Saturday, June 22, 2013

San Sebastian, Donostia!! España...

I inherited my love of food from both my parents, and having grown up with Spanish food, every trip back there is cherished. And even more so when the trip involves San Sebastian, which is like and amusement park for foodies!! It is not just having some of the top restaurants in the world, current #4 Mugaritz and #8 Arzak, or the fact that there are more Michelin stars per capita than anywhere in the world, but that you can walk into almost any pintxo (what tapas are called there) bar and have not only great food but something probably completely different from what you would find elsewhere.

So the trip itself started a year ago, when I had to secure reservations for both Mugaritz and Arzak. We were traveling with our good friends and both our son and theirs, so having that in mind and knowing that we would be getting a baby sitter for those two nights, I got the earliest reservation times, for 8:30 when they open. But before going into those experiences first some about the pintxos bars.
We stayed in a condo very close to La Concha beach and within walking distance to the “old part” where most of the pintxos bars are located. Walking to the pintxos bars:

One of our favorites was Bar Zeruko on calle Pescaderia 10. As you can see from the picture below, the bar is full of pintxos, all of them very innovative and delicious; you pick a plate and start putting the ones you want on it and give them back to the bartender who warms up the ones that need it. There are also a few that you order off the blackboard, such as La Hoguera, a codfish (bacalao) that comes in its own small smoking grill. The chef from Zeruko, Joxean Calvo, was so nice that when he saw my 8 year old asked if he could make something more kid friendly for him. Fortunately my son is not picky so I politely declined but thought was a nice touch, in particular with a packed place and kitchen going full steam!

Keep in mind that most of these pintxos, including the ones above with generous portions of foie, go on average for only 3-4€, a deal!!

Another place high on the recommendation list was La Cuchara de San Telmo on calle 31 de Agosto. The place is tiny but has great outdoor seating if you can snag it, you order inside and they bring it out. Highly recommended here is the Braised Veal Cheeks (carrillera de ternera), the foie, the risotto and codfish. The staff was super friendly and recommended several items on the menu that they favored.

We also enjoyed A Fuego Negro located too on calle 31 de Agosto. The winner here was the Merendola de Foie, a brulee of foie that comes in a can, inside a picnic wrap, together with a pumpkin and vanilla mermelade, and a nuts and fruits bread, delicious.

Another winner that didn’t look like much from the outside was Bar Alex, we had so many good pintxos there, including the mushroom risotto with parmesan, foie with orange (I had foie at least once a day, usually three or four!), and three cheese tosta.

Also had some good pintxos at Bide Bide, like the simple but awesome chistorra with eggs and potatoes, and angulas! 

Even the little café/bar steps away from our condo had some great breakfast pintxos!! Some of the awesome breakfast pintxos at Bar Ostarte:


Moving on to the “big” ones, Arzak and Mugaritz, expectations were pretty high for both and I have to say both of them delivered!! We went to Arzak first and Mugaritz second and I am glad that is the order we followed, I have to say for individual flavors Arzak had some of the winning dishes but for overall memorable experience it was Mugaritz. Due to the many courses I will only post a few pictures here, first from Arzak the Kobe Steak: first an iPad is placed on the table with flames on the screen, then a clear plate holding the steak goes on top of the iPad and the server places something that makes smoke come out so whole presentation is flames, steak, smoke, brilliant. The “hardware” chocolates and the presentation of the sabajon were also impressive, but as far as taste the pigeon was the clear winner, I had pigeon before but didn’t taste anywhere as fantastic as this one did.

Here  we are with our friends and Elena Arzak (#1 woman chef in the world!!) after dinner.

Mugaritz had several dishes that were also very much about the presentation, like edible stones  (actually potatoes that look like stones sitting on dirt) and also the desserts which come as the seven deadly sins, and you have to uncover layer by layer/sin by sin which is a game on itself.
Some of the other outstanding dishes were the edible paper with flowers, the lobster flesh over fermented rice, the blood sausage and foie macaron (!), the pea teardrops, so many…
Pretty much everywhere we went we had great (Spanish) wines but at Mugaritz we took it up a notch with Alion Ribera del Duero and Pintia from Toro, and then a new one for me but fantastic, the Altos de Losada from Bierzo, delicious…

All in all, and even with the high mark we had set for this trip, it was even beyond our expectations, from the simple bar for breakfast that was a total mom and pop (or in this case, mom and son) operation, to the famous pintxos bars and the top rated restaurants, some great food but definitely some of the best gastromic experiences we have ever had!!