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Thursday, September 13, 2012

41 Degrees/Grados (restaurant) Review

Albert Adria, chef/owner 41 degrees

Here is what I knew going in:

1. 41 Grados is a restaurant in Spain. It is run by Ferran Adria (sorry I'm going without the accent mark on the last "a.") and his brother, Albert Adria.   Ferran Adria was the chef at elBulli, a three star Michelin restaurant in Barcelona that closed in July of 2011.

2.  41 Grados occupies the same building as a "tapas bar" named "Tickets."  Tickets is owned by both Ferran Adria and Albert Adria.

3. The Chef that signed our menu at 41 Grados was Albert Adria, not Ferran Adria.

4. 41 Grados is "too new" to be assigned stars by the Michelin guide.

  If you are going to take the Restaurant seriously as an Art form, i.e., "a specific shape, or quality an Artistic expression take" you need to be able to compare works of Art in the same field.  Thus, the Michelin guide is a pretty good yard stick since it is an international rating system, functions simply with a range from one to three Michelin stars, and covers any Restaurant that would aspire to Art.

   My thesis in this review is that 41 Grados deserves a "three-star" Michelin rating.  That is based on my experiences at other three-star awarded Michelin restaurants, my observations about "objective" standards that influence the award of a Michelin star in 2012, and my subjective dining experience.


French Laundy (Yountville, CA.) - I ate at French Laundry with my parents and future wife during law school.  It was a very heavy, very long tasting menu which left both my wife and I sick with digestive issues all night.  Everything about the restaurant experience was very well managed and there was a low restaurant staff to customer ratio.

Gary Dankos (San Francisco, CA.) - I ate at Gary Dankos a couple years after I ate at French Laundry- it was a very heavy menu- that may or may not have been French-inspired.  The physical surroundings were opulent at there, again, was a low staff/diner ratio- though not as low at that at Franch Laundy.

Akelare (San Sebastian, SPAIN.)  - Ate at this restaurant the week before I ate at 41 Grados.  Akelare is a very well established three star Michelin spot that perhaps isn't as "hot" as it was the year before, or two years before.  Twelve course (?) tasting menu- two different ones with different dishes.  Stunning physical location on a cliff overlooking the Bay of Biscay.

Arzak (San Sebastian, SPAIN.) - Ate at this restaurant less then 24 hours after Akelare. Located in the city at what is essentially a multi-generational family restaurant on a Gastronomy hot streak.  After we made the reservation but before we dined the daughter chef of the father/daughter pair was awarded "Best Female Chef in The World" and then got some press in the London Guardian for that achievement (August 18th, 2012.)  Outclassed Akelare just in terms of being an obviously "hotter" restaurant with a bit more of an inspired vibe- reservations were difficult to make compared to Akelare.

To give you non fancy diners an idea about the NUMBER of three star Michelin restaurants in say, New York, in 2012, we're talking five restaurants, including one which is also by Thomas Keller of French Laundry.


  The Michelin Star is supposedly awarded on the basis of foot alone, which omits obviously important Restaurant related factors like the staff/diner ratio, format of the menu and spirit that don't fit into the food.  That said, I can't help but think that standard is only achieved when a precise degree of control is exercised in the presentation of the food to the diner.   If you are talking about a strictly "how good is the dish?" standard, you need a well conceptualized dish being prepared perfectly and delivered to the diner "fresh."  Any delay, no matter the cause, is going to decrease the rating that the food itself can achieve by a scoring diner.

  So, here's the thing about 41 Grados- you get 41 actual courses- which includes cocktail pairings but does not include the wine.   There was an obvious heritage shared with elBulli- one course was announced as being an "elBulli classic dish from ten years ago."  The word on the street in Barcelona is that older Brother and elBulli honcho Albert Feria is busy opening a Peruvian and Mexican restaurants (two separate restaurants) so I think the idea is to get Albert Feria his own Three Michelin Star rating.

  41 Grados is obviously making use of techniques that were elBulli invented.  I don't intend to belabor the point, but there is actually a documentary on Netflix about elBulli that describes the nuts and bolts elements of  "Molecular Gastronomy."  The difference between 41 Grados and Arzak and Akelare is like the difference between going to a concert and seeing a band that is "on the way up" verses seeing a more established Act that has already made a reputation- you can't help but be excited by the new kid on the block.

 41 Grados only seats 14 people at a time, so getting a reservation is complicated at best- my wife booked two months out and we BARELY got in.  Is it worth a trip to Barcelona: Yes.

 The final argument that I would like to make in support of 41 Grados as a three-star Michelin restaurant is that the tasting menus at French Laundry and Gary Danko were so heavy they made her sick- and we both felt GREAT after plowing through 41 enumerated courses at 41 Grados.  That achievement, in and of itself was revolutionary and deserves to be singled out as an astonishing achievement in the field of fine dining.

 "Heaviness" can be seen as the enemy of "Food Art," and I think 41 Grados understands that at the same time they understand the need for whimsy and novelty in the upper echelons of the Michelin star set.

  41 Grados ought to be awarded three Michelin stars as soon as is polite to the other restaurants- if you look at a list of ALL the Three Star restaurants you can see that the restaurants I've mentioned as context above are clearly a fair representation of "what's out there."  I guess the only question is whether the Michelin reviewers can get a reservation on their 2013 grading trip to Spain.

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