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Guggenheim Bilbao Restaurant


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Once you've stepped over the seafaring Dutch Country & Western singers sat on the floor eating their packed lunches and pushed past the miserable looking cagouled Swedish couple sharing a Fanta and borne inspection by cruel German eyewear you're thankfully through the bar and inside the restaurant.

Not surprisingly, being the Guggenheim, the dining room is a bit.. well Arty, and if you're sitting on the banquette arty means uncomfortably impractical. I'm a big fat man known for the length of his members, but every time I wanted to take a swig of my organic vanilla & orange infused white wine aperitif I had to almost get up, doubling my belly in the process which didn't auger well for the digestive process. Especially since I'd ordered a seven courser.

The event kicked off with a miniscule glass of smoked leek porrusalda a Basque leek soup that indeed had a smokiness about it.

Iberian Pig Ear Tempura was next with, by way of Borneo, a wizened shrunken tomato and a cube of goat cheese. The shrunken head was very pleasant as was the goaty stuff but it's not surprising that the Japanese never tempuraed a pig ear even an Iberian one as, whilst not being unpleasant, its sole grace was to sound intriguing on the menu.

Salt cod or Bacalao is an unavoidable ordeal for the visitor to Northern Spain. But rather than the shoe-leather-smell-of-geriatric-ward product that I'd manfully chewed for hours on previous occasions the piece in the Salt Cod Terrine with Yeast Juice and Pumpkin was a joy, obviously the stuff the Basques reserve for their own use. A four centimetre cube of cod  was balanced Palladio-like on four pumpkin pillars astride a frothy moat of yeast coloured yeast juice which tasted, not unsuprisingly, of fresh yeast. Quite to very nice. What wasn't nice was the plate, a large undulated ceramic square with a depression in the middle and a cruel way of distancing the stuff meant for my mouth yet further from said hole.

Baked fish of the day was Hake, to my mind the Chris O'Donnell of the fish world. Again I was due to eat my fishy words. An astoundingly correctly cooked bit of Hake crispily reclined skin side up on a yellow cushion of mashed yam (I think) also someone had thoughtfully drizzled some Cep sauce around the whole recumbence. Something slightly hot in the tuber mash was a welcome oral aphrodisiac and made this, for me, a very nice dish.

The Slab of Roasted Duck Foie gras was none too slab-like. In fact, were a form description necessary 'toe part of a shoe' of Roasted Foie Gras would have been better. It came with glazed liquorice flavoured carrots which were over-liqouriced for my simple tastes, and the liver, although well ovened was strung with those horrid tubey things that remind one inopportunely that what one is eating performed another, more animal, function before arriving on one's plate. Altogether un-good.

The tortuous big square plate made another unwelcome appearance this time filled with Creamy Pistachio, Coffee Extract and Cream. Having had to compress the contents of my stomach to get near the thing perhaps coloured my opinion of the dish. But nevertheless it was quite nice.

The luminary dish was a Frozen Egg Yolk covered with Fresh Ewe Milk and (more) yeast. A lone egg yolk was shorn up on some tiny biscuits and then anointed with the frothy milk-yeast mixture. It was extremely nice, the yolk was as if it had been churned but I was assured that it hadn't, and it had no flavour other than yolk but that, I was surprised to find out, is more than enough.

A chocolaty thing was next but I was distracted with thoughts of ordering another yolk affair. A surprising Basil sorbet was like a kick in fries though and the dish was able to maintain my attention long enough to lick the plate.

45 Euros for the food.

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LML--this is Berasategui's place, right?  Do you know if this has a Michelin star?

The reason I ask is there seems to be a refinement in a few dishes you've described that while not necessarily French seem capable of being appreciated by the French in a Michelin-kind of way.  Regardless of what you think of the Michelin system--did they assess this restaurant correctly?  And how would you assign "stars" to this experience--if forced to--based on your experiences at other starred places?

And at 45 Euros, this is less expensive than his 3-starred place in San Sebastian.  Would you feel comfortable drawing any comparisons between the two in terms of value, creativity and fun?

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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Indeed this is part of the Berasategui group, but generously Berasategui does not pretend to be the chef rather he brings on chefs from his homonymous Lasarte restaurant, in this case a certain Josean something. I will at this point comment on this strategy; Martin Berasategui has at least half a dozen successful restaurants and he does it without being an omnipresent egomaniac, also every young chef who enters his kitchen knows that they could end up with a restaurant and recognition, motivation indeed.

This was certainly a 'one star' place in terms of service and I suppose food, although for me it lacked soul. I imagine I concur with Michelin on this although I couldn't tell you right now.

Regarding Lasarte there is no comparison.

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Thank you LML, I was aware Berasategui was spread out vertically and horizontally--including a big catering operation, no? Interestingly, note that in this month's (US) Gourmet there is a mention of Berasategui presiding over a growing empire--but no mention of the chef de cuisine at Bilbao.  (Interestingly, whenever a Ducasse restaurant is mentioned in print--and even on the Ducasse website--the chefs de cuisine like Didier Elena are usually mentioned clearly and openly) And though it lacked soul, was the experience fair for the price--or did you leave wishing for a better experience for the price?

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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The Guggenheim, Mugaritz, El Amparo, El Bodegon de Alejandro, The Kursaal (sp?) all fall under the Berasategui mantle but note that there is only one Restaurant Martin Berasategui the rest are restaurants on their own right with their own individual chefs but no doubt benifiting from being parts of greater whole. This seems to me like a satisfactory way of separating business interests from culinary ambitions. I think it's absurd for a chef two imagine that he can be in two, three, or even four places at the same time. I also think it's paranoid, egomaniacal and lacking in generosity.

I think at 27 pounds for seven courses I can safely say the Guggenheim is extremely good value for money compared with London.

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Last time I looked, the Euro was worth less than a dollar and still falling.  I must get over again soon.That was an intriguing report, Michael.  Personally, I have given pigs' ears many chances to impress me, but have finally concluded that they are just not good eating.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Michael, I'm curious about your dislike of, or disinterest in, salt cod. Even apart from brandade, I've often enjoyed it and suspect your aversion is the result of badly prepared dishes. A good piece of salt cod when properly soaked, should cook fairly quickly and be quite tender. In my estimation a "good piece" hasn't been dried to rock hard consistency in the first place.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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  • 2 years later...

Sorry this is not directly food related - but I am going to eat while in Bilbao... :smile:

I'll be in Bilbao for a few hours on Thursday and I understand the Guggenheim doesn't sell advanced tickets over the phone/internet, only in person. I can get to the museum by 17h30 (museum's open til 20h00) and wondered whether anyone had any insight as to whether it's even worth it (i.e. will queues be too long?) or whether there are 'alternate' entrances like at the Louvre, Met etc.?

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I would think it's worth seeing even from the outside. Check out the rest of Bilbao if you can't get into the museum in time and don't miss the "Fosteritos" as the locals refer to the cocoon like metro entrances after Norman Foster, the British architect who designed the stations. It worse comes to worse have some tapas in the Plaza Nueva in the Plaza Nueva in the old city.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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  • 2 weeks later...
Do people still go? It was empty when I was there.

Was this recently?

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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  • 8 months later...

Is it easy to get to the Guggenheim from the port? I have an upcoming cruise that has a one day stop in Bilbao. I would prefer to get to the museum on our own instead of an "overpriced" excursion arranged by the cruise. Anyone have an idea what a typical taxi ride would cost? Is mass transit from the port an option?

Any thoughts on the restaurant in the museum?

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There's an industrial port within sight of the Museum. I have no idea where passenger ships dock. Taxis in Spain are quite reasonable, or so it's seemed to me, at least in comparison to Paris or New York.

The restaurant in the Museum seems to have changed hands at least once, but it's always seemed ot be in the hands of a major chef or one of his desciples. The Guía Campsa which I prefer to Michelin's guide to Spain, gives it a sol, their equivalent to a star.

Observations: Artistic and qualified cuisine of Josean Martínez (Martín Berasategui's team) in keeping with the museum. Daily lunch menu €14. Tasting menu and average price €54.
Campsa thinks highly of the food in Bilbao. There are numerous restaurants with a sol and five with two soles.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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The restaurant is in charge of Josean Martínez Alija, disciple of Martín Berasategui. There seem to be a consensus that Josean is doing a superb job over there.

PedroEspinosa (aka pedro)

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I appreciate the replies. Just realized that in the infinite wisdom of Radisson Seven Seas cruise line, they scheduled our Bilbao stop on a Monday when the museum is closed. Summer hours do not start until July I believe.

Luckily there are several threads that will help me plan the day in Bilbao.

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We had a nice dinner at the Guggenheim Bilbao in November. Being part of the Berasategui group ensures top product and good execution, although maybe not imaginative, creative flights of fancy. Josean is very young and a hard worker. I especially liked the dishes that featured wild plants. He also makes a mean bacalao.

When we first visited the museum a few years ago, they had almost nothing in the galleries since they were changing exhibitions. There were also only a few visitors. The building itself, even from the outside, is probably more impressive than most things exhibited in it anyway.

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We went mid day mid week last July and there was no line at all. We put our name in for lunch and since there was a wait we went into the musuem for a while and then came back and ate. The museum is fantastic! inside and out. It is gorgeous!

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