El Poblet (Denia, Spain) – A Midsummer Night’s Dream

(Note: El Poblet has been re-named to Quique DaCosta)

Every year, one restaurant captures my attention like no other. In 2004, Manresa began what has been tremendous run of meals. Ludo Lefebvre’s Bastide of 2005 awoke my palette to the wonders that might lie across the sea and, no doubt, provided inspiration for my 2006 European adventure. In 2006, it was Ideas in Food’s two stellar meals at their former Keyah Grande restaurant. For 2007?

El Poblet, Denia, Spain

From top to bottom, there may not be a restaurant with greater attention to detail and production values than El Poblet. The restaurant is quite modern with a huge open kitchen as you walk in. The menus nearly qualify as works of art. In the technique/ingredient matrix, you would be hard-pressed to find a restaurant that uses such high-quality ingredients for their experiments. And in the realm of dining as experience, despite the crass commercialization of the beach ghetto Denia, El Poblet (the restaurant and food) has a Shakespearian quality – poetic and magical.

Where Etxebarri missed great expectations, El Poblet handily surpassed even higher hopes. This is a destination restaurant of the highest recommendation. Of all my meals this year, only the Les Ambassadeurs truffle meal may have been better.

Rum and Coke of Foie with a mist of lemon zest and wild rocket 2001/2007
Dated 2001, and reinvented for 2007, conceptually, it shows the thinking of a chef trying to explore a new cuisine, a signature. This had a post-modern sensibility – mix high end with elements of pop culture – challenge traditional assumptions and relationships of pairings. It also might serve as an exploration into the memories of youth (Coke, or is that Rum & Coke) influencing taste, a possible nod to Heston’s research from Fat Duck.

Super smooth, creamier than French Laundry’s foie, the rum and coke gelee was nearly too sweet but just restrained enough to keep the dish balanced. The salting was masterful. Excellent.

El Poblet (Denia, Spain) - Rum and Coke of Foie with a mist of lemon zest and wild rocket

Crunchy artichokes dressed on green olive oil with filaments of saffrony gelatin and wild oranges 2007

The (candied?) orange brightened the artichokes earthiness but the saffron’s shredded gelatin, while an interesting texture by itself, akin somewhat to bird’s nest, seemed superfluous and it didn’t add to the dish. Very Good.
El Poblet (Denia, Spain) - Crunchy artichokes dressed on green olive oil with filaments of saffrony gelatin and wild oranges

The Living Forest 2007
The Opinionated About review caused some ripples in the foodosphere by proclaiming experience and abstraction as new culinary frontiers. An argument against this notion is the traditional symbolism, and ritual, found in many cultures around their food. However, symbolism and abstraction are entirely different; and the arguments seemed to get caught up in semantics.

This dish was experiential and, with my limited dining experience in mind, I think it’s a bold new frontier. Other restaurants crossed over into the intellectual realm long ago – French Laundry with its plays on classic dishes; El Bulli and WD-50 with their new takes on ingredients and traditional flavor pairings; Fat Duck with memory and influence; and countless others. El Poblet seems different with these Abstraction dishes (this one, Abstraction of the Sea, Hoarfrost, and The Other Moon of Valencia below.) The ingredients were nonrepresentational in a culinary context; they did not point back to themselves in meaning or intent. The experience was the dish – not the mind trying to link symbol to food item. Whether this becomes important or not is for history to tell.

Mushrooms mixed with a brown sugar sand, it had the crunch and taste of walking through a forest. Each bite yielded different aspects of the earth. The entire dish had the crisp smell of forest air. The brown sugar was just a touch too sweet but its portions could be easily controlled to maintain the delicate ecosystem. Excellent.

El Poblet (Denia, Spain) - The Living Forest 2007

Abstraction of the Sea 2007
The best realization of the four experiential experiments. The mushrooms compose a majority of the dish yet they clearly mimicked the look, feel, and taste of seaweed. The smells and tastes of the ocean breeze were so vivid that one might question why it’s labeled an abstraction. This is an evocative cuisine. Excellent.
El Poblet (Denia, Spain) - Abstraction of the Sea 2007

Oysters Inspired by the Guggenheim Museum (Bilbao) 2006
Slightly warmed oyster with a pure oyster flavor but one has to question the point. The paper dissolved immediately and felt slightly inorganic. The Gillardeau oysters, slightly warmed, quite meaty, were of very high quality. A more technical explanation of the dish can be found at TastyTech – an interesting take on the dialectics of the dish. Very Good.
El Poblet (Denia, Spain) - Oysters Inspired by the Guggenheim Museum (Bilbao)

Hoarfrost 2007
The meal was like walking through an epic classic poem – walks in enchanted forests, the sea of a great voyage, and with this dish, magical fruit. No dish evokes a Shakespearian magic like this one. The place, the meal’s progression, and this dish intersect in a Midsummer Night’s Dream. The crisp cool evening.

The hoarfrost (see the technical definition), an olive oil emulsion, captured the essence of a frosty night as it imparted a cool chill. Its smoky flavor, as light and subtle as Etxebarri’s dishes, floated in the mouth and evoked a sense of burning fires in the heart of winter. Raw shrimp sat underneath. Very Good.
El Poblet (Denia, Spain) - Hoarfrost 2007

Prawn 2007
Roasted with a rose/prawn infusion with the slightest of rose hints. Prawn was perfectly cooked. Exquisite presentation. The seafood at El Poblet is second to none; the Spanish seem to pride themselves on procuring the freshest seafood possible. Excellent.
El Poblet (Denia, Spain) - Prawn 2007

Tuna Belly Flaps with chicken and tuna sauce 2007
Possibly more post-modern games, Chicken of the Sea, an exemplary piece of Mediterranean tuna with a slight smokiness. The roasted tuna and chicken sauce added body and depth but one wonders if they were necessary when the ingredient was as good as the tuna. Excellent.
El Poblet (Denia, Spain) - Tuna Belly Flaps with chicken and tuna sauce 2007

The Other Moon of Valencia 2007
More Shakespeare, an all squid dish – crunchy ink balls, squid foam, and squid with more ink under the foam. A consensus of blogs liken this as the best but I simply don’t get it from a taste perspective. It was random to me, none of the elements interacting with the other. What was the point of the foam? A beautiful and magical dish but too conceptual. It did capture the mood of fishing during a late night but its culinary merits were minimal. Good.
El Poblet (Denia, Spain) - The Other Moon of Valencia 2007

Sticky Senia Rice on a bed of smoked eel 2006
Perfect rice, each grain perfumed by the cherry & rosemary. The smoked eel added a slight smokiness to the dish with the smoke and fruit flavors mixing. Chef Quique Dacosta has written what some call the bible for rice cooking and this dish supported that opinion. Very Good.
El Poblet (Denia, Spain) - Sticky Senia Rice on a bed of smoked eel 2006

Hen from the Golden Eggs 2006
The excellent egg was marred by an overpowering coffee sauce. The richness of the egg was lost in the heaviness of the sauce. This was the weakest dish of the night. Ok.
El Poblet (Denia, Spain) - Hen from the Golden Eggs 2006

Fregula Salad 2007
My notes were sketchy on this one and the photo doesn’t bring back much from the memory. Green pea foam, licorice infusion, pasta; interesting texture, foam intensely green pea, monkfish skin gelatinous. Good to Very Good.
El Poblet (Denia, Spain) - Fregula Salad 2007

A Basic Understanding of the Lamb 2007
Lamb, quinoa, amaranth, & tapioca. Toasted cereals were a treat in themselves and stole the show. Lamb itself too gelatious for my tastes (parts were braised, others possibly sous-vide.) Good.
El Poblet (Denia, Spain) - A Basic Understanding of the Lamb 2007

Bowl of crystallized apple with infusion of Stevia Rebaudiana, Petals, Flowers, and Wild Herbs 2007
Herbs make it, gave it a refreshing quality
El Poblet (Denia, Spain) - Bowl of crystallized apple with infusion of Stevia Rebaudiana, Petals, Flowers, and Wild Herbs 2007

Aloe and Violets 2006
Violet ice cream, yogurt, dehydrated pineapple, & aloe. Ice cream and yogurt both had excellent texture, more intense than normal violet, aloe played with the continuing theme of coolness throughout the night. Very Good.
El Poblet (Denia, Spain) - Aloe and Violets 2006

Panettone of Chocolate 2007
El Poblet (Denia, Spain) - Panettone of Chocolate 2007

It is magical; the most exciting meal I’ve eaten this year; and it’s a must-visit destination. A Top 5 restaurant for me, automatic inclusion in my A1 Best Meals list. The chef is also reknowned for his traditional recipes, particularly rice and paella. I would suggest booking two nights, one for the gastronomic tasting menu and the other for the traditional tasting menu. In between, when you’ve got nothing to do in Denia, make a run for perfect paella at Paco Gandia (and then compare it to the one you order at El Poblet.)

- chuck

Official Site: http://www.elpoblet.com/

Other Reviews:

  • Amar

    That looks good cant wait to go to spain and try all that food .
    excellent blog

  • Paul

    The food looks very very very beautiful at El Poblet, and also i know some chefs like to use flavour combinations that come strait out of left field, and that they tend to be more style than substance, but what the the hell has a poached egg and coffee sauce got to do with each other, Basil and Tomato yes, Chocolate and Rasberrys yes, Ham and Peas yes, but a Hens egg with COFFEE SAUCE Lol,

    i swear some of these chefs do it just for shock value, just so that they can get there names in the news papers, eg Ferran Adria, P.S Chuck how much did it cost you to eat there, because apart from one dish, Hens egg and Coffee sauce, it looks like a resturant that i would like to vist some time in the future, Paul

  • ChuckEats

    I don’t remember the exact price but it was around 130 euros for the full tasting menu. Considering the quality of the rest of the meal, I can overlook the egg.

  • http://QuintessentialCuisine.Blogspot.com/ QUINTESSENTIAL C U I S I N E©

    … I’ve been away too but it’s nice to see such a fine job on the photo end of all this

    Wilbur

  • http://blindtasting.twoday.net Alex

    Hi Chuck, been there too and have seen it the same way. Excellent restaurant with an excellent menu price… Important: the wine pairings are included in the menu price ;=)

    http://blindtasting.twoday.net/stories/4243719/

    Alex

  • Steve

    I’m sorry, but after reading chuckeats for 10 months now, I have to draw the line here. I’ve never seen anything so pretentious in all my life!! I generally take as gospel the reviews I read here (e.g. I plan to visit the US in July and will break into Urasawa if I have to!), but I think this reaches way too far into fantasy. “Hoarforest”, I mean come on!!

    It’s like a bad scene from “L.A. Story”.

    Regards,
    Steve

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  • David Beesley

    Went to El Poblets in October this year.
    I had a foie gras with an astonishing sweet caramel sauce – an object lesson in how to spoil good basic ingredients with sugar. My wife had the cherry soup that contained raw prawns. Not recommended.
    We then had a risotto with serrano ham. This was covered in foam which helped give the ham a slimy texture. The dish was so heavily oversalted that we advised the staff.
    I cannot remember the name or content of the dessert but it was sickly sweet and had a slimy texture.
    The staff were very attentive until towards the end of the meal when, for some unknown reason, they vanished. I had to ask to get someone to fetch our wine which was the only part of the meal I enjoyed.
    Overall, third rate, overpriced and pretentious. these people need to learn how to walk before they try to run.

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  • Robus

    Hi Chuck, thanks for the review! Reading yours and Trine’s blogs has tempted us into lunch at El Poblet while we’re in Valencia in a couple of weeks. One question: with one visit booked, we should go for the experimental menu, right? And another question: have you got any other – more everyday – tips in and around Valencia? The Food Snob has pointed me in the direction of Riff and Ca’ Sento, wouldn’t mind getting your thoughts too…

    Cheers, Rob

  • chuckeats

    Hi Rob, yes, I’d do the tasting menu offered. I was only in the area for 1 day – the paella place was 2-3 hours away but that paella was so special I would recommend the drive.

  • Robus

    Chuck, we went for the ‘traditional’ menu, as my wife is pregnant and they said it would be easier to adapt those dishes and keep the structure of the lunch. And we were glad we did, because we got to eat classics like the Haze and Rum & Coke fois. We loved it! Had a great dinner at Riff too, and had a lovely paella in a traditional place with some local friends, just north of the city. Thanks for the inspiration, keep up the (difficult) work!

  • chuckeats

    Glad to hear Robus – it really is a special place – i think two meals are de rigeur for those in the area, considering the quality and (relative) remoteness.

  • THORNBER

    MANY YEARS AGO YOU USED TO BE ABLE TO HAVE A PLATE FULL OF FOOD THAT LOOKED LIKE A ROAST LEG OF LAMB AND NOW YOU GET SOMETHING THAT RESEMBLES CUCKOO SPIT AT AN OVER INFLATED PRICE. THE PRENTENTIOUSNESS OF DECOSTA IS UNBELEIVABLE AND TO ME THE FOOD WAS UNDERWHELMING AND PRICED BEYOND BELIEF.

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