I didn’t know too much about the Mugaritz, only that Andoni Luis Aduriz was working at the elBulli and that he is supposed to be one of the most interesting avantgarde chefs. I had a talk with Eswaldo Oliva who is working in the development kitchen, before I sat down to eat. So I got a quick insight, into the philosophy of the kitchen. Mugaritz seeks the exchange with other arts. These colaborations resulted in Mugaritz BSO were music and food is observed, as well as in a theater play with chefs cooking on stage, to engage all senses. Developping new dishes, they first look for an idea, instead of using certain ingredients to do all kind of things, until they find something interesting. The tasting menu is not necessarily the same for all guests, as they buy products only at their best also if that means that there is not enough of one product for all guests. So different tables might get different plates according to availability. I was also told, that it was complained about the Mugaritz cuisine, that the food is not tasty, meaning not „well seasoned“, but that this is part of the philosophy and that they do not care, as people said the cuisine at Mugaritz is not „well seaosened“ and therefore bad, whereas now it is said to be not „well seasoned“ and therefore good. Well, I was eager do do my own experience with this distinct approach to food. The Mugaritz is situated not too far from San Sebastian, somewhere in the beautiful basque countryside. The old house is not looking like an avantgarde place, which is a similarity to elBulli, but the place and its tradition is obviously a part of the cuisine. My first courses where served on the terrasse, as it was a beautiful day, even though it was in the middle of november. I started with a basque aperitif a Txakoli, enjoying the sun while the first dishes were served. 1.The first course is well known in culinary circles, it is the edible stone. It really looks fascinating and it even feels real, like a warm stone you may find on a sunny day. Biting into it reveals, that the stone is a normal potato, served with a mild aioli, without dominant garlic flavors and a subtle olive oil taste.
2. The second course is another Fingerfood. The „‘Fishbones‘ with nuances of Lemon, garlic and cayenne pepper“ are Baby Turbots. The look oft he little fish is a bit irritating (the eating animals discussion in one bite…), whereas the taste is a wonderful combination of crunchy fish notes with acid of lemon and a sharp ending .
3. „Red cardoon green pepper and celery pasta“ is served next. The service is excellent and even though I enjoyed the meal alone I felt comfortable all the time. The service gets lessons in Performance, a decision made during their work with the theater company, and as there are many waiters ( I guess about 10) it is like new characters entering the stage, all very committed but with a distinctive personal style to approach the guests.
4. „Grilled Toast of bone marrow with herbs and horseradish ash“ just a little comfort food in between…. The fatty bone marrow on toast is a wonderful mixture of soft fat and a crunchy toast, topped with refreshing herbs and a liquid horseradish ash. The aromas are bready, earthy and herbal, a combination I would have liked more of…but there are other interesting things to come.
The mushroom is raw on top but the end was baked in a tempura dough. This dish had an really interesting mouthfeel, The cold raw tips with the mushroom hats and the warm crunchy ending. A simple looking thing, turning into an amazing little dish.
6. „Marine Chords of a crispy woodwind“. A small roll of crispy waver with an intense taste of the sea in it.I am not sure what the ingredients were apparantly there was sea anemone in it, it had an intense flavor with a soft texture reminding me of a creamy spinach. After these Fingerfoods I was invited to go in for the next courses. I really appreciated the change of eating places. This is another way to play with our foodexperince, to change the places. It also is like entering the second act which was accompanied with a change of the setting.
7. To stress this idea, I was led to see the kitchen and to speak to head chef Julieta Caruso. She explained the organization of the kitchen and showed me the menu of today. I was offered a little brown macaron. It had a sweet taste but the brown colour derived from pigs blood that was used fort he shell instead of eggwhites and it was filled with a liver paté. Strange but good. Once again, what you see is not what you get.
8. It is only now that I start with the first of nine wines, a Manzanilla (Classic Dry, de Sanlucar de Berrameda, Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla, I will mention the wine without discussing details, but I did like the choice of wines very much). It accompanies a oyster in a honeywater. Kind of a strange experience, as I was expecting salty flavors which were substituted by the sweetness of honey.
9. White turnips with sea urchins marinated in a herb dressing. This really was a iodine booster. There was also another trompe l’oeil as the turnip looked like a big scallop, also the texture kind of resembled. Wine: Alsace Riesling (Les Elements 10, Domaine Bott Geyl)
10. „A sequence of wild and cultivated herbs with pickled vegetables, and creamy dressing.“ This was not only beautiful looking but also a fantastic taste. The fresh herbs made a nice contrast to the „creamy dressing“ which was something like a thick creme fraiche that in it revealed a waxy eggyolk. (so looking like a poached egg) A Valderroas was paired with this excellent dish. (Gaba do Xil 11, Valdeorras, Cia de Vinos Telmo Rodriguez)
11. Tagliatelle of concentrated milk lightly soaked in a silky juice of roasted squash and tomato. Milkskin seems to be very popular….it was a nice looking presentation and I liked the juice that I poured on the tagliatelle. It also had an interesting texture but it was not one of my favorites.
Thinking about the menu I liked the combinations of Sea and Countryside elements. It reflects the very place Mugaritz is situated very good.
Another Trompe l’oeil. This cheese is not a traditional cheese but kind of a „bechamel“ cured for 24 h. The texture reminded me of croquettes I had the other day in a pinxtos place in Bilbao. Nice looking and stressing the landscape of the surroundings: cows on meadows.
13. The next wine was a Madeira (Bual 10 anos, Henriques & Henriques), a strong wine in the middle. Served with it a „Ravioli of aromatic vegetables“. This „Ravioli“ was so soft looking, that I had to touch it with my finger tips before I ate it in one bite. Inside the soft shell were slices of herb leaves. You could feel the structure of the leaves contrasting the soft shell, now the aromas of herbs combined with the strong dark sauce surrounding the ravioli. The Madeira was a perfect match to this flavorsome composition.
14. Crisp of vegetables: Pumpkin skin and Iberian pork tails
I liked the crisp, succulent Porktails, but I had to get used to the Pumpkin skin, that was quite hard, but not bad either.
Little breast, extremely tender with caramelized onions. As you can see here a lot of the dishes are salted with a grainy salt. For me the seasoning was all good. The salt grains were perfect as they work as salty sparks in the mouth, without destroying a dish by being too salty altogether. (Altos de Losada 08, Bierzo, Vinos de Finca Losada)
16. The next wine was a light Sake (Tokubetsu Junmaishu Sake, Gipu, Nakashima Jozo Kozaemon) Interesting floral taste also a bit of Bubblegum, well I never tasted Sake… It accompanied a „roasted loin of hake with clashing crains of aged mascarpone, cauliflower and fresh almonds“ a combination of mild flavors reminding me oft he cauliflower couscous of elBulli (only from hearing from it…)
A Plate to work on. They served a mortar with toasted seeds, I had to crush to get a fine flour (making nice mortar sounds). Then I mixed in the broth and the fish. The toasted aromas had something of the toasted corn flour common in Tenerife or toasted rice flour. I liked the combination with beer. It made me smile to enjoy „Bobs Beer“ (Lurraren Hatsa, Hasparen Etxeko Bob’s Beer) in the middle of a menu served with extraordinary wines. There should be much more experiments with differnt drinks accompanying food. What about tea, coffee, juices (as they offer at Noma), water. …this is a field not very much explored.
The first course I actually thought of a bit under seasoned, it was quite sweet because oft he honey and I missed more salty flavors, maybe because meat is most of the time quite well salted. So it worked for me, as it made me aware of our use of salt, that is little reflected. But I have to admit, that in an average Restaurant, I would complain about the missing salt. (Well in an average Restaurant I might also be right about this…) (Les Laquets 08, Cahors, Domaine Cosse Mainsoneuve)
19.“ Artisan Profiteroles and Hare Civet Wild Game Armagnac and clove perfume“ Intense Aromas of hare including a rusted nail made of chocolate to be put in the liquid. Another (double) trompe l’oeil…Isn‘t Stefan Wiesner really using rusted nails for his dishes?!
I was asked if I would like to eat more savory dishes. Well I would have liked but I was afraid that might be too much, so I turned to the sweets.
20.“A taste of subtlety . Folded linen with toasted cème fraîche and crème caramel“ once again a trompe l‘oeil. kind of a edible paper with a nice crème fraîche (Harmonie 09, Gaillac Doux, René Rieux)
I went out again to eat the last courses where I started the menu.
This was an interesting combination but what are harvested grapes and their skin? nothing else than halved grapes with skin of course and well obviously harvested, a bit of a poetic way to say that, maybe I just expected something special done with the skin?
I liked this but it was not too special to me.
23.“‘Traditional‘almond fairy cake“. I was happy to get the connection, as I ate the original almond fairy cake a couple of days before. It was sold in a wrapping of paper just as this iced version. Again a nice sweet, playing with a tradition.
Nice looking arrangement with burning barks. But I preferred the look to the taste. The incense stick had a citrus flavour, the sand tasted of roasted seeds.
I was once again asked if i would like to eat more, so this time I asked for an extra dessert.
25. Apple parfait with figue and chocolate leaves, that was a nice extra but all together the sweet world did not work that well for me. Textures and tastes of the other dishes were just really exceptional to me whereas the Sweets in my opinion could not really keep up with the savoury dishes.
Nevertheless a great Food experience.
I liked the change of places, the use of ingredients that combined the sea and the countryside, the way the service did a Performance, the small dishes to eat as fingerfood, the use of beer and the way Food is considered and treated as something to serve all senses, not only taste.
The use of trompe l’oeil is a general theme. Not only in the direct use as for example the rusted nail made from chocolate but also in the general form: Most oft he dishes look like simple plates, but for sure the dishes need long development and research. Just like modern technical equipment, it looks simple, it is easy to approach these things but inside they hide the latest inventions, offering a whole new world of possibillities. Even the Restaurant itself, the very building functions as a trompe l’oeil. It is an old countryside house, whereas the food served is all but old fashioned, but it is looking for a connection to old traditions.
There would be much more to think about: the structure of the whole menu, which was obviously a play in 3 scenes, starters outside, mains inside and sweets outside again. But you may also think about harmony or contrasts of the individuel plates and the Rhythm of the menu. I think they achieved to transmit how they understand food and cooking at Mugaritz.
For me the Mugaritz experience was not over after the meal. It is ongoing, as I still think about it and it will go on for a long time, as it broadend my own understanding of food and cooking and thereby changed the way I perceive it.