Mugaritz Restaurant, near San Sebastian, Basque Country

Σάββατο, 25 Σεπτεμβρίου, 2010

This is a long due review of my visit to Mugaritz in June 2010. Mugaritz is listed as number 5 in San Pelegrino’s «The Top 50 Restaurants of the World». Michelin’s Guide Rouge has awarded him two stars for the last 7 years. Chef Andoni Luis Aduriz is considered to be one of the most exciting new chefs in the world. I had the pleasure of visiting Mugaritz in 2003 for the first time, and I returned in 2010. Originally, the date was set for February, but a mishap prevented me from going. When I called a few days later to reschedule, Amaia (the ever gentle lady in charge of bookings) told me that a fire had destroyed the kitchen and the restaurant would re-open in June.

The entrance to the restaurant is the entrance of a farm turned restaurant. Idyllic and calming. It is difficult to find without a navigator, but it is worth the try.

«I was about to remark that farm-to-table cuisine is nothing new to Americans when a waiter placed two stark white bowls on the table. One held a smooth garlic aioli for dipping; the other contained purplish-white orbs that resembled rarefied Japanese stones. These were Aduriz’s famous potatoes, which he’d spent a year researching and perfecting with his pharmacist sister, using a nutrient-rich, edible white clay called kaolin. To obtain the fantastical result, Aduriz dips little boiled Basque spuds in a mix of kaolin and lactose—which makes the coating smooth—then dries them at low heat until a brittle coating forms. Aduriz serves the potatoes in a bowl, among real stones. When I bit into one, the eggshell-thin casing dissolved into the sweet, meltingly tender flesh. I could see what Aduriz meant about luxury.»

Source: Anya von Bremzen

Clay Potatoes with Aioli (photo by "summer of innocence")

The clay potatoes as described by Anya were served in a smoking area outside the main restaurant, and I did not have my camera with me. I could not have believed that such a sumptuous aromatic taste would come from a potato! This is one of the reasons why one should visit Mugaritz. Because you visit the realm «beyond».

Artichokes sliced paper thin, dressed in Iberian ham fat. Very subtle, and aromatic dish. Its key feature  though is the texture, as the artichoke is practically raw, and therefore crunchy. One of the challenges of the dish for me was that I am used to have artichokes with lemon, and I was thinking lemon while eating it!

«RAZOR CLAMS flavoured with a rich black bean broth, perfumed with cinnamon oil. SWEET BLACK BEANS.»

I come from the school of serving the razor clams grilled with parsley and garlic. To have them like that, swimming in a sweet broth, was a big change. Eventually, I came to like it.

«Over a gelatinous pine nut cream, GLUTINOUS COD FISH and mastic resin.»

This was a really challenging dish, as it combined the belly of the cod with pine nut cream and masticha, the resin from the mastic tree on the island of Chios. Again, Aduriz turned things upside down, serving the gelatinous flesh with a sweet aromatic dressing. It worked quite well though, and it made me feel proud, because masticha comes only from Greece. There is no other place in the world where this tree grows.

Salsifi cooked in the calcium oxide to produce a self pureeing vegetable.

«I had no idea what salsify is, but it turned out to be a tuber/root that grows in the sea. I really loved the texture of this thing. Slightly chewy and tough on the outside like the skin of a roasted Japanese sweet potato (this texture reallyexcites me), the inside remained moist and firm but giving. Subtly sweet, it was accompanied by some briny cod roe that exploded with flavour and a sprig of spring onion.»

Source: A Summer of Innocence

«MEGRIM STUFFED WITH VEGETABLE PEARLS and pickled herbs. Small sautéed carrots.»

Megrim is a type of sole fish. It was juicy, firm, tasty. I loved the baby carrots.

«SKATE FILAMENTS bounded in toasted butter glace, Iberian mild sheen.»

The skate worked perfectly with the butter.

«LOIN OF DUCK. Served with iodized compliments; crumblings and shavings of summer truffle.»

This was a minimalist dish, bringing forward the taste of the duck and in the background the subtle truffle.

Braised pork shoulder with garlic. The pork is braised at a temperature of 65 degrees Centigrade, so that haemoglobin does not coagulate and the meat does not turn brown. The garlic was crunchy and mighty. I even ate the flowers!!!

«Tradition, ocean and land: braised IBERIAN PORK TAILS AND PAN FRIED LANGUOSTINES. Reduced braising juices
infused with Iberian “jamón”.» For this dish I posted a short note back in June. I think this is the dish I will ask to eat before my departure from this vain world.
«SELECTION OF EUSKAL HERRIA CHEESE. Artisanal ewe, cow or goats milk cheeses; abbey, monastery and farmhouse
cheeses; mountain and meadow cheeses…»
There is something about cheese in the Basque country, they manage to produce everything and everything is delicious!!! I sound like a primitive being, but the simple truth is this. This stuff is so good, that I cannot ever have a proper Basque meal without cheese.
Broken walnuts with cool milk cream and Armagnac jelly.Although I am not a friend of sweets, especially after my glorious cheese plate, I really enjoyed this creation, which fooled me, as I thought that the walnut shells were real. They were not!!!! They were made of chocolate.

The Wine: Mendraka, a Txakoli from the Basque Country. This steady friend of a wine, kept me going throughout the meal. Txakoli is a perfect second violin to the glorious cuisine of the Basque country!

The double face of experience.And at the end time for philosophizing. These two cards were laid on the table at the beginning, but I present them at the end. They present the two sides of the 150 minute experience.

The Threat
The Opportunity
Au revoir Mugaritz!!!


Restaurante Arzak – San Sebastian, Donostia, Basque Country

Δευτέρα, 22 Μαρτίου, 2010

Juan Mari Arzak is one of the giants of Basque and International cuisine for the last 35 years.

Juan Mari Arzak - Photo courtesy of Restaurante Arzak

His restaurant in San Sebastian is a temple of gastronomy.

I visited the restaurant in a very cold day of February, when it was snowing and the city was dressed in white. Unusual weather for a sea resort, even in the heart of winter.

My last visit was back in 2004, with my brother, Manolis and his family.

Front view of the Restaurant Arzak - Photo courtesy of Restaurant Arzak

Arzak was and still is the three-starred restaurant where you feel at home. The atmosphere is warm, service is friendly, and Juan Mari himself tours the tables and chats with the guests. The locals honor Arzak with their patronage, as he is one of them, he has never left them.  And Juan Mari makes sure he remains one of the locals, by welcoming them for the last 40 years.

Elena Arzak - Photo courtesy of Restaurant Arzak

The kitchen on a day by day basis is run by Juan Mari’s daughter, Elena Arzak. Elena is the perfect example of a professional whose fame has not gone into their head. She is smiling, friendly and always willing to discuss every aspect of the food she serves.

I forgot my camera at the hotel, and I can show you no pictures, but I will describe the dishes as they came.  Elena was kind enough to let me use some of the marketing photos that you see above.

The first dish was caramelized apple disks with foie oil on top. Perfectly balanced, seasoned, each disk a pleasure to watch and taste.

Olive powder with lobster - Photo courtesy of Restaurante Arzak

The second dish was a lobster salad with potatoes, which was superb. The key reason was the sauce that came with it, a sauce full of flavors from the lobster and spices.

The third dish was oysters with a crispy shell. Oysters were tender, subtle in flavor and contrasted in texture with the crispy shell.

The fourth dish  was an egg with infused flavors.

Sea Bass with vegetable confetti - Photo courtesy of Restaurante Arzak

The fifth dish was «bronzed» monk fish, which was superbly seared and presented with a sauce made from its stock.

Totem de Foie - Photo courtesy of Restaurante Arzak

The meal concluded with fresh foie, served in a sauce of corn and sweet wine.

There were two deserts, both a combination of cold and warm, with beautiful colors, fruits and chocolate.

Overall, this was an exceptional meal. All dishes were expertly executed. If I had to change something, I would swap the oysters for a dish with baby eels that is superb, but I forgot to ask for it, until I saw it served to the next table, to a couple of gentlemen with whom Juan Mari had a joyous chat.

Having been to Martin Berasategui’s restaurant the day before, I can summarize the experience as follows.

Martin is the Mozart of Basque cuisine. Light, exuberant, playful, endless, a creative genius unbound by convention and technique.

Juan Mari and Elena are the Beethoven of the Basque cuisine. The colors are darker, the taste is heavier, the menu items are more familiar, almost classical, and the overall experience is close to perfection, making you feel a different man.

It is not often that one is blessed to enjoy the finest of food prepared by one of the top chefs of the world. During my recent visit to San Sebastian, I was fortunate to have lunch in the restaurant of Martin Berasategui, in Lasarte, a small town near San Sebastian. The chef proposes to the visitor to taste rather than eat. This means, he prefers to serve small bites of representative dishes that he has created over the years, rather than one or two big dishes. The degustation menu that he has put together spans the period from 1995 to 2010.

Lightly smoked cod with powder of hazelnuts, coffee and vanilla.

The official name of the dish does not mention that the thin slice of the fish rests on a puree where the taste and flavor of parmesan cheese is prominent. The fish actually disolves into the puree and the combination is inspiring!

Mille feuille of smoked eel, foie gras, spring onions and green apple

This is a signature dish of the chef, one of the dishes that have established him in the Pantheon of modern gastronomy. What is quite remarkable is the balance that he manages to maintain, between the eel and the foie, which have abundant flavor and «personality» .

Salmon de Keia with seaweed, cucumber, lemon and celery ice cream.

This is a very fresh, light bite, made even lighter by the celery ice cream and the strip of lemon sauce. The salmon is velvety, full of flavor.

Squid soup, creamy squid ink ravioli, served with squid crouton

The black ball is a ravioli filled with squid ink, the crouton is a flake with ink juice and rice, and beneath it the chef has placed razor thin slices of squid. This dish is the essence of squid, presented in three distinct forms. The instruction is to put the ravioli in your mouth intact, and then crush it in order to enjoy the power of the ink’s taste. Then you water down the powerful taste with the soup’s liquid and the rest. The slices of squid add to the harmony of textures, but the taste and flavor are in the liquid stuff.

Oyster with water cress, rocket leaves and lemon grass cream, apple chlorophyll, and oxalis acetosella (wood sorrel)

Extremely delicate flavor and taste, requires meditation to obtain the depth of the delicate structure the chef has put on the dish. A very intellectual dish!

Little pearls of fennel, with emulsion

What you see in the middle is a bouquet of tagliatelle made of gelatin and fennel. It is surrounded by the foamy stuff that also has fennel in it. It is a dish that uplifts you because it is so light!

Cheese and Carabana oil Bubble with endives, red onion juice and Iberian bacon

This is a heavier dish, the bubbles are quite tasty and hearty, while the vegetables and the liquids accompany them well.

Farm’s Egg with beet root and liquid salad, lardon and cheese

The test of the artistry of a chef is the cooking of an egg. Here we have the egg (poached without the white) covered by a transparent slice of lardon  fat. On top we have pieces of beet root a bit of cheese, black truffle and the liquid herb salad. The combination is ok, but lacks focus. Of all the dishes I tasted this was the weakest.

Warm vegetable salad with seafood, cream of lettuce hearts and juice

This is a painting, a pleasure of the eye. Once you start tasting the salad, you have the feeling of being submerged up to waste level in the sea, and from the waste up to a vegetable and fruit garden. A sheer delight, the gastronomic equivalent of Mozart’s String Quintet 6.

Roast red mullet with crystals of soft scales, pig’s tail and seaweed

This is an audacious dish, the combination of the mullet with the succulent pig’s tail is incredible! Not to mention the scales, that have been turned into air by the chef.

Roasted Araiz’s Pigeon, mushrooms and truffle cream

Wonderful flavor of the pigeon, assorted by the woody mushrooms and the truffle sauce. This may have been the best pigeon I have ever tasted!

The deserts were a disappointment, after the huge satisfaction of this display of culinary expertise and creativity.

Coffee came with this nice tray of cookies and tasty liquids.

At the end of the meal, the maitre d” hotel asked me to go to the kitchen, where I was greeted by Hector Botrini, the best Greek Chef. Hector was visiting Martin as they are good friends and enjoy working together. Martin Berasategui was very polite, he asked whether I enjoyed the food and why. It is good to see that one of the best chefs of the world takes time to ask his unknown customers about their feedback. It is one of things that can keep Martin at the top for many many years to come.

Images of Donostia, San Sebastian

Πέμπτη, 11 Φεβρουαρίου, 2010

As promised to a creative and very naughty creature from the North of Greece, I publish today some pictures from the wonderful city of Donostia, or San Sebastian. In the Basque Country it is common to have two names, one in the Basque language and another in Spanish.

I can spend hours looking at this inviting bay, the Bay of Concha. This is the view from the Hotel Monte Igueldo, where I usually stay.

The small island in mouth of the bay is the Santa Clara Island, while the hill on the opposite side is Monte Urgull.

This is another shot from Monte Igueldo, and the golden sand stretch that you see on the right is the Ondaretta Beach, awonderful place to swim and relax during the summer months. As I write this, the outside temperature is below zero, so I do not think I will swim tomorrow.

Shot taken from the northern edge of Ondaretta Beach, at the beginning of the Passage to the Comb of the Wind. The Atlantic can very quickly build up a storm over the beautiful city.

And a storm it was around 5 pm today. After taking this photo and walking back about 100 meters, I realized that due to the spray of sea water my rain coat was soaking wet.

Things were not much better in the morning today. This is what I could see from my balcony.

During an interval of the multiple snow, hale and rain falls of the day, I took a shot of the Jesus Statue on Mount Urgull.

Santa Maria is the most imposing Church in the Old town (18th century, baroque style).

Storm or no storm, the Basque fishermen do not back off. This large trawler had just arrived, and was unloading around noon. the city restaurants and bar are full of the freshest seafood.

Uncomfortable bedfellows.

Kokotxas (cheeks) de bacalao! Only 24 EUROs per kilo.

The shop were I buy the bacalao.

The fish market (Pescaderia), now under enovation.

The station of the cable car that takes you to the top of Mount Igueldo.

Fragment of the sculpture «Liberte» by Eduardo Chillida.

Restaurante Rekondo – San Sebastian, Basque Country

Τετάρτη, 10 Φεβρουαρίου, 2010

This is a restaurant in «my» neighborhood in San Sebastian. It is on the steep narrow road that takes you to Monte Igueldo, where rests with the most spectacular view of the Concha Bay the Monte Igueldo Hotel (my house in San Sebastian).

It offers classical Basque cuisine and has a fantastic wine list, more than 100,000 labels are on offer at prices you think you are dreaming with your eyes open.

The clientele is at this time of the year (February) locals who want to enjoy good local food and excellent wine. In addition to the restaurant, there is a separate area for drinking wine.

Thi sis not a fancy restaurant, but the locals in San Sebastian are a demanding lot. So here we have a delicious amuse, fried vegetables and a cheese croquette.

The first dish is artichokes with fresh duck liver. The hollow area of the cylinder has been filled with a light bearnaise sauce. The liver is just divine, it melts in the mouth, full of discrete sweet flavors and juices. The texture is smooth and it surrenders to the slightest movement of the tongue. The artichokes full of gentle acidity, dressed in the light bitterness of its flesh. The sauce acts as a universal agent of redemption, smooths out the contrasting tastes and united we all go to heaven!

The following dish is an act in extreme discretion, as it is the cheeks (kokotxas in Basque) of hake (merluza in Spanish) lightly cooked in olive oil and parsley. The discretion is required when cooking the sensitive velvety flesh as it may disintegrate and break into pieces. thankfully this did not happen in my plate, the cheeks were perfect, the taste of the sea rushing into the mouth cavity, just as the rough waves down the cliff crush against the rocks. The gelatinous pieces had released their gelatin in the sauce, which was balanced and delicious.

The best way to end this meal was a plateau of cheese from the land.  I will never learn the names, but I believe that the Basque country produces some of the best cheeses in the world.

«What belongs to just one person belongs to almost no one”

Eduardo Chillida’s large-scale urban sculptures, the culmination of his artistic process, plays an essential role. In harmony with their surroundings, the sculptures take different meanings in each landscape. A clear example of this is his Peine del Viento (Wind Combs) in San Sebastián, a group of three structures that tell an exciting story related to rocks, sea and the horizon beyond. To Eduardo Chillida a work of art belongs to all of us the minute we stand before it. It makes us look at ourselves and our relationship with the environment. It passes on to us its doubts and questions in the face of the unknown. Chillida’s public sculptures are also gathering grounds, spaces for dialogue and coexistence.

“At one end of the Bay in San Sebastian at the foot of Mount Igeldo was where Eduardo Chillida placed his favourite piece of work, the Wind Comb, in 1977, with three spectacular pieces of steel anchored to the rocks and surrounded by the sea. Thirty years later, Donostia-San Sebastián is celebrating the anniversary of this magical space, which is a unique example of harmony between art and landscape”.

Source: Museo Chillida Leku

In an interview with Luis Pena, 1986, the sculptor commented:

«The work demonstrates a way of intervention in the city which has much to do with the romantic Germans, specially with Novalis. These philosophers understood nature not a something to be exploited but to be understood and interpreted.

The Comb of the Wind is then a metaphor of this attitude as regards the city…. as a symbol of the meeting of nature with the city. Of a city that ends in the absolute, which is the ocean. «

«Boundaries are actually the main factor in space, just as the present, another boundary, is the main factor in time.»

«Whatever I know how to do, I’ve already done. Therefore I must always do what I do not know how to do.»

«Nobody can teach what is inside a person; it has to be discovered for oneself and a way must be found to express it.»

Eduardo Chillida

Photo by Sonia Villegas

Enya has composed music to the «Comb of the Winds» title in her Amarantine Single.

Images from the Basque Country

Σάββατο, 13 Ιουνίου, 2009

Today I want to share some images from my beloved Basque Country.

I first visited Bilbao and San Sebastian back in 2003 and since then I have them in my heart. As I visited more and more, I started appreciating the country and not only the two cities.

The Guggenheim Museum

The Guggenheim Museum

This beautiful structure was the first reason I wanted to visit Bilbao. I became aware of it back in 1999 and put it on my list as a place to visit. It is true that the museum by itself is a good reason to visit Bilbao. Is it the only one?

The Guggenheim Museum

The Guggenheim Museum

Of course not! The Basque country is a place where you can enjoy food to the fullest, and at the same time you can enjoy nature, be it the sea, or the mountains!

Bacalao

Bacalao

Salted dry cod – bacalao – is one of the other reasons to visit the Basque country! In San Sebastian there is a shop specializing in bacalao, they sell some 20 different cuts!  The «steak» is better than beef!

Fishing Vessels in San Sebastian

Fishing Vessels in San Sebastian

Fishing is traditionally a major activity, these fishing vessels testify to the fact.

From Bilbao to San Sebastian

From Bilbao to San Sebastian

The road from Bilbao to San Sebastian is an opportunity to see the sea coast in all of its rocky magnificence, and enjoy – weather permitting – the beautiful sandy beaches.

Lekeitio

Lekeitio

The Basque people love the sea, and you can see the proof in the hundreds of boats in every small town.

Boats

Boats

The mountains are a short drive away.

View of San Sebastian from the North

View of San Sebastian from the North

The mountainous terrain provides for excellent lambs meat and wool.

North of San Sebastian

North of San Sebastian

Back in San Sebastian, you can enjoy the city and the relaxed atmosphere.

View of San Sebastian

View of San Sebastian

Ang go to the patriarch of Basque cuisine for a nice meal!

Arzak talking to his customers

Arzak talking to his customers

Juan Mari Arzak has three Michelin stars since 1973! When I first visited his restaurant in 2003, I was terrified, having the experience of 3-star restaurants in France. But the Basque country is different! In Arzak’s restaurant I felt like eating in the taverna of my neighborhood. People were normal, and Arzak obviously knew them all! They are people from his city, and they consider Arzak’s their own restaurant! Dress code is smart casual, and thats it!

Jeff Koon's flowers in the Guggenheim

Jeff Koon's flowers in the Guggenheim

I close this short journey with a bunch of flowers from the Guggenheim.

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