Photo by Sam Zucker
When venerable restaurants such as the unique and intimate El Pla (Bellafila 5) and the incredibly popular Bar del Pla (Montcada 2) get a new sibling, there are great expectations. Known for creative technique and market-driven cuisine, the Pla group, run by Jaume Pla, has long been synonymous with top quality and gastronomic delight. With big shoes to fill, the newest protégé, Cometa Pla, did not disappoint. In fact, Italian chef Giuseppe Padula served up one of the best meals I’ve had in ages.
The flavours were explosive and the service impeccable. I enjoyed every bite, and so did my vegetarian dinner companion. It’s a rare moment when both my healthy, food-minded, yoga-loving partner and myself, an admitted omnivore glutton, can find equal pleasure in a meal.
There is a strong interest in vegetarian, local and healthy cooking here, but that does not mean that the food isn’t filling, or delicious. The menu ranges from vegetarian dishes like smoked, sweet-soy glazed tofu with roasted aubergine and a vegetarian ceviche, to crispy-seared torchon of braised lamb and a tastebud-assaulting plate of unctuous, slow-cooked beef tongue with sautéed endive, anchovies and olives. The accompanying wines are either organic (some certified, some not), natural or biodynamic, and are sourced from small producers.
Our meal began with the dish of aubergine with smoked tofu and nori seaweed: a room-temperature, earthy dish packed with umami. The wine pairing with our first few plates was the Vinel·lo 2015 from Partida Creus—a curious, refreshing Penedès blend of Garnatxa Blanca, Macabeu, Vinyater, Moscatel, Xarel·lo, Parsé and Parellada grapes, with a strong, yeasty aroma reminiscent of Austrian cider. Served ice cold, the peculiar acidity was actually a wonderful balance to the salty tamari sauce lacquering the tofu and aubergine.
Next came the vegetarian ceviche, the likes of which I had never seen before. How does one Next came the vegetarian ceviche, the likes of which I had never seen before. take a dish that is inherently seafood-centric and make it all about vegetables? The answer is a process of vacuum-sealed marination of cucumbers, onions, celery, radishes and more in a vegetarian leche de tigre (a traditional Peruvian ceviche marinade). The dish was bold, bright and powerful, and the quick-marinated vegetables maintained a pleasant crunch. Perhaps a bit of fat in the form of sliced avocado would have been a nice balance to the acidity of the abundant lime, and a few kikos (corn nuts, a classic ceviche garnish) would have introduced a welcome crunch.
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Photo by Sam Zucker
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Photo by Sam Zucker
One of Padula’s off-menu creations of the night came next, and it was incredible. What arrived looked like a fluffy white cloud with an egg yolk nestled in its centre, topped with delicate squash blossoms and resting on a bed of potato and caramelised onion purée, surrounded by samfaina (a Catalan take on ratatouille). This was the ‘egg soufflé’, a dish with luscious flavour and texture that had us mopping up every last bit with flaky chunks of Italian focaccia from Fermentus, a local organic bakery.
Quickly following the souflée was the tatin de cebolla, Cometa Pla’s deservedly acclaimed star plate. Made using the same technique as the classic French dessert of tarte tatin, a whole onion is halved and roasted until caramelised, then a disk of tender puff pastry is laid on top. The whole thing is then baked until the tart shell is crispy and golden. Finally, the tatin is inverted into a shallow bowl and surrounded by a light and salty burrata foam (blended burrata cheese dispensed from a canister) and topped with paper-thin shavings of bottarga (Italian salted and cured fish roe). The harmony of flavours in this dish still gives me goosebumps, recalling the balance of sweet and salty, and the play of both crunchy and velvety smooth textures.
One last dish that stood out was the lamb with bulgur wheat and fennel purée. Chef Padula sources the organic lamb from a small producer in the Catalan town of Berga, braising it for 36 hours before shredding the meat and rolling it into a tight, tubular torchon and allowing it to cool. With each order, two rounds are sliced from the tube and seared on a scorching-hot flat top griddle before being laid across warm bulgur wheat and a smooth and mild fennel purée, and topped with flash-fried baby spinach. Paired with a robust 2012 Montsant blend of Carinyena, Garnatxa and Syrah from Celler Comunica, this was an outstanding finale to a feast that I would repeat in a heartbeat.