I won't be driving - far too interested in the wine list for that. I don't mind getting a cab though.
If you're driving, Mugaritz for lunch.
San Sebastian Restaurants: Recommendations
Posted 18 May 2009 - 09:45 AM
Posted 18 May 2009 - 09:46 AM
If you're driving, Mugaritz for lunch.
Cabs are not too expensive, and easy to get even for the return journey; and far safer than driving. Especialy as the Sommelier at Mugaritz is worth testing, she often gives very interesting recommendations.
I completely agree with the cab suggestion. I would not have wanted to drive after our meal and wine at Mugaritz.
Posted 13 July 2009 - 07:01 AM
First things first, I insisted on a return visit to Gandarias. On my stag trip to San Seb last year we spent a silly amount of time in Gandarias, and I wanted to see if it was as good as I remembered. Of course, I also wanted to introduce it to my wife. We started with 2 glasses of Belondrade y Lurton and a plate of ham. The wine was everything I had been led to believe it would be, and such a bargain at just over €5 a glass. That ham was, to my palate, as delicious as ever, although Hazel was less convinced. She thought it was certainly very good, but maybe not as good as she'd been expecting. We had a quick foie gras a la plancha (good, but I've had better foie there) and a solomillo (just the one, for now...) and we were off! However, over our 5 days there we returned to Gandarias for at least one solomillo each per day, generally washed down with a glass of Emilio Moro. We just couldn't resist those little tastes of heaven. The little piece of sirloin, salt, thin slice of jalapeno and bread just packs so much delicious flavour into a small package. Simple but so so effective.
Okay, here are some other pintxo bars that we sampled and my thoughts. Details may be scant (a LOT of txacoli was consumed!)
We'll start with the Old Town:
A Fuego Negro: hands down my favourite pintxo bar, and one we returned to again and again. It was our goal to eat our way through the entire menu, and while we didn't quite accomplish that, we sampled a healthy (unhealthy?) proportion of it. We also found the friendliest service in here, and by the end of our 5 days were getting comped glasses of wine and various other concoctions. A Fuego Negro has the honour of providing me with the most memorable bite of the entire trip: Ham and almond "coffee" with sweetbread crisps. The "coffee" was a thick soup tasting the very essence of iberico ham and topped up with steamed milk to look like a latte. Chunks of sweetbread were coated in corn-flakes and fried to make crisps to be dipped into the "coffee" and eaten. Which I did. With relish. Repeatedly. Other triumphs here were thinly-sliced scallops with black truffle crumbled on top (there was another ingredient which I have annoyingly forgotten) and a dish involving a cauliflower curry cream. The foie terrine was delicious here also. In fact, the only thing that did nothing for me was the "baca-bits" dish. Deep-fried, uber-greasy, chewy, the effect not unlike day-old prawn crackers. Everything else? Fab.
La Cepa: Had the ham. Lovely, better than Gandarias. Nothing else floated our boat. We left.
La Cuchara de San Telmo: This place had been recommended to us before we left by people I trust. It's recommended regularly on eGullet. It's recommended on the pintxo sites. Random strangers, quite literally, recommended it to us regularly in San Sebastian. However, for some reason it just wasn't for us. Thinking our first experience was not representative, we went again. Still didn't really get it. The food wasn't in any way bad, quite the contrary, but we found it more expensive than warranted, and it seemed that many of the dishes were covered in the same generic brown sauce. Certainly, there were good moments, don't get me wrong, but it didn't really suit us. Others love it, and I wouldn't argue. We did, however, get the slight feeling that the place knows it's firmly on the raider and thinks it's a little too cool for school. Maybe that's unfair, but we just didn't find it as welcoming as some of the other pintxo bars.
Borda Berri: This is, according to something I read somewhere, a sister bar to Cuchara de San Telmo, but strangely we loved this place. We had the veal cheeks (gelatinous, rich and lip-smacking, even if that generic brown sauce looked familiar...), meat croquetas, pig's ear, any amount of chorizo/blood sausage, octopus, foie gras etc. Basically, we liked this place. One of Hazel's favourites of the trip.
La Mejillonera: We went for patatas bravas. They were pretty good, nothing to write home about. We left.
Txondorra: We found this place pretty late in the trip, but had a great time here. The menu looked pretty extensive, and I was sorry we couldn't sample more than we did. In the end we had Crunchy Katafi of leek, a volcano of rice with foie gras and ceps (?), some form of deep fried something that we pointed to at the bar that seemed to contain cod and a prawn, and then there was another dish that I can't remember at all. Could have eaten far more here. Strangely, the place was inundated with tourists who genuinely hadn't a clue what they were doing. We were like seasoned pros in comparison, even with our pathetic attempts at pronunciation of the menu items! Still, we seemed to entertain the bar staff with our efforts.
Zeruko: I don't know what to tell you about Zeruko. Some of the best pintxos I had all week were here. I was loving the place, thinking it one of the best bars of the lot, when Hazel was served a chicken dish whose insides weren't just undercooked, they were downright raw. So raw, I just can't quite get over how it could have happened. We didn't have the Spanish to explain the problem, and detailed communication had been difficult here anyway (although the smiles were genuine) but I was very surprised when we left it, opened but uneaten, suggestively displayed on the counter in front of us and nothing was said, even when they cleared it. So confusing. Anyway, it's a one-off that I feel compelled to tell you to disregard, because everything else was so worthwhile. The famous pintxo here is "La Horguera" (the bonfire) which is a piece of fish (cod again?) over a smoking grille. You decide how much you want to smoke it and then assemble the rest of the dish (bread, a sauce) and eat. Great fun, very tasty, totally worthwhile. Other great pintxos were: crumbled blood sausage on a deep-fried basket, topped with a quail egg; a cracking foie gras terrine on a sweet crisp that just blended seamlessly (a photo may follow!), excellent solomillo de buey with seared foie gras. In fact, the foie gras here was some of the best I had. Go to this place, just watch out for the chicken!
This post is getting too long. I'll continue with the Gros pintxos bars in the next.
Posted 13 July 2009 - 07:21 AM
Posted 13 July 2009 - 07:57 AM
Alona Berri: This is THE place I was adamant we were taking in on this trip, having missed it last time myself, and having read so much about it here. I knew in advance we were going to do the sit-down pintxo taster, and we did, but I can't help feeling that we may have missed something in taking this approach. Not a bad start, but probably not what you'd do if you were a regular or a local. In any case, there were lots and lots of really good dishes here. I won't go through the list (it's online anyway I think). I don't want to grumble, but I think I may have expected too much. I went in expecting something approaching 3-michelin-star food and, with all due respect, it's not that. Still, for creative pintxos it's a must-do.
Okay, the rest of the Gros pintxos were consumed in one mammoth lunch crawl. This crawl started with 3 pintxo bars in the old town (see La Mejillonera, Zuruko and Txondorra from previous post) so I'm really going to struggle to remember what was what here. It doesn't help that we had a txacoli in every bar either...
Garbola: The todopintxos site told me to have the shark so I had the shark. 'Twas fine, not earth-shattering to my palate.
Hidalgo 56: I had the volcano of black pudding which was seriously rich, quite large, but pretty damn good. Hazel had prawns in the lightest batter imaginable, and she claims that they constituted her most memorable "simple" pintxo outside of Gandarias' solomillo. Praise indeed since she craved those solomillos like crack cocaine. Anyway, while I recovered from my black pudding volcano, she valiantly made her way through the stuffed squid. Lovely dish, but large and rich again. I was flagging, she was getting her second wind.
Bergara: With Casa Senra mercifully closed I got to walk a few more paces before our attack on Bergara. Hazel had Txalupa, I had gratinada de pisto (a kind of ratatouille). Then I ordered a dish called "duck delights" on the English version of the menu, which turned out to be little pieces of duck breast and apple on a pastry base. It didn't work for me, tasting like apple pie sprinkled with diced duckbreast. Still, nothing if not interesting. Hazel had something else that I believe we have a photo of somewhere. We also have a photo of me looking twice my age at this point. I was REALLY struggling.
We had been recommended Narru and the barman at Bergara pointed us in the direction. Or at least, we thought he did. Instead we found
El Lagar: I'm sorry we didn't find this place earlier as it had lots of interesting-looking menu items. I had the Salmorejo Cordoba, a cold tomato soup with ham and sliced boiled egg. It was lovely, but it was also the final nail in the coffin for my eating ability. I can't remember what Hazel had, I'm sorry to say, but I remember she was also impressed. We asked our extremely helpful barmaid where Narru was, and she pointed us in the right direction. Or so we thought. We once again couldn't find it, although by that stage it was probably just as well. A brief stroll across the river led us back to the old town and one last solomillo and glass of Emilio Moro for old times' sake at Gandarias. What a day.
Please note, most of the pintxos mentioned here can be seen on the most excellent Todo Pintxos site. I'd strongly recommend this site as an aid to planning. I remembered to check it far too late in proceedings, but when I return to San Seb I'll know exactly what I'm doing.
Okay, what about Mugaritz? It was great, but we're just not sure it's for us. We had the menu Naturan and sure enough the cooking and execution were faultless, the conception incredible, the techniques seriously impressive, the ideas boundless. But it just didn't excite me. It had all the hallmarks of an excellent meal, but I didn't go away with that sense of joy that an excellent meal normally engenders in me. I can only put it down to a question of taste. I know Mugaritz polarises people, and I was almost intrigued to see on which side I'd fall. Well, now I know. I'm still very glad I went, still very glad I experienced this cooking, but I think I know more about myself now.
One other thing, we had some misgivings about the service and the atmosphere conjured up in the room. On arrival, we were asked if we'd like an aperitif, we said yes, and we were ushered toward the garden. Except we weren't seated in the garden due to the changeable weather, we were instead shown into a bar area in a separate building on the grounds.
This was not a comfortable room, benches and chairs were laid out in a way that left no privacy whatsoever, and the magazines scattered around sealed the impression of a high-end dentist's waiting room. We got our drinks, we got our potato rock appetisers (which I thought were very poor, by the way) and we got our menus. Then we were neglected for 35 or 40 minutes. Another lone diner had been there on our arrival, his glass already empty, and he only received his menus and appetisers when we did, and was only shown to his table when we were. I don't know how long he had waited, but he was obviously growing pretty impatient by then. I felt sorry for him, but after a while I started to feel sorry for us too, as the tension spread across all the waiting parties. Annoyingly, when we were eventually rescued and led to the dining room, the garden was filled with couples enjoying their pre-dinner drinks in the very areas we had been told they wouldn't use due to the weather.
Once we got into the dining room, the atmosphere from the staff was reverent, cold and clinical. They certainly loosened up a little as the evening continued, but it was really very strange at the beginning. Since I'm carping, the envelopes left on our table to "submit" or "rebel" didn't mean much to us as they were in French. When I asked about them, one member of staff brought us English ones, but I thought this was an odd lapse.
There we are then, 5 glorious days in San Sebastian, a lot of eating, a lot less room in the waistband of my trousers, and it goes without saying that I can't wait for my next visit.
Posted 08 May 2010 - 05:44 AM
I've been reading about them all for years, and am therefore very much looking forward to getting there finally, but am having difficulty choosing which.
Budget is unfortunately a factor in this, but we're happy to push it if it's worth it. Can any of you who've been recently to SS please let me know roughly what a decent lunch for 4 would set you back at each of the big names? Also, what my chances are of getting a table for four on a weekday with three weeks to go?
Posted 08 May 2010 - 06:38 AM
The pintxos are incredible and an incredible bargain as well. We hit Akelare for lunch and it was fabulous. It will set you back a lot of cash though, the exchange rate is a lot better now, but we spent $600+ per couple for lunch with some nice wine. I believe the menu is roughly 150 euros per person. It was great, but there is no doubt that the pintxos bars offer a MUCH better value. We had a really fabulous lunch over the border at L'auberge Basque, about an hour away, and also a very nice bargain.
Posted 21 April 2011 - 03:54 AM
Posted 29 April 2011 - 09:14 AM
Zeruko - A new, highly innovative pintxos bar in the old town. You have to try the smoke cod & the squid souffle. It's good fun too. There's tons of other deccent Pintxos bars as i'm sure you know as well!
Kaia-Kaipe & Elkano - Over in Geteria up the coast, these are both fantastic for fresh, whole fish. We went to Kaia and had a whole turbot between two of us. It was some of the nicest fish i'd ever eaten - cooked whole over coals to perfection.
I also went to Arzak, Etxebarri & Mugaritz. If you have to chose between Arzak and Mugaritz, personally I'd recommend the former. Mugaritz is certainly innovative and in a fantastic setting, but for me a few dishes failed to shine and overall it was a bit of a letdown given the high hopes I had - I'll write a full report up later when I get the chance.
Posted 29 April 2011 - 05:33 PM
Posted 04 March 2013 - 01:43 PM
Elkano is in Getaria, a small harbour village about twenty minutes on the bus from San Sebastian. It costs about €3 for the round trip by bus. There are a number of restaurants in town, each with a charcoal grill outside cooking the days catch or whatever else they can over the coals. Wandering around I saw monkfish, large sole, artichokes with bacon and beef on the grills. Getaria smells good.
Elkano is not particularly cheap. The menu lists starters from €12 to over €30 and the mains I was interested in were priced by the kilo. Helpfully we were assisted in choosing a couple of half portions of starters and then the reason we were there, a whole grilled turbot to share.
We started with Hake Kokotxas three ways, grilled, fried and with green sauce. These were good. They have quite an interesting gelatinous texture and a good clean fish taste. This was my first try of kokotxas and I would definitely order them again. We were served four each.
Next came baked spider crab. This was a simple but very delicious preparation. Take some delicious bread, pile some hot crab on and eat. Perfect.
The main event was the turbot. This particular one was a little over 1.5 kilos. It was more or less perfect. After we had eaten the fillets we were given the option of having the head, ventresca and remaining good bits recovered for us and an explanation of what we were eating. The head yielded cheeks, throat and more delicious gelatinous goo. We were then encouraged to eat the chest / belly and remaining flesh with our fingers. It was surprising just how much more delicious eating was to be had from what looked like, and usually is waste when I grill a turbot at home. There was no garnish of any kind and it was all the better for it. As perfect a piece of fish as you could hope for.
I was a little concerned that the bill would be €€€’s but the starters were charged as half portions and worked out at about €17. Given that we shared both the kokotxas and the crab and there was plenty (both plated separately), this was a bargain.
We passed on dessert. Those that we saw looked good though.
The wine list had plenty of bargains too. We drank Egly-Ouriet for €40something. Kripta was around €40 too. There is a place near to home that sells Kripta for £79.95. There are plenty of bargains to be had on the wine front. Really excellent.
Edited by MaLO, 04 March 2013 - 01:47 PM.
Posted 05 March 2013 - 02:16 PM
Restaurante Alameda is in Hondarribia. We got there by bus from San Sebastian. It took about 40 minutes and costs less than €5.00 return. I picked Alameda because Akalare and Mugaritz were shut, Arzak is in the midst of opening in London and I was struggling to justify the €500+ bill at Martin Berastegui.
Hondarribia is an interesting looking small town to the north of San Sebastian heading towards the French border. There is a 10th century Parador that would be a good place to stay for a couple of nights exploring the bars and restaurants in town.
On arrival we were offered our choice of tables as there was only one other taken at two pm. Over the course of lunch another four or five tables were filled making for a nice relaxed atmosphere, busy enough to occupy the staff but not so busy to be stretched.
For lunch we opted for the largest tasting menu with wine pairing.
First course was a plump oyster of Aranchon with cauliflower cream, seaweed and citrus. This was really tasty and fresh, a little crisp apple to offset the plump oyster and a light briny, citrusy sauce to help things along.
Crispy blood pudding, hazelnuts, truffle cabbage and baked apple was the second course. I like black pudding in all of its guises and I liked this. Soft rich pudding came with a bit of crunchy texture, sweet apple then earthy truffled cabbage.
Scallops ravioli hinted towards Asian techniques in so much as the ravioli was more like an Asian dumpling than Italian pasta. The filling was a tasty mixture of chopped scallops and herbs and the chestnut soup was light and without any of the powdery, floury consistency chestnut soups and purees can sometimes have.
“Butakaku” Iberian pork with green apple. This was quite an interesting plateful. I think it was described as Japanese in cooking style. It was a long cooked pork jowl; about 60:40 fat to meat so very rich. The fat and flesh was cooked until it was spectacularly delicate and then finished with a rich glaze. If anything it was a little too rich altogether. The acidic apple element did lighten the dish overall but I think I would have preferred the fat to meat ratio to have been reversed. Still good though.
Fish of the day was Sea bass. This was the best piece of bass I have eaten. It was a very fresh, thick lump of exceptionally tasty fish, cooked just through. The Seaweed citrus broth was another slightly Asian touch in its gelatinous texture. An affection for gelatinous textures is common in Basque cuisine too so it may well be that it is classically Basque. I enjoyed this a lot.
Final savoury course was roast pigeon with black chilli sauce. I have eaten quite a bit of pigeon over the last year and this was as good as any of the others. The offal parfait was quite a distinct and strong flavour but the chutney took the sharp, irony edges off this quite well. The legs and breast were good, well flavoured and cooked nicely. The mole was a little more subtle than it might have been in an ideal world although I suppose big, punchy chilli flavours might have been a bit of a shock.
First dessert was olive oil ravioli with red fruits. It was light and fruity and a good option after the savoury courses.
Final dessert was a smoked sheeps milk ice cream with bitter orange and crumble. It has to be said that this was not the most elaborate dessert I have encountered. It was however, delicious.
To finish we had a selection of petits fours.
The wine pairing was good. We went through five whites, one red and a dessert wine. I didn’t make any notes about particular producers etc but each wine was well paired with the food and was a decent pour too. There was also an amuse and good bread too.
Service was very good, friendly and multi-lingual. I really enjoyed lunch here. I may have enjoyed one of the 3* places more but two people were very well fed with a selection of good wine for the price of one in one of the 3* places. Well worth consideration if you are in San Sebastian.
Posted 05 March 2013 - 06:35 PM
Thanks for your reports, MaLO. We went to Arzak a couple of years ago and very much enjoyed it, but it's great to see others in the area we'd probably enjoy just as much. Alameda looks really good. Their presentation is beautiful - very similar to what you'd expect at Arzak.
We liked the feel of San Sebastian itself and would like to spend more time there. We'd hoped to stay in the Hondarribia parador that time but it was full, unfortunately.
My eG Foodblog
eGullet Ethics Code signatory