Travel Series: San Sebastian, Spain, Visit to Mugaritz

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.

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