An Extravagant Meal in Girona
A couple of years ago, my partner, Jim, and I were planning a trip back to one of our favorite towns in Spain. Girona is situated in the northeast corner of Spain, about a half an hour from the Mediterranean and in the foothills of the Pyrenees. It is an hour journey north of Barcelona. We first visited Girona on a whim because we found cheap air travel to reach it. On that first trip, we were waylaid because of a snowstorm in Atlanta and finally reached our destination in the middle of the night. We somehow found our way in the dark through the pedestrian bridges and stone streets to the apartment we had rented. When we woke up the next morning, we couldn’t believe our eyes. The view from our kitchen was directly onto the river with beautiful colored houses lining the banks. The full sun was shining, the sky was that Mediterranean blue and the breeze coming through the window was warm. Later, as we wandered the streets of the old quarter and walked along the old Roman wall, we were overwhelmed by the beauty and history of Girona. Since that first visit, we couldn’t stay away so we planned a return trip, hoping to hike to the castle ruins outside of the city and maybe taking in the sights at the Jewish museum.
Two months before our departure, as I was looking up new places to eat, I discovered that Girona is also home to the number one restaurant in the world. Though I doubted we could afford it, on a whim, I emailed them to see if they might have an opening during our upcoming stay. The reply came back immediately: “We are currently on vacation. Our waiting list is eighteen months out. When we reopen in a month, you may check in and we can put you on our waiting list.” I mentally recorded when to email again and, a month later, I requested to be put on their waiting list, giving them two dates that would suit us. Then I totally forgot about it and assumed I wouldn’t hear from them again. Too many things had to align to make this happen, but I conjectured that if they did, I would find a way to pay for the experience…
A day before our departure to Girona, I saw an email in my inbox. We had a reservation to El Celler de Can Roca for two days hence! I couldn’t believe it! I told Jim and we immediately thought that we probably wouldn’t have the right clothes to wear or the money to spend. But after thinking it over, we decided to just go for it, though there was no way of letting the restaurant know that we could make it.
This time, our travel to Girona went without a hitch. Once again, we marveled at the views. And on the appointed day, we walked from our apartment down the cobblestone street, over the pedestrian bridge, through the park, over another pedestrian bridge, onto the boulevard and up the side street to El Celler de Can Roca. We were dressed in our travel best: black tops, informal bottoms, city shoes. With slight apprehension, we walked up the walk and opened the door at one o’clock on the dot into a wonderfully light space with lots of windows and were instantly greeted and attended to. From that moment on until four and a half hours later, we experienced another world, where love of food is the only thing that matters.
It’s impossible to put into words the flavors, the presentation, the attention to detail that we participated in. Our meal consisted of 15 appetizers, followed by 15 small courses, each accompanied by its own wine pairing. Each course came with its own perfect plate. Each was a work of art. Everything tasted exquisite. Everything was perfect. One appetizer came to us on a miniature bonsai olive tree and consisted of olive ice cream balls ready to be plucked from the tree. Amazing! One course came with a paper cone sprayed with a perfume that was replicated in the flavors on the plate. Each new dish came with a new surprise and each was exactly right. The smile never left my face.
We spent those hours in the moment, tasting, enjoying, amazed. Never did we feel out of place. And never have we regretted doing it. It was one of those lifetime pleasures that has no price.
Here I am, two years later, and I can still see and almost taste those flavors. If you ever have the opportunity to do this, jump on the chance. It brings eating to a totally new level. And it makes me appreciate my own time in the kitchen in a new way. Good food does bring joy and love to those who eat it.