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Spain's Financial Crisis Gobbling Up Top Eateries

"I went to Santamaria's restaurant recently and just two tables were occupied."

Three-star restaurants make very little money on their own, said restaurant critic Victor de la Serna, who for decades has written under the pseudonym of Fernando Point. "They need secondary activities â¿¿ cheaper branches, advertising contracts, catering, publishing â¿¿ to make a profit," he said. "These are drastically cut during a steep recession, and there goes the famous restaurant."

De la Serna said it was "miraculous" that the list of top restaurants that had gone under after a six-year recession in Spain was so short, "for now."

Establishments that specialize in avant-garde cuisine are in particularly tricky positions. Spain's avant-garde revolution was epitomized by Ferran Adria's "molecular cooking" that included attention-grabbing foams, nitrogen-infused tidbits and deconstructed omelets.

"The avant-garde movement was driven by easy money due to cheap credit. Without it I doubt El Bulli or any of these top restaurants would have made it," said Gerry Dawes, a New York-based critic who publishes the website "An Insider's Guide to Spanish Food, Wine, Culture and Travel."

Dawes predicted that few top restaurants are likely to survive Spain's financial crisis. "People went there for the prestige of saying they'd been, as much as for the cuisine," he said.

Chef Sergi Arola illustrated how badly the recession has hit the luxury restaurant trade when he announced last month that his two-star Madrid restaurant, Gastro, would have to close because of a tax debt of 150,000 euros ($197,000). Other recent closures that have shocked Spain include highly-rated eateries such as Jockey, Balzac and Club 31.

Many of Spain's top chefs expressed dismay over the news of the latest epicurean casualty.

"Can Fabes made history in the world of gastronomy," said Joan Roca, chef of El Celler de Can Roca, the restaurant that Restaurant magazine now rates the world's best. "Its closure demonstrates just how unfair this crisis is."

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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