I’ve been extremely fortunate in my dining adventures. I have four restaurants under my belt that have all made the World’s Best Restaurants List: Hof van Cleve (43), Atelier Crenn (35), Arzak (53) and Disfrutar (9).
This year’s list was just revealed in late June so, I intentionally held on to this post in hopes that my predictions about Disfrutar would be correct. They entered the list at the highest as a first time entry ever: #18 in 2018. That was their rank when we went to Spain. I told Josh, “When this year’s list is announced, they’ll be top 10.” And they made it.
When we were planning our trip to Spain, the restaurant I wanted to visit most was Arzak. I knew the history of the restaurant, the fame, the admiration from other famous chefs. I knew the relationship between the Arzaks and Anthony Bourdain. It was the first reservation I made when I knew our trip would take us to my now beloved town of San Sebastián. But I knew Barcelona had gems of its own as well.
Disfrutar was on my radar much like Tickets was on my radar. Both connections to the infamous El Bulli – the only restaurant to win #1 restaurant in the world as often as it did (5!). I would have been thrilled to dine at either of these restaurants. But, I screwed up. I didn’t set my calendar notification to the right time to make reservations. I had to place my name on both restaurants’ waiting lists – a place I figured was some void that served as entertainment rather than actual use. I imagined the employees pointing their fingers and laughing as the waiting lists filled up. That was me. On those lists.
I basically gave up all realms of hope. I made reservations at other restaurants I was still excited about. But, I still felt haunted by my mistake.
When we were sitting in the United lounge, waiting to board our flight, my phone rang with an international number. I answered and could barely hear the woman mention that she was calling from Disfrutar about availability at their counter for lunch. I was flustered. I was trying to think of what we had planned for the day she mentioned – La Sagrada Família. I already had tickets and wasn’t sure we would make it to the restaurant in time. I fumbled with words and ended up telling the woman we had tickets to something already and couldn’t make it. She thanked me. I hung up the phone. And within 2.3 seconds I realized what a huge mistake I had made. That cathedral would always be there. We could buy tickets for a different time. WHAT HAD I DONE???!!!!
I called the restaurant back. No answer. I was screwed. I was so upset with myself. I ended up going on the website and putting myself on the wait-list again. It was the only thing I could think to do. We boarded our flight. I gave up hope.
We made it to Barcelona and after a nap and shower, we decided to explore the neighborhood of our hotel. Oh, did I mention? It was right in the neighborhood of the Tickets restaurant I mentioned above. It was torture. Just there. Taunting me.
We walked around and went to a little place to have a beer and some olives, and then…my phone rang again. It was the same number as before. I ran outside to take the call.
“This is Disfrutar. We have a cancellation and room at our counter for lunch. Are you still interested in joining us?”
And with that, we had a reservation.
Anytime I dine at a restaurant of this caliber, I think two things: 1) Please be as amazing as I am hoping; and 2) Please don’t be pretentious. While many people focus on the food at restaurants, it is equally as important to focus on service. You’re paying a lot of money for a meal. You should enjoy it, and never ever feel unwelcome or unwanted.
We arrived for our lunch reservation (same menu as dinner, huge bonus!) and immediately we were shown around the entire restaurant, walked through the kitchen, we were introduced to one of the owners (a former El Bulli chef!) and then shown to our seats at the counter. The sommelier introduced himself along with our server. They both laughed and joked with us right away, putting us at ease. They knew of Josh’s allergy and had substitutions for the gluten items. They explained we were in for a 3.5 hour experience. We said we had nowhere to be. This was going to be amazing…
We started with their house vermouth. Vermouth is different in Spain. It’s not what we think of here as a an addition to a martini or a cocktail. It is a fortified wine, aromatic, a little bitter, and Spain’s most popular apéritif. I was a bit nervous but, with the first sip, we were both hooked. It was the perfect start to the meal.
We opted to try the Classic Disfrutar menu and wine pairing. We sat at the counter of the dessert station which meant even when we weren’t eating (which wasn’t often), we were watching the magic of the pastry chefs right in front of us.
The meal flew by. We ate well. We drank well. We didn’t leave hungry (another peeve of mine with some restaurants). And the service blew us away. It was better than any place we’d ever been. We oooh’d and aaaaah’d with every bite.
Dishes were whisked out one after the other. All pairing with something exquisite from the sommelier. I joked with our server about certain dishes (mostly things like, “I could have eaten 25 of those!”). Both the server and sommelier told us their favorites. We laughed. We toasted. We were amazed by the level of detail and innovation in each course. I mean they made noodles out of jamón broth! Noodles! Out of broth! No gluten. It was unreal. They made a gazpacho sandwich and it wasn’t bread. They made things look and taste like corn that weren’t actual corn kernels!
We left the restaurant so incredibly happy. We both talked about it the rest of the trip. We’re both still talking about it. And we were both thrilled that they were announced as the #9 restaurant in the world. The honor and recognition couldn’t go to more deserving people.
If you know you will be in Barcelona, or even near Barcelona, go to Disfrutar. Look at their website. Check how long in advance reservations open. Set your calendar. This was the best dining experience of my life. I would go back to Barcelona just for this restaurant (and for Gaudí, of course).