mugaritz restaurant and ice cream: an affair to remember

chef-andoni-ice-cream

If someone presents you midway through your meal with a sweet cream flavored ice cream enveloped with wild flowers, cilantro and other herbs, you’d take pause.  You’d reach down to the pit of your basic ice cream knowledge (well formed for us Americans) and take pause.  Because you know chocolate well.  Many a passionate night you’ve spent together.  And vanilla goes without saying; it brings on a whole new meaning to nuts and sauces, sprinkles and maraschino cherries; basically anything with horrifying numerical dyes that linger in our system for seven years. There are even others ice cream flavors on the standard list: coffee (for die-hard, strong personalities like my seven-year old son), strawberry (for a touch of delicate whimsy), and rum raisin, (for drunken decadence and in my case, nostalgia as it was my mother’s favorite flavor).  But this?  Beyond the fact that it purposely doesn’t mark the end of the meal (huh?) there’s this, made to pull the rug out from under you and rethink your whole concept of such a basic delight as ice cream.

This is Chef Andoni from Mugaritz, of course.  Who else could it be?  And when I visited him back in June at his restaurant in the lovely northern Spanish town of Errenteria, he proudly and candidly explained the purpose of his cuisine:

“You are always on the edge between, ‘Can this be real? ‘ and the experience being real.  You are always questioning these principles.”

Chef Andoni is jovial, vibrant and infectious with his energy and passion about food.  He is also a bit of a philosopher mixed with genius all wrapped in his chef’s jacket. As we stood amongst his well-orchestrated staff in his tiny but effective kitchen, his eyes glimmered as he pointed at the emblem stitched on his chef jacket.  It is a leaf bearing a delicate central vein with smaller lateral veins sprouting out left and right.  “See”, he points out.  “That balance is even in the emblem.  That thin line of questioning runs right through the middle.”

Andoni assured me that he doesn’t strive to be like a traditional restaurant and he is quite successful at that.  For starters, I spent five hours at his place.  To wrap it up, I’ll never forget it.

I’d say the experience was more like a museum for the senses.  My guests and I began seated in the outdoor garden, bursting with beautiful flowers and calming gray stone, sitting in plush but minimalist furniture, where we enjoyed the traditional Cidra sparkling wine and were introduced to our first of many moments of double take as a basket filled with rocks was served to us.  Taking extra long sips of our Cidra, the waiter relieved us of further quiet distress (am I going to have to eat rocks here?) by explaining these were not rocks, but rather potatoes that had been cooked in edible ash. The only rock there was the warm one on top, to help keep the potatoes nice and toasty.

chef-andoni-papas

We actually did several double takes on that one because we would have sworn these all to be a basket of rocks.  But, I am an adventurer at heart, and the waiter did have warm, trusting eyes, so I decided to go for it and take a bite, and really, it was from that bite forward that I was cast in the spell of Mugaritz.

The potato was creamy, luscious and smooth on the inside, with a slightly sweet flavor to it.  If butter could be a starch, this was it.  The ash offered the perfect border to the fluffiness, a defined close with an almost dry touch, carefully enveloping the flavor into one.  A dipping sauce was offered, some creamy something or other my husband adored, but quite frankly, the potato worked amazingly on its own, even better with eyes closed.  I was easily immersed.

chef-andoni-papa

From there we moved on into the main building, a ivy-covered neutral toned space where we headed to a large round table decorated with a moving sculpture of forks, knives and spoons which the three children in our group (all under the age of ten) where fascinated by.  Now you’d think a place of this caliber would have rights to be snooty and pretentious, but the staff at Mugaritz seemed like clones of the most patient nana, babysitter and teacher in one, always kind and accommodating to the kids’ needs and completely unperturbed by their rambunctiousness, which, got a little out of hand by hour number three.

chef-andoni-mugaritz2

Dishes came and swept us off our feet with flavors.  There were so many, all boasting with local, organic and ridiculously fresh produce.  Gnocchi’s made out of a nearby farm’s Idiazabal cheese arrived swimming in a broth of Iberic ham, each of the four gnocchi’s crowned with a different herb that had been hand-picked from Mugaritz’s garden and strategically placed with tweezer precision.

chef-andoni-garden

Grilled foie gras, from geese that are locally grown and required to run around freely, were served with a fresh mustard sauce and greens and proved to be smooth, simple and explosive with flavor.  There were many more dishes that came, all at the appropriate time and beautifully presented.  There was fish and lamb and a dizzying array of local Euskal cheeses served with a delightful pear juice, the ice cream, and the traditional Spanish dessert of Torrija, which is a wonderful French Toast Extreme that in this case came with a crunchy caramel coating and a lovely goat milk cream. Even the kids got their own meal:  a tender and juicy fish accompanied by thick slabs of the Spanish prerequisite side dish of patatas fritas (French fries), only these where one-inch thick slabs that came all stacked up and ready for Lego-building action:  a definite hands-on presentation that served as an easy half an hour of food play, readily encouraged at Mugaritz.

When you arrive at your table you are encountered by numerous note cards with simple but powerful messages:

150 minutes…submerse yourself

150 minutes…rebel against yourself

150 minutes to feel, imagine, relearn, discover, contemplate.

This is Mugaritz in a nutshell: a haven of rediscovery, not only with food, but also with yourself:  letting go of preconceptions and looking at the world through a different lens.

And as for the ice cream…it was spectacular.  Better.  Indescribable really, except if it were possible to convert the most colorful and amazing firework show into a culinary experience, that ice cream would be it.  My husband was so moved by it and, of course, was brash enough to ask the waiter for a second serving (the man has no shame.) Being Mugaritz, they graciously complied.  I was dying for more of that flavor.  What was it that made it so?  The dandelion?  The iris?  Parsley? Thyme?  What?  I didn’t know but I liked to be haunted by it.  I liked to be left longing for more and I knew that is where I had to stop with this incredible dish.  I was right on Chef Andoni’s line. Craving it.  Thinking about it.  Twisting and turning the symphony of unique flavors Andoni had cursed and blessed me with.  This is Mugaritz:  a gem that will leave you more alive, more relaxed, and more thoughtful at the same time.  And whereas some will only splurge on this experience once, my husband and I know we cannot.  Once introduced, we already long to go back.

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chef-andoni

mugaritz: una experiencia inolvidable

Si alguien te presenta con un helado de crema de leche envuelto con flores salvajes, coriandro y otras hierbas a mitad de tu comida, tomarías pausa. Alcanzarías tu conocimiento de helado básico (bien formado para nosotros americanos) y tomarías pausa. Sabes el chocolate bien. Muchas noches apasionadas has gastado juntos. Y la vainilla va sin el refrán; esto provoca un nuevo sentido de locura con jarabes y cerezas de marrasquino. Hay otro sabores de helado celebrados: café (para el intransigente, personalidades fuertes como mi hijo de siete años), fresa (para un poco de capricho delicado), y pasa de ron, (para la decadencia borracha y en mi caso, nostalgia, por ser el sabor favorito de mi madre). ¿Pero este helado? ¿Más allá del hecho que esto deliberadamente no marca el final de la comida (¡eh!?) existe el helado en sí, hecho para tirar la manta de bajo de uno y repensar el concepto entero de un placer tan básico como el helado.

Este es el trabajo de Chef Andoni de Mugaritz, por supuesto. ¿Quién más podría ser? Y cuando lo visité en junio en su restaurante en el pueblo vazco encantador de Errenteria, él orgullosamente y sinceramente explico el objetivo de su cocina:

¿“Usted está siempre en el borde entre, ‘puede este ser verdadero?‘ y la experiencia siendo verdadera. Siempre se pregunta estos principios.”

Chef Andoni es jovial, vibrante e infeccioso con su energía y pasión sobre la comida. Es también un poco filósofo mezclado con genio abrigado en una chaqueta de chef. Cuando estuve en su cocina diminuta pero eficaz, sus ojos brillaron tenuemente cuando señaló el emblema cosido a su chaqueta. Es una hoja con una vena delicada corriendo por el centro. “Vez”, él indica. “Aquel equilibrio está hasta en el emblema. Aquella línea delgada de preguntar es fundamental en Mugaritz.”

Andoni me aseguró que él no se esfuerza por parecer a un restaurante tradicional y en esto tiene toda la razón. Para empezar, gasté cinco horas en su lugar. Cinco horas que nunca olvidaré.

chef-andoni-sidra

Yo diría que la experiencia era más bien un museo para los sentidos. Mis invitados y yo comenzamos asentados en el jardín al aire libre, que se revienta con flores hermosas entre muebles comodos pero minimalistas, donde disfrutamos del vino espumoso Sidra tradicional y fuimos presentados nuestro primer de muchos momentos “Mugaritz” cuando una cesta llena de piedras nos fue servida. El camarero nos alivió de la angustia (voy a tener que comer piedras aquí?) explicandonos que éstos no son rocas, si no patatas que han sido cocinadas en ceniza comestible. La única roca allí era la caliente encima, ayudando guardar las patatas calentitas.

La patata era cremosa, deliciosa y lisa en el interior, con un sabor ligeramente dulce. Si la mantequilla pudiera ser un almidón, sería esto. La ceniza ofreció la frontera perfecta, con un toque casi seco y con cuidado envolviendo el sabor en uno. Una salsa fue ofrecida, pero francamente, la patata trabajó extraordinariamente sola, aún mejor con ojos cerrados. Fui fácilmente sumergido.

Desde allí nos invitaron adentro donde nos dirigimos a una mesa grande e redonda decorada con una escultura móvil de tenedores, cuchillos y cucharas que los tres niños en nuestro grupo (todos menores de diez) vieron con fascinación. Ahora usted pensaría que un lugar de este calibre tendría derechos de ser presumido y pretencioso, pero la gente de Mugaritz parecieron clones de la nana más paciente, siempre acomodando las necesidades de los niños y completamente impasible por la bulla que creaban, especialmente despues de la tercera hora.

Los platos vinieron y nos anonadaron con sabores. Había tanto, todo hecho con productos locales, orgánicos e ridículamente frescos. Gnocchi hecho del queso local, Idiazabal, nadando en un caldo del jamón Iberico, cada uno de los cuatro gnocchi’s coronado con una hierba diferente que había sido escogida a mano del jardín de Mugaritz.

Foie gras, de gansos que andan libremente, fueron servidos con una salsa de mostaza fresca y ofrecían un sabor cremoso y memorable. Había muchos platos más que vinieron, todos en el momento oportuno y maravillosamente presentados. Había pescado y cordero y una serie de quesos de Euskal Herria acompañados con un jugo de pera encantador, el helado, y el postre español tradicional de Torrija, que en este caso vino con una capa de caramelo crujiente y una crema de leche de cabra cremosa. Incluso a los niños les ofrecieron su propia comida: un pescado acompañado por losas gruesas de patatas fritas que vinieron todas listas para construir algo estilo Lego, una distración fácil de media hora para los chicos.

Cuando llegas a la mesa encuentras numerosos mensajes simples pero poderosos:

150 minutos…sométete

150 minutos…rebélate

150 minutos para sentir, imaginar, rememorar, descubrir.

150 minutos para la contemplación.

Esto es Mugaritz: una mecca de redescubrimiento, no sólo con la comida, sino también con uno mismo.

Y en cuanto al helado…era espectacular. Mejor. Indescriptible realmente, excepto si fuera posible convertir el espectáculo de fuegos artificiales más vistoso y asombroso en una experiencia culinaria, aquel helado sería ello. Mi marido fue tan movido por ello y, por supuesto, siendo bastante atrevido le pidio mas al camarero (el hombre no tiene ninguna vergüenza.) Siendo Mugaritz, ellos graciosamente le trajeron otra porcion. Yo moría para más de aquel sabor. ¿Qué era lo que hizo esa experiencia así? ¿El diente de león? ¿El lirio? ¿Perejil? ¿Tomillo? ¿Qué?

No sabía pero me gustó que no pude dejar de pensarlo. Me gustó añorar más y sabía que es donde tuve que pararme con este plato increíble. Estaba justo en la línea del Chef Andoni. Enroscando y girando la sinfonía de sabores únicos con que Chef Andoni me había blasfemado y me había bendito a la misma vez. Este es Mugaritz: una joya donde terminaras más vivo, más relajado, y más pensativo al mismo tiempo.

Helado de Lavanda

No puedo competír con el helado del Chef Andoni. No pensaría hacerlo. Pero encontré esta receta en la revista de Gourmet, 2003, para el helado de lavanda.

2 tazas crema de batír

1 taza crema “half-and-half”

2/3 tazas de miel

2 cucharones de flores de lavanda comestible*

2 huevos grandes

1/8 cucharilla de sal

Equipo especial: termómetro para caramelo; un fabricante de helado

Preparación

Traiga la crema, half-and-half, miel, y lavanda a hervír en una cacerola pesada de 2 cuartos de galón sobre el calor moderado, moviéndose de vez en cuando. Quítalo del calor y déjalo cubierto, 30 minutos.

Vierta la mezcla de crema por un tamiz de malla fina en un tazón y deseche la lavanda. Mezcla de vuelta a cacerola limpiada y calienta sobre calor moderado hasta caliente.

Batír junto los huevos y sal en un tazón grande, luego añada 1 taza de la mezcla de crema caliente en una corriente lenta, batiendo. Vierta la mezcla de crema caliente restante en cacerola y cocine moderadamente a calor lento, moviéndose constantemente con una cuchara de madera, hasta que adquíera una consistencia bastante gruesa, como para cubrír atrás de la cuchara y se registra 170 a 175°F en el termómetro, aproximadamente 5 minutos.

Vierta la crema por el tamiz en el tazón limpiado y enfríe completamente, moviéndose de vez en cuando. Cubre y enfríe al menos 3 horas.

Ponga la mezcla dentro de la maquina de helado y sígua instrucciones del fabricante de helado.

*se puede conseguir en tiendas de comidas especialisadas

Lavender Ice Cream

chef-mugaritz-lavendar
I can’t compete with Chef Andoni’s ice cream. Won’t even think of it. But I found one that caught my eye in Gourmet Magazine, 2003, for lavender ice cream.

2 cups heavy cream
1 cup half-and-half
2/3 cup mild honey
2 tablespoons dried edible lavender flowers*
2 large eggs
1/8 teaspoon salt

Special equipment: a candy or instant-read thermometer; an ice cream maker

Preparation
Bring cream, half-and-half, honey, and lavender just to a boil in a 2-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, then remove pan from heat. Let steep, covered, 30 minutes.
Pour cream mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl and discard lavender. Return mixture to cleaned saucepan and heat over moderate heat until hot.
Whisk together eggs and salt in a large bowl, then add 1 cup hot cream mixture in a slow stream, whisking. Pour into remaining hot cream mixture in saucepan and cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until thick enough to coat back of spoon and registers 170 to 175°F on thermometer, about 5 minutes (do not let boil).
Pour custard through sieve into cleaned bowl and cool completely, stirring occasionally. Chill, covered, until cold, at least 3 hours.
Freeze custard in ice cream maker. Transfer ice cream to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden.

*found in specialty food stores

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8 Responses to “mugaritz restaurant and ice cream: an affair to remember”

  1. ChuckEats says:

    Thanks for the excellent review – you’ve perfectly captured a meal there. I do remember the violet ice cream being some of the best I’ve ever had.

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