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July 10, 2009

The world's largest restaurant and other amazing facts



I can't figure out what got into guest poster Bucky today. I was expecting a good ole boy take on, say, summer grilling, and look at the fascinating facts he came up with. Here's Bucky. EL

Have you ever been in a restaurant that was so crowded that you couldn’t get your server’s attention to, say, get a refill on your Coke?
Think what it must be like at the Bawabet Dimashq during the peak dinner hour.
The Bawabet Dimashq (Arabic for “Damascus Gate”) is located in Damascus, Syria and is the world’s largest restaurant.  It seats 6,014 diners and at peak times during the day over 1,800 people are working there.  (I, myself, probably would have named it the Bawabet Bistro, just to make it sound more intimate, but I digress.) ...

It has a 581,251 square foot dining area and a 26,910 square foot kitchen.  (By comparison, a football field covers 48,000 square feet, excluding the end zones.)
I tried to find a Web site, but there isn’t one, apparently.  So I can’t tell you what’s on the menu.  But I bet Lissa can.
The world’s oldest restaurant is Sobrino de Botin in Madrid, Spain which has been continuously operating since 1725.  (Those of you who speak Spanish will notice that the name of the restaurant translates to “The Nephew of Botin.” You might think it is sort of like calling a diner, “Mom’s.”  The truth is that the founder, Jean Botin, and his wife died childless and their nephew took over the business.) 

Being Spanish, the specialties are lamb and pork.  The roast sucking pig is so good that it garnered a mention in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.
(By the way, the oldest continually-operating restaurant in the U.S. is the Union Oyster House in Boston.  It was established in 1826.  Originally the Atwood & Bacon Oyster House, it is still in operation at 41 Union St., near Faneuil Hall.)
The best restaurant in the world is El Bulli in Roses, Catalonia, Spain.  Advance reservations are required.  (They are fully booked through 2009 and will announce in December which days reservations will be taken for 2010.  Yep, they take an entire year’s reservations in advance, although to be honest, they are only open from April to mid-December, so it isn’t really an entire year.)
Here is some of El Bulli’s philosophy about cuisine:  “Cooking is a language through which all the following properties may be expressed: harmony, creativity, happiness, beauty, poetry, complexity, magic, humour, provocation and culture.”
And this:  “Decontextualisation, irony, spectacle, performance are completely legitimate, as long as they are not superficial but respond to, or are closely bound up with, a process of gastronomic reflection.”  
The next time you start thinking you’re a serious foodie, just go to the El Bulli Web site and be humbled.

(Photo of tomato and courgette flan with snails, courtesy of El Bulli Web site)

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 10:32 AM | | Comments (18)


Geeze, Bucky, I'm not that good. The domain is parked, and they have 6 themed areas (Indian, Chinese, Arab, Iranian, Middle Eastern and Syrian cuisines), so I'm guessing they have 6 menus.

I have no idea what the difference between Arab, Middle Eastern and Syrian cuisines are, but I'd love to find out. Road trip, anyone?

Ferran Adrià is from another planet.

Largest, OK.

Oldest, OK.

Those are facts....

Best? Is it a fact that El Bulli is the Best Restaurant? Who decided that? No doubt Adria is amazing...but who decided it was the best?

Well, I'm sure it wasn't Bucky. :-) EL

I'm pretty sure that Mario and Gwyneth Paltrow went to El Bulli and said it was the worlds best restaurant. I also think Bourdain may have said it to.

As for me, if Gwyneth said so, I'll choose to believe it.

I'm not a huge fan of what they're doing at El Bulli.

What it delivers is worth the trip (I've been told), deserving of the attention and certainly provides an experience.

But to me, it's not food. Maybe foodertainment?

I admire how these chefs tinker with food. I admire their curiosity, patience, skill and just plain verve. But their food movement's name alone--molecular gastronomy--suggests to me that this is not a "cuisine." It's some sort of Proustian-memory simulacrum of a cuisine (and I realize that description is just as decadent as what I'm deriding, but it's the most succinct form I can think of--of course, I didn't get much sleep last night, either, EL).

To me, it’s like going to a restaurant set in the movie “The Matrix” and ordering your favorite childhood meal—say, Eggs in a Blanket—but this chef makes it using sous-vide salt-cured pork bellies, Euro cucumber juice (with some powdered jellifying additive), yak’s milk and puffed tapioca. And it will take the chef 4 days to do it. And as your fork touches the crusty “bread,” the aroma of your favorite childhood meal fills the air while what was once solid food now dissolves into a day-glow orange puddle that you actually eat with a spoon (surprise!).

Okay…I’m ranting (sorry). I'm a traditionalist, but I *do* like improvisation. I just don’t think foie gras cotton candy needs to exist.

Then again, these guys gave us sous-vide, right? So, even a curmudgeon like me may eventually come around.

We'll see.

How many people does the dining hall at the Naval Academy hold? I know that all of the mids eat their meals at the same time. I remember hearing that activity being a world record, so I'm not sure how it compares with this restaurant in Syria.

Joyce, is that sarcasm?

I know she named her kid Apple or Orange or something, but that makes her a restaurant expert?

Anthony Bourdain has been chain smoking for years, I dont take his word on what tastes good, sorry. Good TV show, but his restaurants are average.

Now, if EL says its the best restaurant, then, MAYBE, I'll give it the benifit of the doubt. But I'd have to vote for French Laundry or IatLW. But thats just MY opinion, does that make them the BEST restaurants? You should fix your post now Bucky, because El Bulli has been supplanted.

RoCK, the current Naval Academy enrollment is about 4,400, which could fit comfortably within the 6,014-diner capacity of the place in Damascus.

I wonder what their cheeseburgers taste like.

JL, a Naval Academy cheeseburger carries a much higher price than I'm willing to pay.

I want my dinner cooked, not deconstructed or decontextualized, thankyouverymuch.

Lissa - ah, but I think you are that good. During my research for the post, I cross-referenced "Syrian cuisine" (from Wikipedia) with your response to last week's deserted island, meal-by-genie and found some of the same dishes. (What does "the domain is parked" mean?)

obnoxious - who decides this? EL is correct; not I. The menu would have A LOT more beef on it if I picked. But I came away from my research convinced that if people who know these things are forced to pick just one, El Bulli would appear more than any other restaurant.

el-BS - thank you for your thoughtful comment. (If you were forced to pick just one, what would your pick be? You can't pick your own. And is there really such a thing as foie gras cotton candy somewhere? If so, I've got a great idea for a practical joke.)

Oh...almost forgot. My apologies to Sobrino de Botin and Ernest Hemingway. The Sun Also Rises mentions roast suckling pig, not roast sucking pig.

My bad.

Bucky, the domain is parked means that either the restaurant had a website and didn't pay the bill, so their ISP put up a generic page, or they never had one, but someone bought the domain, hoping to make money selling it to them, and put up a generic web page. Probably the former, since the BBC linked to it.

El Bulli is frequently at the top of foodie lists. I haven't eaten there, I don't know. It sounds a bit far out for me, but I might learn something. I suspect a lot of people's beef with Adrià is what his imitators have done. If someone serves me a foam, I groan.

Hal, right.

Thanks for clearing up the sucking pig thing, Bucky. I thought it might be a type of wild boar/vampire you hill folk fancy. Sort of like pickled eggs in northern Wisconsin dive bars.

I must not be very trendy. I've never been served a foam.

I finally got to Gettysburg and as promised wanted to tell Loose Canon about the pub we always go to. Although, the pub is now a full fledged nice restaurant.

No more of the greatest chili I've ever had but game sausage, bison burgers, small plates menu, regular entress and really well priced specials.

The wait staff is wonderfully professional, prompt and visible without being obnoxious. The food was fantastic albiet some items rather pricey.

My only complaint, that I related to our waiter was that they should have some cheap wine on their wine list. $30 for the least expensive bottle of wine is rather steep IMHO.

Anyway, if anybody's going to Gettysburg check out J's for a great meal and great service.

thanks for the link. who knew that there was fine dining in Gettysburg? All I remember is fast food joints up there. Oh, and a Stuckey's and the Turkey Hill places too.

Gettysburg is growing up now, Fl Rob. They have a few really nice restaurants, and not a Stuckey's to be found anymore (unfortunately - I love those nut logs!)

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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