San Sebastián: Martin Berasategui (Nov. 2013)
Exec Chef: Martin Berasategui
November 2, 2013
For my third day in San Sebastián, I planned to eat lunch at Restaurante Martin Berasategui (“MB”) and then dinner at Arzak. MB is a short 10- to 15-minute taxi ride away from San Sebastián, and it’s located in Lasarte-Oria.
The restaurant’s small and intimate, and it also feels a lot classier (and more formal) than Mugaritz and Arzak. Everything about this restaurant screams fine dining. Waiters are pretty formal, the restaurant is relatively quiet and calm, and customers are dressed nicely. The waiters all walk around in jackets, they all have great posture, and most were pretty stiff. I kind of wish the service was warmer—by contrast, the people at Mugaritz seemed a lot happier and more genuinely friendly, while those at Arzak seemed more genuinely interested in serving you.
In contrast to the wait staff, Chef Berasategui seemed incredibly friendly and jovial. He’s in the restaurant a lot, and he apparently tries to stop by every table and say hi. Unfortunately, he couldn’t speak English (more important, I can’t speak Spanish haha), so I couldn’t really talk to him. Oh well!
Oh, and one last thing—my pictures kind of suck because of the weird lighting. It was really cloudy today, and each table also had a light above it that created some weird lighting in my pictures.
Mille-feuille of smoked eel, foie gras, green apple, and spring onion cream. (1995)
This tasted more like a great foie dish than a combination of eel and the other ingredients; I actually couldn’t really taste the eel, which was a shame. That foie was pretty great, though!
Squid soup and creamy squid ink ravioli served with squid rice cracker with squid ink. (2001)
Oyster with watercress chlorophyll, cucumber, kaffir lime, and coconut. (2011)
The sauce here was amazing.
Sautéed black garlic with beet ceviche, eel, ice radish, and raifort cream. (2013)
You’re supposed to mix it all together, but I could still vividly taste the beets, eel, radish, and raifort. The black garlic seemed to improve the flavor of the other ingredients.
Three textures of fennel: little pearls of raw fennel, risotto, and emulsion. (2009)
Again, the sauce was amazing.
Roasted foie gras with seaweed resting on fermented soy broth, horseradish curd, and hazelnut salt. (2013)
“Gorrotxategi” egg resting on an herb liquid salad, horseradish carpaccio, truffle oil, and cheese. (2011)
Warm vegetable hearts salad with seafood, cream of lettuce, hazelnut, and tomato-water jelly. (2001)
AMAZING (both in presentation and flavors).
Red mullet with edible scale crystals, wheat semolina cracker, cuttlefish, soybean sprouts, and cuttlefish emulsion. (2013)
The red mullet was decent, but the cuttlefish and cuttlefish emulsion stood out. The cuttlefish had this pasta-like chewiness, and the emulsion had this creamy texture and flavor that complemented the mullet and cracker perfectly.
Roast pigeon and spring onion with Iberian pig’s snout; pineapple and saffron cream; ginger and caper juice; and three different mushrooms. (2013)
I didn’t get the names of the three mushrooms they used; I just know that one was St. George’s mushroom.
The pig snout was wonderful, as you can probably guess. The ginger and caper juice was a great sauce that added some umami flavor to the pigeon. The mushrooms were also a nice touch, both in terms of adding flavor and texture.
Unfortunately, while the pigeon was tender, I felt that both the meat and the skin could have been a lot more flavorful. In the end, I have to conclude that this dish could have been a lot better. The sauces and secondary ingredients were great, but the most important ingredient—pigeon—was lackluster. I was disappointed :(.
Celery sorbet, shaven gin ice, green apple cracker, melon, cucumber, mint, and lime jelly. (2013)
These wide-plate presentations are astounding…
Anyway, this dessert makes me pretty convinced that I like the vegetable-focused dishes here much more than the others. They’re refreshing, the flavors are sharp, and the vegetable quality just seems better than the meat quality (not to
“Mist” of coffee and cacao over iced caramel banana with whisky sorbet and slush. (2013)
The waiter said that they sous-vide a chocolate and coffee mixture with air, causing it to expand and create air holes. They then freeze the chocolate and then cut it into pieces.
The coffee, cacao, and banana mix was… surprising. It looked like a cake, but it had the texture of a frozen batter-like substance that was almost but not quite a cake. The texture quickly melted in my mouth and gave way to intense sweetness, and the whiskey sorbet and slush helped to temper that sweetness.
Left to right:
-Pistachio chocolate wafer.
-Biscuit something-something. (I didn’t catch the name; it was just like a Madeleine, though!)
-Grape juice infused with passion fruit.
-Liqueur of milk with cinnamon and Armagnac.
I’ll start with the good points of the meal. First, the presentation and plating were GORGEOUS. The wide-plate presentations of the sautéed black garlic (course 4), warm vegetable hearts salad, (course 8), and vegetable-themed dessert (course 11) were ridiculously intricate. I can’t imagine how long it took to plate just one of those, but the result was worth it. The initial reaction upon viewing one of those dishes is pure awe. Second, the sauces were amazing. They were really consistent in flavor, and they complemented the other ingredients really, really well. This is one of the few times where I’ve noticed that the sauces really stood out. Third, the warm vegetable hearts salad and celery/gin/apple/cucumber dessert were outstanding. Those two were truly world-class dishes.
Unfortunately, this meal also had some bad points that ultimately made the experience less enjoyable than Mugaritz. First, the other dishes just weren’t all that amazing, especially compared to my meals at Mugaritz and Arzak. The dishes at MB felt old and stale—far less innovative than both Mugaritz and Arzak. The food at the other two restaurants also was tastier and far more enjoyable to eat (due in no small part to how creative some of the dishes were at Mugaritz and Arzak).
Second, the wait staff in general was way too formal and stiff for me. I’m the type who just wants to eat creative, delicious food and doesn’t care if the wait staff curses and wears t-shirts and shorts. The people at Mugaritz and Arzak weren’t nearly that casual, but they still seemed more relaxed and receptive. The service just felt more genuine at those restaurants, too, like the waiters and chefs alike were happy to be there. (It seemed like only Chef Berasategui and one or two waiters were happy to be there during my lunch. I didn’t see any of the other cooks, so I can’t comment on them.) As a result of all this, I enjoyed my experiences at Mugaritz and Arzak a lot more.
However, I have a feeling that, if you’re reading this blog, you’re probably someone who’s really into food and willing to travel to eat somewhere nice. If that’s the case, I’d have to recommend both Mugaritz and Arzak over MB (especially because they are in the same price tier). My experiences at those two places were just so much better. Those two meals were genuinely exciting and were littered with dishes that were a joy to eat; those are two things that I unfortunately cannot say about my lunch at Martin Berasategui.
I have one more meal left in San Sebastián: lunch at Akelarre. I’m excited!