One of the main things that drew me to this part of Spain was the promise of some serious high-end dining. Near the very top of my wishlist was Mugaritz, located in the low hills of Errenteria, just outside of San Sebastian. I'd heard and read so much about it, I almost felt like a meal there was necessary to consummating our trip. Luckily, we were working far enough in advance that getting a reservation wasn't an issue. In fact, the biggest issue was cramming all the eating we wanted to do into a relatively small window of time. On this day, for example, we'd already lunched at Etxebarri. Fortunately, that meal was fairly restrained in quantity and also took place several hours before our dinner at Mugaritz.
The setting is pristine. It's essentially a cluster of small buildings nestled together comfortably behind tall hedges and other lush foliage. When we arrived, we were asked if we'd like to begin our meal outside on the patio. It was a beautiful evening, so we decided to do just that . . .Mugaritz - Otzazulueta Baserria Aldura Aldea 20, 20100, Errenteria, SpainMugaritzThe Patio
The main restaurant is on the right. Straight ahead in the background is another building, where we saw some diners congregating. I'm not sure if this space is just for one party or several.Txakolina |
Mendraka 10, Bizkaiko Txakolina, Elizalde
We were offered an aperitif and opted for the locally made Txakolina. It was bright and crisp, and it paired very nicely with the early courses we enjoyed on the patio.Edible Stones
Though these look like stones, they were not. We were instructed to pick them up, dip them in the sauce pictured below and eat them. Picking them up, they even felt like stones. But, we knew they were potaotes and they were really nicely prepared. The skins were slightly crispy and the flesh was fluffy and tender. Dipped in the garlic aioli, they were delicious but they would have been great even on their own.Roasted Garlic Aioli
Next, a series of small courses were brought out to us in fairly rapid succession . . .Grilled Toast of Bone Marrow with herbs and horseradish ash
Perfectly jiggly marrow here, paired with some very tasty herbs."Fishbones" with nuances of lemon, garlic and cayenne pepper
I think this was my favorite of these early courses. Not only was it delicious but I loved the crunch and the heat from the cayenne.Marine Chords of a crispy woodwindMarine Chords of a crispy woodwind
Sea anemone is the featured ingredient in these tubes.Flax and Wheat "Kraft" Paper with marine accents
My notes say "spider crab," which is what I believe is atop the edible paper.A mouthful of flowers, dried fruits and salt grains
These gorgeous flowers, we were told, were picked from the restaurant's garden. They were inside a clear, edible envelope and adorned with unknown (to us) sauces. We were instructed to pick up the entire pouch, fold it over and eat it all at once.
As darkness began to fall, parties were escorted inside one by one. As we finished up our early courses, we were brought inside and seated.The Dining Room
This was actually a shot from much later in the evening but I figured this was the best place in my post for a shot of the room. It's a very comfortable space that resembles an old lodge but there's no wear here.Tablesetting
From what I could tell, each table had some sort of deconstructed plate atop it and most appeared to be unique.
Not long after we sat down, we were summoned to the kitchen, where chef told us a bit about the restaurant and its philosophy.Ramón Perisé
Chef Perisé passionately tells us about Mugaritz.Ramón Perisé
Chef explained to us that during the normal course of experimentation in the kitchen, the crew came to discover that pork blood had many of the same physical properties as egg whites. The idea then came to them to create a savory macaron from that blood and fill it with a creamy cheese. Here, chef Perisé serves us each one of these delectable units.Not quite the Griswolds but close Menu Board
Before going back to our table, I took a shot of this board, which I believe was our menu.
Back at the table, our meal continued. At Mugaritz, it's strictly tasting menus. We had no idea what was in store and were looking forward to being surprised. We also opted for wine pairings, and they're in italics, below the dish descriptions, which I took directly from our translated menu (except in a couple of cases, where descriptions were not given).Grapes of Melon and spiced seedsLes Galets 11, Jurancon, Clos Bengueres
This felt like a wine soup to me, with the "grapes" providing a sweet counterpoint to the "broth."Stew of lemon rinds and grilled squidParvus 11, Alella, Bodegas Alta Alella
I just loved this dish and the perfectly tender squid.Portion of house-made cheese, cured in its own rind, mushrooms and fleshy leavesMandolas 10, Tokaji, Oremus
This wasn't exactly cheese. It was nearly cheese -- and was made from milk -- but instead of being fermented, it had been helped along via the use of some oil (flaxseed, if I understood our server correctly), which coagulates it. It was tasty but I think I liked the mushrooms better.Portion of house-made cheese, cured in its own rind, mushrooms and fleshy leaves
It resembled cheese in many ways but didn't really run, even though it was warm.Ravioli of aromatic vegetablesBual 10 anos, Madeiera, Henriques & Henriques
A beautiful and tasty bite.Coastal Fish with crunchy trimmings of aged sourdough and sweet pickled onionTokubetsu Junmaishu Sake, Gipu, Nakashima Jozo Kozaemon
This dish was delicious but it cracked me up a little bit because with the addition of bread and sweet pickle, it actually tasted like a deconstructed filet o' fish.
The next course was interactive and a bit loud. I thought it was interesting that no matter where a party was in its meal, all the parties received this course at the same time. Given how much noise it created, that was a great idea. Instead of banging being heard throughout the service, it all happened at the same time. In our case, the timing was pretty good, as the course occured between 2 other fish courses."Bonding" - Toasted seeds and spices served in a mortar, and vegetable brothLurraren Hatsa, Hasparen, Etxeko Bob's Beer
We were served the bowl of seeds and instructed to mash them up into a powder in our mortars. This could only be done by pounding them, which is why it was so loud."Bonding" - Toasted seeds and spices served in a mortar, and vegetable broth
Our server commended my work. "Bonding" - Toasted seeds and spices served in a mortar, and vegetable broth
I do not know what kind of fish this is but it ended up atop the bed of powdered sesame seeds and peppercorns in my mortar."Bonding" - Toasted seeds and spices served in a mortar, and vegetable broth
Here, the vegetable broth is added, after which we ate it all up.Daily catch with acidic sprouts of amaranth and vanillaNaiades 06, Rueda, Bodegas Naia
Another perfectly cooked and enjoyable piece of fish. In this case, it was red mullet.Bread
This is actually the moment in the meal when the bread was served. That made a lot of sense because there was a lot of food but now is when one would probably want some bread for sopping up sauces.Crispy sweetbread with house-made capers, bitter leaves and artisan praline12 Volts 09, Mallorca, Bodega 4kilos Vinicola
A killer dish. Crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, these sweetbreads were excellent.A crust from the grill. Loin of milk fed lamb in a ragout of its brains.12 Volts 09, Mallorca, Bodega 4kilos Vinicola
Unquestionably my favorite dish of the meal. I loved the crispy loin and the brains were delectable, too.Selection of Local CheesesJosefina Piñol 10, Terra Alta, Celler Piñol
I liked the cheeses quite a bit but was disappointed that no one in the restaurant could tell us what they were. We asked several people but no one knew. They only thing they could tell us was to eat them from right to left, in the order from mildest to strongest.Red Fruits on crushed ice. "Moungo" pepper and eucalyptus pectin
This was extremely refreshing and the fruit was stellar.Vanilla - Fern |
faux vanilla beans with vanilla sugar and chocolate ganacheHarmonie 09, Gaillac, René Rieux
Because my wife cannot eat eucalyptus, she was served this dessert instead of the one pictured above. It was another interactive course and she was instructed to dip the faux vanilla beans into the ganache and eat them. Stupidly, I forgot to get a taste of it. A taste of subtlety. Folded linen with toasted crème fraiche and crème caramel.
It's hard to see but the crème fraiche and crème caramel were on the knives in the background. The edible "linen" is the folded element on the right in front."Traditional" almond Fairy cake
Reminiscent of a Good Humor toasted almond bar but infinitely better. "Forgotten memory from childhood." Small bite of milky wafer with lemon ice cream.
One more bite . . . it's wafer thin. Rising hand wipes
This was fun. The compressed towels were 'erected' via the addition of the warm hand-cleaning liquid that was dispensed at the table.Cocoa-dusted, roasted hazelnuts
A last little send-off . . . and the magical moist towelettes came in very handy after eating a few of these dusty gems.Mugaritz box
I really wanted to make off with the box, which contained the bill, but I knew I could never pull it off.
I really enjoyed the experience, and thought the skill and creativity of the kitchen were remarkable. As avant garde as the meal was, it was plenty soulful, too. The FOH staff could not have been friendlier or more pleasant. In the end, I didn't love everything I ate, though, I'm not sure that really matters. It was a truly memorable meal with my family in an absolutely gorgeous setting. Some might compare Mugaritz to Alinea and I think it would be a fair comparison because they seem to be cut from very similar cloths. I'd be very surprised if someone who loved Mugaritz didn't love Alinea as much or even more.
Otzazulueta Baserria Aldura Aldea 20
20100, Errenteria, Spain
943 52 24 55