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June 25, 2009

Mugaritz

Filed under: Food, Spain, Travel — anotherheader @ 12:47 am

Fossilized Salsify with briny roe and sea accents of triglochin maritimum

Fossilized Salsify with briny roe and sea accents of triglochin maritimum

The taxi driver dropped us at Mugaritz ten minutes before our reservation time.  We lingered a bit outside the restaurant, enjoying the gardens and the patio in the cool breeze, before going in.  Inside, the dining room is open and airy with the tables widely spaced.  As we were seated we noticed that a table of tourists from Japan that we had seen the previous day at Asador Extebarri.  Our foodie itineraries apparently overlap.

DSC_3581At our table in front of each of us were two small envelopes.  Written on the first envelope was, “150 min. …submit!”  Inside there was a card that continued, “150 minutes to feel, imagine, reminisce, discover.  150 minutes of contemplation..”  On the second envelope was printed, “150 min. …rebel.”  The card inside said, “150 minutes to feel embarrassed, flustered, fed up.  150 minutes of suffering.”

In other words, love it or hate it, you are in for a culinary ride.  And indeed we were.  Any thoughts of rebelling at our table soon passed.  Once the meal started, we all submitted.  This was one of our best meals, ever.

Submit or Rebel!

Submit or Rebel!

The meal started with an amuse-bouche of small potatoes cooked to resemble rocks and served in basket with matching stones.  For good reason, we were careful to only eat the potatoes.  A simple dish of cucumber in tomato water was up next.  Minimalist, refreshing, and uncomplicated, it eased us into the meal.  A cluster of peas in consommé, another light dish, followed this.

“Carpaccio accompanied by a sweet and sour dressing, D.O. Idiazabal cheese and vegetable splinters” followed on the menu.  I’ve included a picture of this dish below and there’s a poll for what you think the red “Carpaccio” ingredient is.  As a hint, we all tasted this one and didn’t guess correctly.  The correct answer is at the end, but vote first!*

Carpaccio accompanied by a sweet and sour dressing, D.O. Idiazabal cheese and vegetable splinters

Carpaccio accompanied by a sweet and sour dressing, D.O. Idiazabal cheese and vegetable splinters

Following the last excursion, the next dish was “Fossilized Salsify with briny roe and sea accents of triglochin maritimum.”  Not exactly something you’ll find on the menu of your local diner.  Unbeknownst to me, salsify is a flowering plant whose roots are sometimes eaten (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salsify).  The dish was prepared using calcium salts in molecular gastronomy technique to “fossilize” the root.  Triglochin maritimum is a variety of arrowgrass found in brackish marshes, freshwater marshes, wet sandy beaches, and bogs.  For me, this dish was definitely one of the most challenging of the meal.  Both the flavor and the texture of the root and the arrowgrass were unfamiliar.  The salsify tasted somewhat savory, a little sweet, and aromatic.  If you imagine eggplant, peeled and cooked, with a thin, dry skin, you get an idea of the texture but not the flavor.  This is definitely a “rebel” dish and it was my least favorite of the meal.  But I’d try it again in a heartbeat as the dish was intriguing and “least favorite” for this meal still was pretty damn good.  As I said before, any thoughts of rebelling soon passed.  I submitted.

Potatoes and stones

Potatoes and stones

Spider Crab with Jerusalem artichokes was on the plate next.  A nice flavor combination but, as the food science writer Harold McGee details in “The Curious Cook,” Jerusalem artichokes give you “wind.”  We learned later that Mugaritz uses Harold McGee as a consultant, so it would be a good guess that the gaseous nature of the sun chokes is well known by the kitchen crew.  I can attest that Becky definitely submitted to this dish from the “volume” increase that occurred later in the evening.  The knob was turned to eleven, for sure.

Rafael Costa e Silva

Rafael Costa e Silva

“Banana Roasted on the grill on a sea-urchin cream” was another dish that challenged yet satisfied the taste buds.  At this point, we had asked our waiter more than enough questions that he just gave up and took us back to kitchen.  The lab-like, immaculately clean kitchen was heavily staffed.  I’d guess the number restaurant staff equaled the number of diners.  We had the opportunity to talk to Rafael Costa e Silva, second to chef-proprietor Andoni Luiz Adoriz.  If you visit Mugaritz, Rafael is most likely will be the person with final responsibility for the food on your plate.  When we mentioned that we were chemists, Rafael provided more details of the molecular gastronomy techniques involved in our food preparation.  I was left looking for the laboratory supply catalog that must be sitting on the shelf somewhere in this kitchen.  Rafael asked if we didn’t like any of the dishes, fearing that the staff could get a myopic in their view of their own food.  His concern was appreciated, but we couldn’t help him on this.  Everything was beyond reproach for us.

Red Mullet, a substitute dish for Becky

Red Mullet, a substitute dish for Becky

Back at the table, the savory courses began. “Barbecue-smoked scalope of foie-gras, mustard seeds and leaves,” “Loin of sole under a salted seasoning of borage and a reduction of the bones,” “Milk fed veal roasted with vine cutting embers,” and “Braised Iberian pork tails and pan fried langoustines” came to us in succession.  All of the savory items were beautifully prepared and presented.  While the courses that came before these were exotic and challenging, the savory items were more comforting and satisfying.  No need to rebel here.

Milk fed veal roasted with vine cutting embers

Milk fed veal roasted with vine cutting embers

It was time for dessert.  We had two items, “Hazelnuts, ferns, and vanilla with hazelnuts, polipodium root powder with vanilla ice cream” and “Moist chocolate cake, cold almond cream and cocoa bubbles.”  It was Becky’s birthday, so Ganesan arranged for a candle in her chocolate cake.  Um, I guess I should have thought of that.  The sweet items were good though they didn’t excel to the level of the regular menu items.

Spider Crab with Jerusalem artichokes

Spider Crab with Jerusalem artichokes

We recapped the meal with coffee under the gentle breezes on the patio.  All were agreed that this was one of our best meals, ever, ranking in the same category with the visits to El Bulli, The French Laundry, and The Fat Duck.  Mugaritz has only two Michelin Stars, which is absurd.  Ganesan suggested that Michelin moves slowly to grant the last star letting the restaurant establish a track record over years.  I’d argue that they let the restaurant get past their prime and then grant the third star.  Either way, the mechanics of the Michelin system conspire to make their ratings increasingly less relevant.  After all, the S. Pellegrino list has Mugaritz fourth in the world over the top of many three star Michelin restaurants.  And that seems about right by me.

Hazelnuts, ferns, and vanilla with hazelnuts, polipodium root powder with vanilla ice cream

Hazelnuts, ferns, and vanilla with hazelnuts, polipodium root powder with vanilla ice cream

Pictures: http://picasaweb.google.com/AnotherHeader/Mugaritz#

* The “Carpaccio” is watermelon.

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4 Comments »

  1. Completely agree that Mugaritz deserves a 3rd star, for originality, if nothing else. Mugartiz offers a unique personal voyage into food. (Like the tourist comment too – that always happens when you try 3-4 restaurants in an area – you realize you are not alone!)

    Comment by ChuckEats — June 26, 2009 @ 3:26 am

  2. I have the highest respect for Mugaritz. I can see that they work hard to be unique, have their own identity.
    As to the Michelin stars, it’s a never ending debate since this is all subjective: I have tables I would assign a 3rd star to and that others would ignore. And vice versa. I guess it’s virtually impossible to find a conscensus as to what would make a 2* or 3*. Personally, I expect a 2 and 3* star to be exceptionally outstanding in cooking techniques and work of flavors. If on top of that,it can move/surprise me, great.

    Comment by S Lloyd — September 12, 2010 @ 1:15 am

  3. […] Hearts Salad” brought a welcome freshness to the meal.  We liked last year’s visit to Mugaritz a tad bit better but both restaurants are amazing and amongst the best we have been […]

    Pingback by Spain: San Sebastian, Take Two « Another Header — November 7, 2010 @ 8:06 pm


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