whole restaurant was booked, although the apologetic waiter who broke the bad news was kind enough to offer a suggestion for another restaurant along with directions.

The clientele at Cinc Sentits seems to be an international lot. A table of Germans was seated behind us, while the table to our left included a local and his French girlfriend. We also heard British, American, and Canadian accents in our midst.

Our evening gets underway

We sipped glasses of cava and grazed on snacks of olives, almonds, and crackers as we looked at Cinc Sentits' unique menu. Cinc Sentits offers a tasting menu in three different lengths. Diners can choose a three, six, or eight course meal with an optional wine pairing. The food is very fresh and presented artistically with flavors that seem unlikely yet still manage to work well together.

Cinc Sentits' chef, Jordi Artal, is a self-taught culinary genius who uses very fresh, local ingredients and prepares food in the Catalunyan style. Cinc Sentits' was named one of Spain's top six restaurants shortly after it opened in 2006 and was awarded a Michelin star in 2008.

Artal's wife, Amelia Artal, is the very professional yet friendly maitre d' at Cinc Sentits. Bill and I were surprised by her very American sounding accent. We heard her tell a table full of Germans that she got her American accent from Canada! I later found out that Jordi and Amelia Artal both spent many years in Canada before coming home to Spain.

Bill and I decided to go with the eight course meal along with an optional wine pairing for an additional 30 euros each. Had we wanted to, we could have opted for finer wines at 50 euros each, but that was getting to be too extravagant. Patrons who don't want the wine pairing can order another beverage or a bottle of wine off Cinc Sentits' wine list.

The food

Our meal began with a question. One of the servers asked us if there was any food we were allergic to or didn't like. I told him that I hate mushrooms with a passion. Bill, on the other hand, likes fungus and was happy to accept optional black truffles on one of his courses. That cleared up, Amelia Artal brought us what she called the "welcome shot", which consisted of shot glasses filled with warm maple syrup, chilled cream, cava sabayon, and rock salt. She told us to down it in one gulp and to be sure to get the salt at the end. I was amazed by that shot, which reminded me of buttermilk pancakes. It sounds like it might be sweet and cloying, but it wasn't. it was light and creamy and a delightful way to begin the meal.

The first course was a single, cold stalk of fresh asparagus served with a mussel and a delicious cream sauce. I really enjoyed the first course, but was not as fond as the next one, foie gras coca. This course usually gets raves, but I had never tried foie gras before our trip to Cinc Sentits. I was also familiar with how foie gras is made.

In any case, the foie gras was served on a thin pastry base with carmelized leeks, burnt sugar, and chive "arrope". This course was matched with a sweet riesling wine from Germany. The wine went well with the foie gras, but I'm just not a fan of liver or sweet wine, even when they compliment each other. When I didn't finish this course, our waiter actually cared enough to ask me why! Even though I didn't like the foie gras coca, many other people who have reviewed Cinc Sentits disagree with me about it. Apparently, it's a menu highlight. If you enjoy foie gras, it will probably thrill you as much as it did Bill. Personally, I didn't like it.

I was much more into the third course, baby squid served with "arroz a banda", "sofregit", and saffron allioli. Our waiter described the rice as paella, but to me it looked more like a hushpuppie! This course was served with a dry Spanish white wine that complimented it beautifully. I didn't have much time to linger on the third course, though, because it was quickly followed by the fourth course, sea bass served with peas and a mint scented sauce. Again, the chef came up with a combination that I might not have considered. The mint went so well with the sweetness of the peas and the sea bass. It was paired with another crisp white Spanish wine.

The fifth course was probably my favorite one of the meal. It was a mouthwatering Iberian suckling pig, paired with red-wine honey glaze and two types of crisp apple, was served with a flavorful red Spanish wine. Bill opted to have his pig with black truffles, while I had mine plain.

The sixth course was a choice between a palate cleansing sorbet or a cheese course. Bill had the cheese and I had the sorbet, which was served in a shot glass.

Dessert started with a blood orange sorbet with naval orange segments, candied kumquat, powdered honey and garnished with Pop Rocks! As a server set the dish in front of us, she commented that if we listened, we could hear the popping of the candy. I have to admit, the Pop Rocks were certainly an interesting addition to this dessert and the blood orange sorbet was very refreshing and not too filling.

The second half of dessert was called chocolate 67% "Grand Cru". It consisted of a small cup of olive oil ice cream (which tastes much better than it sounds) served with macadamias, "shattered bread", and a warm chocolate sauce. Once again, there was a salty finish with rock salt at the bottom, which was well matched by the sweetness of the chocolate. This course came with a semi sweet dessert wine.

We thought we were finished eating, but there was one last course... called mandarin. The mandarin was served in a small glass with cardamom crumble, orange-blossom "air", and passion fruit cream. It was paired with a sweet Spanish muscatel from Malaga.  Bill and I don't usually like dessert wines that much, but we both agreed that the dessert wines we had at Cinc Sentits were very appropriately matched and enjoyable.

Final thoughts

If an eight course tasting menu isn't your thing, I want to note that there are a few other options available at Cinc Sentits. However, I noticed that most of the patrons opted for the eight course meal and just about everybody seemed very satisfied with their choice to do so. This is a place where you can easily spend several hours and not get too full.

We left Cinc Sentits feeling very satisfied, although the experience did not come at a bargain price. Our meal, which consisted of two glasses of cava, two eight course meals with wine pairing, two bottles of sparkling water, and an extra 12 euro charge for black truffles and a tip, came to about $335. However, Bill and I both agree that this meal was among the best we've ever had in our lifetimes and the service was impeccable.  Even though $335 is a lot of money to us, we thought it was a fair price for what we got.

I would recommend Cinc Sentits to anyone visiting Barcelona who loves excellent, creatively prepared food and outstanding service. Just be sure to make reservations well ahead of time, plan to stay for at least two hours, bring lots of money, and an open mind!

Cinc Sentits' Web site: www.cincsentits.com

Recommend this product? Yes

Kid Friendliness: No
Vegetarian Friendly: No
Notes, Tips or Menu Recommendations This is a good place to indulge yourself. Go for the eight course tasting menu with a wine pairing!
Best Suited For: Romantic Evening

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