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Basque Country Restaurants: Reviews & Recs


malika
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We loved our tour of Riscal and the model of the new hotel. We actually bought a bit of 1996 Baron de Chirel Reserva- that's what we drank last night.

Isn't LaGuardia beautiful?? we stayed in the castle, our room was up top in the turret.

one thing I learned is that reds from rioja are a lot more food friendly than people think, did you find that as well?

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Fans of contemporary architecture will make both stops part of a tour of the region. Expect the region to change. To keep things in perspective, the draw of buildings such as the Gehry Guggenheim may be preferable to the draw of say, IberiaDisney.

I guess the project has grown a lot of skepticism the same way the Guggenheim did initially in Bilbao. I was frankly in awe with what I saw in Bilbao, it is simply majestic. As for the Riscal Gehry project, I will have to see it to really understand it I guess.

We loved our tour of Riscal and the model of the new hotel. We actually bought a bit of 1996 Baron de Chirel Reserva- that's what we drank last night.

Isn't LaGuardia beautiful?? we stayed in the castle, our room was up top in the turret.

one thing I learned is that reds from rioja are a lot more food friendly than people think, did you find that as well?

Wendy, we actually also brought a bottle of Baron de Chirel, but a 2000 reserve. We can't wait to open up that baby!!

On all counts, La Guardia was the highlight of this visit for us, we certainly enjoyed it as much as you.

I have yet to try more Rioja wines since it is never my first choice with food in general. I normally enjoy it alone or with some good sheep cheese. Based on what you are saying, I should definitely experiment a little more.

Which other places did you visit during your stay? Did you check out other bodegas?

"A chicken is just an egg's way of making another egg." Samuel Butler
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We checked out Ysios which was amazing http://www.arcspace.com/architects/calatrava/wine/ and one of the last remaining underground cellars in LaGuardia owned by the fabalist, I'm not remembering. Also Ugarte and shopped at some wine shops.

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. . . . . .

The mushroom featured on this plate is called “Sisas” and is apparently indigenous to this region of Spain. 

. . . . .

First of all, let me congratulate you for your report. It really makes me want to return to the Basque Country and enjoy its food and all the rest.

On the zizas: this is the calocybe gambosa (aka Tricholoma georgii), St. George's mushroom, which also receives the common name of perretxico. I'd say that it's called ziza in Guipuzcoa (Donostia and surroundings) and perretxico in Vizcaya (Bilbao and surroundings), but I'm not totally sure about that.

Regarding the indigenous condition of this mushroom, it grows in a number of different regions of the country, including La Rioja and Navarra. Nonetheless, it's one of the most appreciated mushrooms in the Basque Country.

This is a mushroom available in the USA but rarely harvested in the button stage as it is in the Basque country.

We have followed this thread with great interest as it duplicates our May and June, 2005 Basque country dining experience. If we have Zeitouns permission, we would like to post our Akalare dining experience, which we experienced on June 3rd, 2005. We ordered the two tasting menus that the Zeitouns enjoyed. We have some additional inputs that we feel would add to the diner's experience. I will expand our observations if Zeitoun is accepting of our intrusion to his marvelous communique to eGullet. It is most unusual that we started our trip this last May and June in France and after our Spanish journey we ended up in France duplicating some of the same locations that Zeitoun visited. We will post the French destinations on the France forum. We are sharing our Spanish views on this forum.

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My understanding is that Andoni Aduriz (Mugaritz) is going to be the consulting chef at the Riscal winery hotel

Actually, no. Finally, Francis Paniego of Hostal Echaurren in Ezcaray will be running the restaurant at Riscal.

Victor de la Serna

elmundovino

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Victor's response was correct for the M. de Riscal's choice for a new chef for the Gehry restaurant. After much ado, El Portal del Echaurren won the post for the M. de Riscal's new primary restaurant in their new, exciting Gehry designed edifice.

It is a thrilling venture at least from our viewpoint. It is not a duplication of the Guggenheim in Bilbao as Zeitoun suggested. Our understanding is that the titanium "roofs" are of various colors; the design is thrilling. We are commending M. de Riscal winery for its forward thinking. We assume it will be an exceptional tourist destination.

We want to endorse every positive notation Zeitoun cited about the Basque people. We have been travellers in this area since 1997. We have never been disappointed by any interchange with any Basque person. Our overall experience has been memorable.

Addressing the chef Pedro Subijani of Akalare we extoll his virtues, especially in the last three years. We have been somewhat ambivalent about this talented chef; we questioned his commitment to the current Spanish innovations. Our most recent visits attest to this chefs unique contribution to the newest, most adverturesome menus in the Basque country. He is a peer of Juan M Arzak.

Referring to the items that the Zeitouns experienced, we have the following

comments: referring to the steamed percebes with borage. Zeitoun found this dish too salty. We did not. We were served a melange of seafoods: percebes, moules, razor clams and cockles all embellished with the ocean foam. This delightful dish was not overly salted.

This next dish was a fresh king prawn with green apple and ginger flavors. We experienced this dish differently. The prawn had a faux shell composed of all the sweet and savory flavors that transported this dish to a joyous combination of seafood ingredients. It was an elegant dish with truly whimsical characteristics.

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as a small sidenote: The new hotel at M.de Riscal will be administered and profiled as part of the STARWOOD programme, which (unfortunately or fortunately??) might result in an influx of American visitors?

Opening scheduled for early 2006, and the property will have very few rooms and probably be branded within the gorup's "Luxury Collection".

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We have followed this thread with great interest as it duplicates our May and June, 2005 Basque country dining experience.  If we have Zeitouns permission, we would like to post our Akalare dining experience, which we experienced on June 3rd, 2005. We ordered the two tasting menus that the Zeitouns enjoyed. We have some additional inputs that we feel would add to the diner's experience. I will expand our observations if Zeitoun is accepting of our intrusion to his marvelous communique to eGullet. It is most unusual that we started our trip this last May and June in France and after our Spanish journey we ended up in France duplicating some of the same locations that Zeitoun visited.  We will post the French destinations on the France forum. We are sharing our Spanish views on this forum.

By all means please do! As I mentionned at some point in my post, my wife and I unfortunately misplaced our dining notes which made it quite difficult for me to put this post together. I'll be looking forward to reading your comments and observations.

"A chicken is just an egg's way of making another egg." Samuel Butler
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I have been meaning to read this thread for some time, but haven't had the time necessary for it until now. Wow, what a great job by Zeitoun with superb commentary by the eGullet faithful as usual. I was surprised too by the similarities of your meal at Arzak with mine from last October! When we were there Elena was just acknowledging being pregnant- time flies! I wonder if her pregnancy might be one reason for the static nature of the menu? We had a tour of the lab, which certainly seemed busy. I loved Arzak - great restaurant. Despite its stasis, I wouldn't mind having the same menu again.

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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I wonder if her pregnancy might be one reason for the static nature of the menu?

Good point, I didn't even think of that!

Despite its stasis, I wouldn't mind having the same menu again.

When I think of this meal in retrospect I almost feel that to enjoy and understand it fully, one would have to experience it more than one time. Throughout this meal I felt that my palate was playing sort of a guessing game, trying to identify flavors, textures and understand the nuances of each dish. For some reason while leaving the restaurant, I felt like I had watched the first act of a really good play and left during intermission. I didn't quite get to the bottom of it!!

Having said this, I certainly wouldn't mind having the same menu again either... :raz:

"A chicken is just an egg's way of making another egg." Samuel Butler
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I found Zeitoun's and Doc's last posts very interesting. If there's intelligent life in outer space, I wonder if it's as fickle as humans are. I remember when some people were asking why the creative new chefs in Catalunya and the Pais Basque haven't developed signature dishes. Now we have posts questioning the lack of menu development. Nothing personal in my remark, I note that both Zeitoun and Docsconz see the upsides of the situation and I think that the recent reflections in the thread are good healthy observations and comments not only on the restaurants involved, but on the appreciation of food and cooking in general.

Sometimes these moments of reflection are more important in sorting out our individual appreciations of food and restaurants than the long detailed reports accompanied by great visual images. Those of us who are lucky enough to consider ourselves, at least to some extent, globetrotting gastronomes, but who haven't enough time or money to spend all our time eating out all over the world, are faced with the continual chore of trying to decide to return and get a deeper understanding of a restaurant's, or a region's, cuisine, or to broaden our experience base. It's a chore we suffer perhaps with the envy of many.

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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  • 1 year later...

I will be going to the Basque region at the end of September and will be staying in Biarritz. I noticed that the restuarants Arzak or Mugaritz are located near to Biarritz.

Should I go through the effort to make a reservation for these two restuarants or should I just wait to see if I can get a reservation when I get there. Are there any other restaurants (or Michelin start restaurants) worth visiting or eating at instead of these?

We probably will not venture far from the northern Basque region (I only want to drive about 1 to 1.5 hours in any direction from Biarritz.

Also what are the major differences between Arzak and Mugaritz?

Thanks,

Jeff

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There are just a tremendous number of restaurantes in the Basque country that are worth visiting. Top of the list, in my opinion should be Arzak. But there is also: Mugaritz, Martin Berasategui, Akelare, Fagollaga, just to name a few. These have been discussed in the following forums in more detail:

Mugaritz and Arzak

San Sebastian

Gastronomic Trip to San Sebastian

Arley Sasson

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  • 2 weeks later...

I have looked at the pages above (admittedly rather hurridly) and can see no indication of the cost of a meal at Arzak.

On the arzak site it says -

"Precio medio: 120 € más bebidas e I.V.A"

can anyone translate what this means in practical terms? I assume it means there is a 120 euro menu before wine etc.

Second question is regarding lunch - again not mentioned on their site. are they open for lunch and is there a separate lunch menu?

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I will be going to the Basque region at the end of September and will be staying in Biarritz.  I noticed that the restuarants Arzak or Mugaritz  are located near to Biarritz. 

Should I go through the effort to make a reservation for these two restuarants or should I just wait to see if I can get a reservation when I get there.  Are there any other restaurants (or Michelin start restaurants) worth visiting or eating at instead of these?

We probably will not venture far from the northern Basque region (I only want to drive about 1 to 1.5 hours in any direction from Biarritz.

Also what are the major differences between Arzak and Mugaritz?

Thanks,

Jeff

I would definitely go to BOTH. I found the food to be much more delicious at Arzak; however, the inventiveness and creativity made Mugaritz one of the most memorable dining experiences I had in the Basque country. Both were incredible dining experiences and if you can help it, I wouldn't miss either of them! Have an amazing time...

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I have looked at the pages above (admittedly rather hurridly) and can see no indication of the cost of a meal at Arzak. 

On the arzak site it says -

"Precio medio: 120 € más bebidas e I.V.A"

can anyone translate what this means in practical terms?  I assume it means there is a 120 euro menu before wine etc.

Second question is regarding lunch - again not mentioned on their site.  are they open for lunch and is there a separate lunch menu?

The 120E is for the tasting menu for one person. Wine and anything else are extra. Service is included in the price. They will add another 7% I.V.A (tax) to your total bill. The tasting menu (5 or 6 courses) is basically small portions of some of their best dishes from the regular menu. Ordering a 3 course meal would be about the same or slightly less. As with many top restaurants in Spain, one is served an assortment of "snacks" or tapas to begin a meal

They are open for lunch (am not sure but probably Tues thru Sunday) but do not have separate lunch menu. As in most restaurants in Spain, lunch usually starts at 2pm and dinner at 9pm.

Besides the excellent food, Arzak is a wonderful family restaurant that is becoming so rare these days. Please report back if you decide to dine there.

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When considering going for a la carte or the tasting menu, there is a very important thing to keep in mind. Most of these restaurants will do "half portions" of almost anything on the menu. So you can create your own "tasting menu" made of half portions (and people you might be going with can also do the same). I have found that is the best way to try the most items in the restaurant.

Arley Sasson

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Thank you for the v. useful info Pork Belly - exactly what I was looking for. I will be with my wife and 6 year old so if I go it will likely be on my own (I am sure they could cope with a 6 year old but not sure how he would cope with the food - despite the rigorous training I have given him...!) I think I will definitely try to go as 120 is eminently reasonable it seems to me compared to Arzak's peers...

Also interesting about the half portions, again something I did not know. I am going at the end of August so will report back. I am staying in Bilbao so might do a short report on Bilbao as there seems to be limited recent info on the city's restaurants and my contact in Bilbao claims it has even better food than san sebastian!

Edited by ljr (log)
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  • 2 weeks later...

Second question is regarding lunch - again not mentioned on their site. are they open for lunch and is there a separate lunch menu?

They are open for lunch - I was there for lunch in May. The food was outstanding - Both Juan Marie and Elena were both there (Thursday Lunch) and made appearances in the dining room.

Kind of funny - Pork Belly mentioned that it was refreshing to have a 'family' restaurant of this quality. I'm not sure exactly what you meant by that - but to my dismay - it meant for me that an infant was at the table behind me - occassionally crying, though not often (thankfully) but enough to give pause to the idea of forking over $400 for lunch.

The other unusual aspect - that has become a rare occurance in such establishments - was that in such a small dining room, a party that had finished lunch halfway through our meal, proceeded to light up cigarettes.

It's been a few months, and I didn't really take inventory of our entire lunch - The food was great, there were a few service blemishes - A fork was dropped on my shoulder while clearing a course (no big deal) however I had a fairly large white blotch of something on my jacket which I was not alerted to.

I wish I could be more descriptive of the food - it was very good and unfortunately the details I am remembering are not of the food. My food memory was erased when I spent two nights at Can Fabes (north of Barcelona) - with dinner both nights.. fantastic!

The other really fun aspect of this restaurant was the bathrooms - they are these fantastic glass enclosures with automated lighting, and a glass waterfall sink.

Really a low key place, very relaxed, with a fairly modern interior. Perhaps service at Dinner is a bit more formal - but I'd still reccommend it nonetheless..

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Thank you for the v. useful info Pork Belly - exactly what I was looking for.  I will be with my wife and 6 year old so if I go it will likely be on my own (I am sure they could cope with a 6 year old but not sure how he would cope with the food - despite the rigorous training I have given him...!) I think I will definitely try to go as 120 is eminently reasonable it seems to me compared to Arzak's peers...

Also interesting about the half portions, again something I did not know.  I am going at the end of August so will report back.  I am staying in Bilbao so might do a short report on Bilbao as there seems to be limited recent info on the city's restaurants and my contact in Bilbao claims it has even better food than san sebastian!

We certainly recommend Bilbao as a destination; the Guggenheim museum is breathtaking and its fine dining restaurant a must visit also. Nearby in Axpe, Etxebarri is one of our very few favorite destinations - it is a "must" on any trip to the area. We have reported very favorably about each of these in past postings.

In the next group: 1) Aizian in the Sheraton hotel is run by the team from Andra Mari. We have eaten at both once and found the meal at Aizian to be a bit better. 2) Gaminiz and its' offshoot Baita Gaminiz were very good. 3) Goizeko Kabi is a frequent choice for us. It is more traditional and they serve (when in season) some things we like - truffles, angulas and percebes come to mind. We like this group but would rate it below the top 5 in the San Sebastian area.

We were lukewarm about Zortziko and Jolastoki. We disliked Etxanobe; if going try to avoid the time just before a concert or event. Judith Gebhart

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  • 4 weeks later...
You MUST go to Etxebarri. I have just come back from a trip to San Sebastian. I ate at Mugaritz, Arzak and Etxebarri, and Etxebarri has left the greatest lasting impression on me. I'm in the process of writing up reports.

GO!

Since first hearing about Etxebarri on ChezPim I've been fascinated and can't wait to read your report.

Robert R

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