Outside of San Sebastian, Spain/ July 19, 2009/ lunch
Winederlust Rating (details below): 9 out of 10 / Winederlust Worthy: Yes
So far, we were not having good luck getting to our restaurants
in Spain on time.
Mugaritz, out in the Basque countryside, was supposed to be
only a 20-minute drive from San Sebastian. We headed out with what should have
been plenty of time for our 2pm lunch reservation, though we had admittedly
sketchy directions jotted down from the restaurant’s Web site, as well as what
turned out to be outright wrong directions (again) from Google Maps.
At 2:30, we were hopelessly lost.
In between yelling at each other about what to do, we tried
to call the restaurant but for some reason couldn’t get through on Jay’s cell
phone. In full-blown panic mode, we stopped at a gas station where the attendant
did not speak English, but conveniently pulled out a folio, leafed through it
until he found the correct language, and presented Jay with a copy of driving
directions to Mugaritz. In English. (Apparently lots of people get lost trying
to find this restaurant.) Of course, he couldn’t give us directions to find the
road where the directions started! After backtracking a little to where we exited
the highway now nearly 45 minutes before, we miraculously were able to locate
the correct street to turn onto.
We got to the restaurant just after 3pm and, as at Arzak,
when we walked in, it really didn’t seem like that big of a deal that we were
more than an hour late. (The only downside was that they only serve the full
tasting menus till 2:30 since there are so many courses. No matter – they
offered to throw together a “best of” menu for us that still included nine
courses, plus amuse-bouches, a cheese course, and other assorted desserts, more
Just after we were seated and started to calm down, our
server asked if we’d like to see the kitchen. Not really knowing what was going
on, we were led back into the kitchen where the 40-something chef himself,
Andoni Luis Aduriz, shook our hands and started chattering away in Spanish or
Basque (we couldn’t be sure), translated into English by his sous-chef. He explained
that his philosophy was to use pure, simple, and local ingredients, with
nothing fancy like “foams.” (Interesting because Aduriz used to cook with Feran
Adria at El Bulli, which pioneered the entire foam movement.)
Inside the kitchen at Mugaritz.
When we mentioned that we were doing a culinary trip around France and Spain and listed some of the restaurants we’d been to, Aduriz said that Sebastian Bras was coming to visit next week – which totally made sense when he told us that he changes the menu seasonally based on what’s fresh and available (he grows some of the herbs and vegetables that he uses in the garden outside of his restaurant, just like at Bras).
Jay with the chef.
The décor of Mugaritz was unlike any restaurant we’d visited
so far – more rustic, like a country farmhouse.
Ready to start eating.
We ordered a lovely wine to go with our meal – a 2000 Bodegas y Vinedos Alion from the Ribera del Duero. It was rich, jammy, and delicious.
Our tasting menu started with a plate of young almonds with sprigs of
herbs – fresh and simple – along with a bowl of the chef’s famous “clay
potatoes,” potatoes actually coated with clay on the outside so that they look
like stones (and are served inside a bowl of stones – luckily, it’s easy to
tell the difference). You dip them in a mustard sauce before eating them.
Again, very yummy and simple.
The next dish was raw red mushrooms served with goat cheese,
which made a refreshing accompaniment (though the dish itself was almost too
plain, the mushrooms a little on the bland side).
Raw Red Mushrooms with Goat Cheese.
Next up was “an essay on salads, warm lettuce hearts soaked
in vanilla brine, a dressing of balsamic vinegar, and country milk skins.” Jay
and I both enjoyed this dish, though it was rather like eating vanilla ice
cream with some lettuce.
An Essay on Salads, Warm Lettuce Hearts Soaked in Vanilla Brine, a Dressing of Balsamic Vinegar, and Country Milk Skins.
We couldn’t figure out what the carpaccio was made of in the
next dish, “carpaccio accompanied by a sweet and sour dressing, Idiazabal
cheese, and vegetable splinters.” At first we thought it was tomato, but later
our server told us it was watermelon. (And we have no idea how they coaxed the
watermelon into the thin texture of carpaccio – must be one of those molecular gastronomy secrets.) The entire mixture was topped
Carpaccio Accompanied by a Sweet and Sour Dressing, Idiazabal Cheese, and Vegetable Splinters.
Next we sampled the “bacalao served with an acacia honey
emulsion.” This bacalao (salt cod) had a very unusual preparation – the skin
was baked and had the texture of jelly, while the fish was mushy inside. Though
I thought it was interesting and tasty, Jay didn’t like it at all.
Bacalao Served with an Acacia Honey Emulsion.
The “buttery idiazabal cheese gnocchi in salted Iberian pork
bouillon, contrasting herbs” was much more popular with both of us. The gnocchi
were delicious and melted in our mouths, and each was topped with a different
herb to impart a slightly different flavor. The rich broth gave depth and body
to the dish.
Buttery Idiazabal Cheese Gnocchi in Salted Iberian Pork Bouillon, Contrasting Herbs.
The next dish, “carrots, ash, and perfumed grains, in a
concentrated broth of sautéed squid and Arbequina olive” was also very good.
The sweet carrots were nicely balanced with the smoky taste of the cubes of
calamari, little edible flowers, and the sweet and savory broth.
Carrots, Ash, and Perfumed Grains, in a Concentrated Broth of Sautéed Squid and Arbequina Olive.
The “roasted bonito from the Bay of Biscay over sea
chamomile and coastal herbs” was one of our favorite dishes of the entire trip
so far (which is saying a lot!). The bonito (local tuna) was perfectly cooked,
lightly seared on top and silky inside, and was an amazing combination with the
tangy chamomile broth and seaweed.
Roasted Bonito from the Bay of Biscay over Sea Chamomile and Coastal Herbs.
Jay and I asked for different plates for the meat course. I
had the “braised Iberian pork tails and pan fried langoustines, reduced
braising juices infused with Iberian jamon,” and Jay had the charcoal-coated
veal. Both were very good.
Braised Iberian Pork Tails and Pan Fried Langoustines, Reduced Braising Juices Infused with Iberian Jamon.
Our server asked if we still had room for more and though we
were getting full, we couldn’t pass up sharing a local cheese plate, served
with a baked apple as a palate cleanser in between cheeses (a rather odd pairing choice).
Local Cheese Plate with Baked Apple.
Our first dessert was listed on the menu as “several
spoonfuls of clashing contrasts: heavy cream, sweets, and leaves.” What it
turned out to be was celery ice cream with candied celery root and edible
flowers, and it was delicious. The celery ice cream was clean and much more
balanced than the version we’d had at Arzak a couple of nights before, and
using the flowers in a dessert made us wonder why Bras hadn’t attempted such a
thing (though maybe he does and just didn’t on the day we dined there). An exciting and unusual dish.
Celery Ice Cream with Candied Celery Root and Edible Flowers.
Our final dessert was the “caramelized french toast enriched
with cream and egg yolk, with handmade ice cream of figs, tree leaves, and
milk.” As with the celery ice cream, the fig version was clean, smooth, and
delicious, and the french toast was tasty, too, and not too sweet or too
contrived, as the one at Fat Duck had been.
Caramelized French Toast Enriched with Cream and Egg Yolk, with Handmade Ice Cream of Figs, Tree Leaves, and Milk.
As we took our coffee and green tea out in the garden (and
each tried a glass of sweet wine from a different Spanish producer), the
weather was perfect – about 75 degrees and sunny – and we sunk back into the
comfy chairs for a while and chilled out.
Liz enjoying the wine and sun.
Overall, our Mugaritz lunch was one
of our favorite meals of the trip so far, not only for the quality, creativity,
and presentation of the food, but especially for the unpretentious and
welcoming atmosphere, not always easy to find at a place that takes its food so
– by Liz Humphreys, Winederlust Eater in Chief
Winederlust Rating Details (out of 10):
Food: 8.5 (preparation, presentation & taste)
Wine: 9.0 (selection, recommendations, pairings & taste)
Service: 9.5 (helpfulness, attentiveness, knowledge & pacing)
Place: 9.0 (location, view, decor & vibe)
Price Range: $$$$ (Incredibly Expensive)
Mugaritz / Otzazulueta baserria. Aldura aldea 20 zk. – Errenteria 20100. Gipuzkoa, Spain (don’t ask us, it’s Basque — but if you get in, print out the directions they email you before you go! Don’t trust Google directions to get you there.) [map]
Direct Line: (34) 943 522 455 / 943 518 343
Website: http://www.mugaritz.com (email through the Website for reservations as far in advance as possible)
Lunch served from 1-6:30pm; dinner served from 8:30pm-1:30am. Closed Sunday evenings, Monday all day, and Tuesday afternoons. Reservations essential.