DiverXO – Madrid, Spain

DiverXO, Madrid’s only three-star Michelin restaurant, feels like someone turned Cirque Du Soleil into a restaurant.  Pronounced “duh-ver-show,” the dining experience is an Alice in Wonderland-like, four-hour-or-so trip into the wacky, perverse, and utterly creative mind of owner-chef David Muñoz…and damn, is it good.

To be honest, I feel like blogging about DiverXO deserves a spoiler alert.  If you ever intend to eat there, don’t look at the pics below.  Even if the menu does change regularly, I would recommend going into this restaurant much as you would the latest film in your favorite series.  Keep all prior knowledge and expectations kept at bay and just dive (pun intended) right in.

This destination of a restaurant is set apart from the historic center of Madrid, and that’s probably on purpose.  I won’t pretend to be a Madrid expert (I was only there for one full day), but I can say with a fair amount of certainty that DiverXO’s somewhat remote location was chosen so that its privileged diners could feel they had gone on a journey away from the touristy parts of the city.

Entering the restaurant, one can expect mounted pig butts, massive ice cream cone-shaped wine bottle holders, butterflies everywhere, a full-tour of the ordered chaos of a kitchen, and if you’re lucky (like we were), a photo with the surprisingly down-to-earth David Muñoz at the end of the meal.  Each of the 12 tables are enveloped in a private velvet curtain fit more for a theater than a restaurant.  Around 20 minutes into the meal, the waiters dramatically whisk the curtain away to reveal the rest of the restaurant with a hearty “Welcome to DiverXO!” It’s this dramatic decor and presentation that makes DiverXO more of an experience than just a restaurant.  Of course, there’s also the food, but I’ll let the pictures below speak for themselves.

The food is epic, the presentation is epic, and so too is the price tag- there are only two courses priced at 195 euros and 250 euros.  I usually opt for the “go big or go home” type mentality at these places, because I may never have the chance to go back. In this case, however, the waitress actually advised AGAINST the longer course menu.  We were glad she did, because our shorter course was a ton of food. I’m a big eater and can put up a solid fight at any buffet, but by the end of this meal, I was STUFFED.  It begs the question- is the longer course really even necessary?

The reservation system is difficult, so plan way ahead.  You need to find an open date on their website a good 3 months in advance, and then buy a 60 euro “ticket” (down payment that goes to the final bill price) to hold your seat.

I promise you- this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and totally worth all the effort.

Let’s eat DiverXO! (Note- all food descriptions below are exactly as printed on the menu.)

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A small idea of the interior decor.

Zurriola re-visited (スリオラ、銀座)

For Midori’s 30th birthday, it was a pretty easy decision where to celebrate.  Her answer for “If you were on death row, what would you request for your last meal” has been the caviar ravioli at Zurriola since we first had it in 2015.  Indeed, it was time for a 2nd round to this wonderful Spanish restaurant in the heart of glitzy Ginza.

Even though it has two Michelin stars, Zurriola still feels a bit under-the-radar.  It’s deceptively easy to snag a reservation, and the owner/chef Honda-san is so personable and down-to-earth as he explains each and every dish before you.  Restaurants like Den and Florilege may hit the “World’s Best Restaurant” lists, but for my money, Zurriola is a no-brainer.  This is one of the best restaurants I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit…twice.

Except the speciality caviar dish, every other dish was different from those served two years ago.  The menu in concept is still the same- two course menus to choose with the addition of the caviar marking the supplemental price.  Wine pairings available in 3, 4, or 5 glasses, or a long list of bottles available for the connoisseur.  It doesn’t come cheap (20,000 to 30,000 yen per person), but the simple-yet-innovative, artistic, and most importantly, delicious food paired with a welcoming atmosphere is well worth it for any celebratory evening.

Let’s eat Zurriola…again!

El Poblet – Valencia, Spain

So here we are at the 7th entry in this blog called “Let’s Eat Tokyo.”  Alas, it’s the 2nd entry featuring a restaurant located outside of Japan.  I like to travel and I’ll be damned if I’m not going to write about my delicious adventures.  Maybe I’ll rename the blog in the future. Whatever.

Anyways, the wife and I took a trip to Spain and visited Barcelona and Valencia.  While researching Valencia, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this delightful city has around 5 Michelin-starred restaurants.  After digging further into the restaurant scene, we decided to go for El Poblet.  Actually, we had booked Vertical, then they lost the star with the publication of the 2016 Michelin guide, so I cancelled the reservation there.  Sorry Vertical!

El Poblet is right in the middle of Valencia, a short 5 minute walk from the station and the major sightseeing spots.  Very convenient.  There’s 3 courses priced at around 45 euros, 77 euros, and 110 euros.  As this would probably be our only chance to eat here, we went big and were treated to 16 courses.  Drinks are very reasonable at 3 to 4 euros for a nice glass of wine, vermouth, or champagne.

It’s very obvious that the chef puts a large amount of effort into presentation.  This food is absolutely gorgeous.  Additionally, the furniture and interior decoration is very cute, as well, featuring colorful walls and pastel colored lighting fixtures.

This focus on presentation, however, sometimes comes at the expense of flavor.  This was especially apparent in the fish dish towards the end of the course.  Additionally, the chef uses A LOT of cream in his dishes.  You will leave this restaurant with a heavy stomach for sure.

El Poblet was good and reasonably priced, especially as I am used to Tokyo prices. Still, if I ever make it back to Valencia, I think I’d rather visit a restaurant like Riff instead of El Poblet again.

Finally, please forgive my vague descriptions of the food below.  The staff did not speak a lot of English.  Additionally, we were still jetlagged (damn Spanish people don’t eat dinner until 8:30pm at the earliest!) and I can’t remember all the ingredients that went into each dish.  Anyways, the pictures are pretty.

Let’s eat El Poblet!

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We were given a small bowl of rice crackers to snack on with our first drink. Not the most unique amuse bouche as I’m pretty sure these were poured out of a bag.

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The course kicked off with a big bang, both in taste and presentation. This is called “Coral” and the green chip is seaweed flavored, while the red is garlic. The colors were perfect for Christmas time. The dip was made from tofu and cream.

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Bread made with corn. Not cornbread. Very soft, hot, and delicious.

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“Petals of roses” – you eat only the petals with tweezers. They’re actually little slices of apple.

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Served with a very sweet apple “gin and tonic.” A very sweet appetizer, indeed. The small dish is a “cuba libre” consisting of cola flavored gelatin atop foie gras.

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“The living forest.” Under the “dirt” was a creamy concoction of porcini mushrooms.

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“Stones of Parmesan Cheese” – only two of these stones were actually edible. The coating was the consistency of chocolate and the inside was very creamy and cheesy.

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Detail of the “stone” after taking a bite.

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A grilled scallop in a ginger sauce. One of the meal highlights.

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“Tomato snow.” A creamy, cold tomato soup topped with shaved ice.

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“Sailor knot” – two different servings of razor clams.

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“Fried Oyster” featuring the same chip technique as “Coral.” An oyster tempura hides underneath the cream.

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The next dish was presented like this…

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Unwrapped, an entire shrimp is presented. Its only flavor is the saltwater in which it was boiled. Unfortunately, this tasted too much like seawater and was overbearingly salty.

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The shrimp was served with a side of soup made from shrimp head and swiss chard. It was served in a Japanese tea cup. Cute presentation and delicious umami flavor.

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A beautifully presented red mullet fish that is pleasing to the eye but a disappointment to the palette. Sadly under-seasoned and a big miss of a dish.

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The first of the two delicious rice dishes- a kind of green pea and squid paella. Closer to the over-seasonsed side, but I loved it.

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“Rice ashes” – this was tasty but I can’t remember what it consists of at all…sorry.

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The final savory dish was a delicious piece of iberico pork. The brown sliver is a piece of fried skin from a Spanish potato.

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“Citrus countryside” – Lots of different citrus fruits from around Spain with an orange cream in the middle.

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“Slates of chocolate” – the lighter pieces are a kind of chocolate meringue, while the darker ones are chocolate mousse coated in dark chocolate.

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Petit fours to end.

Zurriola (スリオラ)

Update- I re-visited Zurriola in April of 2017, and it was better than the first time.  Check it out here!

When Michelin announced its Tokyo guide in December 2014, I somehow missed the fact that only three restaurants were promoted from one coveted star to an even more impressive two stars.  Moreover, one of these restaurants serves Spanish cuisine, a rarity in Tokyo as only two other Spanish restaurants made Michelin’s list of 548 restaurants.

Upon researching Zurriola, I found that they use a simple Open Table reservation system, and quickly made a reservation just one week prior to visiting.  I must say, I love it when respected restaurants have a simple reservation system that allow you to view available seats online and quickly proceed with confirming your reservation.  It beats endlessly calling a restaurant during a limited time period only to get a busy signal.  Looking at you Sukiyabashi Jiro.  Or maybe I just need to make some connections.  Anyways…

Zurriola is right off the main strip in Ginza, very easy to find as it is atop Barney’s New York. It’s location is central, but being on the restaurant floor above Barney’s does give you the feeling that you are eating inside a mall or department store.  However, upon entering the restaurant you are warmly welcomed by the gracious staff and led to a table that feels intimate, quiet, and very comfortable.  Actually, when the staff called me to confirm my reservation, I was able to choose between a dining room seat or the open-kitchen style counter seat.  We chose the latter and had a great shot of all the cooking action. Additionally, our reservation was at 6pm (I like to eat dinner early-ish), so we were the only customers for most of our dinner.  We were lucky enough to be served and described every dish by the owner-chef Honda-san himself.  We also got to hear his stories about living and traveling through Spain.  Exciting, as we will be visiting Spain for the first time at the end of this year.

There are two courses to choose from at dinner.  One is around 15,000 yen and the other is around 20,000 yen (including tax and service charge).  The difference is due to the latter course featuring the absolutely divine caviar dish (see below) and different proteins depending on the day’s menu.  A restaurant like Zurriola is usually for a special occasion, so I would highly recommend the pricier course.  The caviar is so very worth it.  Standard draft beers are around 1000 yen a pop, and glasses of wine start from around 1500 yen each.

Let’s eat Zurriola!

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The menu was opened at our table setting before we sat down.  It’s quite detailed.

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The amuse bouche, not listed on the menu above.  The item that looks like bread is more like a cracker filled with a deeply rich olive oil that bursts in your mouth with flavor.  You must eat in one bite unless you want to wear the olive oil for the rest of the evening.  The other item is a rice cracker dusted with paprika powder.

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The course starts with homemade chorizo sausage, because as the chef says, it is Spain’s quintessential food.  What appears to be one cracker is actually three very thinly prepared crackers made with flour and olives.  A tapas enjoyed by hand.

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The next tapas is mackerel atop a cracker filled with parsley sauce that’s been made into a jelly.

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One of the highlights of Zurriola- the foie gras.  This is served regardless of season and is an emulsified foie gras that has been mixed with sherry wine atop a pistachio sauce.  The small gelatinous cube is made with sherry vinegar and the bread has various Spanish spices in it for a hot kick.  You can mix and match all the ingredients, and every bite is guaranteed to be delicious.  The foie gras has the texture of creamy ice cream and had no bitter aftertaste as foie gras sometimes does.  Absolute perfection on a plate.

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Tenaga ebi (shrimp) scampi with a celery, cilantro, and lime juice, atop a flan made from the shrimp heads for a deep umami flavor.  A little bit of kick from the juice.  Great presentation here.

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Squid with raw mushrooms and small cubes of homemade pork innards sausage.  The chef pours the black sauce at your table, which consists of a squid ink dashi.  Creamy and buttery deliciousness.

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And here we have the bright, shining star of the show- the caviar.  Just look at that.

The caviar is smoked in front of you using grape stems to infuse them with a heavy, smoky flavor.  The chef shows his creative technique by steaming the caviar above a moistened piece of konbu seaweed so that the caviar retains its own moisture after being smoked.  The caviar is placed on a ravioli topped with thinly sliced daikon radish and finished with a parsley foam.

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When you cut through the ravioli, a delectable garlic cream sauce spews outward.  As I mentioned above, this dish alone makes it worth going for the more expensive course.  Do it.

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Bread before the fish course.  On the left, red wine infused bread ordered directly from Spain.  On the right is homemade focaccia bread.  Served with salt and olive oil that has also been imported from Spain.

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Grouper with a rhubarb garnish and a Spanish pepper sauce.  For an international twist, chingensai (bok choy) is served on the side and cooked with olives and pine nuts.

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And the final protein.  Oh my.  This, my friends, is horse.  Even though I’ve had horse a few times in Japan (always served raw), I was a little apprehensive about eating horse as the final course tonight and considered asking for a substitute protein.  However, I’m so glad I didn’t.  This was simply amazing.  Lean, juicy, and bursting with flavor.  I am officially a fan of horse and will search it out when I’m in Spain.  On the left is charred zucchini, and much like the cracker under the chorizo from the first course, the zucchini is served cut very thinly and stacked in three.  This and the caviar dish really put Zurriola in a league of it’s own.  Bravo!

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We were asked if we had room in our stomachs for a rice dish before the cheese platter.  I’m never one to say no to this kind of offer, and so we were brought a Spanish rice made with shiitake mushrooms and pigs feet.  A great way to finish the main course.

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The cheese plate was both playful and beautiful.  From L to R, Sainte Moure de Touraine with a honey jelly, Abondance Fermiere with a red pepper jam (served in the shape of a pepper), La Peral with a carrot candy-enwrapped sweetened carrot.  They were all delicious combinations, but the pungency of the rightmost cheese was perfectly balanced by the sweetness of the carrot preparation.  There really is not much better than a delightful cheese platter to bridge the savory and sweet courses.

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The first dessert was a pineapple sorbet served with pineapple jelly and chunks of real pineapple all topped with basil leaves.  This was a tropical and refreshing dish.

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The chef described this as a simple dessert, but I would say it’s more deceptively simple than anything.  He grills figs over charcoal for quite a while and serves them atop a light and flaky pie crust.  This is all topped with rosemary ice cream.  My mom and sisters probably would have been angry if they were sitting with me, because after I finished this dessert, I was licking up the remains with my fingers.  Sorry.

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Finally, petit fours and coffee.  Churros, caramel-coated strawberries, melted chocolate topped with olive oil and salt, lime-filled chocolate, and biscuits made with lard.  All the chocolate is made in house using imported chocolate beans.  A beautiful ending to what was by far my favorite meal of 2015 so far.