The capper on the trip to Spain was to head to San Sebastian for some fine dining at two of the best restaurants in the world. Arzak and Asador Etxebarri.
Asador Etxebarri has made the worlds 50 best restaurants list for seven years in a row and currently sits at number 34. Chef Victor Arguinzoniz is a grill master who fires every course over wood. Admittedly, we were drawn here by the Anthony Bourdain episode that featured the restaurant. Just about every review you can find validates this restaurant as one of the best you’ll ever find.
We arrived nice and early. Many reviewers noted that the restaurant can be hard to find. We didn’t have any issues, phone GPS took us straight there. We wandered around for about 45 minutes, not much to see outside the restaurant other than a jai-alai court and a small farm. Not my best photography, eating is of course far more important.
By the time the doors opened at 1:00 PM a few other groups had wandered into the town. We were seated upstairs on the balcony. After we settled in, we waited for quite a while before servers showed any interest in us. We started to get a little frustrated, it really was far too long before someone waited on us. Once we ordered our tasting menus and the meal started, all was well.
The first four items came out together. The juice was good but not so memorable. The chorizo, butter and anchovies on the other hand, were amazing. While butter may not seem exciting, the combination of the salt and smoke made for an incredible combination. The chorizo was easily the best I’ve ever eaten. The anchovies were laid across a grilled pan con tomate. Perfect.
Following the initial four small courses we got into the main tasting menu. First out was tomato with white onion. Visually I was not expecting much. Looked a little like a boiled skinned tomato cut in half with some onions on it (see picture). Flavor and textures were a different story. The tomato was wonderfully tender and the onion added just a little crunch. I don’t know what was in the broth, but it would’ve been an excellent dish on its own served in a glass.
Next were mussels in escabeche. Flavors were good on this one but not too memorable. Probably one of my least favorites, but a fine dish.
Continuing with seafood to start, out came a grilled oyster with seaweed. Also present was a little foam. The brininess of the oyster came through but the smoke flavor really made this unique.
Next came the prawns. Having read many reviews of Asador Etxebarri online, this was an expected favorite. Smoky, sweet and salty. Perfectly cooked. Expectation met.
The next course was astounding, at least to me. Apparently I had never eaten a properly cooked squid prior to this one. The tenderness was impressive. Once again the flavors were excellent. I also thought the plating on this one was particularly simple yet eye catching.
The eggplant and porcini mushrooms came next to take the meal towards the steak finish line. Great flavors, but not as memorable as some of the other plates, I’d rank this one closer to the bottom along with the mussels and escabeche. As previously stated, this is based on a sliding scale where some of the other plates were absolutely amazing.
Following the porcini’s was a surprisingly rich dish. The white tuna was more like a foie gras in consistency and richness. I assume the cut came from a fatty section of the fish as it reminded me some of tuna belly.
Next came the beef. Not much to say, the bone was clean when we were done. Really really clean.
Dessert courses started with a smoked ice cream with a bery sauce. Not sure how they smoked ice cream, but this was the best of the two dessert courses.
The second dessert course wasn’t as memorable. The Basque Cake with figs was good but similar to the mussels, not as strong as most of the other courses.
The mignardise – chocolate truffles covered on cacao powder. A nice rich chocolate capper after the lighter and spongier basque cake.
Price was nosebleed, especially with a couple bottles of wine, but opportunities like this one come along rarely.
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