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Andy Fenn

Etxebarri

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that is quite the 1-2 punch there over a 24 hour period. yet unsurprising....

excellent post.

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Perhaps it was because I had eaten at El Bulli the night before and been slightly underwhelmed. Maybe I was just delirious with joy at having completed the seven hour trip from Roses without incident. Whatever the reason, I was in the right frame of mind for my meal at Extebarri, and I was blown away. This was one of the most spectacular meals of my life, leaving me to ponder the joy to be found in the most pristine ingredients, simply and artfully prepared.

My take is that spanish high end gastronomy is between the borders being El Bulli and Etxebarri the two extremes. El Bulli on the ultra creative and technical side and Etxebarri on the simplest (though sofisticated) product driven side. And you made both on 24 hours :blink:

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Just back from "The Viking's Gastronomic crusade" last week starting out in BCN, which in 5 days included Mugaritz, Etxebarri, Arzak, Cinc Sentits, L'Esguard, Coure and sunday lunch at elBulli.

2100km on the odometer, threw in a meeting with Satolaya at Roda with superb tapa lunch on our way to San Sebastian. The Cirsion 2005 was stunnning!

Will post short reviews of the other places later, but back to Etxebarri:

Our tasting menu was more or less like the one of Joe Gerard, expect that they did not have any espardenyes, which to me was a major disappointment.

We did however have the finest smoked salmon I think I've tasted, ever sop slightly smoked over orangewood embers with an accompanying delightful contras of salted shallots.

Winewise we opted for a plate clensing Txacoli initially, then took the full monty and went for Leroy Meursault Perrieres 2001 which was delightful and an extremely good value. Marques de Vargas Reserva Privada 2000 as a red was a good choice for the meat dishes as well as the bacalao, good performance in a slightly weak year.

We left with 6 chorizos envasillo tucked securely under our arms... :biggrin:

To me this was clearly the highlight of our trip, echoing the voices of the earlier posts regarding pristine freshness and careful preparations.

Or rather; to quote a famous govdernor of California: "I'll be back".

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Not sure anybody has mentioned this yet, but what kind of price isbeing charged for the tasting menu which you all seemed to have been offered/chosen.

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We'll be in San Sebastian for a few days in June and would love to eat at Etxebarri, but I'm having a hard time figuring out whether to go for lunch or dinner. We'll have a car and plan to spend some time in Bilbao at the Guggenheim. Would it make more sense to do morning at the museum, followed by lunch in Axpe and then drive home, or to aim for an early dinner?

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IMHO: Lunch, definetely!

Going back there the 6th of September with some fellow gastronauts, arriving at BIO airport at 12.00 and then headed directly to Etxebarri, San Sebastian afterwards.

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This restaurant is at the top of my list for when i return to Spain. In general, I think lunch is the way to go in Spain if one can do it logistically. I think that would be especially true at a place like this if one is staying in Bilbao or San Sebastien as the nighttime drive would probably be very difficult and stressful. Of course, if following Joe Gerard's recommendation, it might be a different story.

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Etxebarri in a nutshell - A Food Lover's Dream. The second best meal of my entire life, the best being Tetsuya's in Sydney. This was estupendos! you will never think the same about grilled food ever again. It's not just the food, it was the whole experience. A great day trip out of the city into the countryside, blue skies, picturesque scenary and riedel glassware. Ha! i have never drank from riedel glassware before, can't say the water tasted any better :-)

We drove from Bilbao with our little matchbox GPS connected via bluetooth to the Nokia mobile phone which had Tom Tom loaded with the map of Spain. a LIFESAVER i tell you. Got us there even when it got lost because of a new roundabout that was not on the map.

As mentioned in other posts, there is a guy who speak english there. He is the sous chef. He comes from Australia. He is very friendly and was not in a rush to spend time talking to us about the produce... he emphasised alot about the freshness and the quality of the produce. The degustation was not on the menu so you need to speak to the chef. Once the price was agreed we got very excited and became worried at the same time. It was much more than our budget and through the excitment we forgot to ask how many dishes we were getting... Well...here it goes....

Wine: Pazo de Señorans Seleccion de Añada 2002 Albariño

1. Chorizo De Caserio

Homemade chorizo.

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2. Mantequilla

Lets not get confused here, its simply grilled bread with a heavy handed portion of butter. I swear it tasted like foie gras, but it's just butter!

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3. Cigalas

Langoustine, half portion each, most expensive langoustine I ever had, best we ever had. Unbelievable seafood-sweetness. I noticed the shell as very soft - slight tougher than a prawn but still your able to crack the shells using just your fingers. The chef said they deliberately catch it at this stage because it gives maximum flavour. Due to my upbringing, I sucked on the shell and the head with glee, oblivious to my surroundings. Nothing, nothing was wasted at all.

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4. Ostras

Oysters on seaweed. I asked the chef where he sourced it, its was massive. Came from France. Size 00 !!!

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5. Caviar Brasa

Before the grilled Iranian cavier arrived, we were brought a palate cleanser - something milky in the glass. The grilling brought on a hint of smokey bacon.

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6. Espardenyas

Can't give you a direct translation - but it was so devine and super sweet, tasted like a razor clam/squid but it's not. From looking at other egullet posts i believe this is the sea cucumber.

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7. Chipirones Brasa

The dish I had been waiting for, baby squid is in season. How can i describe the ink: sweet, seafood like and the texture is creamy smooth. The charcoal smell brought a smokey bacon flavour.

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8. Hongos Brasa

OH WoW. Here comes grilled cepes and aubergine. Out of this world. Sorry the photo does not do this dish justice.

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9.Ventresca de Bonito

Grilled bonito (spanish tuna) and tomato. Simply succulent.

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10. Chuleta

What were they thinking? Final course was a hunka chunka grilled steak from Pays Basque served with green salad and a plate full of chunky chips. Tender but not in the same league as argentian or wagyu beef.

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11. Infusion de fruots

Homemade vanilla ice-cream with red berry sauce.

Followed by coffee and petit fours.

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Inside the dining room.

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Front entrance to the grill house.

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The courtyard

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And finally... the good stuff.

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Edited by Trucie (log)

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Re: "Tender but not in the same league as argentian or wagyu beef."

Major cultural chasm here!

Why this obsession with 'tenderness'? I wonder. 12-level wagyu in Japan is indeed tender - but it's also white, practically all fat, and absolutely lacking any sort of texture that a Westerner will appreciate.

In Spain, we insist on some muscle and texture, plus all the meaty and minerally flavors of well-aged beef, in our steaks.

Etxebarri entirely fulfills this premise. That's why I consider their steaks, as those in the top steakhouses in Tolosa and in Madrid, to be vastly superior to any I've had in Japan, to most of those I've had in the US (since the 1977 easing of USDA regulations on prime beef, they've never been the same!), and to a large chunk of those I've had in Argentina, save for those in very exceptio nal restaurants like the reborn La Cabaña in Buenos Aires.

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I do agree Victor, not a big fan of Wagyu myself. Have you tried "our" brazilian version of meat at Rubayat in Madrid?

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I completely agree here. If I want tender, I'll eat Jell-0. If I want flavour with bite, power, and a nice chew - I'll get me real steak. I'd much prefer a great rib-eye or strip to a filet; any time.

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I completely agree here. If I want tender, I'll eat Jell-0.  If I want flavour with bite, power, and a nice chew - I'll get me real steak.  I'd much prefer a great rib-eye or strip to a filet; any time.

Here here - a nice steak should resist a bit I think. Very suspicious if it just falls apart like it's been stewed. In some steakhouses in Australia they treat the meat so it's over-tender, I think out of some mistaken belief that people will forgive a lack of flavour as long as it's tender enough. Big mistake.

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Two birds with one stone: Axpe is so beautiful...why not lunch? It is not like the menu is different.

The tasting menu at Victor's was in the 70eu range last winter. The wines were reasonable and good. Lunch for two ran something like 250eu out the door, with cava, wine, wine, etc.

For a trifecta.....hospitality, food, wine, views, culture, architecture, kindness....I guess that is a septafecta.....stay at Garro in Munitibar after you eat at Victor's. Five hundred year old cherrywood beams in a house filled with modern sculpture, house made pastries, great coffee with local cream in giant bowls.....50 euros out the door.

Meanwhile....why does no one ever mention Andra Mari? It is 15 minutes from Bilbao, open for lunch on inconvenient days......and right up there with the best food in Spain. And I speak as a working graduate of Mugaritz. Chalked potatoes were cool two years ago...but they still taste like.....starch and chalk. At Andra Mari: cereza saladas (cherry membrillo).....stays with you a year later. Ensalada de setas y moluscos en escabeche de sidra.....Rafa would not be unhappy. Smoked foie....the best foie we found in Spain. So why is Andra Mari uncool? Stodgy service? The Alpine views marred by the industrial park creep?

Beats me.

Victor is great....but if I had to choose at gunpoint....I would take Andra Mari. 48eu for the tasting menu....over night at Garro. Heaven.

So shoot me.

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Andra Mari is definitely next on my list.

If you take the "tasting" menu at Victor he serves half portions of most of the menu and charges half the dish price. I think we paid 145/head, including the 7 courses, 3 different wines, desserts, and of course the caviar will make it a bit more expensive...but well worth it!!

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Had a terrific lunch at Etxebarri last Saturday, and developed some ideas about the "perfect" Etxebarri experience (for me anyway):

Go for lunch. The surroundings and vistas of Axpe are rural and really beautiful; I can't imagine it'd be as striking at night.

I'd say about half the room was having a tasting menu, with a good helping of tourists. The half that was ordering a la carte appeared to be all Spaniards. On those tables I noticed a preponderance of shellfish (chipirones, gambas, cigalas) and chuleta.

If you want to go for the tasting menu, be aware that

-They will happily recite all the dishes proposed for the tasting menu of the day. They are fine with deleting or adding to the list.

-The caviar can be taken off and significantly brings down the price (something like -25/head, may have been even more)

-Everything is cooked on the grill (even milk for the ice cream!). It has a very particular smokiness which started to become a little "same-y" by the 4th or 5th dish, especially in the delicate ingredients like the oysters with seaweed, the mussels in beet broth, the ceps with aubergines, etc. At times it seemed like only the textures were changing dish to dish.

As has been mentioned many times ingredient quality is out of this world. To me, though, it's not really a tasting-menu kind of place. The chef isn't trying to create new or complex flavor combinations- he is trying to respect the essence of each ingredient with minimal adornment. In that setting, I'd rather enjoy regular portions of two or three contrasting things- like superfresh gambas and some steak- than numerous proteins and vegetables all infused with the same, distinctive, smokey flavor. To me, these limits would put the world-class grilling and ingredients in their best light and avoid fatigue.

The meal was great, but when I return I'm going to order only a few items including the most promising-looking shellfish of the day and the chuleta, and skip the tasting menu. This will also result in a meal costing half as much!

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I have to say, Trucie, those photos really had me drooling - very nice work. Very nice report notwithstanding the cultural meat preferences discussed.

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I have to say, Trucie, those photos really had me drooling - very nice work. Very nice report notwithstanding the cultural meat preferences discussed.

Thank you! I also went to Akelare on the same trip so I'll be posting pictures from that desgustation menu soon.

Very interesting comments about the beef. This was my first proper Spainish beef. Yes it had a full flavoured meaty taste with a muscle bite, if that's the best way to describe it. I'll have to try more Galician and Pay Basque beef next time.

Oh, if you look at the beef picture careful, you can see the grilling gave it a crunchy charcoal texture - this was my favourite - looking for meaty charcoal bites.

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Just one brief note about this marvelous restaurant. It was my third visit and the food has always been beyond outstanding. I always ask for "lo que decida el chef" (minus the caviar, since I had it on my first visit). I had the usual suspects (butter, chorizo, cigala, gambes de palamos, the divine chuleta and several others). New preparations for me:

Mussels in red beet broth. Although I detest red beets, this was a very good combination. I am not even commenting on the quality or preparation of the mussels.

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Kokotxas. One of my favorites. Served on its liquid on top of (I think) leeks.

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Becada (Woodcock). Probably the only "marginal thumbs up" dish of the day. I did not care much for it.

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Now, I would like to mention Extebarri's desserts since they are outstanding and usually ignored since what precedes them is so marvelous (and very filling). However, I would like to mention the two I had.

The first was the ice cream. Not your usual vanilla ice cream. It is "Helado de infusion de leche reducida a la brasa con una reduccion de frutos silvestres." So they make the base of the ice cream out of the burned milk (a la brasa) and it yields a very rich and extremely tasty ice cream. A taste I had never had before, a taste you cannot pinpoint but wonderful nevertheless.

http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/11950639..._5393_44359.jpg

Then there was another winner "Flan de queso fresco" This fresh cheese flan came in a flan terrine that they remove in front of the customer and it deflates without breaking. What is tremendous about this dessert is the realization of what good ingredients can accomplish. It is, honestly, a slice of heaven. My table was unanimous that it was one of the best desserts they had ever tasted. Very worth it.

http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/11950639..._5393_34359.jpg

I will be back in February or March....but I would go back tomorrow. It is, however, a pretty expensive restaurant (two menus with two glasses of wine came at around 310 Euros), but worth it.

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Finally managed to make it here and had a great meal. Feel very foolish that it's taken me so long. Anyway, click here for pics.

Theres something genuinely evil about Etxebarri in that it keeps me from trying other places, I just keep wanting to go back there...I see some updates on the menu, so Ill just have to back once again.

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..I see some updates on the menu, so Ill just have to back once again.

Well done, Moby.

There may well be updates, Pablo, but there is also very delicate seasonality, making something available today while not yesterday. Yes, a good place to return to.

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Finally managed to make it here and had a great meal. Feel very foolish that it's taken me so long. Anyway, click here for pics.

Theres something genuinely evil about Etxebarri in that it keeps me from trying other places, I just keep wanting to go back there...I see some updates on the menu, so Ill just have to back once again.

I understand. The desire to return, after three separate dining experiences last year, is still incredibly strong. A plate of garden vegetable with a light emulsion in September stayed with me throughout the winter. I am still cross for missing the becasse.

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Etxebarri still has no Michelin star but is now amoung the Top 50 restaurants of the world, according to the British restaurant magazine. One reason more to report from our recent tasting menu here, in the beautiful mountain village of Axpe:

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The weather wasn't too brilliant but even before we arrived the whole market square smelled of Victor's smoky grill. For my birthday, I want a bottle of that burning wood and fresh mountain air smell, please!

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We were quite surprised that, apart from a table of four Japanese tourists, we were the only guests having lunch. A couple of tables were filled later but there was still about 70% of the restaurant empty. We then discovered that a separate room was filled with local guests (speaking basque and all heavily smoking) on some kind of a function.

The usual starter of Chorizo -

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Butter as a course in its own right -

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Gamba

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Oysters on seaweed salad

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Sea cucumber with beans

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Baby squids with spring onions

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Bone marrow with baby peas

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Poached egg, purple potatoes and sliced cepes

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Baby eels, by far the most expensive but in my view not the most delicious dish we had (costing 50 Euros for the half portion you see). All I could taste was a smoky flavour and the spaghetti al dente texture, the eel taste wasn't really developed in these little creatures (or if it was, it was overrun by the roasting flavours from the grill)

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Some kind of porc pâté with paprika, an excellent choice

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And finally, the famous chuleta with green salad

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When Marco Pierre White says "mother nature is the true artist" it almost seems to me like he is talking about Etxebarri. The ingredients they use are truly outstanding, the best and purest. Tremendously enjoyed our lunch here, and it is fascinating how the smoky aromas complement each of the ingredients in a different way. The secret of this place is best produce, the mastery of the grill, simple presentation, and last not least an impressive location. Bill came to 380 Euros for two, including a bottle of Chivite Chardonnay, a bottle of water and two coffees. Unfortunately, we couldn't manage a dessert and besides that, we were booked into Arzak for dinner!

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.....

Baby eels, by far the most expensive but in my view not the most delicious dish we had (costing 50 Euros for the half portion you see). All I could taste was a smoky flavour and the spaghetti al dente texture, the eel taste wasn't really developed in these little creatures (or if it was, it was overrun by the roasting flavours from the grill)

.....

As you correctly point out --and so did Andoni Luis Aduriz from Mugaritz in the last Madrid Fusión--, the gastronomic value of the angulas resides more, if not exclusively, in the texture rather than in the taste.

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