Disneyland In My Mouth: Mugaritz In Spain

When we arrived at the table, two envelopes are set before each place setting. I open the one addressed: 150 min. ... submit! Inside it says "150 minutes to feel, imagine, reminisce, discover." It's a nice admonition to keep an open mind. Win and I are ready to get into this meal, experience it to the fullest. The other envelope is addressed: 150 min. ... rebel! Inside, the card states "150 minutes to feel embarrassed, flustered, fed up. 150 minutes of suffering." The Yin and the Yang. I wondered how I'd experience those feelings during my meal at Mugaritz, located in the countryside, just 20 minutes outside San Sebastian (Donostia) in Northern Spain.

Chef Andoni Luis Aduriz of Mugaritz clearly wanted us to actively think about the food, not just eat it. This was apparent in the way the staff engaged us in conversation. They checked that we liked everything and made us guess the ingredients of the dishes. It made the whole experience challenging, exciting, and a ton of fun. So many man/woman-hours of experimenting and preparation go into each dish. Mugaritz is on the cutting edge of cuisine.

Chef Andoni Luis Aduriz is at the helm of this two starred Michelin restaurant in Spain. Andoni Luis Aduriz trained with the best of the best: Juan Mari Arzak (Restaurant Arzak in San Sebastian), Ferran Adriá (el bulli in Rosas-Gerona, outside of Barcelona) and Martín Berasategui (Restaurante Martín Berasategui in Lasarte-Oria, outside of San Sebastian). We knew we were in for a treat.

We ordered the 11 course tasting menu, as the waiter suggested it was a good introduction to the restaurant. The above photo shows the menus hanging on the wall located at the entrance of Mugaritz. Just one of the many clever details there. Like other restaurants we've been to, we get a couple of introductory courses that are not on the menu before the 11 courses officially begin; making our meal a total of 13 courses.

The first amuse bouche arrives, a simple marinated cucumber alone in a bowl. The waiter then proceeds to pour about 1/4 cup of clear liquid , called tomato water, around the cucumber. It taste like tomato yet has the consistency and look of water. The amuse is quite mild and clears our palettes for what's to follow.

A plate of baby shrimp with green onions and garlic come next. The onions are mild and sweet, with no sharpness at all. The shrimp are lightly cooked and super sweet, almost an al dente.

A bowl of rocks appeared at the table with the shrimp. Two of which were actually potatoes, kinda fun. The other two were real rocks that had been warmed in order to keep the potatoes warm. The potatoes were made to look like rocks with argile. An Aioli dipping sauce came with it. It had a slight nuttiness to it, attributed to the roasted garlic confit and the eggplant and tuna flavoring added to the olive oil.

Here's where the food from the menu began::

A CLUSTER OF RAW PEAS with a perfumed consommé and arbequina oil. (RACIMO DE GUISANTES CRUDOS, sobre un consumé perfumado y lagrimas de arbequina) Cooked, miniature peas, the size of lentils came in a bowl in two clusters, held together with a natural chemical that lightly bound the peas. A lemony consommé was added to the bowl, which slightly cooked them.

CARPACCIO accompanied by a sweet and sour dressing, D.O. Idiazabal cheese and vegetable splinters. (CARPACCIO acompañado de un aliño agridulce, lascas de queso D.O. Idiazabal y briznas vegetales) This is one dish we were told to guess what type of Carpaccio it was. It had the color of red pepper; it looked like smoked salmon and had a slight apple flavor. The dressing and cheese were divine with it. I could have ate 10 plates of it. Can you guess what it is? We couldn't. The closest we could come was a thinly sliced apple. Surprisingly it was watermelon: slowly dehydrated, then frozen, pressed, smoked and sliced. It was a masterpiece.

FOSSILIZED SALSIFY with briny roe and sea accents of triglochin maritmum. (El plato de SALSIFÍ FOSILIZADO aliñados con huevas y acentos marinos de triglochin maritmum) Win fell in love with the Salsify. It tasted like a woodsy mashed potatoes. It was one of the vegetables that were fossilized: they took calcium (what they white wash houses in Greece with) added it to water then soaked the salsify in it, which cooked it. The "fossilization" process dehydrates the outside and leaves the inside soft and tender. The roe was salty on it's own, yet with the salsify and green onion, the dish lost the saltiness and was delicious.

SPIDER CRABS with Jerusalem artichokes. (CENTOLLA con tupinambos Asados). The artichoke was also "fossilized" so that it mimicked the texture of the crab.

BANANA ROASTED ON THE GRILL on a sea-urchin cream. (PLATANO ASADO A LA PARRILLA reposado en una crema de yemas de erizo) This was least favorite, and the chef told us most people feel the same. Sea urchin is not our favorite sea animal. The banana was also "fossilized."

Barbecue-smoked SCALOPE OF FOIE-GRAS, mustard seeds and leaves. (ESCALOPE DE FOIE GRAS DE PATO sahumado a la parrilla, guarnecido con semillas y hojas de mostaza) OK let's talk about the mustard seeds first. There was no sharpness at all because they'd been boiled which made the texture slippery. Oh the Foie! It had a wonderful, un-livery taste. It was almost like eating a perfect barbequed ribs, but creamy and smooth. Apparently, a local farmer a few miles from the restaurant kills the bird in the morning and delivers the fresh foie-gras in the afternoon. It still warm from the animal. It is halved along the natural seam, then cooked in a solution of 50% water and milk at 35 Celsius. When done, the veins are removed with tweezers, then it is immediately frozen for several hours. It's taken from the freezer and directly deep fried, then after that it is baked. It’s also smoked also at some point along the way too. This was the best foie gras I've ever had.

LOIN OF SOLE, under a salted seasoning of borage and a reduction of the bones. (LOMO DE LENGUADO, bajo una salazón de hojas de borraja y concentrado de sus espinas). A perfectly cooked piece of fish.

A PIECE OF MILK FED VEAL, ROASTED AND PERFUMED WITH VINE CUTTING EMBERS and fragments of thyme, cinders, salt and crisp radishes. (PIEZA DE TERNERA DE LECHE ASADA Y PERFUMADA ENTRE BRASAS DE SARMIENTO, briznas de tomillo, cenizas, sales y rábanos crocantes) It was seasoned with embers on the outside that made it look charred. The little black sticks that look like embers were bread. The taste was earthy, with the faint echo of a campfire.

Tradition, ocean and land: braised IBERIAN PORK TAILS and pan fried LANGUOSTINES. Reduced braising juices infused with iberian "jamón". (Tradición, mar y dehesa: RABITOS DE CERDO IBÉRICO ESTOFADOS Y CIGALITAS SALTEADAS bañados con la reducción del jugo de cocción infusionado con jamón ibérico de bellota) The pork tails tasted like pork skin with a caramelized, sweet flavor. The sweet langostine and salty Iberian ham potato chip was a rich and decadent combo. At this point of the meal I was so full I would only eat a couple bites of each dish. Writing it now though, I could eat a few servings.

HAZELNUTS, FERNS AND VANILLA: hazelnuts and polipodium root powder with vanilla Ice Cream. (AVELLANAS, HELECHOS Y VANILLAS: Polvorón de avellanas y raíz de polopodio con helado de nata y vanillas)The fern mimicked a vanilla bean. The whole dish was sweet and fab.

Interpretation of vanity: MOIST CHOCOLATE CAKE, cold almond cream and cocoa bubbles. (Una interpretación de la vanidad: PASTEL JUGOSO DE CHOCOLATE, crema fría de almendras, fondos dorados, pompas y cacao)

Like all excellent restaurants, Mugaritz presented us with a token gift to enjoy at home and remind us of our experience: some cocoa covered nuts to take home.

Can you guess what this is? It is a dehydrated wash cloth. Waiters poured hot water over it so we could wash our hands after the meal.

Just a peek inside one of the prep areas.

And another peek inside their workroom (typically not shown to the public. Notice the stainless counter that has a cooking surface on it. That surface can be concealed so it is just a counter. Do you recognize the photograph in the background? It is the inside of a very old tree. Another stunning detail at Mugaritz.

Dining at Mugaritz was so much more than a superb meal.
I discovered so much from the four hour tasting and tour intellectually, yet what made the biggest impression were the sensations inside my mouth. Truly unforgettable.

Otzazulueta baserria.
Aldura aldea 20 zk.
Errenteria 20100. Gipuzkoa
Tel (943) 522-455 or (943) 518-343
Fax (943) 518 216

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Anastasia said...

Wow. That sounds incredible. Thanks for such detailed descriptions and photos -- such amazing creativity with the foods. I'm sure you wish you could eat those desserts without being so full!

Jay Fienberg said...

Looks so good--great write-up, too!

What do you do, when you have a meal like that with so many great courses, and then you're full by the time you get to the desert?

We have some nice restaurants near us, that I've taken to visiting for either savory / mains or sweet / deserts, but rarely both in the same sitting. But, that's only possible because one can go there on a whim, more or less.

Alli & Win said...

Jay: Good question. It's hard to pace myself in a tasting and not eat too much at the beginning then get full. Most of the plates are smaller so I take just a few bites at the end. When I was at French Laundry, I asked to take home some the chocolates and cookies since I was so stuffed. Win and I have been known to say to each other "Let's have Yogurt Stop (our fave froyo place here) for dinner"

April Boyer Modern Handmade said...

Alli, this looks absolutely incredible! Thanks for walking us through each course, wish I could have tasted them all!

Alli & Win said...

You're welcome April. I hope to be able to taste more of Mugaritz' food one day.

Charles G Thompson said...

Really nice write up. Thanks so much for sharing your amazing experience. It looks like an incredible place. Will be added to my list for my next visit! :-)

Alli & Win said...

Charles: You are quite welcome. It was certainly a night to remember. Now I'm going over to check out your trip to Spain. Hasta pronto!

Dining on Deals said...

What a phenomenal meal. Thank you for taking the time to share so many delicious details. I love when a meal is so much more then just food.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful review, Alli! It was great meeting you and your husband at Playa last night.


P.S. Here's the link to my blog: http://degustingdiary.blogspot.com/