Albert Adriá is not exactly an unknown. The brother of Ferran Adriá and the longtime pastry chef at elBulli, the legendary restaurant that set the modern culinary world on its ear, Albert has received much praise over the years and is widely considered to have been one of the, if not the, major creative forces behind elBulli. He stepped away from that restaurant in 2009 and opened a tapas bar in Barcelona called Inopia. elBulli closed in the summer of 2011. Prior to that closure, Albert had sold Inopia and opened a new tapas bar in Barcelona, Tickets, along with a cocktail bar, 41º. Tickets preserved much of the spirit of elBulli as well as the creativity, however, it changed the vibe to a circus-like setting. Indeed the food was the culinary equivalent to the Cirque du Soleil. 41º eventually morphed from a cocktail bar into an intimate, even more elBulli-like 41 course tasting menu of diverse small plates now officially called 41º Experience .
Adria’s world has continued to grow with the opening last year of Pakta, a restaurant that brings to Barcelona the Nikkei Japanese-Peruvian flavors of Peru. Late 2013 saw the opening of Bodega 1900, a classic, small Vermuteria with a focus on more classic Spanish fare. This year should see the imminent opening of Yauarcan, featuring Mexican inspired cooking and a relocation of 41º to a nearby space, using the current space for another concept. All of these restaurants are located in what had been a lightly visited largely residential area of Barcelona off the main avenue known as Paral-el and have transformed the entire neighborhood.
Despite all of Adriá’s past and current glories and culinary notoriety, he may actually be under-rated as a chef and a restaurateur. My experience at Tickets in 2011 was absolutely sensational and on this past trip to Spain, my son and I finished it off in Barcelona with visits to Bodega 1900, 41º and Pakta, with each being nothing less than astonishing. Adriá’s creativity is well known, but he also has a talent for attracting and keeping top talent including such superb cooks as Jorge Muñoz Castro from Peru and Kioko Li from Japan at Pakta, Pedro Asensio Vadillo from Badajoz in southern Spain at Bodega 1900 and Mexico’s Paco Mendez at the upcoming Yauarcan.
The artistic creativity at elBulli was nothing short of revolutionary and may never be surpassed. It changed the way people look at fine dining, even if they profess to not like Vanguardist cooking. While the restaurant was operating, technical innovation took center stage. Dishes were usually, but not always “delicious” in the conventional sense of the term. They were, however, always creative, interesting and mind-bending. At Albert’s Barcelona restaurants, the same level of creativity exists on a less voluminous scale, but the deliciousness factor is much more straightforward. Everything that I have eaten at these restaurants has been truly “delicious” with many and perhaps even most dishes exceedingly so. Astonishing is not a word that I use lightly, but that is exactly the perfect word for the body of this man’s work. In the following days, we will post on these meals with plenty of photos and names and varying degrees of description. The idea is to whet the appetite without giving away too many surprises. These restaurants need to be experienced by those who crave and appreciate great food if at all possible.