Actually, I had planned my journey well. Via Paderborn I flew first to Palma de Mallorca, from there on to Valencia. Already 90 minutes late, I boarded my rental car. I still had over three hours until dinner in Dénia. More than enough for the good 100 kilometers, one would think. In a good mood and in anticipation of many exciting delicacies, I jetted further south via AP 7 at an outside temperature of 38 degrees. Until all of a sudden, halfway down the road, with a loud bang, the hood was torn from its moorings and slammed first against the windshield, then onto the roof of the little car, and finally onto the highway behind me. And burst my plans with just that bang. From now on, we had to wait at the next emergency stop on the side of the road. First of all, to the colleagues of the Spanish car repair shop, who were kind enough to collect the lost hood. Then onto a tow truck that Avis sent to the scene. Finally, to a cab. Then onto the miserably slow unwinding kilometers to the destination. During this time, increasingly thirsty and hungry, I could already follow via Facebook and Instagram how the other participants of the evening first posted photos of the champagne on the beach and finally also of the first courses… A torment!
After I took my place at my table at 22:00, almost two hours late, 25 of the total 30 courses still follow. And one of the most inspiring and extraordinary culinary experiences of recent years.
Twenty foodies from all over the world had gathered that evening, for a showcase of the work of development Quique Dacosta. A unique dinner organized for the participants of the OAD Europe Awards ceremony held the following evening in Barcelona. It managed the balancing act from Quique Dacosta’s beginnings at El Pueblo, still very much influenced by the Spanish molecular cuisine of the early 2000s, to the current, very modern, strictly local and product-focused cuisine. This was followed by multiple courses of the same products in different preparations. Otherwise a major exception, today part of the concept.
Instead of small amuses and a slow approach to the “Edible Landscape of the Costa Blanca” (according to the St. Pellegrino list, in which Quique is ranked 41st this year), I start abruptly with a first fish course, the prelude to the third of six acts. Surprisingly intense aroma and great spiciness. Crunch, freshness and light fruity acidity in the Coca of Tomatoes. Eating is done with hands or small tweezers. I feel I have arrived.
At a brisk pace, we continue with various tapas of fish. All great compositions with high craftsmanship, mostly focused on a few products. At the same time always creative and staged with much effort and love. So, of course, the Tobacco Leaf is not a real tobacco leaf, but an algae that has been gently caramelized and shaped. The Lemon Fish is also an exciting surprise. A hollowed lemon, under whose lemon foam hides perfectly cooked small pieces of fish. Again with a surprising demanding spiciness, plenty of acidity and fruitiness. Great!
Gugenheim and the fried oyster are the first two recipes dedicated to the same protagonist. The former even dates back to 2002 and references the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao in both appearance, taste and texture. A slightly iodiney, metallic taste envelops the oyster, which is only minimally grilled. In contrast, the 2015 counterpart is much more complex, has considerably more depth and, due to the combination with the base reminiscent of crab chips, also more crunch. At the same time, however, no longer this precise clarity. An exciting comparison.
It’s those rare, wonderful and precious moments when a dish manages to transport me to another place through its scent and look, texture and taste. Of course, this transformation is already deliberately in the name – but that it works so well is crazy. The scent of moss and mushrooms. The gentle nature of the forest floor. Mushrooms. A touch of truffle. Extraordinary.
Also a classic and signature dish of the house. But frankly not really made for my palate. A bit too creamy, too sweet, too heavy.
The gamba roja is perhaps the most typical product of the whole coast around Dénia. At Quique Dacosta it finds its way onto the table in a red cellophane packet: A gift from the sea. The gamba, as Quique’s current book describes it, is boiled for a few seconds in boiling hot seawater and then steeped for 5 minutes in the water cooled down with plenty of ice. The ideal serving temperature is 12 degrees. A very pure, intense and sweet aroma is the result of this procedure.
Between the delta of the Ebro and the Albufera near Valencia are the most important areas for rice cultivation in Spain. Arroz. The basis of any paella, which also has its home in the region around Valencia. It is precisely this journey that plays the main role in the following two courses. The variation with peas and roe of squid is not only visually appealing, but fresh, green and iodine. Much heavier and with a strong umami sound is the current rice dish, arroz de anguila (eel).
A paper-thin pizza, porcini mushrooms, truffles and a touch of pigeon make up the only more or less classic meat course of the evening. Heavy and opulent, but again a dish full of intense flavors. Although somewhat difficult to handle.
The hen with golden eggs is the first of two dishes with egg that conclude the fifth act “Carne”. The egg is served in a dark, very strong stock with a strong coffee aroma and unites viscously with the same at the first touch. Here, I find a little lacking in flavor variance and variety. Perhaps, however, due to the abundance and variety of the dish first feelings of satiety set in. After the foie gras, the second plate that I have to send back only half touched.
The second and therefore current dish around the egg, although bears the name and appearance of the product, but is much more complex. So complex that I am far from finished with the decoding of this plate. The egg stands here symbolically for the birth, the beginning. The ashes surrounding it represent the end. Theatrically, it is served in a black box that gives off an intense aroma of smoke when opened. In fact, it is not a real egg, although the light yolk comes from a duck egg, cooked in a smoke oil. The egg white coating the yolk is black, also carries heavy smoky aromas, and is evidence of an intense, heavy stock from which it was drawn, perhaps including some blood from the poultry. A disturbing dish, at the same time full of poetry and questions. It’s an extremely intense, heavy and fantastic finish to the savory menu sequence. Both technically and in terms of content. Wow!
The desserts continue the signature of the kitchen. The “crazy flowers” and the “moss” are also technically at the height of feasibility, testify to great flavors and a lot of finesse.
Dinner at Quique Dacosta sets the standard in many ways. Partly, the portions could have been a bit smaller due to the sheer number of courses, and the pauses in between could have been a bit longer. On the other hand, it is 2:30 when we get up from the table. And thank us. To Quique and the kitchen team for this comprehensive insight. To Didier, who as maître so warmly, openly, wittily and amicably created a culinary demanding evening. Without question, I would like to visit Dénia again soon. Be it for the gambas rojas – or one of the classic menus. No matter how complicated the journey becomes again, now I know for sure that it is worth it…