Michael Paterniti on Eating at the World’s Most Influential Restaurant

Juli Soler, the Spanish restaurateur who helped turn El Bulli into the most influential restaurant of its time, died on July 6 at age 66. “Without Juli, El Bulli wouldn’t have existed,” its famous chef, Ferran Adrià, told the Spanish newspaper El País. The restaurant closed in 2011. Michael Paterniti’s 2001 Esquire story captures what it was like to eat there:

In Ferran Adrià’s restaurant, nothing is for certain once his food crosses the Maginot Line of your mouth. He feeds you things you never thought existed, let alone things you’d think to eat: a gelatin with rare mollusks trapped inside (it was so odd, the cool, sweet jelly parting for salty pieces of the sea, that it tasted primordial and transcendent at once), tagliatelle carbonara (chicken consommé solidified and cut into thin, coppery, pastalike strands that, once glimmering on the tongue, dissolved back into consommé that poured down the throat), cuttlefish ravioli (the cuttlefish sliced with a microtome, then injected with coconut milk, another sweet explosion that seemed to wrap the fish in a new sea), rosemary lamb (we were told to raise sprigs of rosemary to our noses as we munched on the lamb, both of us now with rosemary mustaches, the smell of rosemary becoming the lamb as if the two were the same) … and it went on like this.

I will tell you: We were happy. We were served an eighty-year-old vinegar pooled in an apple gelatin with ginger, and vinegar has never tasted so gentle, so perfectly between sweet and sour, with a trace of gin, so unlike vinegar that it redefined vinegar. I would drink that vinegar every day, if I could, to start every day with a little pucker and smile. There was dessert, too … a first dessert and a second dessert and then more snacks. At the end, when we went to him, Ferran waved us off, saying, “Today you eat, tomorrow we’ll think.”

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