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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ripe Figs Grilled over Vine Twigs
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.
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.