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.
The menu, regular on the left and vegetarian on the right.
Our first few courses (and the cave) were enjoyed outside on the patio.
Toasted mollete, anchovy emulsion. A kind of fennel bun with an anchovy flavored butter. Nice soft textures to the roll.
“My guts are growling.” Tripe with a cheese spread. I’m not a tripe fan, but these were sort of like crispy waffles with cheese. Only the fact that I knew it was tripe detracted.
Ceviche over a frozen turf. I didn’t taste any of these vegetarian dishes but it sure looks like a patch of sod!
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.
Carrots wrapped in a baked veil. Looks like sushi.
Live pasta and anchovies, in vinegar. This was basically a boquerone wrapped in thin pasta. It was rather delicious actually.
The kitchen. Got to meet some of the chefs, and were informed that about 50-70 people work in the kitchen. Wow!
Our kitchen snack was:
Chicken chicharon. Basically a nice crunchy bit of chicken skin.
Now seated at the table we tried:
2012 Albamar Rías Baixas Alma de Mar. 90 points. A nice crisp white.
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.
Clams glazed with lemon. This riffed on the mollusk and lemon again, but more successfully. Still, it was clam with lemon curds.
Cooked Mother rice and…
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.
Garlic inflorescence. A straight fibrous strand of garlic. Tasty but…
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.
Tear-drop pea cloud. A dough not unlike a Chinese bun dough wrapped around what seemed to be salmon caviar. Mellow and subtle sweetness, a bit of brine. I enjoyed it.
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.
“Soup” with roasted vegetables. Corn meal and garlic that had to be mashed up.
Then bread was thrown into the “pot.”
And this gelatinous cube herbs and vegetables. Looks awesome.
The whole thing was mashed into a “soup.” Not exactly a soup, but an interesting smash-up.
2013 Ossian. 90 points. Same grape as Rioja blanco. Very very interesting aromatic wine.
Jerusalem artichoke seasoned with charcoal grill. looks pretty hideous, huh? Outside tasted of pure charcoal.
Inside was highly delectable. Very starchy, soft, almost like a risotto, with a bit of tomato/garlic flavors maybe.
Grilled cabbage marrows. Very soft, and also wrapped around by that char. Marrow chunks added some richness. Pretty tasty.
Lacquered sole and butter. Sole with edible bones and a butter “paste”. An excellent bit of fish. Rich and perfectly cooked. The crunchy bones were the best part, and fairly novel.
Ail glace. The paper was used here to squeeze the garlic juice onto the toast to make garlic bread.
Lis stew. Don’t know how this was a stew, or if the menu was wrong. It was yellow tomato and marcona almonds and some flowers.
Sweetbread and garlic. I’m not a big sweetbread fan, but again this dish worked. It was hard to tell the garlic gloves from sweetbreads, which was fine by me.
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.
Glazed lamb over salted leaves. This was a very tasty dish. A sort of high end lamb “lettuce wrap.” Sweet and miso-like.
Eggplant and miso. The vegetarians said this was great.
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.
Glazed shortbread. A meaty glaze on top of shortbread. The base was very dry and pasty. Combination was okay but the texture didn’t work well. Way too dry.
The cheese. A fine cheese, probably a goat.
From bitter to sweet. This was an interesting combination of sweet and “savory” flavors. It was pretty good actually, if unusual.
Kombucha mother and strawberries. These were great. Basically odd textured strawberries and cream. Too bad they were so small (we each got one).
Drunken apricot and a fresh-cut julienne. Apricots and herbs. Almost ancient Roman in vibe, but successful.
Toasted soup of oxidized wine. Shaped like the Michelin man praying for a third star.
Sadly, he didn’t taste very good. Actually the marshmallow was fine, but it was coated in some very dry, very oxidized Madeira — I like my hyper oxidized wines sweet.
The room was constructed out of local pine.
Petit fours. The seven deadly sins. This tablewide tower came in multiple puzzle box segments.
Gluttony. You had to eat it with your fingers. Corn chips with white chocolate sauce.
Sloth. White chocolate lemon balls if I remember right.
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.