Tuesday, September 20, 2011

DiverXO: 9-6-11

So, I was in Spain the past couple weeks on a family vacation and our meal at DiverXO was by far the best meal we had the entire trip and one of the best meals I’ve had in my life.  For me, DiverXO ranks up there with Alinea and is as good as, if not better than, Avenues (under Curtis Duffy) and Ria.

We visited Madrid, Toledo, Seville, Cordoba, Bilbao, San Sebastian, Barcelona, and Montserrat.  The plan was to use the time in San Sebastian to eat at high end restaurants and save money by doing tapas everywhere else.  I wanted to make an exception for DiverXO if we could get a reservation there, though.  Located in Madrid, the Michelin 1-star DiverXO offers a unique blend of Asian and Spanish food with touches of modern gastronomy.


However, DiverXO was on vacation the month leading up to the trip, and I was unable to make a reservation before leaving for Spain.  I was a bit bummed, but it wasn’t a big deal considering we already had reservations for Mugaritz, Etxebarri, and Akelarre in the Basque Country.  On a whim, we called DiverXO on our last day in Madrid and somehow got a reservation.

Almost every bite I took at DiverXO had so much flavor.  Some flavors were familiar and distinctly rooted in Chinese traditions, while others were brand new and presumably rooted in Spanish traditions.  Even if one were completely ignorant of Asian and Spanish cuisine, there’s no denying that the food that David Munoz is putting out is really tasty.

Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of the food due to DiverXO’s policy of not allowing photography.  My attempt at briefly describing each dish doesn’t do DiverXO justice, but it’s the only thing I can do.  I can’t stress enough how awesome this meal was and I’m really hoping they eventually obtain their second Michelin star soon because they really deserve it.


Edamame with Aji Amarillo Dipping Sauce – Presented to the table to snack on throughout the meal.  Aji amarillo is a chili pepper from Peru.  The sauce was sweet, tangy, and a little spicy.  I think there may have also been a little miso in the sauce too.  A nice way to wake up the palate.

Green Tea with Wildflowers, Raspberry – A hot cup of green tea with wildflowers and raspberry floating in the cup was poured in order to be paired with the amuse bouche (mejillones tigre).  The wildflowers were very aromatic.

Mejillones Tigre – Translates to “tiger mussels,”  a popular Spanish tapa that’s like a breaded and baked mussel.  DiverXO’s version consisted of mussels, rock fish roe, a creamy but light sauce, and breadcrumbs.

Kokotxas/Cocochas with Fried Duck Tongues, Avocado, Sichuan PeppercornKokotxas are essentially fish jowls.  I believe the type of fish used was hake.  As tasty as kokotxas are, the fried duck tongues were the star of the dish.  They basically tasted like the best chicharon you’ve ever had and melted in your mouth.

Smoked Tuna Belly with Fried Egg Yolk Wonton, Garlic Aioli, Herbs – The fried egg yolk wonton doesn’t refer to a wonton whose wrapper is made from egg yolks.  It refers to a fried wonton that is filled with an amazingly runny egg yolk.  Distinctly Chinese in flavor, it reminded me of traditional Chinese steamed fish with scallion and cilantro.  There were a couple leaves of some fresh herb that tasted intensely of cooked scallion.  This dish was a highlight for me.

Shanghai Dumpling on Crispy Wafer with Langoustine, Mushroom, Broth – This was pretty much a deconstructed Shanghai soup dumpling.  The dumpling was attached to a thin and crunchy wafer.  I can say without hesitation that the dumpling was the best dumpling I’ve had in my life.  The pristine langoustine and tasty broth were icing on the cake.  I would’ve been completely happy with just the dumpling.  This dish tied for my favorite.

Trumpet Mushroom Bao with CecinaThis is the other dish that tied for my favorite.  The bao was the lightest, fluffiest, moistest, tastiest, and most awesome bao I’ve ever had.  It was also buttery and packed with umami from the mushroom filling.  The sweetness of the bao was offset by a thin slice of cecina (a salted and dried meat).  I had rehydrated cecina in tacos a few months prior, but this was my first time eating cecina in it’s pure form.  It was sort of like beef jerky.

Prawn Disks with Prawn Head Sauce, Mayo Foam, Yuzu, Salad – Essentially, Munoz takes raw prawn flesh and pounds it into super thin disks.  He then pours hot oil over the prawn disks to cook the flesh.  He then makes a sauce from the magical juices of the prawn heads.  This dish was packed with so much prawn flavor in the best way.

Peking-Style Pork Skin with Black Sesame Brioche, Hoisin, Cucumber – Yet another homerun.  Imagine what a 4-inch ruler/straightedge would look like.  Now imagine that ruler was made out of roasted pork skin.  How Munoz is able to get pork skin to be so perfectly crispy and crunchy yet at the same time so perfectly flat and rectangular boggled all of our minds.  The black sesame brioche, hoisin, and cucumber sat atop the skin.  Like the dumpling, the accoutrements were icing on the cake.  I would’ve been completely happy had I been served just the pork skin with no fixings.

Iberico Pork Lettuce Wrap with Adobo Dipping Sauce – Traditionally, Peking duck is served in multiple courses.  You’ll usually get the skin as a separate course in addition to options like soup with duck meat, simple roast duck, or minced duck in lettuce wraps to name a few.  The course following the pork skin at DiverXO stayed true to Chinese tradition.  This dish was a lot simpler than the others, but still tasted really good.  You don’t need to do much when you’re working with such a good product like Iberico pork.

Wok-Glazed Monkfish with Tamarind, Hoisin, White Asparagus – This dish has the least amount of punch, but it was still solid.  We were told that Munoz developed a technique to glaze fish in a wok such that it only took 2 minutes, which I guess is a lot faster than traditional techniques?

“Fatless” Ox Short Rib With Tamarind Foam, Nuts, Rice Paper Veil – The short ribs are cooked sous vide.  Then, the fat is separated from the lean.  The rice paper veil covers the now “fatless” short rib in order to provide the same mouthfeel as fat.  Really beefy and nicely cut by the tamarind foam.

Green Apple Sorbet with Celery Foam, Celery Fronds, Black Olive, Chocolate, White Chocolate – Celery and black olives don’t sound like they should work in a dessert, but they did somehow when combined with everything else.  I usually gag at the taste of raw celery, but this interesting combination made celery tolerable for me.  As a whole, it was like nothing I’d ever tasted before.

Ice Cream with Violet Cylinders, Violet Foam, Walnut, Sesame – I much preferred this dessert, and it happened to be one of my favorite desserts of all time.  We were told that violet confections are a traditional specialty of Madrid.  What I’m calling “cylinders” had a a cloud-like texture.  So smooth and pillowy.  I’m guessing they were made with kudzu because the only thing I’ve ever had with a similar texture were the “pillows” at Alinea.  The violet flavor really came through in the dish tasted similar to lavender.

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