Spanish Panache - Cinc Sentits – Barcelona
How can so many svelte women be on display in Barcelona? Don’t they know that four star dining abounds. Surely they must because they are to be found at those tables, but there must be a caloric catch somewhere. So much taste, so much elegance, so little time. Among these choices none is better than Cinc Sentits – a brilliant establishment that revels in the five senses (the soundtrack included Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and Dean Martin - a pack of rats in a clean, cool trap). Of my meals within the boundaries of Barcelona, the finest meal was that splendid lunch at Cinc Sentits, a temple of light near the University of Barcelona. Cinc Sentits is a college of the senses.
I began with one of the most compelling and thrilling starters in recent memory: a shot glass filled with drama and with love: cava, cream, and maple syrup with a little salt as accompaniment: all of the passionate food groups were here: champagne, cream, sugar, and salt in a jewel-like composition. I was dazzled by the light.
A second, deeper starter was a tomato ice compote served with a slice of sausage, garlic foam, and small bread cubes: gazpacho deconstructed. The presentation was exquisitely composed and a cool counterpart to the hot streets of a waning Barcelona summer. By forcing the diner to contemplate the construction of gazpacho, it did what majestic modernist cuisine must do: to turn food into theory, while keeping it at the peak of delight.
Then followed a squat square of foie gras: a cube of liver with an elegant and rich pasty layer beneath and a crispy burnt sugar crust above. Like so many such dishes it might have overplayed a desire to transform foie into dessert, but what saved the dish from a sugary mass was the subtle play of textures throughout, as fetching as a rectangular crème brulee.
The seafood plate was a perfect rectangle of tuna in a smoked tomato water with a roasted onion “sofregit” (a tomato-onion-olive oil sauce) and black olive salt (Cinc Sentits is partial salt as a condiment). Perhaps tomato water represents the ultimate downsizing of French saucing, but such lightness makes one feel healthy, forgetting the calories elsewhere (The secret of Spanish beauties). If not as filled with drama as the amuse, it was a subtle, slinky dish.
Iberian suckling pig was the last in a trio of rectangular cuisine. Fatter and denser than what had been previously presented, this sous-vide pork – perhaps slightly mushy as served - wallowed in its richness, swathed in a crispy ratafia glaze (a fruit cordial) and sprinkled with (more) salt. The texture was a bit off, but the taste was dense and complex and precisely porcine. To recapitulate the lifeworld of a Spanish sow, apples served as the accompaniment: in cooked slices and as an apple jam with wine and honey.
Dessert was a plentiful plate of gloriously zesty Maresme strawberries (an area on the coast of Catalonia known for these ruby berries). On top sat a scoop of marscapone sorbet with some fennel and rose water. One can not term this combination “simple;” splendid is more precise. Airy, herbal, flowered, and divine.
Cinc Sentits is a restaurant for the five senses. By no means the most expensive restaurant within town limits, of my dozen meals this was the pinnacle. Cinc Sentits is Catalan splendor on high heels.
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