: Latitude: 43 degree 16 minutes 22 seconds North (43.27278)
Longitude: 1 degree 55 minutes 4 seconds West (-1.9178)

Phone: 943 522 455 or 943 518 343

You cannot mention Mugaritz without making a reference to el Bulli. Any food lovers of the world has come to known the best restaurant in the world, el Bulli and its best chef in the world, Ferran Adria. There is no understating the influence and impact that is Ferran Adria and el Bulli. Aspiring chefs flock to its kitchen to train under the master of molecular gastronomy and food enthusiasts would do anything to beat the 2 million requests for 8000 seats odds. Unfortunately, we did not do enough and ended up on the 1,992,000 side of the odds even after trying to make the reservation a year in advance. One of the main reason we decided to have our Spain trip sans el Bulli is because of Mugaritz and its chef. The chef/owner Andoni Luis Aduriz, was a protégé at el Bulli, and he is also trained at some of the best restaurants in the world ie Arzak and Martin Berastegui before opening Mugaritz ten years ago. He’s curious, ambitious and amazingly talented, which is why the restaurant quickly made its way up the pantheon of greatness, the more recent accolade being a #4 on S.Pellegrino’s World Best 50 restaurant chart in 2008 (including Chef's Choice). The food at Mugaritz can be described as part science and part nature, with all kinds of high tech gadgets utilized by young talented chefs (average age of 28) to experiment and create food that brings out the best flavors in the ingredients which challenges both visual and sensory perception, while paying respect to natural ingredients. Their goal is to evoke reaction and emotion, at the same time provide sensual gastronomic experience.

Herb and edible flowers garden

We focus mostly on flavor and taste of the food when having a meal at a restaurant but it is worth mentioning here that the service at Mugaritz is notable. We were especially pleased that Chef Aduriz is willing to give the diners a glimpse of his sacred kitchen. It was in the kitchen where we also met Mugaritz's visiting previous head chef, Dan Hunter, who now runs the kitchen of Royal Mail Restaurant at Dunkeld, a town 3 hours drive from Melbourne Australia. The current head chef at Mugaritz is Llorens Sagarra, who was there to greet us as well. The staffs in the dining room was most graciously helpful despite the language barrier. The head waiter, Jose Ramon, is a sweetheart. He gave us a tour of the kitchen, as well as some souvenirs from the restaurant.

mmmmmmmmmMugaritz dining room

During our 12-course Spanish alta cocina (high cuisine) lunch, we were constantly at awe of the visual appearance and the taste and texture of the food presented. The restaurant’s trademark dish, “rock potato” looked just like real rocks in the basket, but the clay covered potato skin has nice crunchy texture, while the potato itself is moist and soft. The watermelon Carpaccio, which is the restaurant's most popular dish, was just plain amazing. It took us a while to realize that the Carpaccio was in fact thinly sliced watermelon and not some kind of meat or fish. It was one of our most delicious and memorable dish we've ever had.

Clay potatoes with real rocks

Mamia - walnut with raw sheep milk custard

Lamb kidney with caramelized onions with edible flower

CARPACCIO accompanies by a sweet and sour dressing, D.O. Idiazabal cheese chippings and vegetables splinters

KOKOTXA DE BACALAO (chin of the fish) cooked in its own gelatin with acacia honey

HEART OF BABY LEEKS roasted over vine cuttings and bathed in a stock infused with molusks. Crushed citrus fruit (with razor clams)

The barbeque-smoked scalope of foie gras demonstrated the ingenious creativity of playing texture, having the outer layer of the foie gras mimicking those of a scallop. It was also widely reported that Chef Aduriz had spend some time in a university hospital liver transplant unit to study the cell structures of duck livers. Talk about dedication bordering on obsessiveness. You can also see him pay homage to his birth region of Basque with the "ocean and land" dish with a twist. The braised Iberian pork tails and pan fried languostines with reduced braising juice infused with iberian jamón was very hearty and satisfying. Then there was the famous coal meat, where a piece of Milk Veal was roasted and coated with edible vegetable coloring to produce a piece of coal-look-alike, when it is in fact a piece of meat. The charred twigs were actually crisp radishes. This dish was one of the most complex dish we had ever had and yet one we can easily relate to. Chef Aduriz had mentioned before that one of his childhood taste was the smell of the coal used for cooking lamb when he went to his father's village (Tony's trademark question on No Reservation). The visual impact from the black coal like looking veal and the charred smell of coal would no doubt recall the memory of countryside. But yet, nothing says more than urban sophistication of the technique used to produce this food when you cut through the black coal-meat and see the white-milkishness color of the baby veal. The taste was almost secondary at that point, but it did not fail to deliver. Full savory goodness. It was truly, an assault on all the senses.

Barbeque-smoked SCALOPE OF FOIE GRAS, mustard seeds and leaves

LOIN OF SOLE, under a salted seasoning of chicory leaves and a reduction of the bones

SAUTEED RED MULLET FILLETS served iver a vegetables and liver stew

A PIECE OF MILK VEAL, ROASTED AND PERFUMED, WITH VINE CUTTING EMBERS and fragments of thyme, cinders, salts and crisp radishes

Tradition, ocean and land: braised IBERIAN PORK TAILS and pan fried LANGOUSTINES. Reduced braising juices infused with iberia jamón

The most amazing dessert we had for the night was leaves, fruits and flowers. Fruit juice was infused into ice frost and the result was intensely flavored yet refreshing dessert. The moist chocolate cake with bubbles was fascinating and especially when we found out that the bubbles were made with xantham gum and a modified fish tank bubbler.

LEAVES, FRUITS AND FLOWERS: "Sagasti solla lotan, abar makur naspil, zelaiek, orbelpean, ametsetan Orril, txori gaxoei aztu gau latzaren urbil, aizenoa lillurak otxanduta dabil". Xabier Lizardi (1931) lzotz-ondoko eguzki

WARM PUMPKIN BUTE with sweet and bitter accents

MOIST CHOCOLATE CAKE, cold almonds cream and cocoa bubbles

Carrot dessert

Kitchen tour: Met Chef Aduriz and his previous ex head chef, Dan Hunter, who nows run the Royal Mail Restaurant at the Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld, Victoria, 3 hours drive from Melbourne

Chef Aduriz waving good bye from his kitchen

It is said that over 75% of the diners in Mugaritz are from all around the world, who like us, planned our vacation to San Sebastian to eat at the restaurant. One of the most common gripes on Mugaritz, just like Etxebarri, is the experience of getting there. Hmm.. maybe that is the secret to their success; artificially induced anticipation which is later soothed and rewarded with great countryside scenery and well executed food. The morning before heading to Mugaritz, we actually spent 2 long hours in the hotel room searching for the location of the restaurant since it’s situated in the mountains and does not have an actual address. Think Long/Lat conversion, Google map and GPS navigation on rental cars. Calling the receptionist at the restaurant didn’t help much since she spoke very limited English. We feel most of the reason why people had trouble getting there was because they used a P.O. address which is in the nearby town, Errenteria but the restaurant itself is up in the mountains where the streets have no name. But we managed to pin down the location of Mugaritz in the end, and the trip there and dining experience at Mugaritz is something we would remember for a long time.

Sarah and the trusted rental VW with GPS, without which we won't be eating this well in San Sebastian

The countryside

Amai Tea & Bake House - CLOSED


171 Third Avenue, New York

Phone: 212-863-9630

Amai tea and bake house is tucked away from the high traffic area of union square and it's a rare sanctuary and an oasis for city folks looking for some peace and quiet time. At Amai, you can sit and slowly enjoy a cup of soul calming tea and delicious bake goods such as croissant, tea flavored cookies, puddings and cupcakes. We love the cha cha chai tea and green tea cupcake here at Amai Tea House - very high quality tea and extraordinary green tea cupcake.

From left to right: Green tea cupcakes, yuzu cupcakes and chocolate cinnamon cupcakes

My cup of cha cha chai tea and green tea cupcake

Amai Coffee & Tea House on Urbanspoon

Sushi of Gari


402 East 78th Street, New York (btw 1st Ave and York Ave)

Phone: 212-517-5340

The art of sushi making is such a traditional one that few classically trained sushi chefs (the purists) dare to stray away from its techniques, but not Masatoshi "Gari" Sugio. Gari has been creating avant-garde sushi at his restaurant (he calls it Avan Gardo Japanese Cuisine on his website), Sushi of Gari, in New York since 1997, as part of his attempt to adapt to his American customers’ taste. Among his more famous creations: salmon sushi with onion cream and roasted tomato, marinated tuna sushi with tofu mayo, grilled toro with jalapeno sauce etc. There are also the use of unusual sushi ingredients such as pine nuts, arugula, jalapeno and fried lotus root. You can be sure that each piece of sushi you eat is packed with flavors that complements the fresh fish perfectly, delivering enormous satisfaction and a happy fuzzy feeling after eating it. Aside from that, you can see techniques used such as torching of some of the raw ingredients or a strong sauce (ie: uni/sea-urchin sauce) to mask the aroma of raw-ness. Even the knife skills are used to alter the sensory perception of the texture of the underlying commodity. Sushi of Gari tries very hard to make its sushi accessible to people of different cultural sensitivities in food.

It was our first time at Sushi of Gari after a long time prodding from our regular yaokui buddies (CP and WY), so we went with their famous omakase and it turned out to be quite an eye opener. Our sushi chef Tomo san (who looks eerily familiar to another friend of ours, HJ), is a quiet man, but very skillful in creating sushi. Watching him make the sushi with the assortment of pre-prepared sauce bottles and his delicate and high precision knife skills was an enjoyable experience. There’s definitely a big contrast between the sushi at Sushi of Gari and Sushi Yasuda. One’s avant-garde while the other is traditional. We like the traditional sushi a lot but we also adore the "avan gardo" sushi at Sushi of Gari. They are spreading their experimentations and sushi evolution through their 2 other locations at Sushi of Gari 46 and Gari (NYC West). There's even a location in Tokyo's Minami Aoyama. As an option, you can try Sushi Seki, which is from the school of Gari (Chef Seki worked with Chef Masatoshi Gari previously). We had our fix at the original "headquarters" of the Sushi of Gari empire at the Upper East side. Although very pricey, Sushi of Gari is definitely a must try for any sushi lovers out there.

20 pieces of heavenly sushi from chef's omakase (click on pic for full size)
clockwise from top left: red snapper with arugula salad and fried lotus root, torched cod fish, seared salmon, yellowtail (a type of hamachi) with jalapeno sauce, tuna (maguro) with tofu mayo, shabu-shabu snow crab

clockwise from top left: sliced big clams in basil sauce, toro diced with yellow pickled radish, torched squid (ika) and uni sauce, diced tuna (maguro) with seaweed (nori) tempura, salmon with onion sauce and torched tomato, sweet shrimp (ama-ebi) ceviche

clockwise from top left: fried oysters, egg (tamago), grilled fatty tuna (toro), diced sea eel with avocado, lobster, torched uni, fresh kumamoto oyster, mackerel with pickled turnip and shisho leaf

Aside from the sushi, the bread pudding with caramelized banana and vanilla ice cream at Sushi of Gari is not to be missed!

Sushi of Gari on Urbanspoon



Avda. Alcalde Jose Elosegui, 273, 20015 Donostia-San Sebastian


Phone: 943 278 465 / 943 285 593

After our 3-hour long, 12 courses purist style lunch at Etxebarri, we headed back to San Sebastian to get ready for our dinner at the famous 3 Michelin Star restaurant Arzak. Of course we were still full from our lunch at Etxebarri, but nothing can stop the yaokuis from their gastronomy exploration.

The chef/owner of Arzak restaurant, Juan Mari Arzak, along with Pedro Subijana of Akelarre restaurant are actually the founders of New Basque cuisine or Nueva Cocina Basca. Juan Mari Arzak was trained under the Trigois brothers, and it’s only natural that he (along with Pedro Subijana) lead the way in the modernization of Basque cooking, the same way the Trigrois brothers, Paul Bocuse, Alain Chapel and Michel Guerard did for Nouvelle French cuisine. We chose Arzak over Akelarre, since we only had so much time in San Sebastian, especially with the top restaurants there closed on Sundays and Mondays. But Akelarre’s menu looks really interesting as well.

Arzak restaurant has been around since 1897 and it was originally a wine tavern inn started by Juan Mari’s grandparents, before turning into the most popular restaurant in the area. It has been passed down from one generation to the next, with Elena Arzak (who used to work at El Bulli) being the 4th generation to run this place. What amazes me about the restaurant is that it has been successful in keeping the 3 Michelin Stars it was awarded since 1989.

The food is Basque but modern and avant-garde; we came across interesting flavors and new taste that we have never had before. The secret behind all these is Arzak’s own flavor library, where they store new ingredients/spices/flavors creations in hundreds of small containers. Wished we had requested to take a look at the flavor library when we were there!

The Manzana con aceite de foie, Ostras vegetables, Bogavante con aceite de oliva "extra blanco “and Sopa y chocolate "entre vinedos" were some of the highlights of the dinner. Manzana con aceite de foie (foie grais and apple) is a common combination but Arzak's version is presented beautifully in a nice bite size portion. Ostras vegetables (Oysters with vegetables) was a different take on the traditional basque dish gambas (shrimp) and vegetables. The Bogavante (lobster) con aceite de oliva "extra blanco “ was wonderful and reminded me of lobsters with oyster sauce and caramelized onions in Chinese cooking, and the chemical reaction between the sauce and the powdered olive oil was fun to watch! I also really love the Sopa y chocolate "entre vinedos” dessert. I wouldn't normally associate basil with dessert, but the basil sorbet was really refreshing.

We did not eat at Arzak when Juan Mari was running the restaurant, but the food under Elena is noticeably feminine and pretty. There were lots of colors and playful presentations and most of the dishes came out looking like art pieces.

Aside from the food, Juan Mari Arzak and Elena Arzak are definitely the biggest attractions of the restaurant. We had no idea that we would get to meet both chefs when we were there. But when we first arrived, Elena came and greet us personally and chatted with us for a bit, and after dinner, she came back up again to see what we thought of the food. We were totally surprised when Juan Mari came and meet us too, just as we were leaving. We've never felt so welcome!

Raiz de loto con mousse de arraitxiki, Puding de kabrarroka con fideos fritos, Caldito de alubia negra con queso

Morcilla en tempura, Arroz crujiente con hongos

Ostras vegetables

Manzana con aceite de foie

Bogavante (lobster) con aceite de oliva "extra blanco" - the restaurant's signature dish

Del Huevo a la gallina, another one of Arzak's signature dish

Leguado (sole) y alubias de colores

Rape (anglerfish) bronceado

Huellas de corzo y ciervo

Pato (Duck) azulon con perdogones dulces. The colorful balls were filled with flavorful liquid. I particularly liked the silver metallic balls, but couldn't figure out what flavor it is.

Esmeraldas de chocolate con laminas de rosquillas

Sopa y chocolate "entre vinedos" - Basil sorbet with chocolate balls

Bizcocho aireado de yogur con cristales de calabaza. We first saw this type of cake on Anthony Bourdain's No reservation episode, where he visited Albert Adria at his laboratory when he was experimenting on dessert making and he made this cake in the microwave. Not sure how Arzak made theirs, but it was simply lovely.

Dulce lunatico. This caramel dessert was really memorable. I thought I was eating a hard caramel candy, instead, it was just a thin caramel coating, with citrus flavor light syrup inside. Very exciting!

Juan Mari Arzak came up to say hi just as we were leaving. After finding out that we are Malaysians, he told us he was in Kuala Lumpur 20 years ago and enjoyed the street food in South East Asia. But he explained that it's different in Spain, as that restaurant food here is better.