(Note: this thread was split from the UK board at: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/972994 -- The Chowhound Team)
Phil, I know you've been to Mugaritz, perhaps recently.
We have a reservation there in mid-May but after our tepid response to Fat Duck's molecular wizardry I'm thinking we should cancel it and go somewhere else with more of a 'producto' emphasis.
Would you describe Mugaritz as similar in style to Fat Duck, in that it's highly stylized and I guess the word is 'thematic' instead of emphasizing the ingredients? I thought I would like FD more since Alinea is our favorite restaurant and Azurmendi is also high on our list and both are sorta molecular in spots, but I felt detached from the Duck meal after a while.
What do you say, cancel Mugaritz or no? We would likely either pick up one of the three stars like MB or maybe Arzak (though none of the 3*s look all that appealing) or maybe search for something more slow-food oriented like Ibai (where we have reservations) or Elkano, or perhaps something in Donibane/Pasajes San Juan.
A few years since I ate at either. But back then they were quite different. The FD was very molecular, but Mugaritz was ingredient driven and quite sparse - probably along the Hedone line. Another that is similar is Saturne in Paris if you have been there.
I saw "estufarian" recently ate at a number of basque places including Mugraitz (from the post about Azurmendi).
>> "I saw "estufarian" recently ate at a number of basque places including Mugraitz (from the post about Azurmendi)."
I can think of at least six restaurants where he/she had a totally different experience than me, Azurmendi being the latest example (you loved it, I loved it, Hayler rated it # 1 in Spain, ET rated it # 7 in the world, but 'estufarian' doesn't like it ... I sense a pattern :). And his/her dislike for Andy Hayler seems a bit odd to me.
So I tend to discount his/her opinions when I come across them. If they liked Mugaritz then I'll cancel for sure :)
Its always useful to get a sense of a posters tastes compared to yours. That said I was in synch with one poster for a long time and then he had almost an opposite experience of some Paris restaurants to me so I think its rare to get 100% congruence.
Hayler is in HK this week so it will be interesting to hear his view on the places I know well - I find him usually good but often disagree with his views on HK food.
I try to read far and wide and look for patterns - I will say Mugaritz is one of those places that test the boundaries and sometimes dishes really don't work (that said I also really disliked the liquorice coated salmon at the FD - despite loving both ingredients).
Totally valid - I 'trust' Hayler because generally I like the opposite of him (and that strategy has rarely led me astray). But the genesis of that strategy came after I had the identical meal to him, at the same sitting, where I raved and he was 'far less impressed' (in Tokyo at Ryugin). And it is a well-worn pattern - but with several dozen data points the 'negative correlation' is very strong.
On my recent trip, Akelare was by far my favourite - whimsical, creative and superb ingredients with modernist techniques used as part of a meal (e.g. the edible sand base to a seafood dish).
In second place was Mugaritz - although I found the style a bit 'relentless'. Not a bad dish in the entire meal but each dish seemed stripped down to its elements, to the point that I started analyzing (intellectualizing?) each dish, rather than just sitting back and enjoying it. Technically brilliant, but at the same time, just not as satisfying as pure pleasure. The most vivid example of this is the 'Seven Deadly Sins' course. I had so many questions (especially on the 'Greed' aspect) that I just decided not to even ask about it - I'm sure there was an explanation, but I don't want to write long essays on each course.
Third was Fat Duck. While his botrytis dessert was possibly my favourite dish of the trip, I found too many courses were just gimmicks. Just a procession of unrelated dishes that seemed to be demonstrations of what Heston could do, rather than a choreographed meal (incidentally recent visits to Alinea seem, for me, to have taken the same direction. Formerly my favourite US destination, I now refer to it as the home of 'bacon on a trapeze').
In fourth place (somebody has to be there) was Azurmendi. My biggest issue at the time was lack of aromatics in the food. Second issue was the 4 (or 5) repetitions of 'spheres with liquid interiors'. I was very struck by the colourful plating at the start, but as the meal continued the same vivid colour was in every dish. I don't recall another meal anywhere that featured so many colours (contrast Mugaritz where, deliberately I'm sure, almost no colour is used outside shades of black/white/grey and green).
I still enjoyed the meal at Azurmendi, but as it progressed my initial excitement (based on the welcome routine) diminished with each course (particularly aromatically) although the dessert portion was excellent and exciting.
Indeed I rated it on a par with Fat Duck by the end - but only after reading the PhilD review (later) did I realize that these dishes were virtually identical to his meal in a completely different season. When a restaurant 'promises' local, seasonal produce, but the menu seems unchanging, I sense a discordance and that unease led me to drop it below Fat Duck as an 'experience'.
Please feel free to do the opposite. If I unwittingly steer you to a great dining experience for you, then we all win.
And I had a great meal at Momofuku Ko a week previously. More satisfying than Mugaritz, but I still much preferred Akelare.
I have been lucky enough to be to Mugaritz twice: pre- and post fire. The first occasion easily qualified as my 'lunch of the year' intelligent, balanced, light and thoughtful. Sophisticated, yes, but not over-complicated. Sensational.
Which made the second trip about 18months ago that much more of a disappointment. Whilst there were one or two stand out dishes, my overall impression was that it had become too tricksy, too knowing and too clever by half.
If you do go, I'll be interested to hear which Mugaritz you find. Next time I think I'll be going to Akelare...
@ "If you do go, I'll be interested to hear which Mugaritz you find."
We were able to move the date by a few days to please my wife, who just can't handle so many long tasting menus in a row, so we'll give it a whirl now that there are two shorter, more straightforward meals scheduled the two previous days.
Three people who know my dining likes and dislikes tell me we won't like it - "too tricksy, too knowing and too clever by half" as you put it seems to be how they saw it too. But I'll try to go with an open mind. Can't say I wasn't warned. I guess my lack of enthusiasm for the Fat Duck bothered me enough to consider cancelling, together with my wife's concerns about over-scheduling.