A Night at Mugaritz: Top Ten
Last month, thanks to the kindness of one of my Best Friends, I was able to dine at the freshly re-opened and recently re-ranked (#3 in the world, whatever that means) Mugaritz. It was so good that I
A)promptly marked it mentally as one of the best meals of Life
B) got all hot and bothered when chef Andoni Luis Aduriz stopped into my baking class and
C) now recommend it wholeheartedly when asked which of the Big Boys deserves your $300. (Oh, Friend, how will I ever repay you?)
And since I personally find even the best restaurant reviews to be more boring than relevatory, I present you a condensed, easier to swallow Top Ten Reasons to Eat at Mugaritz.
10. It's peculiar.
What other top restaurant recommends champagne be drunk throughout the meal? My own friends from here forbade any red wine ("It kills the delicate flavors") and instead recommended three choices: tea, sake, or champagne. Okay. Weird, but I like it.
9. It's fun.
Aduriz sets the tone from the beginning. He'll be playing with his food, thank you very much. The first courses are perhaps the most playful---baked potatoes that look like stones and my favorite trompe-l'œil, the beer and olives. The beer was a warm toasted bean broth and the olives looked as real as any black olive but were made of beans. Served with fried thyme, which was just delicious.
8. The patio.
Whether you have your meal inside or out, request a spot on the patio for your first few courses. Beginning in late April, there's no better place to be. It feels like you're dining al fresco in the middle of one of those romantic movies about the European countryside.
7. Pork noodles with arraitxiki extract and toasted rice.
This was one of my favorite plates, and for me speaks to Aduriz's general genius. First, the combination of pork and fish (arraitxiki) that works. Second, the texture of the noodles that combined the two essences...just perfect. Also, the inversion of the more typical pork over rice or fish over rice. And the simple presentation: it's just a pile of pasta on a plate, right?
6.Fresh herbs and greens. Mortar soup made of spices, seeds, and fish broth.
Another one of my favorite plates. They bring you a mortar, filled with sesame (and maybe flax?) seeds, spices and peppercorns, and direct you to grind away with a pestle. Smiles inadvertently break out around the table and all the diners feel at once like children, making mudpies on the playground again, and chefs, grinding into being fresh aromas of spice and earth.
THEN they come and dump some fish broth on top, and what you were playing with becomes a soup, with an inexplicable thickness and richness. Love.
5. It smacks of Basque Country. which is more than I can say of other restaurants around.
The flavors of Mugaritz are distinctly from HERE. Other restaurants around reach farther, play with cuisines from far and away, only sometimes coming back to the basic backbones of Basque cuisine. Aduriz, however, tends to stray only when he sees an ingredient or technique that can complement one from País Vasco. And he isn't afraid to allow a stray or two sneak into the mix, like this fresh anchovy, caught that day and presented to us as an off-the-menu treat.
Or the everpresent Iberian pork. This time done to near perfect, wtih a tail served under crunchy "oak leafs". Taste, smell and sight bring to mind the countryside.
The flavors of here stretch all the way to dessert, with the Mugaritz take on the classic dessert of walnuts, Idiazabal and membrillo. You have walnuts, however, that aren't nuts but are somehow the perfect nut; milk ice cream with chunks of cheese, and an Armagnac jelly hidden in a "shell". Delicious.
4. Artichoke and bone marrow ragout served a la USA fast food: in a bread bowl.
But this one is made of kuzu flour, and reminded me of a dumpling (SOUTHERN, not asian). The waiters oh-so-kindly warn you not to eat all of it for fear of filling you up. I nodded politely and then proceeded to ooh and aah over every bite.
3. It's intellectual. More so than almost any other chef I can think of (especially from here), Andoni Luis Aduriz cooks as much with his head as with his heart and stomach. If you've ever seen him speak publicly, you know is a deep thinker, a quiet talker, and all around quite un-chef like. This could be an insult...but in this instance, it's not. It's brains with the skill to execute. At the start of your meal, you are invited, by a small paper envelope, to submit or to rebel.
You open and read the envelope, but it turns out that the one you choose has no actual impact on the outcome of the meal. Nope, that sneaky chef just wanted to break the ice, get you talking, and get you thinking about the food in another way. Perhaps he also wanted to point out how preconceptions can affect your opinion of what you are served.
The dishes are intellectual, too, at times even scientific. Housemade mozzarella with emulsified whey and a rock tea infusion. That's nature at it's most technical. And it was my Friend's favorite plate. The kicker, though? The dishes are almost never science vs. pleasure. The taste is there to back it up. To keep you interested and curious and...happy.
2. The vegetables (and fruits). I've talked about specific dishes, but it must be mentioned the special care and attention given to non-meat or fish items at Mugaritz. A vegetarian could eat quite happily (maybe more happily?) than a carnivore. Aduriz positively lavishes attention on the humble vegetable, and gives them starring roles, like this dish, a gorgeous bright onion garnished with a bit of tender tendon and tuna broth).
In this dessert, chamomile is at the forefront, and buried below are pieces of fruit from the market, each piece candied to perfection. He's adept at finding the best in each vegetable and bringing it out.
1. You feel at home. From the kitchen tour to the bottle of cava (os invito), we felt en casa the entire time we were in the restaurant's hands. Relaxing on the patio, the casual yet completely respectful and attentive service, all is created to make you comfortable. At many restaurants that's not even a goal, and at even more it's a goal never attained. So sit back, relax, and enjoy.
MENU DE DEGUSTACIÓN. april 2011, mugaritz.
edible stones. piedras comestibles.
toasted legume beer. olives, tapa beans and thyme. cerveza de legumbres tostadas, tapas de olivas y alubias con tomillo.
grilled pueraria focaccia. focaccia de almidón de pueraria a la parilla.
pickled onion, tendon and tuna essence. cebolla encurtida con tendón y esencia de atún.
fresh herbs. mortar soup made of spices, seeds, and fish broth. sopa de mortero con especias, semillas, caldo de pescados y hierbas frescas.
homemade mozzarella, whey emulsion infused with rock tea.mozzarela casera servida en una emulsión de suero perfumado con té de roca.
artichoke and bone marrow ragout, creamy kuzu bread. ragout de alcachofas y tuétano reposado y trabajado con pan cremoso de kuzu.
pork noodles with arraitxiki extract and toasted rice. noodles de cerdo con extracto de arraitxikis y arroz tostado.
silky bread stew, infused with pink geranium leaves covered with crabmeat. potaje meloso de pan cubierto de carne de buey de mar aromatizado con las hojas de geranio rosa.
filet of hake and milky reduction of stewed cabbage sprouts. luscious citrus spread.lomo de merluza servido en jugo lechoso de brotes de coles estofadas. untura oleaginosa.
textures of coastal fish. texturas de pescado de roca.
rich ossobuco with toasted lobster emulsion. ossobuco royal trabajado con aceite de bogavante tostado.
iberian pork tails, crispy leaves and toasted sweet millet oil. rabito de cerdo ibérico, hojas crocantes y aceite de semillas tostadas.
a cup of chamomile dressed with a cocoa nectar. candied fruits from the market. una taza de camomila aderezada con néctar de cacao. Confites escarchados del mercado.
broken walnuts, toasted and salted, cool milk cream and armagnac jelly. nueces rotas, tostadas y saladas, crema helada de leche y gelatina de Armagnac.
nails and flowers.