Mugaritz (San Sebastian, Spain) – A Unique Voice Among Masters
Upon reading the various reviews, I thought Mugaritz would be some sort of haute fusion – spices, infusions, etc. but our meal had none of it. Some respected diners have described the chef as a one-trick pony but our meal had a very wide range of technique. all of it completely unique. It’s a very “organic” meal that plays on the natural elements, not the periodic table of elements.
Of all the places I have visited in the last month, Mugaritz the location has the most character. The lounge is perfect – sketches on the wall behind the many bird cages. It has a voice where the other 3-stars prefer modern gloss and cool. The restaurant itself has a minimal design, but like the lounge, it has a personality that falls somewhere between Spain and japan.
We opted for the grand tasting menu.
1. Ceramic Potatoes
In the lounge, they served us an amuse of ceramic potatoes as we perused the menus. The potatoes were coated with a very thin layer of ceramic and served piping hot. The shell was crunchy and slightly chalky, and the potato slightly green. Was it a smashing success? No. Did it set the stage for paradigm-changing cuisine? Yes. Good.
2. Monkfish Cheek w/ Garlic Soup
Satisfying texture of escargot but it lacked any significant taste. The garlic soup was a bit bland. My notes mention something about a “sea sac” but I don’t remember this component. Not Good.
3. Crispy Bundles of White Asparagus
What a fascinating concept and dish. The asparagus was pared length-wise, the outside strips caramelized, and then the asaparagus was re-constructed. The outside strips were very crispy w/ a sweet caramelized taste while the inside strips were perfectly cooked. Excellent.
4. Dehydrated Potatoes w/ Streaks of Gelatin & Blue Fishes
The potatoes were hearty and heavy, but the fish (of toro quality) fat helped break up the starchiness in your mouth. The “zizas” were perfectly cooked and rounded out the earthiness of the potatoes. Very Good.
4 Alternate. Mozzerella Gnocci
Light and ephemeral sitting in an oyster-flavored sauce. The waiter described it was mozzerella but that could have been to ease the language barrier; a friend who just dined there reports they used idiazabal cheese. Very Good.
5. Pasta of Stewed Amaranta w/ Sardine Broth garnished w/ Baby Langostine Tails
Deconstructed roe, the amaranta served as a caviar that never burst with the sardine broth instead giving the dish its saltiness. Wonderful texture – each piece of the amarante just rolls around your mouth. The langostine was perfectly cooked. Excellent.
6. Crushed Potatoes, Broken Eggs, and Vegetable “Coal”
And the surprises never end – the potatoes were covered in a most decadent egg yolk (look at that intense color) but the star of the dish was the vegetable “coal.” The outside of the yucca was as black and charred as coal visually (as you can see); it had a smoky flavor that lingered in your mouth. This effect was accomplished by cooking the yucca with a black bean and squid ink. A wild guess, but I presume this was influenced by “vegetal coal”. Excellent.
7. Charcoal-Grilled Roast Foie Gras w/ No-Sweet Honey
This is almost universally acclaimed as Mugaritz’s best dishes but the texture was too spongy and the foie flavor was seriously lacking. The waiter explained later they sous-vided it for X many hours and then grilled it. The “honey” was extremely interesting – somehow, they sucked all of the sweetness out. A very strange experience as your brain expects sweetness. Of course, things are not always what they seem at Mugaritz – the honey is in fact a greatly reduced duck consumme. Not Good.
8. Hake Fillets w/ Garlic & Hazelnut Praline
The fish was cooked perfectly and it had a subtle nuttiness throughout. Upon biting, you’d get a hazelnut burst followed by the subtle nut taste. Very Good.
9. Baked Filet of Monkfish w/ Mungo Beans & Tuna Consumme
The skin was extremely gelatinous, the consumme overly salty, and the fish slightly overcooked (but within reason.) Not Good.
10. Lamb Trotter w/ Salted Toffee
This was too much for the “official” end of the meal – extremely gelatinous w/ nothing to break up the texture and taste. The toffee, like the honey, was savory and went perfectly well w/ the trotters – the dish just needed something to break up the monotony. Not Good.
11. Loin of Pork w/ Curry
This was a make-up dish for the soggy foie gras but they should have kept it – terribly inconsistent. One piece was cooked well, the other dry; the rest of the table had worse luck. This dish, like the trotters, still suffered from a monotonous overkill. Not Good.
12. Violet Ice Cream w/ Spiced Bread Shaving & Hot Almond Polvoron
Billed as a contrast of temperatures, textures, and cultures; this was good, but it was no Bastide. The violet ice cream tasted wonderful but its texture was a touch too icy. Good.
13. Milk & Tapioca Ice Cream
Beautiful, subtle milk flavor. Heavenly. Excellent.
14. Grounds of Espresso Coffee w/ Light Chicory Cream w/ Farmhouse Natural Milk Skin
Earthy, salty, slightly savory; the milk skin was tiramusu like where a cake was soaked in the chicory cream. Awesome.
15. French Toast w/ Sheep’s Milk Ice Cream
This was our make-up dessert for our make-up dish. The ice cream was incredibly rich – they used the eggs from the potatoe dish – Amazing. The french toast was extremely light w/ a crisp caramelized crust – this was creme burlee like. Each bite has the crunch of the crust, teeth sink into the light bread, and you’re rewarded w/ a touch of cream. Awesome.
The desserts were also top-notch. Most desserts in restaurants are afterthoughts and highly disappointing; but Mugaritz’s endless parade of desserts got better and better, culminating w/ the french toast. Only WD-50 (NY) and Can Roca (Spain) have such a strong line-up of desserts.
Is this the future of cuisine? Hard to say, but it is a chef with an utterly unique voice that I must hear again.