So upon landing at the Bilbao airport, we ran the chance of missing this amazing dinner in case our flight was delayed, but we miraculously landed on time at 530p, unloaded our luggage, parked our van at the train station in the center of town, which was less than a block from our Airbnb, got dressed and walked a block to our first shit show of the trip scheduled for 9pm.
The instant gratification we enjoyed as a result of all the delayed gratification of planning this trip for one year was amazing and well worth it. I could not have planned it better. You will hear me say this through out the rest of the Spain blog, but I planned every moment of this trip one year in advance. I learned a valuable life-lesson doing this. When you plan something this far ahead, in such microscopic detail, the reward is that events unfold like a red carpet dream that you could have never could have imagined in your wildest dreams. For a control freak like me, it reminded me that planning and setting goals in life is more important to success than even intelligence or talent, etc. You see the benefit of having booked a flight one year in advance when you and your whole family are moving in unison like a well oiled machine in comparision to the complete chaos all around you, such as being the first on every flight with pre-boarding, getting the first row in the plane since I bought the tickets before anyone else on the plane, walking in to every restaurant and having the best seat in the house at the best time, night after night. I did not get treated like this because I am famous, but rather because I planned it in such detail, and so far ahead. Ok, enough pontificating, let’s get into it.
Very important to reserve the bar at this place, front row chef’s table with the most interaction and immediate service.
Erika’s sister was already impressed by the handsome men serving her.
Erika’s family did not know what was coming. They were about to get their mind’s blown. One other caveat. Erika’s family are hard working people who don’t live as extravagantly as Erika and I, but I gave them a directive. “Save $1000 a month per person for one year that you pay to me, and by the time the vacation comes around, you will have paid off the entire trip; airfare, housing, and food included.” To eat almost every night at the best restaurants in Spain for 2 weeks straight, most of which were 2 and 3 stars, was an unheard of deal. To be honest, after all my other travels in Europe, Spain is the only country where you can do this at this budget and for this quality. It was literally the same price for 6 people in Spain, as it was for just Erika and I on my 40th B-day in France, for the same caliber of restaurants and same amount of time.
This was the first thing we were greeted with upon sitting down. For a Mexican family on their first time in Europe, I could not think of a more welcoming and familiar first amuse bouche than this. It was the Mexican equivalent of “caldo de gallina”, (hen’s stew, roughly translated). It was this super concentrated chicken broth with corn reduction that was so perfect in cold weather, after walking off a 12 hour flight.
This was so thick and concentrated, almost like the mouth coating feeling you get with oxtail, but it was chicken and corn. The synchronized moaning that the staff heard as we drank this led to a repeat of this later on in the course progression when they realized how much everyone enjoyed this. I will forever remember the first sip of this soup and looking at everyone enjoying it so intently as a memory that will be burned in my brain that started off the trip. It was like knocking it out of the park on the first pitch. I mean, talk about ultimate brownie points with your wife, by showing her family an experience like this. Sorry all you men out there, I will be setting the bar extremely high by the time this is done.
If anything, you must come here for their wine list. You get such old and rare treasures for a fraction of the price you would pay anywhere else in Europe (besides Portugal) or the US for that matter.
Amazing white Rioja. Believe it or not, this is actually young at 2007. This was our go-to wine on this trip. What a mouth feel. We bought cases of this as well as the 2005. Even found a unicorn rose Lopez De Heredia at the winery which I will post later.
A trio of other little palate cleansers that I paid no mind to as my head was spinning with the concept of immediately dining within hours of getting off the plane.
What a line up. As an apperitif, 1993 Rimarts Cava, which is Spanish sparkling. It was so nutty and oxidized. Look at the label, written in chalk. Then a kick ass 1967 white Spanish varietal from Monopole with the label basically disintegrated. Followed by a 1974 Priorat. Pure enophile heaven here. Not one of these wines was corked or madeirized.
Look at this humongoid oyster. It’s called a Gillardeau oyster, and it’s farmed by a specific family in Normandy in the north of France. What an amazing pairing with the Cava and the finger lime (little caviar balls that looks like salmon roe). They even laser etch the brand of this oyster into the shell to prevent counterfeiting.
Gillardeau has become a brand name in oysters. Gillardeaus, the family, produces only spéciales, which are plumper than the standard and are found on the menus of some of the finest restaurants in Paris, from Taillevent to Le Dôme. They are hand picked and turned over every so often so that they are stressed and tend to eat more. In a way, it’s like the foie gras of oysters, where they are encouraged to grow beyond natural limitations due to this technique.
This Monopole, is a white varietal from Bilbao and this winery is still around today, but this 1967 was so old that the label disintegrated. It paired very well with the oyster and mushroom.
Ok, I digressed a little too much here on these mollusks, let’s get through this post. Here is another mollusk, the mussel, which I believe is mejillon in Spanish. This was the “Mejillón, coco, citronella, y tomate picante.” Basically, like mussel in coconut milk with citronella and spicy tomato, had a very Thai influence. The spice was perfectly balanced by the coconut, nice international take on their local seafood.
This take on caviar and creme fraiche was heavenly. This super soft and oozing sheep’s milk cheese which was clearly unpasteurized was so amazingly good with the caviar. It had the consistency of whipped ricotta.
It was titled: “Queso de oveja Carranza Cara Negra, caviar, kumquat, y aceite de aguacate.” You would think the kumquat and avocado oil would have added too many flavors into the mix, but it cut the heaviness of the dish and made it seem light.
This cheese is from a local black faced sheep that is supposedly almost extinct and check this out, I almost started laughing when I read this excerpt as it is so cliche for Michelin menus and the bloggers to post something like this. The only thing missing from the explaination was that it was “only made on the equinox when the elderly grandma licked her finger and put it in the air for the right humidity.”
“Currently, this cheese is only made by an elderly woman according to the following method: freshly milked milk is taken home, heated to around 30ºC and coagulated with rennet; the pasta is stirred by hand and strained; it is placed in baskets to release the serum; then it is placed in the mold and pressed. At midday, one side of the cheese is sprinkled with coarse salt, and in the afternoon the cheese is turned over and the operation is repeated on the other side. Every 8 days, the cheeses are washed with water and salt.”
Here was the “Cremoso de ajo negro e infusion de champignon”. Basically like a reduction of mushroom with a black garlic creme. Talk about a rustic umami bomb to just sock it to you on a cold night. As most of you may know, black garlic is just garlic that has been cooked slowly for a long time until it turns black and has a licorice/caramel-like consistency. It actually went very well with some Cava. So, Cava is Spanish sparkling wine, and it may not be as celebrated as other sparkling wines, but I was so shocked at how amazingly good this 1993 Rimarts went with the mushroom and garlic cream dancing with the nutty oxidized sparkling.
Then there was the “Sopa de txangurro y yema de huevo en salmuera”, was so mouth coatingly good. This is a nationally known dish at many pinxtos bars in the Basque area where they cook the spider crab in its own guts inside of its shell, but this was their own elegant take on it.
The slow-cooked egg yolk was like the consistency of semi-soft cheese, so thick and unctuous, in its brine, which almost pickled the dish and added that cured/fermented flavor profile that you miss with some restaurants that try to wow you with foam and sous-vide techniques, etc.
Here is the other trap that Mina does not fall into, less distraction, more focus on local seafood. Ya, it’s one scallop but it’s a sample of how amazing you can make a scallop. This was the “Vieira curada in alga kombu con fondu tostada de vegatales”. Cured scallop in kombu seaweed with a fondu of roasted vegetables. This was like a French-Japanese-Basque Michelin starred orgy of the three regions in the world with the most Michelin stars coming together in one dish.
I mean, look at the Picasso’esque silverware you are eating it with. If this dinner was art it would be a minimal Cubist masterpiece. The variety of white wines we had were so specific to the region, and probably something we would never stumble across back home, and the white rioja we had next stood up well to the heavier dishes with dark reductions that were starting to roll in.
Here we had another luxurious item, of “Royal de cebolla morada de zalla con caviar”. I don’t know what the translation of a Royal is, but maybe an egg and pickled red onion custard reductio with caviar? It takes the concept of caviar with chopped red onion and egg yolk and turns it on its head. The red onions from Zalla are yet again an heirloom product that the farmers in one specific Basque region plant the ancient seeds by hand. Once again, biodynamic farming involved with the cycles of the moon. See the video below with the cheesy outdated pop music in the background for more on this red onion.
Perfect with the Rimarts Cava. But then came the segway into the reds.
“Berenjena confitada al te rojo y gamba blanca” was a spectacular dish, a Spanish take on miso eggplant, which was a confit eggplant with a red tea reduction and white prawn that was almost like ama ebi. Spectacular sweet mouth- coating goodness to pair with the 1974 Priorat with the secondary barnyard notes. The scampi was hidden under the seaweed blanket. Again, just a touch of local seafood complemented with amazing local produce cooked slowly, no obfuscation or molecular gimmickry.
Then some tuna pastrami, which continued to pair well with the wine, as it had black pepper notes and had that smoked meat flavor. This dish was called “Pastrami de ventresca de atun rojo ahumado con curry verde.” Smoked tuna belly pastrami from Atlantic bluefin with a green curry sauce. Like taking O-toro and curing it, sublime.
“Tuetano en caldo de ave al tomillo y crujiente de papa.” Beef marrow in a chicken broth with crunchy potato. Wow, there was a theme of mouth-coating going on tonight with finishes that would just linger minutes after each bite. It almost incentivized slow bites. Went well with Priorat, but this could have used a heavier, denser red wine. Note that we did not choose the wine pairing, but rather just got 6 bottles of wine ( 1 bottle/person), so there was more freedom to mix and match. This was we were able to dig deep into their cellar for their older wines.
Please dive into their wine cellar, they have so many amazing and rare older wines under $500/bottle that you will never see this anywhere in the US at these prices, let alone the rest of Europe, except Portugal, which I hear is even cheaper.
This was the “Merluza asada con un guiso de senderuelas” which was Hake fish grilled with a local meadow mushroom stew. So I see Hake in a lot of Michelin restaurants now due to the fact that it is a more sustainable fish. Not that I have anything against that, but this was one of the least memorable dishes of the night, so that being said lets move on… I only eat dodo birds and hippopotamus fetuses.
There was one last dish that just saturated our fat receptors beyond belief that all of us were on the verge of barfing: the Grilled beef gizzard with cardamom pumpkin and spice emulsion. We were so stuffed that we did not even get a photo of this dish, but thought we’d mention it for good measure.
Then came the parade of desserts. Again, eaten with a lovely Dali-esque surrealist spoon. I forget what the sorbet above was made from, possibly passion fruit or pomelo. The candied fruit could have been the fleshy skin of a pomelo, but looks more like a candied green apple.
I think the pictures above and below are a combination of the ingredients in the course described as the “Manzana, mascapone, casero, pomelo y garam masala”. There was more to this little biscuit than meets the eye, as it had tiny bits of chopped apple cubes swimming in a pomelo jelly-like matrix balanced by the rich housemade mascapone cheese, powdered with a spice mix of garam masala which is a concoction of cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, cumin, nutmeg and black pepper. A perfect autumnal nod towards apple pie with much more international flavors.
I love how they even have wine cork holders with the Mina logo.
Here is the happy group with their first famous chef photo with Alvaro Garrido.
This guy was so down to earth, he hunts most of the meat that he serves, if he has rabbit or quail on the menu, etc. He talks about this rare goose egg that the goose only lays for one month out of the entire year and maybe lays 1-2 eggs per week during that time. Talk about “Golden Goose”. He personally calls his special customers once a year to visit and eat this rare item as seen in the video below.
La famila hermosa Perez Toriz…
Then a few amuse mouche palate cleansing bites with some Sherry.
I wanted to visit this Bodego so badly on this Spain trip, but we had to cut out our sherry tour in Jerez on the southwest of Spain to make room for a day in Sevilla. So, whenever I saw Ximenez-Spinola Sherry on the menu, I pounced.
Thought I would do a side by side comparison with their 1978 Armagnac.
Not freakin bad when you consider that it only cost $120 Euros per person for a 14 course meal of this caliber. Exquisite product, friendly, home-style service, at the Chef’s Table with my in-law’s first ever trip outside the continent of North America. I could not have picked a better place to start the journey of a lifetime that my in-laws and myself would never forget.