Degustación literally means ‘tasting’. Many of the restaurant menu’s I’m studying, especially the more “upscale” (AKA “expensive”) restaurants offer this kind of menu. Like the Menu del Dia this is a fixed price (prix fixe) but whereas the del Dia seems to be the more common items of the restaurants the degustación seems to be their showcase items.
In the USA ‘tasting menus’ have become more common over the decades I’ve been going to better restaurants. The first memorable one I recall was here in Omaha, at a restaurant specializing in fish with an excellent Peruvian chef (thus some of the Spanish influence). I recall my first time there – we received an invitation for a New Year’s Eve tasting menu (with wine pairing, of course, which is not as obvious that is part of the menus in Spain). The food was excellent and since I was just starting a weight loss program I was pleased, despite relatively high cost, that the portions were small and incredibly tasty. The most beautiful tasting menu I ever had was in a restaurant in Beijing, near the Grand Hyatt (I couldn’t find its name). Bizarrely that place was straight out of LA and possibly the fanciest restaurant in my experience, thankfully on expense account on business travel (although China has AMAZING value at its restaurants, the same place in LA would have been 500% more expensive). It was amazing and a lot of fun as well as tasty, to be surprised by incredible dishes.
The inspiration for this post is my continuing search for restaurants in other regions of Spain, than northern Spain which has been my primary focus. So I looked at Cartagena in Murcia, near the Mediterranean coast with the assumption I’d see either local items or more seafood influence. The menu that is the source of this post comes from Magoga (website) and its tasting menu.
As a small digression, triggered by the idea that one item from this menu seems to relate (after some translation research) to molecular gastronomy. In many ways Spain is the prime mover on this. For many years elBulli (now closed, but still has website) and Ferran Adrià was the top ranked restaurant in the world. More recently the world’s top restaurant has been French Laundry in Napa Valley California. I’ve never been able to afford (or at least justify the luxury) of dining there with the price of their tasting menu and wine pairings easily exceeding $500 per person.
OTOH, my first encounter with fine dining was also in Napa (when I still lived in the San Francisco Bay Area) at Domaine Chandon, which as I was searching for its link, now, sadly, seems to be closed. Domaine Chandon was my first luxury restaurant and over the years it began my personal indicator of inflation and what I could afford. It was always expensive but still reachable (with Silicon Valley high tech salary) for at least special occasions. After my initial visit I returned to treat my sister on her birthday. A better foodie than me she taught me that discussing the menu (even off menu items) with servers enriched the experience. Some of the servers I encountered were students at the nearby California Culinary Academy (undoubtedly working at Domaine Chandon for handsome tips plus experience at top notch restaurant). These people were very knowledgeable about the menu and thus discussing it with them added to the experience. I still can remember the fabulous house smoked trout appetizer that I would have never ordered without the pitch from the waiter. But as I’ve grown older and been lucky enough to eat at many fine restaurants I’ve become more disappointed. Domaine Chandon was a special occasion for me and an delightful experience. At one visit we were joined by some golfers at an adjacent table. Unlike us this was routine for them and they wolfed down their food like I would eat at a fast food restaurant. That made me realize I’m not one of the 1% and thus unlikely to ever enjoy the tasting menu at French Laundry (which I saw on a foodie show, but have never been able to afford in person) so elBulli was also a place I only “virtually” experienced through a TV special.
Be that as it is Magoga (and others I’ve seen) I might be able to experience if I could somehow get to Spain.
But on to some items from the menu itself.
I guess the word for ‘snacks’ in Cartagena is snacks, no idea what this item might be. But this item is a bit more interesting:
|Langostinos, coliflor, pomelo y crema de sus cabezas
||Prawns, cauliflower, grapefruit and cream of their heads
Yes, cabezas does literally mean ‘heads’ and I assume this applies to the langostinos, not the coliflor or pomelo. I know enough cooking to use the shells from peeled shrimp to boil in water and reduce to use as a tasty base for a sauce, but with research it appears adding the actual heads of the shrimp enriches the shrimp stock even more. The only time I was invited to eat the head of a shrimp was a beautiful bento box in Japan (I declined, still not that adventuresome diner).
|Ensalada de cebolla asada y salazones
||Salad of roasted and salted onions
salazones was a mystery, literally it simply means ‘salted’. But salted what, the onions? The photo at the website didn’t clarify this but it was an interesting presentation in a “submarine” ceramic plate.
|Papada de chato, guisante del campo de Cartagena y trufa melanosporum
||Double chin, pea from the field of Cartagena and truffle melanosporum
This is a perfect item for research. papada does literally translate as ‘dewlap’ or ‘double chin’. chato was a bit harder to find but it appears to be a breed (the source says “brood”) of pig unique to Murcia. “local” is a big deal in contemporary cuisine. As far as I can tell chato is not DO but does seem to be something “local”. One of my other experiences with ‘tasting menus’ was another restaurant, here in Omaha, that, by invitation only, did special items, with the wine pairings, where the chef explained each item, down to the actual supplier of the ingredients and the sommelier then explained his wine choice to go with the item – a lot of food but a bit too pricey for our routine consumption. I can’t quite imagine eating the double chin of any pig but I’m told (not having direct experience) these odds bits of the animal are more tasty than the common cuts (please, recall my post on Iberian “secret”, something similar to skirt steak, that is available online for about $60/lb, sorry, I’ll skip that).
|Colmenillas a la crema y alcachofas en dos texturas
||Morello with cream and artichokes in two textures
Google Translate got colmenilla correct in other parts of the menu from this restaurant so I have no idea why it picked ‘morello’ than simply ‘morel’ which, interestingly for me, led to my first attempt at a food dictionary. I once visited a restaurant in Carmel-by-the-Sea California where the menu was entirely in Italian. Fortunately everyone there spoke English so I was to inquire about one of the dishes and had this fabulous veal dish with morels (the more favorable Italian dried). Coming to Nebraska one of my in-laws harvested morels in the wild around here but they were nowhere near as good as I had in Carmal.
But it was really the en dos texturas that inspired this post. A search for just texturas revealed little, but en texturas did lead to this source:
Spherification is a spectacular cooking technique we introduced at elBulli in 2003 which enables us to prepare recipes that no-one had even imagined before. It consists of the controlled gelification of a liquid which, submerged in a bath, forms spheres.
I recognized the name Ferran Adriá from my virtual experience with elBulli (I watch a lot of foodie TV even if I’ve never visited these places). So this is my guess, that the restaurant in Cartagena was probably influenced by elBulli, so I think my guess as to the meaning of en texturas is at least plausible.
And then there is this item from the tasting menu:
|Arroz de conejo y butifarra
||Rabbit and butifarra rice
A search for butifarra yielded this plausible result, but there it is called botifarra. That is the Catalan term for this sausage and the more general term in Spain is butifarra. Another item:
|Pichón de Bresse con su jugo
||Pigeon of Bresse with its juice
yielded, via search:
The pigeon of Bresse is a pigeon brood coming from the village of Bresse, in France, where they are reared in small farms under strict legislative controls. They are birds with Denomination of Origin.
Again this shows one of the challenges of interpreting menus. I suppose some people have heard of Bresse, as a source of pigeons, but I had to do some research to figure this out.
|Milhojas de avellanas y cuatro especias
||Hazelnut and four spices millefeuille
I am guessing Google Translate is correct and mihojas is millefeuille. But unless you’re more skilled than me as pastry converting a Spanish term to a French term doesn’t help much. At this the article on millefeuille seems to be an adequate description of what is otherwise, sometimes, called a Napolean.
So this was a fun menu to analyze (and probably a very tasty one to actually consume) but it does show some of the challenge of figuring out menus in Spain. The online source for the restaurant didn’t list the precio for this menu but I’d guess it is enough that I’d really want to understand what I was getting before I’d decide I could splurge on it.
Speaking of that I also received this recommendation to try this place, Au Courant, for my next special occasion, my 20th wedding anniversary next week. It will be a splurge but $55 (before wine pairing) is probably cheaper than flying to Cartagena and trying the menú degustación at Magoga which I can at least dream of doing.