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Suggestions for a Culinary Europe Trip


CityCook
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Girlcook, pedro and anyone else who cares to answer,

Who comes to dine at Martin, where do they stay and is there a difference between the lunch clientele and dinner clientele? Its proximity to Donostia would suggest that diners who are not living in the area, probably stay in Donostia. What's the commonest time for people to make dinner reservations and do people generally take a taxi or drive from Donastia?

Our one visit so far was lunch on the way from Iruña to Honarribia, two of our stop places on a drive around the Pyrenees that began and ended in Barcelona and included a visit with friends in the Languedoc. It was a lovely trip, but with the retirement of Parra from the Auberge de la Galupe, the action is almost entirely on the Spanish side. The restaurant is exceedingly hard to find. We saw no direction signs and few of the people we stopped in Lasarte, had heard of it.

Bux, take the broader statements about who comes and where they stay and so on as an eye check lacking from any rigour.

When I've been there, what I've found is a clientele composed by locals (60-70%?) and foreigners (30-40%?), not noticing any remarkable difference between lunch and dine times. Foreigners mostly from France, with a japanese group in our second visit taking pictures of them with Martin (something that I would do myself if I had a photo camera and less shyness). Also, I now recall that during this second visit, there was a table of a couple of french gentlemen, commenting that the cuisine deserved the third star, achieved some months later that year. They spent quite a few time talking to Martin, and they indicated him that there was some starred french chef they knew also had dinner that night there. This guy was just leaving the place when they were telling this to Martin, who immediately ran after this person and showed him the place.

I always stay at Donostia, which is a wonderful city, and every time but the first took a taxi to go to the restaurant. All the cab drivers knew the place, and you don't have to wait very long at Martin to get a cab to drive you back to San Sebastian. Same was true for Akelare.

Regarding reservation, when I've reserved about 10pm for dinner, we were almost the last party to get in. On the other hand, if you go to lunch at 2:00pm, chances are that you will be among the early birds.

As you said, the place is not easy to find if you drive by yourself, specially I would say if you come from Bilbao direction. However, the first time they gave me some pretty good instructions about how to get there.

Hope you enjoyed your visit there as much as I did (and expect to do in a few weeks). :smile:

PedroEspinosa (aka pedro)

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"Unfortunately, I can't agree whith what's been said here about Akelare. My experience there was quite a dissapointment from a purely food perspective. I don't know a more pleasant place with such wonderful views, but the food lacked both taste and flavor. Albeit, I must say that was my first and only visit, so either me or them could have had a bad night."

I have been there in two years and I have to give it another chance, but I was memorably under-whelmed and do not understand why some sources are placing Akelarre above Arzak and Martin. I was also turned off by the fact that they allowed a group of some six young cooks (??), dressed like they had come off a all-night disco crawl, to occupy a prominent table in the dining room. I am not all that formal a person and I don't expect to see a jacket and tie everywhere, but I also don't expect to see a somewhat rowdy group dressed like refugees from a playground occupying center stage in a two-star Michelin restaurant. The person I was with emphatically nixed any possibility of coming back there with a very well-heeled group of people we were planning to take around Spain.

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I have been there in two years and I have to give it another chance, but I was memorably under-whelmed and do not understand why some sources are placing Akelarre above Arzak and Martin.

Gerry, the problem with second chances is, that going up there to Donostia once a year for a few days, and having Arzak, Martin, Zuberoa, Fagollaga, Mugaritz, Nicolasa and so and so and so, it's difficult (not impossible, but difficult) to make up your mind to give that second chance when you may either go to one of the places that never turned you down, or to one of the rising stars there to experience in first hand what's going on.

I don't have problems giving second chances in Madrid, where I live, and I should say that certain cuisines are not a love at first sight, having changed my initial impression after two more visits.

Regarding etiquette, if the behaviour at the table was appropiate, I wouldn't had cared what they were wearing. In fact, one of the things that I appreciate in Barcelona and Donostia, is that the etiquette rules are far more relaxed than those applying in Madrid. No jacket and tie required in any place AFAIK.

Edited by pedro (log)

PedroEspinosa (aka pedro)

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Bux,

Your note about Barcelona hotels not being much of a bargain, about 2,000 pension rooms were torn down as part of the urban renewal scheme in the ciutat vella. That would do it.

For the chef-to-be:

I have not been to the Basque country, but would throw in a word in favor of Andalucia, especially as it's still possible to find inexpensive lodging, tapas, and Spanish wine exploring is not complete without sherry.

On the thought about a week at a farm to observe local cheesemaking, I can recommend a place in the Auvergne with lots of local cheesemakers and genial owners who would probably be glad to introduce you around. Rents for about $245 Euros a week in low season, fully equipped, central heat in the floors, etc. Would require a car as it is in the country.

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As for who is eating at Martin I would agree that our clientele is mostly local with a good mix of french and english. There are a few Japanese but they are a minority. Martin does not speak a word os English and converses with most visitors in either Castellano or French. Staying in Donostia is probably more fun than staying in Lasarte and it puts you in a better position for eating at Arzak and Akelarre. There is one hotel very close to Martin called Hotel Ibiltze and it is clean and affordable and friendly. The ways to get to Lasarte are by taxi but I think taxis here are pricey. If I was having lunch I would take the bus or Euskotren and oncein Lasarte there is a sign on almost every block pointing towards Martin which is about a 5 minute walk. If I was having dinner I would make my reservation for 9:30 and take the train or bus there and a cab back to Donostia. For lunch I would say 1:30 is a good time for a reservation or at least for arriving and ordering post aperitivo around 2 is the way to go.

Tomorrow am having lunch at Akelarre and am looking forward to seeing whats going on there now. The general consensus is that when it works it is amazing but sometimes he is just trying too hard to be avant garde and the food loses something on the plate. Will let you know.

And as for the dress code, yes it is a bit surprising for starred restaurants to be so casual but that is just Spain and especially Basques, BCN is a bit more formal but not at all compared to Paris.

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As for who is eating at Martin I would agree that our clientele is mostly local with a good mix of french and english.  There are a few Japanese but they are a minority. Martin does not speak a word os English and converses with most visitors in either Castellano or French.  Staying in Donostia is probably more fun than staying in Lasarte and it puts you in a better position for eating at Arzak and Akelarre.  There is one hotel very close to Martin called Hotel Ibiltze and it is clean and affordable and friendly.  The ways to get to Lasarte are by taxi but I think taxis here are pricey.  If I was having lunch I would take the bus or Euskotren and oncein Lasarte there is a sign on almost every block pointing towards Martin which is about a 5 minute walk.  If I was having dinner I would make my reservation for 9:30 and take the train or bus there and a cab back to Donostia.  For lunch I would say 1:30 is a good time for a reservation or at least for arriving and ordering post aperitivo around 2 is the way to go.

Tomorrow am having lunch at Akelarre and am looking forward to seeing whats going on there now.  The general consensus is that when it works it is amazing but sometimes he is just trying too hard to be avant garde and the food loses something on the plate.  Will let you know.

And as for the dress code, yes it is a bit surprising for starred restaurants to be so casual but that is just Spain and especially Basques, BCN is a bit more formal but not at all compared to Paris.

We're also looking forward to your report on Akelare. It's seemed to me that taxis in Spain are less expensive than in France or the US, but it's all relative. I've not taken a taxi for a distance as great as Lasarte is from Donostia. As we're likely to have a car, I would drive at lunch and take a taxi if at dinner. I'm glad to get a clue as to lunch time and dinner time. I find they seem to be moving earlier, at least in the international places. Recently we've made efforts to arrive at ten for dinner in Spain and found most people already seated and eating. In Madrid we had a two o'clock lunch reservation and arrived a few minutes early to find the restaurant all locked up. We returned at ten after two and the restaurant was open. Some years back we had a one o'clock reservation at Arzak. We arrived late at around 1:30. There was but one couple in the room and they were not Spaniards. At four o'clock, it seemed people were still arriving for lunch. We'll probably be planning on making 1:30 lunch reservations and 9:30 dinner reservations in the Pais Vasco. Thanks.

I can tell you we saw only one or two signs for Martin when we were there three years ago. I wonder if the signs have been installed since. I wonder if they were in response to our comments about getting very lost. :biggrin:

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.

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Unfortunately, I can't agree whith what's been said here about Akelare. My experience there was quite a dissapointment from a purely food perspective. I don't know a more pleasant place with such wonderful views, but the food lacked both taste and flavor. Albeit, I must say that was my first and only visit, so either me or them could have had a bad night.

Was at Akelare this month (for lunch) and consider it the best meal of my life (to that point). I've been too busy to write it up (yet) but suffice it to say that the previous #1 was at Eugenie-les-Bains (Michel Guerard) in the early 80's and #2 was at Masa (San Francisco) in the early 90's.

And not all tables were occupied, so shouldn't be a problem with reservations. And their Spanish wine list was astounding. We had the 25 Marques de Riscal!

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  • 1 month later...

Well, after much deliberation, meeting with my French cooking class chef, and loads of internet research (my favorite kind, cause you can play games when you get tired of the actual work), I've decided on the following itinerary:

4/1/04-4/2/04: Plane to Paris

4/2/04-4/7/04: Paris

4/7/04: train to Bordeaux

4/7/04-4/11/04: Bordeaux

4/11/04: train to San Sebastian

4/11/04-4/15/04: San Sebastian

4/15/04: train to Barcelona

4/15/04-4/19/04: Barcelona

4/19/04: train to Paris

4/19/04-4/22/04: Paris

4/22/04: plane to SF

My Paris hostel will be near several old open air markets. I will eat much and drink much, and click photos and write postcards, and discreetly copy menus and take lots of notes, so that when I start culinary school in SF in May 04, I can be the annoying kid constantly interrupting the chef with, "But of course that isn't how they do it in Paris, is it? The Parisians would never replace quince with apple!" (j/k)

I will keep a journal that I want to convert to a triplog here on eGullet, once I get back. I'm shopping for backpacks & sundry travel gear now. bah.

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Bordeaux may be the weak spot in your itinerary. Traditionally, it hasn't been that hot a spot for food.

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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bratt23, kudos on having your trip to Europe better planned out than I :smile:

I'm actually changing my itinerary at this moment to something pretty similar to what's been mentioned on this thread (throw in a little Alba even with the bad truffle season, Provence and Madrid).

I think it's a great idea to increase your food exposure and perspective before heading into school (or at any stage of one's career for that matter). It seems like you're already pretty set on going to culinary school though. I trust you've read the debates in these forums about going vs. not going already. Also, have you had a chance to trail any shifts in a restaurant yet? It's a good learning experience and I think it's a good idea to have a taste of restaurant work before putting down the money for school. Oh and if you want I can lend you the various Europe travel books I've accumulated when I get back to the bay area this winter.

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What's boring? Your report, or Bordeaux itself?

Anti-alcoholics are unfortunates in the grip of water, that terrible poison, so corrosive that out of all substances it has been chosen for washing and scouring, and a drop of water added to a clear liquid like Absinthe, muddles it." ALFRED JARRY

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Ah ah ah.

The words 'as ever' couldn't apply to a report that hasn't been written yet, could they? Or is it perhaps my command of a foreign language (which is what English is to me) that's faltering? If so, my excuses. We poor foreigners can't compete in the field of sheer wit, not to mention that of grammatical precision...

Victor de la Serna

elmundovino

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Oh, poor Bordeaux. Maybe I'll find a perfect little spot to get some amazing food and wine. Did somebody say wine? Oh yeah, wine. I'll drink some wine. And if there isn't much exciting food to eat there, I can always get tossed and hit on locals.

oscubic, thank you for the offer! I think I'm good on travel books, though. And yeah, I've been through the culinary school vs. working up from the tranches debate ad nauseum. I'm definitely going. No, I haven't worked in a restaurant yet, though I should be hooking up with a sympathetic chef in my area pretty soon for some real experience. I really doubt it'll deter me, though, at worst, and at best it will reinforce my decision. I'm at the point now that I can't justify shrinking from this path...

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This isn't the appropriate board, but there must be better places in France than Bordeaux that are accessible by train and of more gastronomic interest. I like Bordeaux, but the best meal Í've had in the area is from a chef who lost one of his stars and consequently his restaurant. Try Lyon perhaps--better local food and greater access to better restaurants.

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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Who said anything about "poor foreigners"?

Anti-alcoholics are unfortunates in the grip of water, that terrible poison, so corrosive that out of all substances it has been chosen for washing and scouring, and a drop of water added to a clear liquid like Absinthe, muddles it." ALFRED JARRY

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Considering Thomas Keller is your God, seriously....Why not ring him???? I work with two GREAT chefs and have found them both MORE than accomidating when it comes to suggestions in their favorite cities. And 2, I would DEFINETLY recommend an agenda, especially in Paris. I found myself in Paris without a guide and BEFORE any extensive food knowledge, and my trip consisted of ham & cheese (croque formage)!

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hey, I heard that the ham & cheese sandwiches sold on the streets are good! :raz: I'm constantly researching restaurants and other places of culinary and general interest. luckily, I'm staying right on Rue Mouffetard, home of the oldest open air market in Paris.

yeah, I just might try to contact Keller. but I'm now feeling sad for Bordeaux, and that makes me want to go there even more. even if I don't have a fabulous meal there (and honestly I won't have the money to eat super well in each of my four cities), I'm sure there will be something redeeming about the place. I can always tour wineries, get tipsy and start asking the locals in broken French when they think Barry Bonds will break 700 home runs.

Edited by bratt23 (log)
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Most of the major chateaux in Brodeaux are not open to visitors. For the most part, one shouldn't think of California style wine touring when in France. Most lesser wineries are open mostly for tasting in the hope the visitor planning on buying a case or so. Of course there are exceptions and there are wineries open to tourists. Nonetheless, Bordeaux, although the name of a famous wine is not the most interesting city in France. If I had a to split a month between Paris and Bordeaux, Í think four days in Bordeaux would be too much. I have spent two or three days in the area, but only with a car to make side trips.

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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Take this discussion to the France board where you're likely to get better suggestions for this part of your trip.

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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The one thing I would add, since you say that you won't have money to eat super well in each of the cities that you plan to visit, is that you are really concentrating on larger cities. You might consider, given that trains are decent, doing some travel that involves stopovers in smaller cities. So perhaps take a look at the map and train schedules and figure out what the stops are between x and y and what might be of local culinary interest. Or even investigate flights, they can be competitive with trains (both time and money) in Spain at least, don't know about France. But Toulouse has a big airport, and some great local specialties (Cassoulet in February, works for me). You could go to a place renowned for cassoulet and then sample different sausages at the bar/street food level to get a sense of the variety/orthodoxy within which Toulouse sausage operates.

Also Bux is right about wine-touring not being at all the same in France. We did stop at several vintners in both Switzerland and France last spring, and were armed with good research so were able to have short conversations with the person (often the wife) offering the tastes, and then purchase. However if you do your homework in advance and are armed with knowledge about local vintners and varietals, most cities have very good wine stores that will engage in perhaps more conversation and advance your education. In Albi, for instance, we were able to procure a bottle of the vin de voile of Robert Plageoles, when the vineyard was out (although we were offered the last bit in the bottle for tasting, which we did not spit out).

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