Location: Aldura Aldea, 20, 20100 Errenteria, Gipuzkoa, Spain
Date: June 22, 2016
Cuisine: Molecular Spanish (Michelin 2 Star)
Rating: Form over Function or Concept over Taste
Mugaritz is considered by many to be the most “adventurous” and modern restaurant in the world gastronomic scene. The effective “heir to elBulli.” Recently it placed #7 in a notable best restaurants in the world. It is helmed by Andoni Luis Aduriz, who cooked at elBulli. Like Ferran Adria the staff spends several months of the year experimenting.
The farmhouse-like location is situated in the countryside above San Sebastian proper.
Metallic animalistic sculptures grace the grounds and patio.
Our first few courses (and the cave) were enjoyed outside on the patio.
Live cannellone. Sprouted chia seed with lobster ceviche. This tasted like a lobster roll mixed with a 1970s health food tuna sandwich (the kind with avocado and lots of sprouts). For some reason chia seeds are really popular in Spain right now.
Live pasta and anchovies, in vinegar. This was basically a boquerone wrapped in thin pasta. It was rather delicious actually.
Our kitchen snack was:
Now seated at the table we tried:
Lemon oyster. No dish exemplified the problems with concept over cuisine more than this dish. Basically, it was some kind of pickled lemon stuffed with an oyster. At a technical level, getting the oyster in there was cool, but the lemon tasted like Mustarda — probably because it was a pickled fruit. Maybe there was even mustard oil. It’s an odd flavor, and not for everyone. Sour, vinegary, with a sharp almost chemical like tone. Then the oyster just added fishy/briny. Really not actually a pleasant flavor at all. Presentation, however, was great.
Caviar. Actually a pretty successful combination. The rice had a very thick jelly/mochi texture.
Vegetarian Caviar. Probably actually a vegetable formed with alginate into small spheres.
Made you feel like an herbivore!
Chilled radishes and mollusk milk. Like a clam/radish gazpacho. Bracing, with cool sharp flavors.
Fried trout. Although really more a fried anchovy. A very nice fried fish. Actually as good a small fried fish as I’ve had.
Red mullet in colora. Red mullet on a pork skin/fat crisp with what seemed to be chorizo oil melted over it. Interesting textural interplay of crunch, fish, and oil. The fish was excellently cooked, and not “fishy”, and the chorizo flavor was pretty dominant.
A thousand leaves. Swiss chard carefully stacked. Basically a mille-feuille made from chard, served with a bit of grano and a meat reduction. The sauce and cheese were great, but the vegetable was a bitter green. The textures of all those folded layers was interesting, but that was about it.
2006 Costers del Siurana Priorat Clos de L’Obac. VM 92+. Vivid ruby. Deep, smoky cherry and blueberry on the nose, with notes of black cardamom and gunpowder tea adding seriousness. Chewy in texture, with real punch to its dark fruit flavors. Becomes more floral with air, finishing with solid tannins and notes of candied rose and violet. If the Miserere deserves cellar time, this demands it.
Let’s break it down.
Location and setting were lovely. Service was extremely nice at Mugaritz, but not as attentive as it could be. On at least one occasion I had to go get the wine and pour it around. Now this isn’t a serious fault, but at this level (2 star and gunning for 3) I shouldn’t have to think about the wine. Wine recommendations were excellent though, even though they were out of 2 things I wanted (older Rioja, blanco and tinto).
But how was the food? As you can see, it looks really interesting. Modern, yet not ultra “molecular” in appearance. Ingredients per dish are extremely few. Each course is conceptual and laser focused. Cooking is extraordinarily precise. All fine. The problem problem is that the concepts seemed to outweigh the experience on the pallet. Concept over cuisine. Many dishes just didn’t taste that good and only a few tasted great. They were memorable for their form and appearance only. An example of this would be the mille-feuille swiss chard. Cool concept. But in practice it was a bitter vegetable with an interesting texture, covered with a nice reduction and a bit of cheese. This should have been caught at the test stage and rejected for not being yummy enough. And there lies the crux. To me, given this single meal, it seems that Andoni Luis Aduriz prioritizes focus and creative concept above taste. Either that or he has a radically different pallet than the rest of us at the table. Dishes were very fresh, seasonal, and tasted intensely of their source ingredients, but the combinations were odd and some of those sources needed modulating.
So overall, intellectually very interesting but not actually that tasty.