San Sebastían and environs recap (8-10 June) . . . including Mugaritz
MUGARITZ (Lunch, 8 June) Not much needs to be said by way of background here, and needless to say, we were all looking forward to this . . . but no one was blown away by our meal here. Indeed, I can think of several places we ate at previously on our travels that I would return to ***before*** returning to Mugaritz. Now let me quickly add that the meal was NOT bad at all. The service was outstanding, and because we were traveling with Susan Spicer, we were taken back to see the kitchen (or maybe everyone is; who knows). I am very glad we ate here, but -- as I said -- no one was blown away. We liked the "playfulness" of the menu, and some of the dishes (the crispy fish bones; the combination of teeny, tiny baby peas and white fish eggs) were outstanding! But a couple of the dishes missed, and missed badly -- like someone at bat with the bases loaded with two outs, only to swing wildly at three bad pitches in a row -- it was surprisingly disappointing. Now, I will quickly grant you that -- sticking with the baseball metaphor -- Babe Ruth struck out a lot, but he also homered a good deal. In other words, the dishes that missed missed by a mile. Not even close, at least one bordered on the inedible; indeed, I don't think anyone finished it. I am glad they take risks in pushing the boundaries of what one expects, but it still has to taste good -- and too many courses did not.
THE MAYFLOWER (Dinner, 8 June) Located in Getaria, the fresh sardines, anchovies and grilled squid were excellent. Paired with bottles of Txakoli, this was one of those times when it was really hard to beat (relatively) simple fare prepared simply but expertly. Very nice.
GASTRONOMIAZKO EUSKAL ANAIARTEA / COFRADIA VASCA DE GASTRONOMIA (Lunch, 9 June) OK, this doesn't really count, as we hit the local markets and then cooked with Chef Iker Uranga, but -- damn! -- was it good.
Dinner that evening was bar-hopping from one Pintxos bar to another -- could not tell you all the places we hit, but it was a lot of fun . . .
RESTAURANT NERUA (Lunch, 10 June) Located inside the Guggenheim in Bilbao, this was a classy Michelin 1-star that was innovative, stylish, creative AND delicious -- exactly what we were hoping for from Mugaritz. Definitely worth a return visit.
Dinner was another Pintxos crawl . . . yum! Ended up at the Museum of Whisky -- WOW! Definitely worth a visit -- not only an incredible selection of whiskies, but one of the best Gin & Tonics ever!
Totally agree with the Mugaritz experience, they really pushing the boundary but in terms of deliciousness, it really hit and miss. Andoni is regarded as chef's chef for being brave enough to put his food philosophy first, i just always wonder maybe only professional chef or food writer can appreciate his food better.
I went to Mugaritz recently, choosing between Mugaritz, Arzak, Akelare and MB, just like so many foodies here on CH. Knowing that it's more experimental than the others and that I'd be getting a hit and miss dinner instead of the "wow, terrific from start to end, not a single bad dish"-experience, I went there since I thought a restaurant like this could be doing some seriously interesting stuff and reach new highs.
I came away disappointed.
The bread was terrible, it reminded me of a simple french bistro that didn't care much specifically about the bread. While indeed having very creative dishes otherwise, some of them tasted pretty weird. Grease and salt balance was off lot and a few dishes hardly had any taste at all. I'll admit that I came here largely cause it was ranked 3rd on the "World's 50 Best" but I don't think this restaurant holds a candle to Noma (in many ways it felt a little like a Noma clone that happened to be located in Spain). Very expensive for a two star restaurant but that was expected.
I thought I was the kind of foodie who was ready to switch some good tastes for a large dose of experimenting but Mugaritz was just no fun. I got a reminder that food should still be at it's very core, food, in the end. I'm sure that they'll continue to fare well in lists like "World's 50 best". That list (or that segment of the restaurant business to be more specific) is lot into this kind of thing.