Another long lunch: La Terraza del Casino, Madrid
So even though we'd already lined up lunch at El Club Allard, it seemed wasteful not to check out a second Michelin-starred restaurant, La Terraza del Casino.
Ferran Adrià is "gastronomic advisor" at La Terraza and the chef, Paco Roncero, is one of his proteges. We'll probably never get the chance to eat an Adrià dish, but we figured this might give us an idea of what it's like.
La Terraza is in the Casino de Madrid, founded in the 1830s to be a meeting place for nobility. So, yeah, no slots.
But really pretty.
While the Casino itself is frescoes and sculptures and gold-leaf, La Terraza takes a different direction in interior decor; '80s disco, maybe?
Don't get me wrong — it was cool, in an "I've never been in a place like this" kind of way. But compared to El Club Allard, it felt ... forced, almost. As though it was trying too hard to show how unconventional it was, which made it seem inauthentic.
Still, it set the tone.
The guy in the background was one of the many waitstaff who served us. His first action was to offer us a Bloody Mary, which began with Ketel One and fresh tomato mix and ended with ...
... liquid nitrogen. See the dry ice clouding the table?
The result was a zingy sorbet, bright with flavor and a nice kick of alcohol.
Next up, salad and toothpaste.
Okay, it's actually a fabulous olive oil butter.
Only the presence of the hovering waitstaff prevented me from squeezing the entire tube into my mouth. (I probably wouldn't have been the first, but still. Not ladylike.)
Next, a pine-nut marshmallow on a spoon, and a little cake of sesame and miso. The flavors of the latter overwhelmed the delicateness of the former, but individually both were quite lovely.
Then came what were basically hazelnut truffles, which were fine, though a little sweet for so early in the order. But they were served on a wire mesh platter, which, you know, craaazy.
And then came "parma pasión," which was passion fruit with shaved Parmesan on top. Really. But also on mesh platter, woooo!
Sorry, do I seem whelmed? It's just that by this point in our lunch at El Club Allard, we'd been surprised by edible messages, inhaled tomatillo smoke and eaten fish over candlelight. And now I was supposed to get excited by an overabundance of cheese on a sliver of fruit?
Okay, the next course was better: razor-clam niguri with black and white sesame. Things were looking up.
And then the first genuinely brilliant, emotionally satisfying dish.
Not the Gorgonzola mochi, though that was an interesting combination of texture and flavor. No, the awesome is in the background: a single young strawberry. Grilled.
I don't know why it had never occurred to me to grill strawberries before. This was warm, soft, bursting with vibrant flavor. It made me stop and really take note of the moment.
Was this going to be the high point of the meal? The next dish now stood in comparison. The cake of cod cheeks with black olive tempura was perfectly fine.
But it wasn't a strawberry.
And thus ended the "Snacks" section of the meal; Act One, if you will. Act Two, "Tapiplatos," was a parade of small plates that covered more of a meats-and-veggies field.
To start, a trio: oyster, a sliver of lychee gelatin, and a spoon of ... well, the menu says the third ingredient in this dish is borage. But my memory (and The Boy believes this to be true also), is that the spoon contains a (very delicious) sort of ham stock.
In other words, yes: Hot Ham Water.
For this dish, we were given instructions: Eat the oyster first, then the jelly, then the HHW. So we did. But the order seemed odd; the delicate flavor of the lychee was masked by the proteins on either side. Unless the lychee was intended as a palate-cleanser (in which case, it wasn't very effective).
Okay, next was something that shouldn't have worked, but did: white asparagus in a warm mayonnaise with grapefruit. No, really.
Maybe it was because the basis of the dish was classic, and had just been goosed enough to be clever. The sauce was rich but not heavy, and the citrus gave it a brightness and prevented it from being one-note predictable.
And then, finally, something beautiful.
These were little bundles of squid and the most amazing onion confit with ink. The onions were sweet and salty at the same time, and melted in the mouth.
Next, langoustine wrapped in quinoa — an interesting take on maki — in a light garlic-honey sauce.
This was a dish that worked as a whole; all the flavors were delicate, and balanced so that none overwhelmed the others.
The Boy, of course, can't do crustaceans, so he got a plate of peas instead.
Then came the beef course. And the first and only appearance of foam.
The meat was Wagyu, insanely tender, with a light teriyaki glaze that brought out the flavor nicely. Sadly, the menu description does not mention the unnaturally green foam, and I have no recollection of what it was. Not memorable enough to outshine the beef, anyway.
Next, more fish (because serving proteins out of order is craaaazy!). This time, rodaballo a la Gallega, a very nice piece of turbot cooked in a traditional style.
The blobulous entity to the right was described to us as being either (I forget) a winkle or a cockle. My limited knowledge of such things is that both are meatier, more mussel-like, rather than the translucent orbs here. So are these a Mediterranean variety? Or juveniles?
All I know is that they exploded saltily in the mouth (oh stop it), like one big gelatinous piece of caviar. And I'd like some more, please.
And then some fowl, because we hadn't yet.
This was pichon con gelee-cru de manzana al Casis — potentially pigeon but also possibly some other type of small bird — with balls of apple in cassis. At least, I assume that's what they were. Who knows, with this craaazy molecular gastronomy stuff?
Anyway, it was good.
Thus ended the tapiplatos; next came a sorbet — mandarin, in this case — to cleanse the palate.
Not shown: The repeat performance with the liquid nitrogen to turn the fresh juice into frozen. Well, it was cute the first time around.
And on to dessert. First, a very lovely strawberry soup with pepper ice cream:
And then a bonbon of chocolate, ice cream, and nuts:
But wait, there's more!
Pink strawberry meringues; gianduja chocolates; passionfruit jellies; and donuts covered in white chocolate and filled with Baileys.
This last plate really summed up the whole experience for me. It was well executed, pleasingly presented, and not particularly unusual.
Yes, there were moments in this meal that stood out — the strawberry, the onion confit; the Wagyu beef — but you'll notice they were the simple elements done well.
Maybe it isn't fair to compare it to lunch at El Club Allard. That was a different experience, at the hands of a chef with a different philosophy. And yet I'd hoped for more from someone who had worked with Adrià, for whom the emotional response to a dish is a core component of its enjoyment.
At la Terraza del Casino, the level of technical excellence is extremely high. In terms of skill and knowledge, the chef and his staff are masterful. But there were really few surprises, and nothing that moved me in the same way as several of the plates at Allard.
If I ever get the chance to eat a three-hour lunch in Madrid again, I know where I'm going.