Mugaritz (Errenteria, Spain) – A Beautiful Meal

My last Mugaritz meal proved to be one of invention, creativity, and uniqueness. Despite a month-long trip through the Gagnaire’s, El Bulli’s, and Can Roca‘s last year; Chef Andoni Aduriz served us some of the more memorable dishes of our trip. The meal wasn’t perfect but the ideas were captivating and fresh. Where El Bulli clinically ran through twenty-plus concepts, Mugaritz paused and pondered. There was a great cerebral touch to the evening.

This meal was better. The last meal was marred by a few conceptual and cooking mistakes, whereas this meal flowed perfectly from beginning to end. The summer bounty of the Basque county-side was in full display, most dishes flooding with greens or flowers. The infusions and broths, a divisive line with the restaurant’s critics, were exquisite. The avant-garde techniques used are a means to an end – tasting the last weeks of the summer. A great restaurant operating near its grand potential.

Roasted Piquillo Pepper wrapped in ham

It looked like a piece of toro nigiri – a work of art. The pepper had a strong roasted flavor that was upfront and bounced in the mouth for awhile. The ham, provenance unknown, was quite fatty with a hint of sweetness. Its flavor added a small dimension to the pepper but I suspect its slight miry texture was its raison d’etre. Very Good.

Mugaritz (Errenteria) - Roasted Piquillo Pepper wrapped in ham

Chilled Vegetable Soup, shrimp, herbs, & fern shoots

It was clear greens and flowers might play a starring role in the meal. The shrimp broth was quite refined, an essence, whose saltiness brightened the vegetables. Very Good.

Mugaritz (Errenteria) - Chilled Vegetable Soup, shrimp, herbs, & fern shoots

Vegetables, Oven Roasted & Raw

And here it was – the infamous Mugaritz salad that Gastroville ranked higher than the Michel Bras Gargouillo. The emmanthal cheese broth provided a backbone, or “unifying factor”, to the dish but the vegetables, while very good, were not in the same league as Bras. At Bras, the perfume of the vegetables permeated the entire dining room; here, they barely lifted off of the plate. Very Good.

Mugaritz (Errenteria) - Vegetables, Oven Roasted & Raw

Blue Mackerel with Sesame

A tender, silky piece of fish that could have been cooked in the kitchens of Pierre Gagnaire. The very mild nuttiness of the sesame seeds and their broth provided additional structure but I wonder if a third element was necessary to bind it all together? Regardless, the strength of this dish lies in the fish quality and its preparation. Very Good.

Mugaritz (Errenteria) - Blue Mackerel with Sesame

Carrots Cooked in Clay with squid & Arbequina olive broth

A variation of two dishes from the last meal: the purple space potatoes and the no-sweet honey. The carrots, earth creatures, cooked in their surroundings with a reduced squid and olive broth that provided a caramelized sweetness. The carrot itself was not of L’Arpege quality but it had a subtle earthiness to it. The diced squid offered an interesting textural component. Very Good.

Mugaritz (Errenteria) - Carrots Cooked in Clay with squid & Arbequina olive broth

Buttery Idiazabal Cheese Gnocci with salted Iberian pork bouillon

Each gnocci is adorned with a different flower or herb and it helped brighten the salty pork body. The gnocci are light and ephemeral but hint at a gelatinous and creamy textures . Very Good.

Mugaritz (Errenteria) - Buttery Idiazabal Cheese Gnocci with salted Iberian pork bouillon

Stew of Tender Roasted Spring Onions with bone marrow

A heavier dish of textures. The crisp, sweet onions dominated the flavor. The bone marrow added a gelatinous texture that Aduriz seems to love so much; it also provided a (obvious) richness. Raw ceps lent an earthiness and a more compliant crunch. Very Good.

Mugaritz (Errenteria) - Stew of Tender Roasted Spring Onions with bone marrow

Hake Fillet with baby garlic and hazelnut praline

The nicely cooked hake and praline complement each other well. The garlic cream, oft criticized by others, is too pungent and lasted far too long in the mouth. It’s recommended to bypass the cream on the side. Good.

Mugaritz (Errenteria) - Hake Fillet with baby garlic and hazelnut praline

Beef Roasted & Perfumed with Vine Cutting Embers

A nice hunk of rare gamey beef. Spanish beef has a different taste from corn- or grass-fed beef but I can’t identify the difference. The beef was so black that one wonders if Aduriz imparted some of his black coal tricks on the beef to darken it. Very Good.

Mugaritz (Errenteria) - Beef Roasted & Perfumed with Vine Cutting Embers

Braised Iberian Pork Tails and Pan Fried Languostines

Braised and gelatinous, generally not my favorites, but this dish had enough crunch to keep me interested. The pork and langoustine, despite being a flawed specimen (mushy), complemented each other well. A Very Good if the langoustine was of higher quality. Good.

Mugaritz (Errenteria) - Braised Iberian Pork Tails and Pan Fried Languostines

Violet Ice Cream

Dessert time at Mugaritz is unlike any other restaurant – the desserts can be as memorable, if not more so, than the main courses. This year’s violet ice cream was astounding. An intense violet flavor, creamy as can be. Excellent.

Mugaritz (Errenteria) - Violet Ice Cream

Ripe Figs Grilled over Vine Twigs

Mugaritz (Errenteria) - Ripe Figs Grilled over Vine Twigs

Interpretation of Vanity – Moist Chocolate Cake

Mugaritz (Errenteria) - Interpretation of Vanity - Moist Chocolate Cake

My Michelin 3 star dining experience is still developing but a few different lineages poke out in the cooking: a Japanese aesthetic for meditative qualities; an El Bulli approach to risk and concept; and a Michel Bras enthusiasm for nature. This meal felt more confident and mature; less abrupt and more harmonious. It actually reminded me quite a bit of a Manresa meal – at this point in time, they could be trans-atlantic cousins. My only gripe, denying this meal a place in the A1 Best Meals category, is the continued use of infusions throughout the meal. While I enjoyed all of them, it does get slightly monotonous.

- chuck

Reservation Tip – Mugaritz will prepare a tasting menu of any dish they’ve ever created if you give them fair warning. Obviously, seasons will play a role in the availability and quality of dishes, but if you see a dish you must have, ask for it when you make a reservation.

  • Paul

    WOW, WOW, WOW, Lol, i know everyone seems to be obsessed with Ferran Adria these days, and they keep saying that El Bulli is this and El Bulli is that and that Ferran Adria is a food god etc etc, but if i am being perfectly honest, i think i would rather eat at Mugaritz if given the choice, because at least there food looks real, and that it does not constantly rely on a bunch of foodie parlour tricks, to keep the dinners intrested, eg an endless presession hot foams, disappearing gels, soils and vapours of every imaginable flavour IMO

  • susan poh thompson

    your photos have really improved. please tell us, what was the wine like?

  • ChuckEats

    Paul – yes, I’d rather eat at Mugaritz than El Bulli. Ask me 2 years ago and the answer would have been the opposite. I find myself attracted to food that is still “organic”, as you say. Wait until you read the forthcoming review for El Poblet.

    Susan – I purposely don’t keep track of wine b/c I’m already too busy (and have a few too many expensive habits.) I asked the sommelier for a Rioja and she recommended a local producer w/ limited production. It was 60 euros, quite smooth, decent acidity, but it had a little too much fruit; nevertheless, for the price, I was quite happy w/ it.

  • ChuckEats

    W/r/t the photos, I’ve made a few changes over the year:

    - Everything gets Photoshopped (for better or worse)
    - I re-position plates in the light sources
    - I let the camera do the work instead of trying to outsmart it
    - I take 3 pictures of each dish in hopes that 1 will turn out

    For this review, it was lunchtime w/ decent natural light.

    - chuck

  • Pingback: Blog » 2008 Itinerary

  • Patrick

    I re-read this post and I totally agree about the langoustines being inferior quality… they came in FROZEN. Searing those on the plancha was almost impossible. We wasted a ton of money buying frozen seafood because if one didnt sear right, we threw it out.

  • chuckeats

    Thanks for the insight Patrick – I wonder why they buy frozen langoustines when there’s so much fresh, high-quality seafood to be had minutes away? Maybe not langoustines; but, at the same time, I’m sure they could find a decent substitute. Strange. I do want to return though.

  • Pingback: ChuckEats blog » RyuGin (Nishiazabu, Tokyo) - Pure Excellence

  • Gresham

    Just got back from Spain, followed your posts, ate at arzak,akelare, alkimia, el poblet, ….. missed out on el bulli, but the trip to mugaritz was well worth it. their play on herbs was amazing, the clay potatoes with fried shrimp set the pace. the carpaccio was well thought of, but one thing that summed up spain was the iberian pork tails with langoustines, if i was on death row that is what i would eat