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robert brown

Donostia Restaurants: Reviews & Recommendations

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Ginger chef and vserna:

I do not quite know what conclusions I should draw on your first and quasi first hand experinces with MB. A chef I knew well in San Francisco (Roland Passot) had told me that his French mentor--I believe at Le Francais but I can not recall his name==used to literally beat apprenticce up but this is how he learned his trade. Robuchon also had a reputation for being very very tough. Associates in leading service firms in investment banking(say at Goldman or Stanley Morgan), or strategic consultancy( say at Mc. Kinsey and BCG), or law( say at Cravatt) always have a very rough time and they work as well paid indentured slaves but most of them end up learning their trade. Why should it be different in the restaurant business where you guys are insiders and I am just a client. I have been in all of the 2 stars and 3 at the Basque region(at least two times in each place but many more at some) and it seems to me that MB makes the least errors. So maybe there is a link between his perfectionism and the hellish athmosphere in his kitchen. Of course it may be preferable to exert more benign discipline but this takes great management skills and one can not expect this in a trade which is essentially practiced by very skilled artisans.

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vmilor:

If it were just demands in the kitchen, no problem whatsoever. But my nephew also spent more than six months with Santi Santamaria at Can Fabes, which has a solid reputation in Spain for being, not the most creative restaurant, but certainly the most thoroughly professional and exacting place in this country, and the treatment they received was infinitely better. Better housed, better fed, better treated as persons, and of course worked to death - which is why they were there in the first place, so no complaint there.


Victor de la Serna

elmundovino

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if work was a problem i would not be there now but i am treated slightly different .there is alot of shouting(no problem) there are alot of hours of work (no problem) but there is no respect in the kitchen. not for martin but for his paid staff. there are four chef de parties and four sous chefs who i can say quite honestly do nothing all day. this leaves the stages to run the kitchen functionally with no brief or direction apart from when something goes wrong . then all hell breaks loose. i find it hard to work in an unorganised scenario like this and i think the problem lies with the amount of free staff walking through the door and allowing the paid staff do nothing. at the moment there is a bit of a panic on because most stages are going back to school and this leaves very few stages except those here for two or three weeks. the accomadation is the worst i have ever experienced and we get alot of staff from south america who are down there for months. this makes them very depressed and can only be bad for there perception of this trade. i know if i was a college boy and i came here for three months i would be a post man now. if you are given respect and shown you can do the job by leading from the front the rest will follow, but unfortunately here it is not the case. i have been here 5 weeks now and have yet to be given a job that is in the least bit skillful. i am not allowed to touch the fish , meat , pastry. i am allowed prep but no cooking and the prep is simple. plating is my main job and every plate that goes out the door is done by a stage.

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I hadn't planned to reveal any impressions outside of, and before finishing, my San Sebastain overview. But I will say for now that the life you report in the kitchen affects what went on in the dining room when I was there.

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I hadn't planned to reveal any impressions outside of, and before finishing, my San Sebastain overview. But I will say for now that the life you report in the kitchen affects what went on in the dining room when I was there.

And leave us hanging as to how ... :biggrin:


Robert Buxbaum

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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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Just teasing. Our reservations are pretty well made, and as I've said, it looks as if we can't make Martin, in spite of the fact that it was a place I very much looked forward to a return meal, but I'm not convinced it remains an impossibility. On the whole I'd almost be willing to wait for your reviews until I returned because if they don't confirm our choices, they're just going to frustrate us at this point. There's always next year, although I had hopes we'd do Barcelona in some depth in the early spring. On the other hand, Tonyfinch has me eager to try a good fabada before Asturias wakes up to the international style or adopts cosmopolitan tastes and I can no longer find one.


Robert Buxbaum

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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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i have just had a look at girl cooks comments on another thread but i think she may be working in a different kitchen to me because i dont see any of that. yes the pastry is more welcoming and the sous chef more human. all the stages are close they are in this together. incidentally five will be working at my restaurant when i return . the accomadation as i have said would almost get lenny henry in to do a new live aid if he didnt know it was spain. girl cook is very enthusiastic at work and so are so many of the others but i dont see what i am getting out of this . i am seeing nice food and the ideas are great but we want to be involved there are alot of young chefs here who are chomping at the bit and are being knocked down every time. one sous chef here hasnt made eye contact with me yet even though i say good morning and hold my hand out to shake. the food out of work has been a saviour for me and the cook books in san sebastian. as far sa i know girl cook has only eaten at akelare as yet so i dont know how she can comment on other restaurants in the area.this is not being nasty but look at the reaction i got when i said i had a badf meal at akelare and from what i can gather robert has had one at martins which i am yet to eat at but my suggestion would be to eat a la carte in small portions rather than the tasting menu. everyone is bored with plating this 99 percent of people have this and it becomes like a factory line in the kitchen. the carte especially the fish is what i came to see.

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eager to try a good fabada before Asturias wakes up to the international style or adopts cosmopolitan tastes and I can no longer find one.

That'll be the day! :biggrin:


Victor de la Serna

elmundovino

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I was visiting Donostia three weeks ago, and although the main goal of our visit was to expose to some relatives the wonders of top level cuisine, in the form of meals in Arzak and Berasategui, there're some (a lot, I'd say) other restaurants where you can fid extremely good food.

After Robert's excellent article on Donostia, it really doesn't make sense to ellaborate more about Arzak, where I fully share his thoughts, and Berasategui, where I had already expressed a different position. Instead, I'll concentrate on other restaurants worth the visit:

- Casa Nicolás (Tolosa, Avda. Zumalacárregui 6 - 943 65 47 59):

Run by Peio Ruiz, son of the founder Nicolás Ruíz, you'll find the traditional offering of Basque Asadores. Do not expect sophisticated environment or food. A series of three small dining rooms, one of them presided by the barbecue. We were lucky enough to get a table in this latter room, where we had the opportunity to see Peio's work with the steaks and the barbecue.

A simple thick piece of cod fish, perfectly fried, over a layer of confited green pepper and onion, was our starter. After that, followed one of the most perfect piquillos I've ever had, extremely thin, which melted down in your mouth. We caugth a glimpse of a big pan when we entered where the piquillos were being confited. Mouth-watering began instantly, also helped by the late hour we arrived there (around 3:15pm).

As soon as we ordered, two serious steaks were put on the barbecue. This one consisted of a base with the embers, and an inclined grill to allow different heat exposures. Peio was able just looking to the steaks to know when they have reached the exact point of cooking. Almost crusty on the outside, with red and warm meat on the inside. These were salted after they were done with table salt. A simple salad of lettuce, tomato and onion, along with the wonderful piquillos, was all we need to garnish the steaks.

Being particular fond of red meat, I must say that this was one of the best I've had lately.

We concluded our simple, but wonderful meal, with a traditional dessert, flan.

They have a quite impressive collection of wine, mostly traditional Riojas, and a cellar with more than 40.000 bottles. Lacking a wine list, you have to rely on Peio's abilities to pick your wine. This is an interactive process, where you give him some hints, he answers you back, you give him feedback, and this continues until the right wine comes to your table. As you have probably guessed, they have other traditional offering, like kokotxas, the famous alubias de Tolosa...

- Ramón Roteta (Fuenterrabía/Hondarribia, Calle Irún Villa Ainara - 943 64 16 93):

Well, I made two mistakes here. First of all, going to Fuenterrabía a.k.a Hondarribia the day of El Alarde, a local celebration where they conmemorate one of the most important battles against France back to 1638. The whole town was crowded, as well as the restaurants, and was difficult to secure a table. Every restaurant we found in town, offered only a pre-arranged menu.

After findind this, I made my second mistake of the day, insisting of having lunch there instead of finding another place. So, we went to Roteta, where they followed the same scheme, and found a wedding like menu. Good, but nothing to write home about.

It was a pity, because I really enjoyed my previous visit to Roteta, a few years ago, and I still remember one of the finest version I've ever had of the classical theme foie/truffle/egg/potato.

I will return, and make sure there are no surprises!.

- Rekondo (Donostia, Paseo de Igueldo 57, 943 21 29 07,Rekondo's web):

After being turned down at Urepel because of lack of reservation, we were headed to Rekondo, which I haven't visited before, and was one of the great discoveries of the trip. Not only because of a classical cuisine executed flawlessly, but also because one of the best wine lists in Spain if not the best. Gerry Dawes has already qualified it as one of the best in Europe.

Since we were at the end of our trip, we weren't precisely hungry. This, along with the windy and rainy night on Donostia, made us order a reconforting beef broth, some of the first boletus edulis simply grilled, kokotxas and hake in green sauce. Everything delicious.

---------

To have a casual meal, you can rely on the pintxos offered in the old side of Donostia. Astelena, Portalete, near by the Plaza de la Constitución, are two of our favourite places.

The only downside of the trip, was confirming that Panier Fleuri has closed his door.


PedroEspinosa (aka pedro)

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Nicolás and Rekondo, yes. Roteta? Not in the major leagues by a mile, IMHO.

Myself, I would tend to mention a 'big six' instead of a 'big five' in and around San Sebastián. The sixth one? Not nearly as famous, but oh-so-impressive: Fagollaga, in Hernani.


Victor de la Serna

elmundovino

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Pedro, thanks. I want to expand my knowledge of addresses the next time. What you wrote is very useful and well-done.

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Nicolás and Rekondo, yes. Roteta? Not in the major leagues by a mile, IMHO.

Well, it's been five years since my previous visit to Roteta, and then it seemed to me a quite good restaurant. It's been recently demoted of its star, so I guess you're right about it. Nevertheless, it wouldn't be fair to draw a conclusion from my last visit, given the conditions around.

Victor, how would you compare Nicolás vs Julián, also in Tolosa? is his restaurant in Madrid comparable to the original in Tolosa?

Myself, I would tend to mention a 'big six' instead of a 'big five' in and around San Sebastián. The sixth one? Not nearly as famous, but oh-so-impressive: Fagollaga, in Hernani.

I'm firmly determined to go to Mugaritz and Salaberria's Fagollaga next time I visit the area.

PS: I couldn't go to Elkano and Kaia in Guetaria. One was closed due to a fire, and the other was fully booked when we tried to secure a reservation. We ended up in Nicolás, which was great.


Edited by pedro (log)

PedroEspinosa (aka pedro)

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I think both are very similar steak houses. Does Nicolás have a Madrid branch? I only know the Julián branch, which is one of the top three or four for steak in this city, to my taste.


Victor de la Serna

elmundovino

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Sorry for the confusion, I was referring to the Julián branch.

I don't think Nicolás has any other joint than that of Tolosa. In fact, he commented to me that he was having problems with the neighbours and the city council, and was considering to retire vs to open a new restaurant in a new location (but this requires a lot of money to invest, so he wasn't sure if it was worth the effort).


PedroEspinosa (aka pedro)

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We're just back in Donostia and finally had a chance to wander the streets of the old part of town this evening. I forgot how good the tapas can be there. Generally speaking, and we did have a list of recommended places from eGullet and other sources, the quality is just so much better than what we've had elsewhere in the region which includes the Pais Vasco and La Rioja. We were in Logrono on a Sunday night and I was impressed with the crowds that packed a certain part of town. It was wall to wall people eating and drinking in the streets as the bars overflowed. Donostia was tamer, perhaps Sunday night is special. Maybe Wednesday is an off night. The last time we were in Donostia, I recall not being able to get to the bar to place an order. A couple of more nights like this and I may have a good report to post.


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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Bux,

I have three pinxtos bar recommendations to pass on. All were suggested to us by Sr. Arzak when we were there 3 weeks ago. I don't remember the names but I can describe how to get to them.

Take Avenida de Libertad east across the Santa Catalina bridge. It becomes Miracruz on the east side of the bridge. Continue east until Miracruz forks, the left hand fork is called Calle Secundino Esnaola, take it. At Calle Birmingham take a left, continue for about 50m (the first street you come too). The place you are looking for will be the bar on the sw corner (ie. the first corner you encounter). This is only about a 10-15 min walk from the Londres de Ingletara. Make sure you order the specials he has on the board behind the bar. Very good stuff!

The other place is for "pintxos modern" in the Parte Vieja. From the intersection of San Juan and 31 Agosto walk west (maybe 100m) until you see the small church set back in a small plaza (not the larger church farther along). There is a fountain set into the west wall of the plaza. Walk towards the back of the plaza and the bar is on your right (the NE corner of the plaza).

The other place is at the NE corner of the Plza. de la Constitution.

Wish I was there!

Cheers.


Edited by bobsdf (log)

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Muchas gracias. We're still trying to cover the short list we had, but a few more names won't hurt. :biggrin: Actually, many of the places we pass look good enough to try, but it's good to work from a reliable list. Also, after a really fine lunch it's hard to work up much of an appetite even for a tapa. It's a tough job, but someone's got to do it. :laugh: I've printed out your post.


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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The bar on Bermingham is called Begarra, and unfortunately it's closed for a couple of weeks for vacation. No big loss, there's a bar in the other direction on Bermingham, Aloña Berri, that was recommended by Gambero Rosso (thanks Francesco) and it had some prize winning tapas. Actually it won a prize a few years back for it's brandada, but it was the langoustino in bric with parsley sauce and the sea urchin that were the winners for me. Sea urchin is a delicacy in Asturias, but not as commonly found or eaten here. Then again, there was the Spanish woman showing some Americans around when I ordered the morcilla last night. One of the Americans asked her what I was having and she said it had stuff in it she didn't know and that she wouldn't touch it. Full report when I get back, but I'm afraid Mrs. B is quiting too early in the evening for me to cover the ground I'd like to cover. At this rate, I'm not going to make them all.


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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One of the Americans asked her what I was having and she said it had stuff in it she didn't know and that she wouldn't touch it.

That's what we usually consider a "par-for-the-course American attitude" to food here in Europe. Of course, this does not apply to the many enlightened American diners, like eGulleters, who make the trip to eat seriously. But most non-foodies, as experience tells us, will only touch chicken, filet of sole and maybe steak if they're really old-fashioned. I had to smile at another recent thread on eGullet where someone was marveling at the rumor that pigeons are actually eaten in Morocco. Heck, and in Spain, in Italy, or in France!

(I won't go into the, to some, cruel details on why Spain is the only country in Europe where roast 'rare' pigeon, i.e. with the blood still in it, is available. With the current American fuss about cruelty to force-fed ducks to fatten their livers, this Spanish pigeon story could be scandalous. In the mean time, Bux, if you see 'pichón de Navaz' (Navaz being a village in Navarre where the farm is) or 'pichón de sangre', go for it. Amazing treat.)


Victor de la Serna

elmundovino

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Just to be clear, it was a Spaniard who made that statement in response to an American who asked what morcilla was. There are days when I suspect an eGulleteer may offer a better introduction to Spanish food than a Spaniard, but then again eGulleteers, like Spaniards are not all equal. In the end, real appreciation cuts across all borders. The percentages may still favor the locals most of the time, but I'm always reminded of the comment made by one of the guests at a wedding in France. He said his parents used to eat that stuff. In this case, that stuff was, I believe, pigs feet in aspic.

Lots of pigeon this week. I think every tasting menu has featured it. It would be a problem if I didn´t love pigeon. I believe Akelarre's menu said pichon de sangre. It was crisped on the skin side and raw on the other. All of the pigeons I've had have been quite nicely rare. Generally speaking at least as rare as served in France. Presentation, garnish and the appeal of each dish aside, I think the pigeon at Mugaritz was the most flavorful and the most "gamey," but I´d realy not like to rate then in order.

Not a bad meal in the lot so far and we leave in the morning, so I'd say all our meals can be described as destination meals. The down side is that Esilda has little appetite for tapas until noon the next day. It's not the worst problem, but my list of recommended bars grows faster than tha then number of bars I can get to visit.


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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The bar at the NE corner of the Plza. de la Constitution must be Astelena, previously mentioned by Pedro and on Akelarre's list as well. With a triple recommendation that only thing that could stop me from a visit was finding it closed for vacation. I suppose it was a blessing in that there were too many to cover anyway, but in addition to the ones I've already mentioned that were closed, Txepetxa, a very highly recommended place for both its anchovies and its friendliness was also closed.

Directions to bobsdf's third recommendation weren't the easiest to follow, but I found the bar he mentioned. It turned out to be La Cuchara de San Telmo also mentioned by girlcook, but without an address and I'll pass the recommendation on as excellent. I would have liked to work my way through most of that blackboard list, but had only a tapa of rissotto with idiazabal cheese. I'll follow this up with a compendium of recommendations from others with my comments. It may take a few days unless someone is on their way to Donostia and needs a list in a hurry. If anyone has additional recommendations or a recent list of qualified recommendations, I'd appreciated getting them by private mail so I can include them in the list.

The first time we were in Donostia, we found the bars intimidating. I don't know why. Maybe we were just uptight about being served quickly. This time, I found all of the bars reasonable accommodating and many of them were downright friendly and solicitous. It does take a bit of determination to work your way to the bar in the most crowed places, but naturally, they're the ones you most want to experience. Spanish patrons seemed to have the same problems we had and their determination and patience varied. Some found an opening quickly and others stood around waiting for an opporutnity. It also made little difference if the man or the woman did the ordering, or if our Spanish was fluent or obtuse. I often had to repeat my order or correct them if I was misunderstood. The response from the other side of the bar ranged from overtly solicitous to politely efficient. It generally seemed to depend on how busy they were. In the barrio de Gros across the bridge from the more touristy part of town, there was less of a scene and conversation, if you spoke Castillano or Euskara, was easy to strike up. It may well be that if one is interested in the best tapas rather than the scene, this may be where some of the best tapas are found. It was hard to tell as two out of our three destinations were closed.


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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Friends,

We are in the preliminary stages of plannin a trip (5 days) to immerse ourselves in the Basque culture and food. This thread has been enlightening to say the least!

May I ask the most recommended way of going from Barcelona to San Sebastian? Flights are pretty pricy ($400 USD), but it seems to be the only truly convenient option. However, do people recommend taking the train or driving? It seems driving would be 6 hrs or more, and a train would be overnight.

Also, for 5 nights, would you recommend a car?

Many thanks

Boris

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It's a comfortable 330-mile motorway drive which can be done very easily in five hours or less. And a car is simply necessary to get around in the Basque Country.


Victor de la Serna

elmundovino

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