I have been looking forward to writing this post for some time now. Our epic 21of 24 course meal went down in the books as one of my favorite experiences on this recent trip to Spain. It gives me great pleasure to tell you about Mina, a modest little gem of a restaurant that for some reason hasn’t made it onto the Spain foodie map (their recent Michelin star may have changed this)
Backstory: Bilbao was a quick 2 day trip filled with wonderful architecture, pintxos and friends. The weather was beautiful. Roughly 10 degrees warmer than Madrid so walking around on the river sans jackets was totally legit (something hard to imagine coming from Brooklyn) Everyone told us wonderful things about the food in Bilbao and we were beyond excited to check it all out. The majority of our food adventures consisted of walking from one pinxos place to the other. (we will share our pinxtos map soon) As far as full fleged meals go we only had two scheduled Nerua and Mina. Our last night in Bilbao we headed to the much talked about Nerua. We left feeling full of disappointment and drianed of money. (We hardly ever write about bad meals but this one we have to…more on that soon). After that meal our hopes for any kind of tasty light at the end of the tunnel was looking grim.
The last Day was bittersweet we were only able to do a fraction of what we wanted to in bilbao but whatevs the last 4 hours before hitting the road back to Madrid made up for it all! After checking out the Guggenheim we hoped on the train and headed to the old town (10 min away) for our 2pm reservation, Spaniards preferred time of day to dine out. (Something to think about when making a reservation)
Mina is located in on a beautiful canal in an area often called the brooklyn of bilbao. It is an area where one can run into fantastic small art galleries and up coming fashion designer boutiques. We only saw a glimpse of this neighborhood but what we saw we liked. What is so unique and convenient about Mina’s location is its crazy proximity to Bilbao’s Mercado (recently renovated since our last visit two years ago.) I think it is safe to say this local is a chef’s dream.
Given the fact that this area is the “old town” it is no surprise that each of the buildings around the canal have their own historic story to tell. Mina’s building is no exception. Back in the day the structure served as a mining building, hence the name Mina. In the building recent history it suffered through a devastating flood and had to undergo structural renovation. Walking into Mina you can immediately get a sense of this history Once you make your way up the stairs you get your first glimpse of the dining room, a beautiful simple and rustic interior holding roughly 30 tables. When we arrived we were the only diners and were frightened that this meal would resemble the one form the night before but thankfully the entire place filled up within the hour. There was no doubt that we found the local sweet spot, one fairly undiscovered by tourists.
The first item we sank our teeth into was a gorgeous hunk of bread and artisanal olive oil. The bread was out of this world, a clear sign that these people knew whats up! So we were of to a good start! Next up an enthusiastic visit from the chef. It was our first time meeting Alvaro and we were blown away by how friendly and passionate he was. The last words he left us with before making his way back to the kitchen was “I’m gonna keep on cooking until you say stop” This excited and scared me seeing I was recovering from the stomach flu, but I put my game face on and powered through.
The courses arrived one after the next with such timed perfection, not to fast not to slow. I honestly was not sure how this was happening especially after hearing that there was only 4 cooks in the kitchen and a packed dining room. Enough chatting lets get right into the wonderful food blow by blow.
Just a heads up, we are about to get into the part of the post that you all care the most about, the food. You may want to grab a snack before you continue to scroll cause it is a looong one. This lunch represents the most courses consumed by us in one sitting. Given that expect nothing less than one beautiful food image after the next. more than enough to make you salivate. Go on, give it a scroll…
The dry aged scallop combined with the marinated scallop resulted in wonderful texture and flavor combinations we have not tasted in other scallop dishes. This dish was indeed setting the bar high. Lucky for us the meal continued to get progressively better as it went on.
As impressive as the food was I was equally as impressed with…Alvaro. He is an interesting guy with a clear and honest perspective on food. It is a vision that is simple and not overly contrived like a bad grad school thesis statement (a whole lotta talk and not a bit of execution) Once you eat his food you immediately get it. First of all it is incredibly beautiful on the plate in a humble modernist sort of way, the smells are enticing and the taste is somehow familiar yet challenging. It is clear that he is pulling inspiration from the flavors from his youth, the agriculture around him and mixing it all up and creatively playing with it.
All the dishes we had from the extended tasting were great but there were a few that stood out, the scallops (above) and a handful of dishes we have broken down for you in our Anatomy of Taste series. Enjoy.
The animated gif above says all that needs to be said… hated it haha
This dish was unlike most Foie dishes we have had. There was a sweet licorice quality to it most likely due to time spent in Stout, a nice creative touch indeed.
This dish was the one we were waiting for. Alvaro mentioned that the geese only lay a few eggs every now and then and I that this was the first goose eggs that he was able to get a hold of. Here is the Recipe
This was our first exposure to caramalized seaweed. Lets hope we see this more in 2013.
This dessert was so unusual. Like many other dishes Alvaro brought in sweet and savory with hints of Licorice. I may have been full beyond belief but I managed to do some damage to this dish.
We could not eat another bite so we waved the white dinner napkin and got up to check out the kitchen. Jose and I have seen small kitchens (David Toutain’s kitchen comes to mind) and this one, while a bit bigger was pretty damn small. It was amazing how well the kitchen operated in such tight quarters. Quite the impressive operation.
Picture below: Alvaro shows us our crazy long menu! All I could think of when I saw that was, did we actually eat that much??
Alvaro has been running Mina with his wife Lara Martín and a small talented team of chefs and servers now for just about six years. This hard work has not gone unnoticed, Somehow through word of mouth, local love and his persistent passionate cooking (and the first Michelin star) he has managed to slowly spread the word beyond Spain. Alvaro and team don’t seem to be that into self promotion so if you haven’t heard about this little gem I am not surprised but I expect that all to change this coming year.
Cocineros Álvaro Garrido y Lara Martín