Passion Amidst The Woolies, The Caves And The Convent
The irony that is Mallorca
Photo Credits: The Blog
Mallorca is but a curious paradox. In one breath, you’ll find a humble rural existence that moves to the rhythm of sheep’s bleats and their jingling bells. In the next moment, you’re whisked away to a world of gastronomy so lavish it is fit for the gods. It’s a place where rustic tranquility and extravagant indulgence coexist, where wooly companions grace your morning stroll, and tables laden with culinary masterpieces define the evening. It’s a land where every meal is sacred, as in a spiritual nourishment, and where extravagance in eating is as natural as the crisp island air you breathe.
A part of my summer of 2023 was spent on this immense island off the Spanish coast of Valencia, east of Ibiza. I could elaborate on all the intricacies of my time there but instead I prefer to single out just two restaurants—two experiences enormously diverse but equally reverent in their sublime approach to the dining experience.
Pablo Tamarit’s restaurant, Cova Negra, is in the Creu de Tau hotel in Capdepera. I went with my husband, my brother-in-law and several friends and as we tittered the sloping, winding, cobbled streets of this town, we passed the impressively towering walled fortress, el Castillo de Capdepera.
Once we made our way into the art-infused Creu de Tau hotel—formerly a 19th century convent—we drifted through the art that further beautified the domed spaces to the Bar Capella, its cocktail bar and the convent’s old chapel. The bar’s heritage, kept so reverently intact, had me taking snapshots incessantly with my phone, in a wishful but failed attempt to capture its impactful presence. A note on our bar table had this to say:
“Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing or they produce bad imitations” [Basically another way of saying, “take an idea/product that already exists and make it simpler, more accessible, and more joyful.”]
Our dinner began with the reassurance of wine, of course, to be followed by several appetizers so as to pick and choose and feast with our ravenous eyes. Yes, they were appetizers but they did infinitely more than just “appetize.” We’d try one then exchange for another and then another in a sort of dance of the senses, a mingling of opulent fragrances and flavors: of steamy salted-butter-glazed brioche bread, rich foie, sweet tomato confit, pillows of plush creamy burrata and demi-glazed pork all at once… and then there was my main course. This triptych of a dish was humbly named “tres formas de comer bogavante,” or “three ways to eat lobster.” The menu’s description, “lobster cream with tartar tempura claws and grilled body with beurre blanc sauce and caviar” does no inkling of justice to what it actually was. I offered to share with whomever fancied a bite, but desperately hoped no one would actually accept [as I’m never one to voluntarily give up so rare a moment of bitter-sweet fleeting passion.]
This was by far the keenest gastronomic moment I’d had in Mallorca, and yes I’d experienced many. I was surrounded by friends, a magical view, and the fragrance of expensive Spanish wine. But all I can remember was that I was RIGHT THERE, IN and WITH the food.
Josep Joan’s restaurant, Ses Coves de Campanet, was different, but just as titillating. He claims Ses Coves is neither a restaurant nor a bar but a space where food and drinks (and might I add experience) are offered. He and his wife work with their own daily sustainable farm-to-table products, and use “simplicity and smoked touches thanks to the use of almond, oak, carob and wine mills.” They generate their own firewood by pruning the trees from their farm, cultivate their own organic vegetables, and raise their own free-grazing sheep, goats and chickens. I’ve always thought that without a pure nurtured product, you have nothing.
Well, sitting down at our table on their mountain terrace with a mountain vista, we were wrapped in a sort of sleepy, solemn silence. Regardless of our group size or our level of enthusiasm, a view like that commanded a deeper slower energy.
Suddenly the flaming outdoor grill sent out tantalizing clouds—thick and heavy declarations of the glowing piles of fish, meat and vegetables that soon made their way to our table.
As a side note, I’ve always had a monotonous disinterest for “plain” food—for food that’s been grilled or steamed simply, food with no decadent accouterments to ensure an elevated fine-dining experience. But this experience changed me. Here, each element of food was simply prepared, simply served, and presented as a bare protagonist. Each was cooked respectfully, maintaining its integrity.
With each dish blazoning before me, I studied bite by bite the calamari, the carabinero, the chuleton vaca rubia gallega and the red bell peppers as if tasting each for the first time, rediscovering its character and its feeling. I then glanced at the fixed menu to see what was next: desert. A simple creamy pine nut gelato adorned with figs, which by name normally would not excite me. OH, BUT OH, the taste was so perfect, so incredible, that I ate every last melted spoonful with the same sensuous concentration that I ate chocolate or tiramisu in the dark sultry chamber of my kitchen in the evenings when I’d been pregnant.
But no no, this is when things got really enchanting.
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We’d signed up for a tour of the Coves de Campanet, basically what we thought was dark caves of stalagmites and stalactites. But we had no earthly idea of the magnitude that would be our awe and wonder…
Josep Joan’s family, generations prior, had obtained ownership and permission to use the caves for tourism. And I share with you what we “toured” and have kept forever etched in our memories:
So what was Mallorca to me?
It was this: A place to mingle.
… with the wooly neighbors I’d meet on my morning walks, with some good friends eager to sit and eat and drink for hours, and most of all with the food that beseeched me a perfect level of passionate abandon and deep immersion.