An evening at Mugaritz, Gipuzkoa 17 August 2010

Now there’s something special with some meals. With some restaurants. With some evenings.

I’ve already written about our plan to visit Spain again after last summers fantastic experience and told you about the great pintxos in Donostia. Now it’s time to summarize my party’s evening at Mugaritz.

According to the San Pellegrino top 50 Mugaritz is on fifth place – yes for all you observant people reading it dropped one from last year and who took the fourth place if not the good people at El Celler.

I’ll just go dish by dish and end with a little thought about the experience as a whole and how I compare it to the restaurant that took it’s fourth place.

Arriving a little early, how un-Spanish of us, we took a seat in the garden. I had a look at the herbs and flowers that they use in their cooking and behind me in the picture you see their new kitchen – with all the windows – nice!

As an amuse buche we got stones. Well biting into them we found out it was really potatoes. Don’t know what kind but they were really tasty and they came with awesomely good aioli and a glass of Mokoroa 09, Getariako, Txakolina by Mokoroa.

Potatoes as Stones for appetizers

Inside we were seated at a big round table, love those, and also got a tour in the new kitchen. I’ve seen a few kitchens, both as a member of the staff as well as a curios patron and I’ve never seen such a well-organized and squeaky-clean kitchen.

Kitchen at Mugaritz

Back at the table we got two more appetizers. First some grilled paprika and then a baby squid salad served in its ink. Now we got to decide on the wine. They didn’t cater a set wine menu so we asked our very helpful sommelier for a selection that would fit both our menu and our wallet – he hit a home run! First up – Ossian 07, Verdejo, VdT de Castilla y Leon.

Baby Squid Salad

Ok, first dish. Roasted Tomato Salad and its own cool water. Best tomato I’ve ever eaten. So rich in flavor it was insane. The cool water was a kind of white tomato juice sorbet.

Roasted Tomato Salad

After that came a Silky Bread Stew, infused with pink geranium leaves covered with crabmeat. Just the smell of it was lovely. Digging in was even better.

Silky Bread Stew

Now came the favorite of a couple in our party – Roasted Lobster, herbs and dried peach. Even if I do think that lobster usually is a tad overrated this one was good. I wouldn’t say dry but a big chunk of lobster is, well a big chunk. The flavor combination was excellent though. I think this is when we got the next wine – As Sortes 09, Godello, Valdeorras, by Rafael Palacios.

Roasted Lobster

Now for a fun ingredient – Razor Clams flavored with a rich black bean broth, perfumed with cinnamon oil and Sweet Black Beans. The flavors was very delicate but when I think about the painstaking job of picking those clams by hand with snorkel and mask I wonder if it’s worth it. Pick an oyster instead. But then I’m not fair. Sorry no picture of this dish.

Next on the plate were Megrim Stuffed with Vegetable Pearls, pickled herbs and small sautéed onions. This dish was more about the clean flavors of the ingredients, as was most of the menu, and it was very nice. Nothing more, nothing less, just very nice. Next wine was Etiqueta Negra 07, Albariño, Rias Baixas, by Terras Gauda. Could be that Rias Baixas is a new favorite denominación.

Megrim Stuffed With Vegetable Pearls

Continuing on the sea theme we got Sea Bass with tomatillos and Iberian sheen. Got to love that sea bass and tomatillos was a fun type of tomatoes that looked like black currants.

Sea Bass

Now we went over to Loin of Duck, served with iodized compliments; crumblings and shavings of summer truffle. Me, I really like truffle so this was tasty. The duck itself, maybe, just maybe, a tad overcooked. It seemed like a fantastic idea that in the end was just very nice and not all that fantastic. However, the wine that was being poured up was amazing – AALTO PS 05, Ribiera del Duero by AALTO. Kudos to AALTO!

Loin of Duck

Now for the absolute favorite – Tradition, Ocean and Land they call it. Braised Iberian Pork Tails and pan fried Langoustines, reduced braising juices infused with Iberian “jamón”. Halle-friggin’-lujah, that’s what I call a surf ‘n’ turf! That pork had such a rich taste and langoustines cooked to perfection are just filthy good – there was a party in my mouth.

Iberian Pork Tails and Pan Fried Langoustines

Exit savory main dishes; enter dessert. Not my focal point in any meal but hey, who am I to pass these little plates of heavenly sweets up. Warm Artisan Tablet with whipped honey and oats – say what? Well look at the picture. Loved the honey foam and all in all a nicely put together ensemble. The dessert wine that followed was Seleccion Especial No1, Malaga, by Jorge Ordonez – great stuff.

Warm Artisan Tablet

The second dessert was the best – Broken Walnuts, Toasted and Salted, cool milk cream and Armagnac jelly. It was ice cream on goat milk that worked like a charm with the faux walnuts, eatable what else, and the fiery jelly inside.

Broken Walnuts, Toasted and Salted

The chef said in the beginning of the evening that we could switch any dish and ask for more whenever. Now came the time when some ordered an extra dessert. They got an awesome chocolate thingy like a chocolate cream or soup with a lid of white chocolate and powdered sugar.

Extra Dessert

As for all the wine, I liked that we got to try two dishes with each wine so we got the opportunity to see how the wines played out differently. Well of course you think but the thing is – the wines was so damn well matched with all dishes and that I’m impressed with.

Another interesting detail is that almost every ingredient is sourced from no more than 30 km away. The Iberian pork is apparently an exception as the Galician ones are the best. Also something that we learned when we asked if they had anything with Foie Gras, we love that shit, they told us it wasn’t in season. Silly us thought that it could be consumed whenever.

So how can I compare this with last year’s evening at El Celler de Can Roca? Well, I don’t really want to. I know that the total experience was a tad better at El Celler; the least exciting dishes was better there, the setting and service just a tiny bit better, the bread better, the appetizers more inventive but the wines was better at Mugaritz. But as I said, don’t really want to compare the two. Both evenings were truly fantastic. Go visit them both!

And by the way, what do you think – have you tried any of the above or what do you think about ranking these kinds of experiences?

Wagamama in Stockholm!

Finally! Seems like I’ve missed that every noodle loving blogger and news regurgitator already written about this but passing Stockholm Waterfront today I saw that Wagamama is coming to town. Sugoizo! Good Japanese fast food neatly presented. Can’t wait for an after work there with Gyoza, Udon, Edamame washed down with alot of Kirin or even better, Sapporo.

By the way, did you know that wagamama means selfish or self-indulgence in Japanese? My kind of restaurant I say! See you there soon…

A little gem called Grythyttan

Salmalax

We were travelling from Gothenburg to Leksand and thought to ourselves – what the hell can we find on the way. In the middle of Sweden. In the middle of all that coniferous forrest. In the middle of nowhere. Then it hit me – there’s a culinary epicentre somewhere on our way with a culinary school and a lovely inn with a renowned restaurant called Grythyttan.

We booked a night at inn and a table for the evening. The room was charming. In fact the whole town is charming. But let’s focus on – surprise – the dinner. We had a summer tasting menue that was affordable and worth every penny. They kicked it of with Cucumber Water. It was a refreshing cleanser of the taste buds with taste of citrus, mint and of course cucumber.

First course was Salmalaxsalmon from Norway famous for how the freshness is preserved. The lax was accompanied by baked egg yolk and cured cod roe emulsion. The wine with this was 2008 “Le Bel Ange” a Chardonnay by Domaine Begude, Pays d’Oc, France. Nice!

Main course was Veal Shoulder with Fried Tongue – a magnificent pairing with the tender veal and the crisp tongue full of flavour. To this came chestnut puré, butter fried apple and oxtail gravy. Wine was 2006 Pilheiros from Douro in Portugal by François Lurton. Yummy!

Before dessert we got some great Hard Cheeses from Sivans Ost. Along came honey from Mörkö, peach chutney and toasted fruit bread. A perfect escort to the dessert and well matched with 2009 Brauneberger Juffer Riesling by Fritz Haag, Mosel, Germany.

Dessert was Baked Chocolate served with caramelised malt, rosemary croutons and raspberry sorbet. Wine was 2007 Curina by Barone Pizzini, Marche, Italy.

To top an already perfect evening we made our way to the garden and ordered some coffee and avec. I also jumped at the opportunity to enjoy a good cigar – a Swedish brand called Hafströms that was a pleasant surprise. Quite potent.

The room at Grythyttan's Inn

A Spoon Full of Great Pintxos

Donostia

In what’s been called the culinary capital of Europe there’s more than just fine dining. San Sebastian, or Donostia as the Basques call it, is packed with pintxos bars. Pintxos is basically the Basque equivalent of tapas. The old town is packed with bars, the bars are packed with people and the people.

That clear cut border between bar and street and the next bar that’s quite obvious in Stockholm for example doesn’t seem to exist in the old town of Donostia. All the bars seem to melt together and everyone is stuffing their faces with everything from foie gras to baby spare ribs. Add some Txakoli, a local dry white wine, and you’re home.

My favourite tip is a place called La Cuchara de San Telmo, the Spoon of San Telmo. Very crowded, as all the other bars, but the pintxos are awesome. We tried the sweetbread croqueta, an amazing cod and spare ribs to die for. We missed the foie gras but hey, the people at Mugaritz informed us that it’s not in season now anyways so I guess we have to return. Soon.

A bar full of pintxos

Dining in Istanbul

View from the Bosphorus

Me and Lisa was down in Istanbul before summer. Basically to jump start the summer but also to experience the city so many spoke so highly of. It’s suppose to be the worlds fifth largest city in the world not counting suburbs.

During the long weekend we stayed at the W which was a real treat. As always we wanted to dine our way through the city and here’s what we found.

The best dining in Istanbul are the local gems. Whether it’s a backstreet in Beşiktaş or around the Grand Bazaar you can always find a good charcoal grill. For dinner we went to one of the best – Köşebaşı. Great grilled meats and mezes matched with some nice local red wines.

Two more posh places were recommended. The first, Vogue, was ok. They had good sushi and decent entrees. All in all it was a tad overrated and thus overpriced. The second, 360, was lousy as a restaurant but picked up more points as a club. The food was so so, the service was worse than average, the cocktails was a joke but the club had a good DJ so with a few beers the night ended well.

Fresh fish

A Good Restaurant in Córdoba

The Mezquita in Córdoba

Stepping out of the car and into the oven that was Córdoba we realized that the day needed to be divided into brief walks between anyplace air-conditioned. The Mezquita was amazing but I’ll focus on the lunch we had.

If you’re in town go to El Caballo Rojo, just of the side of the Mezquita. The service was very good, the facilities comfortable and the food interesting and well prepared.

When in Andalucía, try the local variety of Gazpacho called Salmorejo and that’s just what I started with – it was one of the best I tried in Andalucía.

Lisa and I then shared entrees. First one was a Mozarabic inspired cod with cinnamon. Just enough sweetness to go with a great fillet of fish. Since we’re in bullfight country the second one was ox tails. They were very tender in a boeuf bourguignon type of way.

I should also mention that we got a dry, cold, fino when we arrived – a perfect start on a lunch on a hot day.

A place I was recommended but didn’t got the chance to test was Casa Pepe (de la Judería).

More restaurant experiences coming up…

I’m spoiled

Once you try something that is of a better quality than what you’re used to you widen your perspective of that certain thing. You realize what the experience acually could or should be like. When you after that strive for the better stuff the usual stuff you once was used to doesn’t quite cut it anymore. It could be a pair of shoes, a hotel room, wine or like tonight a steak.

I used to think the normal steak wasn’t that exciting really, more often than not a bit tough and in need of a sauce to lift the taste from ok to good. For a while now, every time the meat has been the centerpiece of the meal, I’ve been buying some really nice pieces and it’s been fantastic, totally worth every penny.

Tonight I decided to cook some nice beef but just ran down to my closest grocery store and bought what was left – a ‘normal’ steak. A quick turn in a hot pan and then slowly cooking it in the oven usually results in a great experience with a nice piece of steak. But not tonight, it was that old type of experience. It looked perfect but it just wasn’t good enough. I’m spoiled.