In the world of culinary art, Michelin stars are the highest honor a restaurant can receive. While many restaurants strive for this accolade, only a select few are chosen each year.
Among these elite establishments is one that stands out for its unique approach to food: Mugaritz. However, over the course of the evening (or in this case, the evening courses) we gained a better understanding of the term “unique.”
Hot off the heels of enjoying another art-filled dining experience at Michelin-starred Alchemist in Denmark, we thought we were ready for anything.
What is Mugaritz?
Mugaritz is located in Errenteria, Spain, near San Sebastian. This is a Michelin two-star restaurant known for its innovative and creative approach to cuisine.
The brainchild of chef Andoni Luis Aduriz, Mugaritz has been pushing the boundaries of traditional dining since 1998, making this one of the most traveled destinations for foodies looking for unique dining experiences.
Chef Andoni has an impressive worldly background in the culinary arena, including the Basque Culinary Center and acquiring a strong understanding of nutrition and health from Tufts University.
His creativity was off the charts for sure, but given his training, we’d expect taste to factor into the equation as well. Would we bite into a Rembrandt and follow up with a chef’s kiss? The question answers itself.
Our Experience at Mugaritz
The Ambiance and Atmosphere
Set in a beautiful farmhouse outside of San Sebastien, surrounded by a garden full of herbs, flowers, and greens, the ambiance at Mugaritz is both rustic and elegant.
The atmosphere is intimate and relaxed, allowing diners to focus on the gastronomic journey that awaits them. Instead, we found the stunning environment a way to clear our minds of “what just happened?”
So What Did Just Happen?
Mugaritz offers a single-tasting menu of more than 20 small and surprising dishes, most of which are meant to be eaten with your hands. Chef Aduriz’s culinary philosophy revolves around questioning everything to move forward and forge his own path.
His dishes challenge preconceived notions of what ingredients or dishes should taste like, including edible river stones, macaroons made from pig’s blood, and edible bubbles made from sun-ripened berries and beetroot. You can see where we’re going with this.
The Service and Staff
The service at Mugaritz was exceptional. The staff is not just knowledgeable about the dishes and their ingredients, but also about the philosophy behind each creation.
We’d have to say, a better understanding didn’t help with the taste buds but acted more as a roadside warning for what was ahead. After the first few courses, you’re in it for the sake of art and it’s going to be subjective.
The staff helped guide us through the tasting menu, explaining the concept and inspiration behind each dish, which we greatly appreciated.
Overview of the Tasting Menu
The tasting menu at Mugaritz is a culinary adventure comprising over 20 dishes. Each dish is a testament to Chef Aduriz’s creativity and ingenuity, featuring unusual ingredients, unexpected flavor combinations, and innovative techniques.
The menu changes regularly, reflecting the seasonal availability of ingredients as well as the team’s ongoing culinary explorations.
While every dish on the Mugaritz tasting menu is unique, some standouts include beef lard roasted on a bone and an apple covered with mold spores. Now hang on a second, there is an explanation.
The culinary creation delves into the historical background of botrytis, a fungus commonly referred to as “noble rot,” that affected wine grapes across Europe.
According to Mugartiz’s investigation, a Hungarian individual from the 16th century made the fascinating discovery that this fungus actually enhanced the grapes’ flavor, leading to increased sugar content.
To this day, there are wineries using these noble rot grapes to make excellent wine. Mugaritz served us botrytized wines from 4 countries; France, Germany, Austria, and Hungary.
These dishes, while unconventional, offer a unique sensory experience and exemplify the restaurant’s innovative approach to cuisine. Still, we were hoping for food (at least as we know it).
Dining at Mugaritz: What to Expect
The main courses at Mugaritz continue the restaurant’s trend of challenging conventional dining norms. You might find yourself face to face with dishes that you’d never imagined, like an edible stone or a dessert disguised as a main course.
Each dish is a surprise, inviting you to explore new flavors and textures, but usually followed with a little voice inside your head saying “If you dare.”
The desserts at Mugaritz are just as innovative as the rest of the menu. Sweet treats appear throughout the meal but there are no traditional dessert courses, adding another layer of surprise to the dining experience.
The final course is bread, signifying the end of the meal in a unique and unconventional way. Aaand suddenly we were transported into a Charles Dickens novel as Oliver Twist.
The beverage pairings at Mugaritz are thoughtfully curated to complement the food. Rather than simply pairing a glass of wine with a dish, you might be guided through a flight of several vintages of the same wine.
This highlighted how the wine changes over the years even when paired with the same dish, and added another dimension to the dining experience, which lands on the positive side of our evening.
Getting a Reservation at Mugaritz
Still, Mugaritz has the reputation we crave (ranked one of the top restaurants in the world), and sometimes we’re just a glutton for punishment. We found securing a table at Mugaritz can be a challenge due to its popularity and limited seating.
Reservations can be made through the restaurant’s website and are usually open several months in advance. It is recommended to book as early as possible to secure your preferred date and time.
Critical Acclaim and Awards
Despite its polarizing nature, Mugaritz has received critical acclaim and numerous awards. While it currently holds two Michelin stars, it has consistently been ranked among the top restaurants in the world since 2006.
Its impact on the culinary world extends beyond its accolades, with many chefs who have worked at Mugaritz going on to make significant contributions to Latin American cuisine.
Visiting San Sebastian: Exploring the Surrounding Area
While Mugaritz is undoubtedly an experience travelers seek when visiting San Sebastian, there are plenty of other things to explore in the area. From beautiful beaches to historic sites and cultural events, San Sebastian offers something for every traveler.
Other Michelin-starred Restaurants in the Area
If you’re a food enthusiast, San Sebastian is a paradise for Michelin-starred dining. The city boasts several other renowned restaurants, each offering its own unique culinary experience.
From traditional Basque cuisine to avant-garde creations, these restaurants showcase the culinary diversity of the region.
Currently, there are 8 Michelin-starred restaurants in San Sebastián, so if your Mugaritz left you hungry, you have several ways to recover your foodie callings.
Final Thoughts on Mugaritz
Mugaritz is more than just a restaurant; it’s an artistic expression that challenges conventions and pushes the boundaries of what a dining experience can be.
With its innovative approach to cuisine, thought-provoking menu, and exceptional service, Mugaritz is a destination that every food lover should experience at least once in their lifetime.
It may not be for everyone and definitely wasn’t our cup of tea, but for those who appreciate the artistry of food, Mugaritz is an unforgettable journey that will leave a lasting impression.