The Death — and Possible Rebirth — of a Famous Spanish Restaurant
El Racó de Can Fabes, in the Catalan town of Sant Celoni, about 30 miles northeast of Barcelona, was Catalonia's first Michelin three-star restaurant and has long maintained its reputation as one of the finest eating places in Spain — even after the sudden death of its creator, Santi Santamaria, in Singapore in 2011 and the subsequent loss of a Michelin star. Times and tastes change, though, and even the presence in the Can Fabes kitchen of the talented Xavier Pellicer couldn't keep the place filled and operating at its former level. Thus, Santamaria's widow, Ángels, and their daughter, Regina, who have been operating the place, announced recently that it would close down on Aug. 31.
I stopped at Can Fabes last week, driving from the Costa Brava down to Barcelona, for a last lunch. The restaurant was far from empty, though there were some vacant tables; the service was impeccable. Pellicer left several months ago and is reportedly planning to open a rice restaurant in Barceloneta, the old fishermen's quarter in the Catalan capital — but the cooking at Can Fabes, taken over by two longtime veterans of the kitchen, was superb. We had one of Santamaria's signature dishes, shrimp ravioli — the trick being that translucent slices of shrimp form the "pasta," with wild mushrooms as a filling (there was also what I suppose must be described as shrimp carpaccio on a side plate); espardenyes, the remarkable sea slugs eaten only on the Catalan coast, seared to the point of being slightly caramelized and tossed with haricots verts; raw marinated fresh sardines with almonds and salmon caviar; salt cod fillets with piquillo peppers; and a simple roasted dove in a rich red-wine sauce. There were no modernist pyrotechnics, just a lot of pure, intense flavors, capturing the essence of the Catalan countryside and coast.
The official announcement of the restaurant's impending demise noted that "[The story] of Can Fabes will not end on August 31st but will live on in the current and future projects of all the people who have passed through our kitchen and our dining room, and in the memory of the thousands of diners who have always been our reason for existing." As it turns out, according to Regina, it might live on in other ways. "Can Fabes is finished," she told me, "but we have been approached by several people who want to reopen something else here. It would be more casual, certainly, but we would still be involved. We will close as scheduled, and take some time off. But we will probably be back, in one way or another."