San Sebastián: Mugaritz (Nov. 2013)
Exec Chef: Andoni Luis Aduriz
November 1, 2013
Mugaritz has been on list for a long time now, and I finally got the chance to eat here when I stopped by Spain. It’s located among very green hills, about a 15- to 20-minute taxi ride from San Sebastián. The restaurant actually wasn’t fully booked when I ate there (granted, it was a Thursday afternoon in the end of October…), so I don’t think reservations there are TOO hard to make in the fall.
Chef Aduriz has a really interesting philosophy about food. I won’t bore you with the details; you can look it up on the website if you’re interested. (You should read about it!)
The restaurant sets up a tasting menu for each table, and they apparently customize it depending on the season and how fresh the produce and ingredients are. Some dishes are standard for each meal (I googled them haha), but the kitchen staff also mixes and matches a lot depending on what ingredients they want to use. As a result of this philosophy, the tables around me had some of the same courses, but they also had some different courses that I wanted to try. (I’m sure they thought the same thing of some of the dishes I got.) I like how different tables eat different things; it keeps an element of surprise for your own meal.
I should also mention that the restaurant closes from January to April for “creative brainstorming”. During that time, cooks focus on bringing Chef Aduriz’s ideas to life and preparing for the next season’s dishes.
The food here was inspirational, and the wait staff was very warm and friendly. Everyone here just seemed happy to be there, and the food seemed to reflect that. (I know I’m being cheesy a bit, but I truly believe that!) Anyway, here’s what I ate!
Edible stone (boiled potato coated with kaolin made to look like a rock) with garlic mayonnaise.
Biting into the edible “stone” revealed the potato underneath the kaolin.
Smoked toast that’s 100% lobster. The green sauce is made from tomalley (the liver and pancreas), and the toast is made from the lobster shell.
Fried fish bones with lemon, garlic, and cayenne pepper cream.
“Fried herbs from the garden with clashing aromas”
Shisha leaf deep-fried in tempura batter and topped with mascarpone cheese and cinnamon.
This tasted just like a churro!
Baby carrots with carrot cream made from their smeared flowers.
Fried veal tendon with honey mead, egg yolk, and dipping ash.
Ice with scarlet shrimp “perfume” (juice).
Tanned lobster flesh with fermented rice.
I found a small hair in this dish, and you can kind of see it in the picture… I’m a little ashamed to say that I just removed it and ate it regardless hahaha.
Anyway, the rice reminded me of sake, and the taste of the raw lobster paired well with it.
Threads of spider crab with vegetable mucilage, macadamias, and pink peppercorns.
Game of “Astragals Royale”.
“Poultry Royale” (a custard that was made by mixing chicken consommé with egg yolk) and caviar.
Leeks, mochi leeks, and white Alba truffles.
They didn’t give me any butter or olive oil to go with it. Hmm.
House-made tofu with duck juice.
Loin of hake with tigernut starch and concentrated clam juice.
This was AMAZING. I loved the tigernut starch! (The waiter told me that tiger nuts are used in horchatas in Valencia, so THAT might be why I loved this so much…)
Red mullet with hollandaise made from its own liver and almond and bread crumbs.
“The Cow and the Grass”
Slow-cooked veal brisket with puréed spinach.
“The cow and the grass” is such a fitting name. There wasn’t much salt or pepper—you could really taste the flavor of the meat, which was ridiculously tender. It wasn’t chewy or meaty; it was just so soft and tender that it would quickly melt with each bite. The spinach purée also didn’t have a strong flavor. It had a pleasant and purposefully weak taste, complementing the veal but not overpowering it in any way. This was just a perfect union of meat and vegetables.
Different textures of lamb (lamb with a “caramel coat”, crisp lamb skin, and chippings of puffed lamb).
Grilled sponge cake and baked “curd”. (She said that it wasn’t exactly curd because it wasn’t curdled and that it was a mixture between curd and milk.)
Frozen almond turrón/nougat.
Frozen nougat! There were ice cream and pieces of almond, but it tasted exactly like (really cold) nougat… with the texture of ice cream.
Frozen chocolate “cookie” made with sugar and cocoa.
The taste and the “bite” were exactly like a cookie’s, except that this… wasn’t one.
Roasted peach and “Rock tea” powder.
Edible paper of herbs and flowers.
The paper tasted like a light chip, and each bite had a different taste due to the herbs and flowers that were spread throughout the chip.
“Seven Deadly Sins”
From top to bottom:
Gold-dusted chocolate shell
The chocolate is hollow on the inside, and the mirrors emphasize the outside gold layer. Pride is empty/hollow, and blah blah blah.
Two chocolates (one big and one small) among the cocoa nibs.
It’s meant for two people. The person who gets the smaller chocolate is supposed to envy the person who gets the larger chocolate.
Marshmallow covered with cayenne sugar.
A lot of cocoa-covered rice crispies.
White chocolate ganache–and–strawberry soup.
I guess it’s supposed to arouse your palate…
The pear is super sweet and meant to finish off the meal, leaving you with food coma and ready to just loaf around and sleep.
They actually pass every table through the kitchen for a quick tour. Chef Aduriz greets you, you get to discuss things with the cook who introduces you to the kitchen, and you get a macaron! It’s a pretty cool break from the meal.
The kitchen has a staff of 35, and it’s split into hot and cold sections. There are no station cooks, and everybody knows how to make every dish. This lets anyone replace anyone else while cooking without skipping a step. There are four “señors” who supervise the other cooks, and Chef Aduriz watches over the whole operation. Apparently, he is pretty much always in the kitchen (except for when he has other engagements)!
They give me this chocolate macaron while in the kitchen. I’m guessing they do a different snack or flavor every day or week.
This was one of the best meals of my life. The food was innovative, exciting, AND delicious. The dishes played with different textures, aromas, and flavors. The vegetables were very fresh, the proteins were amazing, and the desserts were both sweet and very fun to eat. A lot of the dishes were very creative, and there was a great variety in ingredients and cooking techniques. The “Seven Deadly Sins” petits fours were probably the best petits fours I’ve ever had; they weren’t the most delicious ones I’ve ever had, admittedly, but they were certainly the most creative and enjoyable ones I’ve come across.
The people were some of the warmest and friendliest I’ve come across in an elite restaurant; they are exactly the type of people I’d want in a wait staff if I were to run or eat at a restaurant. They also looked very happy to be where they were, and this enthusiasm reminded me of the wait staff at Noma.
I’ve only eaten at Mugaritz just this once, but this meal was transcendent. I want to say that the restaurant has it all. The location is wonderful (as long as you’re okay with enjoying beautiful scenery in the countryside haha); the food is creative and sublime; and the people there are jovial, enthusiastic, and, most important, HAPPY. This may very well be my third favorite meal of all time, tying my meal at Sukiyabashi Jiro Roppongi. (My favorite two are my Per Se meal with the canard à la presse and the 10th Anniversary dinner at wd~50.)
GO HERE IF YOU CAN.