As we were lying down on the golden sands of La Concha Beach in the city center, the sun was about to set…
We were all surrounded by the people who were genuinely happy. They seemed not to have any worries or any problems. They were just enjoying the moment, warm as the sea…
They say the smile is contagious. We, too, basked in the sundown for a while with a warm smile on our faces, and then headed to the French border of San Sebastian. Because the last stop on our trip would be for the dinner at Mugaritz.
The Secret Lodge in the Forest
Andoni Luis Aduriz is the chef of the restaurant which was opened in 2008.
As he defines the restaurant as “techno-emotional”, his background reveals why he prefers these words. After working for the legendary restaurant El Bulli under the father of molecular gastronomy, Ferran Adrian; a brilliant student, Aduriz started his own restaurant Mugaritz in a few years. He’s been reworking the Bask cuisine, blending it with the Avant-garde cuisine without destroying its harmony. The main principle of the restaurant is to “appeal to emotions”. Obviously it is thought that the two-starred restaurant has been doing its job just fine, it got the 6th place this year in “The World’s Best Restaurants” as a long-standing member.
Within a 20 minutes driving distance of the city center, the restaurant is hidden behind Gipuzkoa hills like a child. You may need to resort to a navigation device to find it. The restaurant is a chalet made of stone and wood, and situated in a huge park. There is a little cottage on the right of the restaurant intended for the coffee and digestive session. This little room is heated by a big hearth burning only oak (as the restaurant was named after a giant type of oak already). We skipped the coffee session because of the heavy rain while we were heading out of the chalet.
When we got into the restaurant, the tables were just empty! There was no either fork, spoon or a glass… Before we started the dinner, we were invited for a detour in the kitchen and headed towards the space-lab-like room where 35 chefs from all over the world were incessantly working to cook and create.
In every restaurant I’d visited in San Sebastian, the executive chefs generally visit their kitchen at least during the lunch or the dinner hours if not both. I found it interesting that the Chef Aduriz didn’t visit his kitchen on a busy day like Saturday despite the fact that he was present in the village at the time. On behalf of him, the R&D (Research and Development) and Creation Chef Ramon Perisé accompanied us for the tour. We had a chat on the theme of “the permanence of the emotion of a meal rather than its taste” before we got back to our table.
Although the conversation ended and we returned to the table, it was still not laid. In a short while, the waitress showed up with the first dishes and the glasses. Although, we still didn’t get any fork or knife. The reason was the amuse bouches were all “finger food” which means we were bound to eat them with our fingers.
The first dish was a dozen smeared radishes served on the top of some grass which was enriched with a sauce made from olive oil and blackberry. In terms of taste and presentation, it reminded me of the starters of Noma in Denmark and Alancha in Alaçatı. As I liked the dish, I was set to wait for the second one.
Kokotxas (made from double chin of cod) came in between layers made from pop-corn. In the first place, it was not quite appealing but we were still excited to try. Yet, with the first bite came the first frustration.
The following amuse bouche was “7 Spice Rattle” which was composed of a variety of spices sourced from 7 different regions of the world. This little white ball was intended for the auditory senses; hence when we shook it, it sounded like a rattle snake. When I took the first bite, its taste was quite neutral. Although I hesitated to call it a bad one, the dining experience obviously started to go mediocre.
Chicken concentrate was enriched with so-called pesto, a mixture of basil and tomato and placed inside a roll made from gluten. Its aftertaste was like a tasteless jello.
Duck neck was coated with duck skin and lacquered with a special mixture, then wrapped around a variety of greenery. With its fine taste in parallel with its presentation; it sort of started to boost our overall dining experience.
The next dish was a toast of roasted crusts made from crispy pig tail. It didn’t stay long though since nobody at the table liked how it looked or the idea behind the dish.
You should note that there was nothing but only the glasses until the mains. Finally with the first main dish came the first fork. But the fork was exceptionally made of edible pearl. It came with smoked eel mousse garnished with edible flowers. When we were done with the main dish, we munched on our edible forks.
The following dish came with an Americanized presentation. First a mortar with some nuts and peanuts in it arrived at the table. They wanted us to grind them with the pestle. When it was ground enough, they poured some squash cream into the mortar. Although it is a nice idea to include the visitor in the experience of cooking; yet it doesn’t feel good when the restaurant turns into a construction yard with all the noise coming from the mortars. Since I lost my hope for a fine taste and I was sure that nothing good would come out of this messy mixture, I rejected my mortar and began to wait for the next dish.
Finally, fresh porcini with perfumed consomè was a relief to my palate just as the dinner was officially going bad.
On top of the next dish, costal fish, the fins and skin were served in a crispy form. The costal fish was boosted with costal herbs and reached an average taste.
With its Catalan cream, chicken and lobster was another dish with a neutral taste that it didn’t leave a discernable taste on my palate.
The following arrival was steak tartar, which I can say was one of the best of the night. It came with some caviar on the top. Although they said the caviar was real, I still felt like it was the creation of the molecular cuisine. But still, I liked the harmony the caviar created with the meat.
Grill smoked duck foie gras was accompanied with “idiazabal”, the renowned cheese of the Basque region. With small pieces of the cheese made from non-pasteurized lamb milk, the foie gras made me think of “How would such a mighty combination taste as neutral as this?”
Black banana stuffed with shrimp paste has an above-average taste although it didn’t look that appealing.
The last main dish was eucalyptus smoked lamb neck. It was accompanied by a creation of molecular cuisine: edible wool. Those who follow my blog would know how much I love lamb meat. Despite this, its taste left me hankering after the ones served in Turkey.
In the dessert session, the first one tasted like sorbet. In terms of being the best of the night, it could compete with steak tartar. The sorbet-ish ice cream was made with late-harvest apple chippings and lamb milk.
The second dessert was edible handkerchief. It was one of the dishes I took only one bite from. A vague lemon taste of the dessert couldn’t stop me from calling it a neutral taste.
Edible handkerchief was followed by “cronut”, a combination of croissant and donut. It arrived at the table almost frozen and smoking like ice. Flavored with caramel and chocolate, the dessert got a good mark from everyone at the table.
Crispy croquette was another delicious dish, filled with cheese and served hot.
“7 deadly sins” was the last dish of the night. As its name was a tribute to the seven deadly sins in Christianity which are lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, pride; the dessert was served in wooden dishes, one over another. It was an interesting end to the night with different types of truffles, cacao and peanuts mixed together.
Grappling with Techniques at the Expense of Tastes
In a nutshell, Mugaritz is interested in the emotions left after the meal rather than their tastes. But, could this be the right attitude?
With his words in an interview, “I don’t give the customers what they want; whether they like it or not, I offer them what I think is the best. I don’t worry about being liked, I only think I should do a good job. Otherwise, I cannot be honest,” Anduriz looks like he’s been carried away with the experimental cuisine.
If you ask me, the real problem is with the position the restaurant assumed after its second star in 2006. Because, until that day, Aduriz was also offering traditional dishes, but following the second star, it was imprisoned in the idea of “constantly creating novel and interesting things” grappling with the techniques and moved away from the tastes. Nowadays, people call Mugaritz a “research and development center” rather than a restaurant. Is the result any different somehow? Yes it is. But is it any tastier? No!..
Of course the effort behind Mugaritz cannot be ignored. We need to respect that. Although I’m always open to new tastes, at the end of a night filled with tastes that didn’t agree with my palate, all I can say is “the taste was not enough despite all the effort given!”
Bon appétit and enjoy the taste of life…
Aldura Aldea, 20, 20100
Errenteria, SS, İspanya