El Bulli: What I Didn't Know
© Peter LindbergI thought I knew almost everything I needed to about El Bulli and its legendary chef, Ferran Adrià. The world's best restaurant, located in Roses, Spain, is about 1 1/2 hours northeast of Barcelona, if you're driving fast (and you are). Still, there's always something to learn, and here's what I found out (besides that it's impossible to add two extra people to a reservation last minute no matter what famous band name you're dropping).
* Arrive early. Adrià's good friend, star Spanish chef José Andrés, recommends going to the adjoining beach before dinner to watch the sunset. Which is nice in theory but tricky if you're wearing high heels. Alternately, sit on El Bulli's lovely patio and have a pre-dinner G&T made with small-batch gin and deoxygenated ice cubes.
* Don't just drink Champagne. Insiders recommend sticking with bubbles for the course of the meal, since the dishes range from "rabbit ear crunchy" to Gorgonzola mochi to prawns that are simultaneously sashimi and tempura. But the wine list is extensive, and the sommeliers are terrific. We loved Freddy, whose real name is Ferran but who had to change it because the other Ferran didn't want to change his. My colleague at Travel + Leisure, Nilou Motamed, has more details on this and on our favorite wine, 2008 Plou I Fa Sol, in her excellent slide show.
* Stay overnight in Roses. Obviously, it makes life easier than if you try to drive back to Barcelona after dinner, given how much you drink during the 30-odd-course meal (a lot). But the town is also very pretty and gives you a useful context for El Bulli's food, which has a lot more to do with local ingredients than I ever would have thought.