The below full-length feature version of El Bulli on the Barrio by AnneLise Sorensen appears in the current issue of Gourmet Live.

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1 OSTED ON AUGUST 4, 2011 BY ALLISON POINDEXTER The below full-length feature version of El Bulli on the Barrio by AnneLise Sorensen appears in the current issue of Gourmet Live. A circus master, in top hat and coat, greets me at the entrance. He parts the velvet rope with a solemn nod. Inside, a film reel unspools on its side, a cotton candy machine sits on the counter, and a dancer Rockette kicks on an old El Molino cabaret poster. There s also a woman with an artichoke for a head, strutting nearly lifesize across a silk screened shade. Welcome to the show, says Albert Adrià, with a grin. This is Tickets, the theater themed Barcelona tapas restaurant that Ferran and Albert Adrià opened this spring. The eatery was inspired by the surrounding neighborhood GOURMET LIVE 1

2 of Parallel, which in its heyday was the city s cabaret district, anchored by the neon flashing El Molino Barcelona s Moulin Rouge. Showy and seedy, El Molino was the kind of place where you d see live nude girls and drag queens mingling outside in smeared makeup, smoking. El Molino closed, but after 13 years reopened in October 2010, in a celebratory revival of its burlesque tradition false eyelashes, pasties, and all. Albert Adrià is doing something similar at Tickets minus the pasties. Marquee lights frame the entryway, promising dining as espectáculo, while on the plate, it s a dialogue between cocina de vanguardia and the traditional, says Albert. He smiles broadly: The other day, ten tables in a row said to me, Qué divertido! Qué divertido! Qué divertido! [How fun!] That s my objective. That people have fun eating serious cuisine. That they like it. That we like it. It s almost startling to hear like versus appreciate but that s the kind of accessible dining that Albert is cultivating here. Yes, there are spherified olives and quivering quail egg yolks, but there is also an ice cream cart, complete with a fanciful green and white striped awning. Most of all, it s about La Vida Tapa the restaurant s slogan where eating out is as much a social occasion as a gastronomic one. Tickets channels the spirit of those dark, old guy tapas bars you find across Spain, where seating is at the bar and dame una cerveza (gimme a beer) is hello. Here, it s old fashioned tapas with a touch of the late El Bulli, served in Pee Wee s Big Top. I was in Catalonia this spring to interview both brothers: Ferran, age 49, at El Bulli (before its closing last weekend) and Albert, 42, at Tickets. When your brother is the most famous chef in the world, might there be a smidge of sibling rivalry? Or perhaps a weariness of hearing Ferran s name from the lips of every interviewer? I m delicately planning how to begin, when Albert beats me to it: When we first opened, guests would ask me, can you get me a table at El Bulli? I d say, well, no. And then they d say, OK, what here tastes most like El Bulli? There was huge interest in Tickets from the beginning, because everyone wanted to know, what s Ferran going to do next? It s being called El Bulli del Barrio, Albert notes a culinary lineage he, too, shares. In 1985, at age 15, he dropped out of school to join older brother Ferran at the restaurant (the early years, Albert recounts, were very hippie almost like living in a commune ). He established himself as the pastry chef, eventually wrote a book on El Bulli desserts (Los Postres de El Bulli, 1998), and in 2006, opened the very popular Inopia Classic Bar in Barcelona. At El Bulli it was Ferraris; at Inopia, it was Fords. Here it s a bit of both, he says. GOURMET LIVE 2

3 Star of the Show At Tickets, the product is the protagonist, says Albert, as we discuss how Catalonian cuisine is rooted in the region s remarkably fertile and varied landscape. Proving his point, Albert takes me through the evolution of a Tickets dish spotlighting a star ingredient: El tartare de tomate, he announces. He repeats himself for emphasis, and then ever the showman jumps to his feet, smiling at me over his shoulder. He returns to the table holding a tomato and sets it down. We both eye it. And then, with a flourish of the wrist, Albert pulls off the top of the tomato. It s a ceramic tomato bowl, and the tomato tartare goes inside. Qué divertido, qué divertido, qué divertido. That was the original presentation, Albert explains, but for a touch of El Bulli del Barrio, he continues, we took out the tartare de tomate, put it on a plate, added a quail egg yolk, some watermelon to take away the tartness of the tomato and now it s alta cocina. Also on the menu are tuna belly carpaccio painted with the fat of jamón Ibérico, and tiny rabbit ribs served with allioli foam. Pescaíto frito arrives in a paper cone, like fish and chips at a seaside resort, but here the fish are the chips, and dusted with a seaweed powder. In one of those El Bulli twists, expectations are gleefully overturned: You can still sometimes make out the suction cups of an octopus in the mix, but rather than feeling soft in the mouth, they re crunchy. It s a dish that seems to exemplify Ferran s take on Tickets. He has often described his cuisine indeed, his life s work as el sabor del Mediterráneo (the taste of the Mediterranean). Tickets, he told me, is the model the informal model of the taste of the Mediterranean. From Sea to City The view from El Bulli is of a sparkling blue Mediterranean cove, and sometimes a seabird taking flight. At Tickets, it might be a taxi driver cursing out the window. You can feel the difference the moment you walk in: At Tickets, there s a certain looseness. Hanging in the window are cardboard cutouts of thought bubbles posing mock tutorial questions like What is a tapa? A mini helicopter made entirely of Coke cans dangles over the dessert counter, looking very Etsy (bordering on Regretsy). You almost feel like humming La Vida Tapa to the tune of Livin La Vida Loca. In contrast, at El Bulli, it was as if everyone had drunk from the same cup of ardent perfection. The kitchen thrummed impressively like some top secret laboratory, where young trainees in white aprons and white rubber gloves worked in almost sci fi movie unison. I once became nearly hypnotized watching a young woman dipping the tip of her pinkie into an avocado green mixture. She would dip, pull out, and then touch her finger to a glass tray to GOURMET LIVE 3

4 create a tiny circle, no bigger than a pea. She repeated this ritual at least 100 times. For what purpose? I didn t ask her concentration was so extraordinary that to interrupt it would have felt almost like stopping a painter midstroke. The Art of Food Speaking of painters, the brothers and Ferran especially are inevitably compared to another Catalan artist: Salvador Dalí. One s the surrealist on canvas, the other in the kitchen. Asked about the parallel, if any, between food and art, Ferran comes out with one of those comments he s famous for simple, almost folksy, and yet when you hear it you can feel a shift in your thinking. In the end, he says, it doesn t much matter whether cuisine is art, but whether it changes the way you look at the world. He follows this with what may be my favorite comment on food ever uttered: There is no strange food. Only strange people. People are the way they are. Let s take the head of a shrimp. If someone s open to new tastes, they ll suck it. If not, they won t. The physical similarities between the brothers are noticeable: close cropped curly hair, slight stature, a frank gaze. But what stands out is the attitude, or, better said, the lack of attitude. Both have how shall I put this? a no BS approach. They re plainspoken philosophers, two guys with humble roots (Ferran started out as a dishwasher) who are now courted by the most sophisticated palates in the world. Tickets isn t too far away from where the brothers grew up, the working class Barcelona suburb of Hospitalet de Llobregat. I m very proud to be from there, says Albert. It has changed a lot. It used to be more like the Bronx. The Bronx from the 80s. He makes this comparison warmly, respectfully. New York City, he says, is where he d most want to live if not in Barcelona. Hot Seats Nabbing a seat at El Bulli became as much of a story as the food itself (more than a million requests yearly, 8,000 granted). One of the reasons that Ferran has said he closed the restaurant was because his life had become about getting someone a table. At Tickets, it s far easier, but demand still trumps supply. Each day, online reservations for the 100 seats open for three months in advance, but they re quickly snapped up. There is another way in, however: At the adjoining low lit lounge, 41, which serves superb bar snack versions of the Tickets menu and potent cocktails, you can often book just a couple of weeks ahead. So, what s the future for Albert Adrià? He pauses. Ser feliz, to be happy. GOURMET LIVE 4

5 As the opening hour nears, Albert excuses himself for a moment, reemerging in gold trimmed chef s whites. Sponsor names Estrella beer, the iconic cursive of Coca Cola are discreetly printed in gray on his sleeve. The marquee lights flip on, the red carpet unfolds, and the day s first guests arrive. It s showtime. Tickets Bar, 164 Avinguda Parallel, Barcelona, Spain; AnneLise Sorensen is a writer, reporter, and editor who has penned and wine tasted her way across four continents. She started early, when family ties brought her to Catalonia for allioli drenched summers in childhood. Her work has appeared in New York magazine, Time Out, Condé Nast Traveller, and Rough Guides, as well as on NBC Nonstop TV. GOURMET LIVE 5