A glimpse into my world of food

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Travel Series: Burgos, Spain, "La Puerta Real"

Plaza Rey San Fernando, 9
09003 Burgos, Spain
+34 947 265 200 
I walked into this restaurant with no expectations because we had just left the beautiful city of San Sebastian and I wasn't too thrilled about being in Burgos.  The interior of the restaurant was elegant and beautiful.  We were taken upstairs to a private room, where the manager explained what we would be served for lunch.  We were now in Castilla y Leon, not Basque country, so the cuisine was obviously quite different.  Burgos is known for their blood sausages, so that was of course, on the menu. 
To start, we each got this plate of Jamon Iberico! I love cured meats but I have to say I have never had a whole plate of Jamon Iberico to myself.  Some people had different cuts from others and I was happy with mine- it was well marbled and melted in my mouth.  I finished my plate but must admit that it was a little too much, especially since I had been eating a lot of Jamon Iberico in San Sebastian as well.  Now that I am back in New York, I wish I had this plate in front of me.

Berenjena! Eggplant stuffed with shellfish.  The skin was surprisingly not tough and the inside just melted in my mouth.

This dish was a revelation of flavor combinations.  Layers of apple, bacalao, blood sausage and tomato.  Amazing.  Every component balanced each other out and it was one perfectly harmonious dish.

Extremely full by this course but this grass fed beef was quality.  The fried potatoes were soggy but potatoes in Spain are so sweet and delicious!

Delicious cheese ice cream (SO good!) with raspberry sauce and brittle

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Travel Series: Bilbao, Spain, Restaurante Guggenheim

Restaurante Guggenheim Bilbao    
Avda. Abandoibarra nº 2     
48001 Bilbao, Vizcaya
+34 944 239 333    

After a tour of the city of Bilbao, we walked over to the Guggenheim Museum to have lunch at the restaurant.  The chef de cuisine (or sous chef?) took us on a brief tour of the kitchen.

The R&D room where they test recipes.  Instead of making stocks the traditional way, they extract flavors from meat/bones/vegetables using the equipment in the photo below.

Red pepper/chick pea broth with tapioca pearls (there was a slight bitterness to it... it was sweet and savory- reminded me of something I would eat at a ryokan in Japan)

Poached egg with onion broth.  The onion broth was SO good- really concentrated flavor of onion (must be the way they extract it using their equipment).  The egg was beautiful as well.

Eggplant stuffed with onion and mushroom.  Very interesting dish.  The purple color of the eggplant was incredibly beautiful.  The eggplant was completely tender and the combination of eggplant with mushrooms was new to me but worked very well.
Smoked tomato stuffed with seafood, served with squid ink risotto.  The smokiness of the tomato was subtle, which was nice, but the dish overall smelled quite fishy.  The squid ink risotto was right on point though.
Turkey with a passion fruit glaze, served with cabbage and bacon.  The turkey was very tender and delicious but I wasn't a fan of the passion fruit glaze.  The cabbage had ginger in it, which I liked.  I got a strong taste of white pepper too but apparently there was none in it...
The dessert was absolutely divine.  Very simple flavors but deliciouuuussss.  It was a chocolate sponge cake (SO fluffy- apparently made in a microwave) with vanilla ice cream and coffee mousse (sort of gelatinous).

Labels: , , , , ,

Travel Series: San Sebastian, Spain, "Inigo Lavado"

Avda. Iparralde, 43
20302 Irun, Gipuzkoa
+34 943 639 639
After walking across the bridge from France to Spain, we headed over to Inigo Lavado for lunch.  The building looked a little out of place and as we walked in, there was a cafe type area.  The bottom floor is a concept called Singular and they serve a 12 euro set lunch menu from Mondays to Fridays and 19 euro set dinner menu on Thursdays and weekends.  The lunch is composed of a starter (choose from 10-15), main course (choose from 10-15) and dessert (choose from 8).  Basically you order your food, pay for it, then it gets served to you at your table.

Before lunch, Chef Inigo held a demo to show us how to prepare all the dishes we were going to be served.  He was a very charming and animated Chef with a lot of charisma! When I asked him whether he plans on expanding and opening more restaurants, he answered that he only wants this venue because he doesn't want to own many locations and not physically be at all of them.  But he hopes for his ideas and philosophy to be adapted by others so they can open restaurants based on these concepts.  He described his food as cuisine with personality based on traditions.  He believes in simplicity and utilizes local and seasonal ingredients. 

For the amuse bouche, we had a deep fried (in olive oil) bread dough with jamon Iberico and egg inside.  It is a play on breakfast and supposed to be eaten in one bite.  The yolk was still runny (I definitely noticed the quality of eggs in Spain- they were like eggs in Japan).
The appetizer was Milhojas de Foie y Manzana Caramelizado con vinagreta de mostaza y yogur con manzana verde (a millefeuille of foie gras and caramelized apple with mustard vinairgette, yogurt and granny smith apple).  This was a surprisingly light and refreshing foie dish and the acidity of the yogurt and granny smith definitely cut the fat of the foie.  This is one of his signature dishes. 


Jardin de Verduritas de Temporada (Garden of seasonal vegetables).  I did not have high expectations for this dish because I have had similar salads and they typically look good but taste quite bad.  But this salad was actually very flavorful and all the different components were compatible with each other.  The chantarelles were delicious! The black dirt is referred to as "tierra de cebolla" or onion dirt. 

This was Chef Inigo's play on pil pil, which is a traditional Basque dish made by emulsifying olive oil with the fat from the cod.  This cod was fried with an egg white batter.  The dish was good but I personally would have liked a little more acidity (maybe lemon) with it.

This was the dish that I was looking forward to the most! Cochinillo asado al horno (oven roasted suckling pig).  The skin on my piece was not crispy so I was a little disappointed, but I got to try someone else's crispy skin and it was amazing.  The meat was very trendy and fluffy.  

The first dessert was an amaretto ice cream (with praline at the bottom) with white chocolate soup and raspberries.  I don't really like white chocolate but this dessert was delicious!
The last dessert was a grilled brownie.  I don't think I would have liked this brownie all that much had it not been grilled but the char from the grill added a slight bitterness to the dessert that I really appreciated.  The cocoa powder was mixed with spices.
With Chef Inigo!

Labels: ,

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Travel Series: San Sebastian, Spain, Visit to Mugaritz

Otzazulueta baserria Aldura-aldea, 20, Errenteria 

+34 943 522 455

Even though we didn't get to eat at Mugaritz, I was beyond impressed with the restaurant.  I know with 
certainty that if I were to dine here, I would have a very special experience.  I don't quite believe in the 
San Pellegrino Top 50 Restaurants of the World list but the fact that Mugaritz is ranked 5th makes them 
slightly more credible.  Daniel and Per Se are ranked 8th and 10th respectively, and having been to these
two places, I still expect Mugaritz to be in a league of its own.  Sure, I haven't tasted any of their food,
and I'm not all that knowledgeable about molecular gastronomy, but there was something about it that
made me fall in love.

As we arrived at Mugaritz, we were greeted by Joserra, the Maître d, who was warm, welcoming and truly genuine.  It was as though we had been invited to his house and he brought out pastries, orange juice, water and coffee for us all.  At this point, I was thinking to myself that I can't imagine a two-Michelin star restaurant in New York welcoming us as Mugaritz did.  The space itself was also warm and rustic, and reminded me a lot of Blue Hill at Stone Barns.  

First we had a tour of their impeccable kitchen.  Mugaritz is only open from April to December, and they spend the rest of the time doing research and development and looking for ways to improve.  We went on March 10th so they were not open for business.  One of the Sous Chefs, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, explained the concept of their menu to us.  I had always dreamed of owning a restaurant that personalizes the menu for each guest but I never thought it would be possible because not every guest would be willing to spend the effort or time to do such a thing.  Here I was at Mugaritz, where the first thing the guests do is go into the kitchen and figure out what they want to eat.  They are shown all the possible ingredients and can choose to have anywhere from 8-28 courses (people typically have 16-18 courses).  On average they have 50 covers a night.  Sundays are dedicated to cleaning, which explains why the kitchen is spotless!

The wall where they write the possible ingredients for the guests to see

They have a separate station for family meal, and actually place orders instead of using just leftover ingredients.  Family meal is important to feed the morale of employees and from seeing this, you can tell that the employees are treated well.

They go to the market every day and 90-95% of their produce are from a one hour range.  This means that they use local and seasonal ingredients and can change 3-5 of their menu items every day.  Below are cod chins, one of the many ingredients that are not wanted by other restaurants but used at Mugaritz. 
In 2010 they had a fire, which destroyed the upstairs kitchen.  Below is an oak tree (symbol of Mugaritz) of friendship dedicated to the 15 Japanese chefs who donated money for them to use to rebuild the kitchen.  Being Japanese, it was heartwarming to see this, and the fact that these Japanese chefs supported Mugaritz shows me what a great restaurant it is.  Imagine if Per Se or Daniel or Le Bernardin in New York City burned down... would they have other chefs donating money?

In their garden, they plant a lot of flowers and anything else they can't find in the markets.  The kitchen staff take turns tending to the garden. 

The R&D kitchen is a very important component of Mugaritz.  They opened it 4 years ago so they would have more time to develop new ideas.  They have some awesome equipment as well as countless books.

Joserra explaining the meaning of "Muga" (border) "ritz" (oak).  The restaurant actually lies on two different towns.

It was fascinating to learn about Mugaritz' front of house philosophy and it really made me want to eat there.  When the guest is shown to the table, there is just the tablecloth and centerpiece.  No wine glass, silverware or bread plates.  The reasoning behind it is that they don't want to assume anything about what the guest will want.  The light slowly gets brighter as the meal starts.  The ambiance in the dining room is elegant but very warm, comfortable and unpretentious.  In fact, there is no dress code for the guests.  They don't believe in classic service, meaning that they don't serve ladies first or use silver cutlery etc.  The front of house staff don't wear watches because they want their guests to feel relaxed and not have to worry about the time.  I asked Joserra about the kinds of guests they receive at Mugaritz, and just as you would expect, people make a trip out of visiting this restaurant, and they are there to have the full experience, hence the personalization of menus works.

Labels: , , ,