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San Sebastian Restaurants: Recommendations


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Goodness, I missed the Sep. 22 flurry here! Sorry about that - I was harvesting grapes at the time, which is something that happens to me once a year about this time of the year :rolleyes: . But let me say that I'm very glad that Bux's experience as told in another thread has restablished some balance in opinions about Martin Berasategui, which were getting a bit out of hand. Yes, I defend him. Outstanding cuisine, even with its links to France that are a bit more apparent than in other Spanish three-star places. What's wrong with that, anyhow? :unsure:

Victor de la Serna

elmundovino

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Goodness, I missed the Sep. 22 flurry here! Sorry about that - I was harvesting grapes at the time, which is something that happens to me once a year about this time of the year :rolleyes: . But let me say that I'm very glad that Bux's experience as told in another thread has restablished some balance in opinions about Martin Berasategui, which were getting a bit out of hand. Yes, I defend him. Outstanding cuisine, even with its links to France that are a bit more apparent than in other Spanish three-star places. What's wrong with that, anyhow?  :unsure:

How's the harvest in La Mancha? Grapes were still on the vine in La Rioja, at least in some places.

Our restaurant selections were pretty well made before Robert's article appeared here. It's interesting that they were affected by earlier threads in which Berasategui got very favorable reviews. Diners who read personal reports when making their travel plans are all too often apt to place too much importance in a single report by someone they don't know over the professionally produced guide books. Over the years, I've had enough dissatisfaction with Michelin--in reality one of the most successful and dependable dining guides--to want to throw the guides out, but it's dangerous to depend on even a few opinions by diners with only a single meal at a restaurant under their belt. I know that if I visit even a three star restaurant on different nights, I may have a drastically different opinion of my meal. More often than not, it's dependent on my mood, what I ordered, how I ordered and things only I have any control over and less on differences in what the restaurant delivers, although knowing a restaurant's specialties is more important that knowing what one likes, in my opinion.

There's nothing wrong in having links or influences to French food or having them obvious. I think we agree that for at least the first three quarters of the 20th century, France far outpaced Spain in culinary matters in many ways, not the least of these was the quality and depth of haute cuisine. Spain is running with the ball right now, to use a sports metaphor, but they didn't invent the game of restaurant cooking nor develop the techniques, discipline or style of haute cuisine. I think the issue is not unlike having a restaurant in Normandy showing a link to Burgundy a couple of generations ago or maybe less great. Regional food at the very top level of haute cuisine is far less dominant today than it was a few generations ago.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Hey, when I was a kid in 1968 and made my first serious foodie trip to France with my father, we stayed first in Biarritz after eating at the (then) great Café de Paris, from where we hat do drive across the country (no motorways at all back then!) to Roanne for the Troisgros and then to Lyon for Bocuse. After a memorable dinner at the Café, Pierre Laporte gave us two magnums of Brane-Cantenac for us to take to the Troisgros brothers (both Jean and Pierre, back then) and to Paul, and he said: "Tell them that this is for them to taste some real wine, and not that Rhône and Burgundy plonk they insist on drinking!" Every culinary region of France was very insular then, and to some extent they remain insular today. Try to get a decent bottle of Burgundy in a Bordeaux restaurant! (Pierre Laporte, southwestern French bigot that he was, would heartily approve, I'm sure.)

That said, I've often explained here, and I recently mentioned Ferran Adrià's words to Michel Guérard in the same context, that we'd be nowhere without what we took and learned from the French. But then no one else in the world of modern cuisine would be anywhere if it hadn't been for France!

Victor de la Serna

elmundovino

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  • 2 weeks later...
. .  Kaia and Elkano are worth a pilgrimage for whole, grilled wild rodaballo (turbot), the best in the world, IMHO. 

Here is a kindred spirit. The multistarred Basque restaurants will not give one an accurate picture of the cuisine there and as far as I am concerned a whole grilled wild rodaballo eaten in Gueteria gives one a more transcendental experience than having any single dish at the multistarred places. For my money, out of a total of 5 days, I would eat traditional seafood twice, grilled meat once(In Tolosa) and visit 2 multistarred temples in Vizcaya(and lunch in tapas bars).

One minor correction: this said, the Atlantic turbot, however great, is not on the level of kalkan, ie turbot caught in the Bosphorous in Istanbul in March when they migrate from the Black sea. The season starts in february and ends in early June but it is the second half of March that this fish--which in my opinion is one of the 2 tastiest fish in the world---is at its optimum. I confess that there is no chef in Istanbul who is as skilled as the chefs in Kaia or Elkano or Zuberoa when it comes to preparing the turbot but even in the hands of an average chef the Bosphorous turbot shines. It is too bad that Turkey does not have the likes of discerning palates like Mr. Dawes and Mr. Serna to publicize its unique products.

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  • 9 months later...

Hi Guys,

I've read with interest the numerous posts about San Sebastian's 'top five'. However, I shall be visting Donostia in the very near future and I'm planning to sample the pintxos.

My understanding is that most of the Tapas bars have a particular speciality, and as such, one typically moves from bar to bar sampling the best dishes of that establishment.

Can anyone help me the in my quest - does anyone have particular recommendations of tapas bars and/or specific dishes....or is it actually easier than that - is it obvious what to go for in each place?

Thanks in advance

Steve

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There are many bars that specialize in one dish and more than a few that don't, or if they do, the specialization is in a range of tapas rather than one sort. I've also found that at times I've like the mushrooms more than the ham in a bar reputed to be known for its ham and vice versa. By all means go for the specialities, but don't be limited and pick what looks good. There's a great concentration in the old city, but by no means are the tapas bars restriced to that area, nor are all the best ones there. Look for old threads on tapas bars here on eGullet. I know I've read some very helpful posts and have posted my comments when they were fresh.

If you're eating in any of the better restaurants in the region, ask if the chef has a list of favorites. I've seen mention of lists from Arzak, Akelarre and Berasategui.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Hi, this is a list that Abraham García published in El Mundo a few years ago, but it's still useful:

Ganbara

San Jerónimo, 21. Deep fried asparragus, chistorra in puff pastry, lots of mushrooms.

La Cepa

31 de Agosto, 9. Jabugo ham, Burgos cheese, sprats omelette.

Tamboril

Pescadería, 2. Musrooms, piquillo peppers with cod, shrimps.

Txepetxa

Pescadería, 6. Sprats in a thousand ways.

Astelena

Iñigo, 1. Hake cake, croquetas.

Borda Berri

Fermín Calbetón, 2. Duck wings, sea urchins, foie grass toast...

Goiz Argi

Fermín Calbetón, 4. Mushrooms puff pastry, croquetas, baby squids.

Casa Senra

San Francisco, 32. Guijuelo ham, cocochas, fried cod, Idiazábal cheese

Aloña-Berri

Berminghan, 24. cod brandada.

Bergara

General Arteche, 8. Ajoarriero cod, foie grass with grapes, piquillo peppers and anchoas scrumbled eggs, baby squid with onions.

Oñatz

Urdaneta, 22. beef cheeks, hake with vanaigrette, ox tail.

La Espiga

San Marcial, 48. Jabugo ham.

Rogelio Enríquez aka "Rogelio"
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My husband and I just spent a few weeks in the Basque region, you will LOVE San Sebastian.

Our favorite pintxos bar was Ormazabel. They had a great assortment, friendly bartenders and a good clientel. We also enjoyed Casa Vergara.

That list of specialties would have been good to have! Everything looks good when your in these places.

And on a bit different subject we dined at both Kursaal and Arzak. Arzak was our best dining experience of a 3 week trip but Kursaal is a not to be missed also we felt, much lower priced but wonderfully interesting menu.

Have fun! and try the txocoli (sp?) wine with your pintxos!

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A search on "tapas" here might bring up half the threads in the forum, so here's some stuff that comes to mind.

the Italian magazine Gambero Rosso April's issue has a report from the Basque region. For tapas in Donostia:

Alôna Berri

Birmingham, 24

San Sebastian

tel. 0034 943 290 818

Bergara

barrio de Gros

General Arteche, 8

San Sebastian

tel. 0034 943 275 026.

These two bars are quite near each other. Bergara was closed for vacation in October when we were in Donostia. They are across the river from the older part of town, but it's not too long a walk and Aloña Berri has excellent tapas. It's rather outisde the frenzy of the Parte Vieja and a friendly neighborhood place with award winning tapas. To visit both bars might make the walk doubly worthwhile. I mention it in this

thread. It's a dialog with some recommendations that were made on eGullet while I was in Donostia and my response to the bars I visited. La Cuchara de San Telmo in the Parte Vieja is the other really interesting one.

Here's some of the better stuff from my October 2003 notes. I thought I posted this, but can't find it online. The sources range from eGullet, friends and relatives to the well known local chefs.

Aloña Berri barrio de Gros, Bermingham, 24 tel: 943 290 818

Very friendly, quiet neighborhood bar, some "nueva" tapas

- erizo (warm)

- langoustino (wrapped in brik) with a salsa verduras

- brandada w/ poached quail egg on tartlette shell

- we drank a rosado, (rosé) and a zurrito (dribble of beer, not much more than a shot of beer. If you want to eat more than you want to drink, this is worth knowing how to order.)

The tab was 8,30€

La Cuchara de San Telmo Parte Vieja, Plazuela de Don Alvareo del Valle de Lersundi off Santa

Modern pinxtos - list on the blackboard - hot, kitchen in the back, tables outside on Santa Gorda

- risotto cremosa con idiazabal

- zurrito

2,80€

Haizea Parte Vieja, Aldamar, 8

- Pudding de txnagurro

- zurrito

2,60€

Goiz Argi Parte Vieja, calle Fermin Calbeton

Our first stop, very friendly, smiling service, great variety

- txangurro (warm ramekin)

- morcilla con arroz

- atun, boccarone, pimento verde (open)

- dos zurritos

5,40€

Another day

- calamar a la plancha

- zurrito

2,75€

La Cepa Parte Vieja, calle 31 De Agosta

Jamon - nice & friendly Ham, lots of ham.

- jamon jabugo (small baguette)

- morcilla con cebolla

- dos tintos

7,10€

Ganbara Parte Vieja, calle San Jeronimo

Reported to be less then friendly, it was very crowded and not paricularly welcoming, but it was not unfriendly.

lots of mini croissant and mini baguette sandwiches, ham, smoked? salmon and cod? also setas y hongos (mushrooms)

- hongos (cèpes) salteadas (racion) good sized portion

- dos rosados

- un zurrito

15,20€

Return visit

- jamon baguette

- croqueta

- zurrito

5,50€

I'd go back to any one of those in a second. If any one of them moved around the corner from my, my neighborhood would be improved, although they would be even more packed and I probably wouldn't go there. Come to think of it, if they were in NYC, I might not be able to afford what they'd charge.

The following were on our short list, but we didn't make it, largely because many of them were on vacation and to some extent because Mrs. B rarely recovered from our lunches enough to have an appetite in the evening. All are in the Parte Vieja.

Txepetxa calle Pescaderia - anchovies - reported to be very nice & friendly - on vacation

Aralar calle Puerto/Portu Kale - cepes

Portaletas calle Puerto/Portu Kale - on vacation

Alotza Fermin Fermin Calbeton

Casa Bartolo Fermin Calbeton

Bar Sebastian overlooking the old Port - for grilled fish outdoors

Astelhena Portaletas, near by the Plaza de la Constitución - on vacation

Ambosio Plaza de la Constitución (south side)

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi --

this is my first post here but i've been doing research on these boards for days and it's been a huge help in deciding where my wife and i (and a friend also travelling with us) are going to be eating on an upcoming trip to Spain -- Barcelona and San Sebastian specifically.

i've spent time in Spain but my wife has never been there so we're excited on many levels here.

we have reservations at a few places already (incl. Arzak & Akelare) but can't blow it out like that at every meal, much as we'd like to.

so i'm looking for some recommendations for smaller, more inexpensive & casual finds that have become memorable meals for people here... i know you don't have to spend a lot to eat well in Spain (though it can be great to do that, too, of course) -- if anyone can point me in the right direction in San Sebastian & its surrounds, that would be great!

Barcelona, too, but i've got a better handle on that i think (looking forward to Can Majo from reading about it here and elsewhere)...

thanks!

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I'll say it again. Martin Berasategui just had the best food in our estimation and although a few people have disgreed, by and large our sense has been shared by the Spanish gastronomes we've met. The service was probably unsurpassed as well for us, although my wife speaks Spanish as a first language and that may change things.

I could spend a week eating tapas in San Sebastian and not feel gastronomically deprived. There are a few things that can run into money some people can lose control as little tabs run up after you've had enough of them, but it can be a lot of tasting for little money. I recently posted a list of bars in a thread that already had some other good suggestions and links to other people's lists.

I also recall some good advice about Try a search.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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bux --

thanks! i found that list of yours, and will be using it!

i have searched the site extensively before i posted; there's a ton of great info here. while searching i found that many of the threads i was reading (not the tapas thread however) were from last year so i figured i'd see if there were new recommendations as well...

thanks again!

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Spent almost 3 weeks in northern Spain last month and absolutely agree about Martin Berasategui. We loved our dinner at Kursaal which was not as spendy as Arzak but more than Can Majo in Barcelona.

Speaking of Barcelona please try to go to Cal Pep. it was one of our most unique experiences and the food was great too. Be in line before the doors open or you'll miss out.

Our favorites in San Sebastion for pintxos hopping:

Casa Vergara, La Cepa and our favorite Ormazabel in the old town

Bar San Marcial by the concha

Also if you get a chance it's a very nice drive to San Jean de Luz from San Sebastian.

For my recent trip report you can go toFodors:

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Under / around 60€ per person, a good bottle of wine included, I would suggest these places which offer a traditional Basque meal:

Rekondo in San Sebastian. Warning: if you're a wine-holic, the bill probably will be higher than 60€ per person, but you won't have the wine you drink any cheaper anywhere. And I'm talking of the best wines of the world. Ask Gerry Dawes.

Saltxipi in Usurbil.

Casa Nicolas in Tolosa. Casa Julian, in the same village, will do the trick. But since I believe Casa Nicolas is less known and of a similar qualityl, why not giving a try to it?

I've seen you already have pintxos in your mind. Do not forget them.

PedroEspinosa (aka pedro)

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I would highly recommend Kaia Kaipe in Getaria. Fabulous seafood. When there last September we had a whole grilled turbot that was just amazing. It's about a 30 minute drive west of San Sebastian.

We also ate at Arzak and Beresategui and enjoyed both immensely. I'm not sure if I'd be able to pick which I preferred. I do agree with Bux in that our experience at Berasategui was without any of the negatives I've seen complained about here. We were fortunate in that we had the whole patio to ourselves on a beautifully warm, misty, humid day. Looking out on the lush garden and deep green hillside opposite the restaurant we felt like we were in Ireland. The restaurant was at capacity inside, but no one else wanted to be seated outside. I guess that what felt like warm weather to us Canadians probably felt cold to the mostly local crowd. The service was very attentive even though we were removed from the rest of the guests and could easily have been forgotten.

As for Pintxos I suggest making the walk to Bergarra. It's a little bit removed from the Parte Vieja but not too far, perhaps a 10 min. walk, and it's a nice way to see a part of the city you probably wouldn't otherwise visit. We enjoyed Bergarra so much that we went back a second time.

A couple of years ago we had lunch ourdoors at one of the seafood restaurants located on the warf where the fishing boats dock and quite enjoyed it.

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I  suggest making the walk to Bergarra.

I remember our conversation last October. Unfortunately Begarra was closed for vacation that week, but we found Aloña Berri near by and that bar would also justify the walk. La Cuchara de San Telmo was also a great recommendation.

My recent post of tapas bars in San Sebastian/Donostia was in this thread along with other people's lists.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Wow - all good - nothing bad! What a place - and thanks for the recommendations. I'm afraid I can't add any new jewels to the list - but only to say that if you do go - prop yourself at the bar in La Cuchara de San Telmo - and simply start at the top of the blackboard list and work your way down. Fantastic. I don't speak Spanish - but it's not a problem - everything was sublime.....Still dreaming of the Braised Pork with Crust...and melt in your mouth beef.....and stuffed peppers....and pan fried foie gras........ :raz:

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I'll keep an eye out for it. What was the cost like?

I paid 2.80 euros for a small risotto cremosa con idiazabal and a very small beer.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Sounds like a bargain, although those little dishes can add up quickly.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Those little dishes can add up quickly. I just thought I'd repeat that. It's something worth saying again. There's no doubt tapas are an expensive way to fill an empty stomach. By the same token, one can go broke before one gets drunk drinking zurritos. It would be more economical to stay and have a glass caña of beer and several tapas in one bar, but part of the fun is moving and checking out as many bars as possible. I don't believe there's a similar option for wine drinkers.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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