Tickets (Barcelona, Spain) – Fun, Innovative Tapas & Worth The Hype
I admit I was one of those people who was completely taken by Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations episode when he and José Andrés dined at Tickets. The restaurant doesn’t look like it’s taking itself too seriously but serving seriously good food.
Since I didn’t have the opportunity to go to the gorgeous beaches of Costa Brava and dine at the famous El Bulli prior to its closing on July 30, 2011, Tickets would be the next best thing especially dining with a few friends. As most of you might know, the Adrià brothers – Ferran, who ran El Bulli and Albert who runs this restaurant and several others in town like 41° Experience, Pakta, Bodega 1900, and a few others in Barcelona – cook what some call it “molecular gastronomy” or Modernist cuisine. The focus of this kind of cooking, if done well, is to focus on making the flavors and textures much more sublime than it is normally. Sometimes certain components of the food, is not what it always seems (for a local reference point, see Atera in NYC).
In case you did not know, Tickets is one of the hottest places to eat in Barcelona. Many who have dined there will tell you to plan your reservations at least 2-3 months ahead or you will have to get there when they open at 6 and hope to score a bar seat or two.
How did Tickets fare out? We had a blast. I rarely say I had a fun meal and I can count less than a handful of times I can recall such a thing. The food was overall very good except for a few dishes we don’t get. The service was very professional, knowledgeable but casual enough that it doesn’t feel overbearing.
I should put in a disclaimer that we let our server pick our dishes since we felt he would know how to build up the meal appropriately and know what are considered the better dishes on the menu. While we didn’t love everything he picked, he did do a good job of showing what the kitchen is capable of.
We started with the pistachio tempura (3,60€), which I would consider as upscale bar nuts (and the plus is, it’s my favorite nut) to graze on while having a bottle of wonderfully fruity yet dry Juve y Camps 2009 cava (26€) that would pair with the food very well.
The next snack up were puffed spicy saffron “squid” (5,90€). These crispy squid chips were actually made of rice based dough and it’s dusted in a saffron-based kimchi powder. Between these two snacks, the “squid” chips were more interesting than the pistachios.
When the olives (8,40€) were served, this is when the fun begins. These olives are the classic example of spherification in molecular gastronomy (or Modernist cooking, as some would prefer to call it). The first round of olives is the “regular” olives where you can taste the brininess and everything you expect for a typical green olive. The next round is a fruitier olive that seems to be infused with orange oil or zest as we smell a gentle whiff of it coming off. Both olives seemed solid on the spoon but once you put some gentle pressure to chew it, it turns to liquid and the olive juice gushes in your mouth and it tasted a lot cleaner and intense than the normal olives.
The upcoming plates were classic Spanish foods of ham and pan con tomate except many times better. The silky, fatty, tissue thin slices of Joselito’s coppa (9,20€) and Iberico jamon (13,40€) were cured porcine heaven. The pan con tomate (3,20€) was a great, crunchy sweet-acidic foil to the luscious hams.
Around this time, we spied Chef Albert Adrià at the restaurant tasting the foods at the kitchen’s pass (for quality assurance) and chatting up to few of his friends at certain tables.
Moving on to more fun food, there were mini airbags filled with Machengo cheese foam topped with hazelnut oil caviar (9,50€). These “airbags” were ethereally crisp puff instantly melts to the cheese foam and the nutty hazelnut oil enriched the Machengo flavor.
The foie gras escabeche (14,90€) was an unusual foie gras dish but I liked how acidic it was against the firm, cold foie gras.
These Thai Corvina Cones (4,80€ each) was phenomenal. Crisp cones stuffed with silky, lightly acidic cubes of Corvina fish and sweet mango. We easily could have had ordered seconds or thirds but our waiter had other dishes in mind.
The Nordic Trip (4,80€ each) was our favorite dish of the night. No contest. The name of this finger food is a tongue-and-cheek name to the Nordic cuisine. Thin, cracker-like oat bread topped with creamy beef tartare, tiny sliver of pickled red onion, a small dab of crème fraiche, and vinegar powder that’s dusted like fresh snow. The flavors of sweet, tart, and subtle beefiness were like a symphony on my palate.
This modestly named Tomato & Basil Salad (9,30€) tasted more complex than it’s named. The juicy, sweet, ripe tomatoes topped with fresh micro basil leaves, sitting in a pool of cool but very pure tasting basil gelatin was screaming summer! on my palate, especially with the warm aroma of orange essence sprayed onto the dish.
The avocado cannelloni stuffed with crab (14,80€) was delicious. Sweet, creamy crab filling melded wonderfully with the equally creamy avocado. It didn’t feel or tasted one-noted.
The oysters topped with ponzu sauce and salmon roe (3,50€) were divine, intense slurps. The minerally, slightly chewy oysters’ flavors were heightened by the citrusy, salty ponzu sauce and sweet salmon roe that also gave a subtle “pop” texture as it burst as we chewed.
The razor clams with refried sauce and lemon air (15,80€) were different in regards to having one clam but having a different flavor on each end. The side with the lemon air was delicately acidic and made the clam tasted light as a cloud than the other end, which was heartier, slightly chewy, and savory-sweet due to the fine strips of black garlic.
The fried sea bass with mojo sauce (10,70€) would be my platonic idea of what fish sticks (or fish and chips sans the chips) would be – crispy, not heavily battered and well seasoned. The spicy mojo sauce tied up the dish nicely.
The Surf & Turf (10,70€) is a stew of white beans, black trumpet mushrooms, small chunks of ham with cod served with a side of toasted bread. It’s a fine, hearty stew but it was my least favorite of the evening. It would be great if it’s eaten during the chilly evenings but not so much if you were still in the mode of late summer weather like it was when we were there.
The chicken tacos (11,80€) seems like the celiac friendly (or carb-phobic friendly) version of the chicken taco. Leaves of crisp iceberg lettuce cut into rounds to serve as the wrap and strips of dark chicken meat, chicken skin, shallots and dressed in a lime based vinaigrette sauce to lighten up this dish.
Our first dessert was the carrot cupcake (3,85€ each). These small bite-sized “cupcakes” are entirely edible, including its wrapper. The wrapper is made of a stiff rice paper (it almost felt like plastic) and the cupcake itself is a thin cake like shell filled with liquid carrot ice cream topped with mascarpone frosting. Pretty ingenious.
The volcano rocks (2,90€ each) were gray, craggy pumice like “rocks” that are made of a blend black sesame and white chocolate topped with hazelnut praline. These are light sweets as they are aerated yet the nutty intensity of the praline and sesame seeds lingered on the palate.
When we were completely stuffed and asked for the check, we were presented with a Paellero box.
After we took care of the check, we walked out in a mixed state of bliss and food coma while heading back to our apartment still reeling how fantastic and fun this meal was.
To view more photos of these visit, please view the slideshow below (or CLICK HERE):
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