Hisop, what the Spanish refer to as a "bistro gastronómico," serves an avant-garde cuisine with a firm basis in its Catalan roots. Some of the dishes on the menu are hundreds of years old, only prepared with updated modern cooking methods. The restaurant is informal while still remaining serious about the food it offers. This was my first Spanish gastronomic bistro. It definitely won't be my last. The menu read very straight forward: a handful of dishes with a single main ingredient supported by a fruit, vegetable, liquor, or combination of the two. The beauty of this menu lies in its apparent simplicity; it was refreshing to not have to read a laundry list of ingredients, or an ironic single-word title.
The service was a bit odd. At first it seemed like the wait staff had just gotten home from work and we were intruding in their living room. There was a sense of lethargy or general lack of enthusiasm. But as the clock crept towards midnight (the Spanish eat late) and the restaurant's service calmed, things livened up.
The formica-lined interior, red and white, seemed like it came from the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Everything was built in and slid out from a concealed drawer: the wine, glasses and utensils, even the cheese cart! The staff dressed in all black with red cuffs and belts. The only thing missing from the set was Keir Dullea going for a jog around the ceiling.
We started with a glass of Oriol Rossell Brut Nature Cava, a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Meuiner. The flavor was crisp and full of citrus fruits predominately grapefruit.
Amuse bouche, melon and clam - A small bowl of melon gelee with local raw clams. What made this dish really special was the way the musky, almost butterscotch flavor of the raw cantelope interacted with the brine of the clam. It completely held back the brine while allowing the clam's natural sweetness to come through. It was an oceanic-filter.
Amuse bouche, rabbit terrine - A cylindrical rabbit terrine wrapped in summer truffle piped with almond cream. The truffles weren't particularly fragrant, and the terrine tasted more like butter than meat. This was not a great bite.
King prawns with almonds and tarragon - This was a dish I could have easily repeated twenty times. Two prawns lightly poached in their own salt water, laid across a streak of tarragon with an almond crème fraîche. The barely cooked prawns were succulent and despite being from the ocean, tasted sweeter than they did salty. The tarragon added a bright herbal note while the cool almond cream kept the dish grounded. This was wonderful.
Sardine tartar with tomatoes and prunes - Small cubes of fresh sardine brushing against a tomato soup with a streak of red tomato paste and basil. The Andalusian-style tomato soup is close to gazpacho in flavor, but thicker and richer. It amazingly contains no cream; it's thickened with bread and olive oil. The tomato soup's sweet vegetal flavor supported the lightly acidic raw sardine giving it body.
"After eight" foie gras - Lobes of buttery foie gras topped with a chocolate sauce and mint foam. The dish was inspired by the English mints. The refreshing coolness from the spearmint cut through any residual grease from the foie gras making this fatty ingredient somehow taste a bit lighter. The chocolate added a hint of sweetness and bitterness. I loved this plate.
Monkfish with saffron rice and zucchini flower - The highlight of this dish was everything except the main ingredient. The saffron rice with zucchini flower and saffron sauce were outrageously delicious. The saffron contributed a meaty quality to the broth and when combined with the texture of the rice, it stood on its own as a principal ingredient. The monkfish, though juicy, seemed like an after thought to me.
Suckling pig with porcini and perigordini - A thick cube of suckling pig with porcini mushroom and a sauce made from mustard, black pepper, brandy, and "nata" the residual fat that floats from unhomogenized milk. (By the way nata, I learned, tastes very good in drip coffee.) The skin was crispy and the interior meat succulent and juicy. The best part of this dish was the sauce. I sort of wished the suckling pig was replaced by a thick wedge of buttered bread.
Kid with parsnips and cherries - A braised young goat shank with a tick of licorice, parsnip purée, and cherries. The texture of the goat was much like lamb. Since the goat was still young it didn't have much of the barnyard taste that develops when the animal gets older. The meat was very fatty, but unlike the suckling pig, there was no crispy skin. This dish was frankly too soft and sticky for me. But my friends at the table seemed to really enjoy it. For me, one bite was enough.
Pigeon with mango and armagnac - A small piece of roasted pigeon with diced mango, lavender, and an armagnac sauce. The pigeon was served with a purée made from the liver. This was a great dish. Due to the odd shape of the drumstick, every bite of the pigeon tasted different: some crispy, others soft and juicy. There was significant textural diversity.
Cheese course - A collection of local cheeses, Tou de Til.lers, Piramide del Quirol, Cabra de la Garrotxa (Bauma), Taleggio, Torta de la Serena, and Blau de l'Avi Ton served with membrillo.
Pistachio soufflé with lime - A spongy pistachio soufflé served out of its ramekin with a lime sauce. The toasted pistachio flavor softened the acidity of the lime. This dessert was well-balanced and quite colorful.
Strawberries with orange and yzaguirre - Sliced strawberries with orange sorbet floating in a yzaguirre broth. The broth actually had beef stock in it, which might sound strange, but its slight fattiness really complimented the acidity of the orange sorbet and tartness of the strawberry. This was a wonderful dessert, probably my favorite course of the night.
Peach salad with beets - Sliced peaches with beet sorbet. I loved how the vegetal sweetness of the root vegetables interacted with the tartness of the peach.
Petits fours - warm chocolate cake, whisky chocolate squares, mango custard squares. The warm chocolate cake was a nice touch, really ensures their freshness and prevents the small pastries from drying out.
I really like what chefs Oriel Ivem and Guillem Pla are doing: taking traditional Catalan ingredients and cooking preparations and adding a modern twist. But I wish the restaurant could move beyond the notion that each main course needs a huge chunk of meat or fish.
The most interesting part of all the main courses was everything except the meat. I would have been much happier with significantly smaller portions of meat and fish, or frankly, none at all. After the third bite, the flavor becomes redundant. Though, I suppose, a main course without meat seems like a tough sell in Barcelona.