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Archive for spain – san sebastian

Etxebarri (Axpe, Spain) – Legendary Expectations

“Etxebarri” – it’s spoken on the lips of the fooderati as if it’s an impossible perfection.

Etxebarri is tucked in the rolling hills of Axpe, Spain inside a two-story stone building on a village square. The restaurant has been mythologized in blog posts and magazine articles – a man, exemplary seafood, his home-made grills and charcoal, and a grill technique from the next realm. It’s a romantic story, a Basque Howard Roark, cooking his food without regard for international trends. It has become the ultimate experience in foodie currency. Everyone has been to Roses by now but how many have trekked their way from Bilbao, or San Sebastian, to the bucolic village of Axpe?

Etxebarri (Axpe)

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Mugaritz (Errenteria, Spain) – A Beautiful Meal

My last Mugaritz meal proved to be one of invention, creativity, and uniqueness. Despite a month-long trip through the Gagnaire’s, El Bulli’s, and Can Roca‘s last year; Chef Andoni Aduriz served us some of the more memorable dishes of our trip. The meal wasn’t perfect but the ideas were captivating and fresh. Where El Bulli clinically ran through twenty-plus concepts, Mugaritz paused and pondered. There was a great cerebral touch to the evening.

This meal was better. The last meal was marred by a few conceptual and cooking mistakes, whereas this meal flowed perfectly from beginning to end. The summer bounty of the Basque county-side was in full display, most dishes flooding with greens or flowers. The infusions and broths, a divisive line with the restaurant’s critics, were exquisite. The avant-garde techniques used are a means to an end – tasting the last weeks of the summer. A great restaurant operating near its grand potential.

Roasted Piquillo Pepper wrapped in ham

It looked like a piece of toro nigiri – a work of art. The pepper had a strong roasted flavor that was upfront and bounced in the mouth for awhile. The ham, provenance unknown, was quite fatty with a hint of sweetness. Its flavor added a small dimension to the pepper but I suspect its slight miry texture was its raison d’etre. Very Good.

Mugaritz (Errenteria) - Roasted Piquillo Pepper wrapped in ham

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Zuberoa (San Sebastian, Spain) – Lost on Me

Zuberoa was our first meal in tempermental San Sebastian (it quite reminds me of San Francisco.) The house, which is over 600 years old, is quite regal in a Spanish way; the outside seating, despite the chilliness of this particular evening, is refreshing. We created our own tasting menu by sharing 3 appetizers and 4 mains (which might have been half portions but i can’t remember.)

The restaurant is billed as traditional Basque cuisine done right. Considering our Spanish itinerary, we thought it would be a welcome respite from the experimental cuisine of the other restaurants sandwiched around the Zuberoa visit.

Unfortunately, the meal was not very inspiring which, apparently, leads to a deterioration in note-taking (drown yourself in your sorrows?) I’ve forgotten many of the details.

1. Foie Gras & Truffle in Wine Sauce
The foie was very sweet but balanced by the acidity of the sauce. Good.

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Arzak (San Sebastian, Spain) – Can the Daughter be King?

Arzak is a restaurant I can’t pin down. It is Spain’s longest running three star; a revered restaurant that many consider the best in the country. It maintained its three stars largely on serving the pinnacle of Basque cuisine. But old man Arzak grew tired, and his daughter Elena Arzak took over the reins. It’s still considered by many to be Spain’s best but Elena has supposedly given the traditional cuisine a much more modern twist, taking some cues from her contemporaries.

I went in expecting a formal Basque meal w/ some unexpected fireworks. The vibe at Arzak might be more casual than Can Roca – there’s nothing regal about the building, interior, nor furniture – it could be any random restaurant in Spain. I was contributing to this downfall of fine dining by wearing jeans but I could’ve been overdressed. No formality in this place.The food though, the food will surely have a spark; a refined sizzle that will set it in apart from places like Zuberoa and the myriad pinxtos (re: tapas) bars in the old city of San Sebastian. That was the expectation sitting there at the table – casual place, refined food – a winning combination in Spain.

1. Red Bean Soup
Thick, satisfying, but neither here nor there – it lacked a focal point, no driving force to establish ‘this is Arzka’s legendary cuisine, get ready.’ Ok.

Arzak - Red Bean Soup

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Mugaritz (San Sebastian, Spain) – A Unique Voice Among Masters

Upon reading the various reviews, I thought Mugaritz would be some sort of haute fusion – spices, infusions, etc. but our meal had none of it. Some respected diners have described the chef as a one-trick pony but our meal had a very wide range of technique. all of it completely unique. It’s a very “organic” meal that plays on the natural elements, not the periodic table of elements.

Of all the places I have visited in the last month, Mugaritz the location has the most character. The lounge is perfect – sketches on the wall behind the many bird cages. It has a voice where the other 3-stars prefer modern gloss and cool. The restaurant itself has a minimal design, but like the lounge, it has a personality that falls somewhere between Spain and japan.

We opted for the grand tasting menu.

1. Ceramic Potatoes

In the lounge, they served us an amuse of ceramic potatoes as we perused the menus. The potatoes were coated with a very thin layer of ceramic and served piping hot. The shell was crunchy and slightly chalky, and the potato slightly green. Was it a smashing success? No. Did it set the stage for paradigm-changing cuisine? Yes. Good.

Mugaritz - Ceramic Potatoes

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