Belcanto – Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon’s only two Michelin-starred restaurant, Belcanto, is located in the heart of the city’s historic center, and is nothing less than a must-visit stop on any gourmet itinerary. Landing at #85 on this year’s World’s Best Restaurants list, Jose Avillez’s restaurant has been helping put Portugal on the culinary map.  Indeed, the country’s celebrity-chef has been featured on CNN’s Culinary Journey’s, No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain, and plenty of other media, as well.

The restaurant is small, cozy, intimate, and very elegant.  Although their countries share a border, this is a whole world away from our experience at DiverXO.  And that’s okay. Sometimes it’s nice to dine in a more traditional setting.  Still, as can be seen in the pictures below, the food is anything less than traditional.  It’s fairly experimental taking cues from Avillez’s time at El Bulli (explosive olives anyone?), but strikes a perfect balance between molecular and recognizable.  And oh my, it is absolutely delicious.

Belcanto offers three different course menus (from 125 euros to 165 euros), each with its own wine pairing.  There is also an A La Carte menu.  Whichever you choose, it will be incredible.  We chose the Evolution Menu with pairing, and it was a perfect amount of food but quite a bit of wine.  We left feeling, well, drunk.

There’s really nothing negative to say about Belcanto in Lisbon.  I can’t recommend it enough.

Let’s eat Belcanto!

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The lovely Belcanto staff were kind enough to let us tour the kitchen. Unfortunately, Jose was not there as he was in Mexico enjoying Noma’s popup in Tulum.

DiverXO – Madrid, Spain

DiverXO, Madrid’s only three-star Michelin restaurant, feels like someone turned Cirque Du Soleil into a restaurant.  Pronounced “duh-ver-show,” the dining experience is an Alice in Wonderland-like, four-hour-or-so trip into the wacky, perverse, and utterly creative mind of owner-chef David Muñoz…and damn, is it good.

To be honest, I feel like blogging about DiverXO deserves a spoiler alert.  If you ever intend to eat there, don’t look at the pics below.  Even if the menu does change regularly, I would recommend going into this restaurant much as you would the latest film in your favorite series.  Keep all prior knowledge and expectations kept at bay and just dive (pun intended) right in.

This destination of a restaurant is set apart from the historic center of Madrid, and that’s probably on purpose.  I won’t pretend to be a Madrid expert (I was only there for one full day), but I can say with a fair amount of certainty that DiverXO’s somewhat remote location was chosen so that its privileged diners could feel they had gone on a journey away from the touristy parts of the city.

Entering the restaurant, one can expect mounted pig butts, massive ice cream cone-shaped wine bottle holders, butterflies everywhere, a full-tour of the ordered chaos of a kitchen, and if you’re lucky (like we were), a photo with the surprisingly down-to-earth David Muñoz at the end of the meal.  Each of the 12 tables are enveloped in a private velvet curtain fit more for a theater than a restaurant.  Around 20 minutes into the meal, the waiters dramatically whisk the curtain away to reveal the rest of the restaurant with a hearty “Welcome to DiverXO!” It’s this dramatic decor and presentation that makes DiverXO more of an experience than just a restaurant.  Of course, there’s also the food, but I’ll let the pictures below speak for themselves.

The food is epic, the presentation is epic, and so too is the price tag- there are only two courses priced at 195 euros and 250 euros.  I usually opt for the “go big or go home” type mentality at these places, because I may never have the chance to go back. In this case, however, the waitress actually advised AGAINST the longer course menu.  We were glad she did, because our shorter course was a ton of food. I’m a big eater and can put up a solid fight at any buffet, but by the end of this meal, I was STUFFED.  It begs the question- is the longer course really even necessary?

The reservation system is difficult, so plan way ahead.  You need to find an open date on their website a good 3 months in advance, and then buy a 60 euro “ticket” (down payment that goes to the final bill price) to hold your seat.

I promise you- this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and totally worth all the effort.

Let’s eat DiverXO! (Note- all food descriptions below are exactly as printed on the menu.)

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A small idea of the interior decor.

Disfrutar – Barcelona, Spain

The second of two Michelin restaurants we visited in Spain was definitely the stronger of the two, and I would say this was my favorite meal of 2015.

Disfrutar was opened in 2015 by three head chefs of El Bulli, and unsurprisingly, gained a Michelin star in the guide’s next publication.  This was a truly epic dining experience, clocking in at just shy of 4 hours, and a highlight of our trip.

Again, I have to apologize because my descriptions of the food may be somewhat lacking. I chalk this up to three factors: 1) Sometimes it’s hard to completely understand the staff’s accents, 2) Sometimes it’s difficult to “get” all the descriptions of the food that is closely linked to Spanish culture, 3) We did the wine pairing, it was something like 12 wines, and by the end of this meal I was absolutely smashed.  Seriously, I’ve never been so hungover after a night of fine dining.  This just goes to show how truly FUN it is to eat at Disfrutar. There is no pretentiousness, and though the cuisine is arguably some of the best in the world, the restaurant is quite casual in the best way possible.  The vibe is jovial and the staff is very friendly.

There were three menus- a standard menu (~70 euros), a festival menu (100 euros), and the holiday menu (130 euros).  When eating at these kinds of restaurants, my theory is to always go big and really see what the restaurant has to offer.  However, the holiday menu featured a lot of game meat (primarily rabbit), of which I’m not a huge fan, so we took the festival menu.  The amount of food served for this price is outstanding, and the wine pairing is well worth the 55 euros.  It’s obvious the chefs and sommeliers put in great effort and meticulous detail to make sure the wines matched each and every dish or movement of dishes.

I can’t say enough about Disfrutar.  It may only have 1 Michelin star (perhaps it’s too casual to be considered for more), but it should be on every gourmet’s bucket list.  This is some of the most exciting food I’ve ever had, and in my opinion follows just behind Sagrada Familia on the list of Barcelona’s must-dos.

Let’s eat Disfrutar!

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“Welcoming cocktail” – Frozen passionfruit, rum, and shaved coffee that the waiter adds in front of you.

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“The beet that comes out of the land.” The waitress shook the dish and out of the soil came these two delicious bites of dehydrated “beets” flavored with yogurt.

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Texture detail of the “beet.”

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“Gin rose petal” – You just eat the little drops of gin. Like gin ikura.

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“Salty candy with walnuts” and mango on the right.

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A tomato “polvaron” – a play on a Spainsh Christmas sweet. The little drops are made from a rare olive oil.

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“Transparent pesto ravioli” served with a parmesan water. You dip the ravioli and put the whole thing in your mouth.

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Disfruta olives- brought over from El Bulli. These both look like normal olives but actually burst in your mouth. The left one is concentrated olive juice and the right tasted like citrus.

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The olives were served with this little spoon of citrus juice to accompany the second olive.

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Idiazabal smoked cheese on a biscuit…

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…Served with a glass of fancy apple juice.

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Amazing dish right here- “Crispy egg yolk over mushroom gelatin.”

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The inside of this perfectly cooked egg.

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The truffle gelatin underneath the egg.

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“Recuit de drap,” this was unwrapped and topped with the sauce and pine nuts in front of us. A kind of Spanish cheese made from almond milk and topped with a truffle sauce and fir tree honey.

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Detail of the anchovy served with the cheese.

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Langoustine cocktail sandwich. The toast dissolves away as soon as you touch it. Reminiscent of Gaggan and absolutely delicious.

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Salmon and mackerel sushi- the rice is actually cauliflower. Tasty, but a little random.

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Continuing the short Asian theme- delightful mushroom dumplings.

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Macaroni carbonara. The pasta is actually made from gelatin.

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Liquid salad- hiding at the bottom was another little explosion of juice for the mouth.

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Eel gelatin, soy milk, cream, and Ossietra caviar- you fold it up into a thin little empanada and eat in one bite. This was so good.

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Razor clam with two types of peas- the ones on the right were normal peas, while those on the left were concentrated drops of pea juice.

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Disfrutar’s take on ajillo- An entire langoustine with black garlic and parsley foam.

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Red mullet with pork jowls and aubergine “gnocci.”

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The final savory dish was “Thin sheets of veal” – served with a chunk of bone marrow and truffle sauce. Delicious, but a bit heavy after all the previous food.  We actually had to leave a few slices.

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Pineapple sorbet with coconut and licorice.

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“Cheesecake cornet” topped with strawberry gelato.

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The “tarta al whiskey” starts with them pouring nice whiskey on your hands…

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…Then you eat these with your hands- the deconstructed tart….

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…Served with a vanilla cream.

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Chocolate peppers with salt and oil. The inside of the peppers is actually chocolate.

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“Coffee profiterole” – The final dessert. By the time this was served, I was totally wasted, so the picture alone will have to do.