Wednesday, December 7, 2011


This is not a restaurant in Paris. Nor is it in France. It's a restaurant in Madrid that just so happened to receive its second Michelin star the night I ate dinner there. I figured since it was just awarded its second star I should give it its due as close to the date as possible (Thanksgiving 2011, 11/24/11).

I'll admit that I first heard about Diverxo on Bourdain's No Reservations, contrary to the show's title one needs a reservation to Diverxo at least 30 days in advance. The restaurant is located in a residential neighborhood, right next to what is basically a bodega one would find on the corner of any New York City block. Unassuming from the outside (simple black windows), the inside is incredibly sophisticated looking. Shades of grey, white, and black are what greet you, do not expect bright colors or any colors really except for the dishes. This lack of color in the room serves to highlight each and every plate brought out.

We were greeted with a glass of cava (the Spanish are very quick to point out that this is much different than the French champagne) and a very odd looking center piece that looked like a metal atom model. There were cards with different words on them (I don't remember what they were) that were attached to the center piece and on one of them sat a curry flavored meringue. A single bite that was sweet and had the perfect curry essence. 

After the meringue was inhaled, the metal atom was whisked away and in its place our server placed a tall cup of edamame with two small cups of Peruvian cheese sauce. Basically a sophisticated cheese wiz with a strong presence of sesame and a little kick of heat at the end. It was simple, yet it showed us what was to come: a seamless blend between Asian and Spanish cuisine.

There is no a la carte menu at Diverxo. Instead there are choices of five, nine and eleven course tasting menus. With only a 20EURO difference between the nine and eleven-course, we opted for the eleven. When in doubt turn it up to eleven.

Our first real course was a sweet and sour soup made from oxtail. There were bits of smoked eel, angulas (baby eels), very tiny baitfish and tomato caviar. It was served with a piece of fried eel skin. The soup itself was gelatinous much like the hot and sour soup you get at bad Chinese restaurants, but this was natural (I'm guessing the oxtail lent the gelatinous quality to the dish). The smoked eel added a smokey note (clearly) and the tomato caviar lent a sweetness and acidity that balanced the dish nicely. Let me go on record by saying that fried eel skin, akin to pork rinds, will be the next big thing.

Eel skin top right
In conjunction with the soup we were presented with a "sandwich" of sorts. In between two thin crackers was braised and shredded ox tail and on top were more angulas. Quite tasty and an interesting take on a surf-and-turf (although they would never call it that). It was a nice soup and sandwich combo although we declined to dunk the sandwich.

Small bite, but worth it

The next course brought the Diverxo version of a traditional Spanish tapa mejillones tigre, or tiger mussels. Usually it is a large mussel stuffed and topped with toasty bread crumbs. The Diverxo take was a dish shaped more or less like a mussel and layered, like a parfait. On top were the breadcrumbs followed by a layer of kafir lime cream, which surprisingly was not overpowering. Underneath the cream was flying fish roe and a big mussel. The whole thing worked perfectly together, brininess of the mussel pairing well with the kafir lime, with the fish roe providing nice pop and texture.

Mussel parfait?

If you've ever heard of cod chin, I commend you. If you've ever eaten it, I commend you even more. This as far as I can tell was a piece of fish jello. Normally that would be a horrifying thing, but this was delicious. Cod chin with fried duck tongue and avocado. The crisp, grease-less tongue was the perfect thing to counter the gelatinous fishy cod chin. There were Szechuan pepper corns on the cod that we realized when our tongues began to tingle slightly. Duck tongues and fried eel skin, I'm telling you, next big thing.

Just put it on his bill...or his tongue
Our next course was one of the best things I have ever eaten. A smoked bonito belly with shavings of bottarga, an egg yolk wonton, black garlic aioli, and a sweet kimchi sauce. The belly was smokey without being overly (and also perfectly cooked, slightly above rare) so and was complimented by the smokey black garlic aioli. The richness of the dish was provided by the runny egg yolk wonton which burst into ooey, gooey, egg yolk goodness. Bottarga was salty, fishy goodness, while the kimchi sauce just pushed the whole thing into heaven territory.

No Asian meal is completely without a dumpling and that's exactly what we got. It was described as a Shanghai dumpling with red shrimp. It came attached to a very thin wafer and also had a broth in the bottom of the dish. It was not too dissimilar to a soup dumpling, but with the soup on the outside. There were shitakes that added an earthy note to the dish and went well with the sweetness of the shrimp.

Not your average dim sum
My second favorite dish of the night manifested itself in a pillowy soft bun. One of my favorite things to eat is a roast pork bun. This was that but with an intense mushroom inside and a sweet outside. It was sitting on top of a tomato salad. The immediate taste and smell was that of black truffles, but it soon turned into a mushroom bonanza, tempered by the brightness of the tomato salad. To push it over the top was a piece of jamon made from ox, to be eaten separately. Sort of a clash between roast pork bun and the classic jamon con pan y tomate (ham with bread smeared with tomato).

Mushroom bomb
As part of a duo of sorts, we were next served "cochinillo" that is to say suckling pig. However Diverxo got it right and served the best part of the suckling pig: the skin. It was a rectangle of perfectly crisped skin with a black sesame sponge on top with cucumber spheres and salmon roe. The whole thing was a textural explosion, quite literally with the pop of the roe. I would have liked a little more sesame, but it was quite a nice combination of flavors: acidic, salty, sweet.

With a piece of suckling pig skin, how could you go wrong?

The partner to this dish was served in a styrofoam hamburger container. It was not a Big Mac, but a small summer roll. It was Iberian pork that was served rarer than any pork product I have ever eaten, but it was fatty and rich. I wouldn't call it unctuous, but I feel an obligation to use that word in tandem with the word "pork". It was served with basil, mint, an iceberg leaf (could they have used a different lettuce leaf?) and a glass of dipping sauce that was basically a vinegar with different dried herbs. I tasted thyme, oregano, and basil. It was a perfect foil to balance the fattiness of the pork.

Nice to throw us off with the box, but rare pork? Talk about a curveball
Dipping sauce, chopsticks on left (never used them)

Our first "main" course was a piece of monkfish with grilled white asparagus, purple potato "chips", yuzu cream, pea shoots, black sesame powder, and Chinese barbeque sauce. This was what I thought to be a play on a fish and chips, although elevated beyond the point of recognition. The chips were incredibly thin, and translucent purple. They looked like a fragile fruit roll up. The fish itself was tender and delicious, while the yuzu cream added a nice acidic zing to the whole thing.

Fish and translucent purple potato chips just doesn't sound quite right...

Another fish course followed. We were presented with a plate covered in edible flowers, thin shavings of black truffle, and pea shoots. Underneath all the garnishes was a perfect piece of red mullet, which was sitting on top of a puree of tomato and tabasco pepper (not the hot sauce). A cart emerged which our plates were taken to and one of the chefs poured hot oil on top of the dish. This served two purposes, one was to cook the fish a little longer, and the second purpose was to release all the fantastic flavors and smells of the garnishes. The truffle hit me along with the pea shoots however neither were overpowering when eaten. The fish was flaky yet pink on the inside, and the oil mixed with the puree to form a sauce that was a little spicy, but didn't flame out my palate.

Oil spread with the utmost expertise

Aromatics galore

Finally our first real piece of meat during the meal, but it was well worth the wait. The dish was described to us as slow cooked ox with fat but without the fat. The meat itself had been cooked for 24-hours at 80 degrees, meaning all the fat within the meat had broken down leaving the meat tender and succulent. The "fat" draped on top was simply a textural component to the dish as I believe it was made from rice. There were barely cooked pieces of bok choy (nice and fresh) and a tamarind foam that, while powerful on its own, got a little lost among the rest of the dish. It tasted amazing and was distinctly Asian, the bok choy really brought a lightness to the dish where it would have been fairly one note and heavy had it not been there.

If only I could get my fat without fat...

With our savory portion of the meal over we were left to dessert. The first dessert brought out was a galangal sponge with coconut cream, fried nori, and blood orange sorbet. It was really a mix between sponge and foam since it disappeared in our mouths. The galangal packed quite a punch, but it was tempered by the coconut cream and the blood orange sorbet. The nori was there for texture and didn't add much flavor wise. It was a nice palate cleanser after all of our savory dishes.

Galangal almost knocked me out

The next dessert really could have been a savory. We were told it was black olives and celery. Clearly something was not as it seemed. The olives were actually chocolate balls surrounding a liquid white chocolate with a little black olive salt sprinkled on top. The celery took the form of foam, gel, and sorbet. There was spun sugar with micro cilantro that only further enforced the vegetal center of the dish. It was almost like an entirely separate vegetable course gone awry, but it was incredibly refreshing and made us laugh at the thought of pairing celery with dessert.

One of the stranger things I have eaten

We thought that the meal ended there, but we were brought a plate that looked like it was straight out of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. It was covered by a clear glass cover that was removed upon being set on the table. On the plate was a lavender marshmallow with sesame ice cream (I think...) and a big gob of lavender cotton candy. The whole thing was quite stunning to look at, but it was a little too perfumey for my taste and I wish we had ended on either of the other two desserts.
Cotton candy, delicious
Sparse yet quite powerful

My only complaint for the night (and it seems petty I know) was that there were no, for lack of a better word "freebies." Aside from the edamame there weren't any extra dishes, even though it was their second star night. They did send out an extra glass of cava, but even just some petite fours at the end would have been a nice way to end it. Again minor complaint and really, who am I to complain about something like that?

Final Grade: A, Overall the meal was one of the best I've ever eaten. Nothing was too salty or too...well...gross. We might have put the dishwasher out of a job since we cleaned our plates quite thoroughly. The night was made even more special by the fact that Diverxo was awarded their second Michelin star. While also churning out amazing food the staff got to have some fun as well, made evident by the flour coated chefs that came out of the kitchen. If you are lucky enough to travel to Madrid, and have time for one amazing meal, this is the place to go. 

Sorry for the long post, just couldn't break it up.

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