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San Sebastian, Spain


StorageLady
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Bar hop and graze on pinxos and txakoli, and you won't go wrong. I can't remember the name of a single place we went to in San Sebastian but we didn't have a bad meal. I have wonderful memories of our visit there. I'm jealous!

Likewise. There's an "east side" and a "west side" when it comes to tapas, the east side being more traditional; the west side being a little more modern (due to newer and less expensive real estate) - both are walkable from each other. You'll be tired at the end of the evening, and will have walked several miles, but it'll be a happy tired. One thing I remember is that the tapas nightlife doesn't go as endlessly into the night as I thought it would, so don't plan on being out much past midnight.

And if you have a second night ... Akelare, Mugaritz, Etxebarri, Arzak, etc. :)

Here's another thread to aid you in your search.

And another.

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Only a few days left before we leave! Thanks to everyone for your help and suggestions. Because I'm taking my daughter who is more of a grazer and my sister who isn't anything near a foodie- we will be doing the bar hopping scene in SS.  If you have a favorite place for Pinxos, I'm all ears!

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Only a few days left before we leave! Thanks to everyone for your help and suggestions. Because I'm taking my daughter who is more of a grazer and my sister who isn't anything near a foodie- we will be doing the bar hopping scene in SS. If you have a favorite place for Pinxos, I'm all ears!

On our honeymoon two years ago, we enjoyed both A Fuego Negro (creative) and La Cuchara de San Telmo (traditional). This was after having been to Akelare earlier in the day...probably a bit much in such a short period.

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Mugaritz was one of the worst meals I have ever had.  What courses were standouts for you?

Oh, Adam, it was *not* - I'll bet you had a worse meal today than you had at Mugaritz. Now, of course, I'm not factoring in the $1,000-for-two pricing of things, but that's another issue entirely. :)

StorageLady, there are no "favorites" - wander around and go wherever people have spilled out onto the sidewalk and are eating standing up - you'll be just fine. Start on the east side for more traditional pintxos, and don't rush westward - you'll eventually make your way there by night's end, and it's too much walking to keep switching back-and-forth between the two. Have 2-3 places in mind before your begin your quest, but don't be militant about sticking to a game plan. I don't remember the name of a single place I went to; only that the evening as a whole is an experience not to be missed. The evening will pass quickly, so begin an hour before your intuition tells you to - one drink per bar, then move on to the next. Get a jamí³n course early on at whatever place is proudly hanging their hams.

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Oh, Adam, it was *not* - I'll bet you had a worse meal today than you had at Mugaritz. Now, of course, I'm not factoring in the $1,000-for-two pricing of things, but that's another issue entirely. :)

Don, it was the worst meal. I was with him. Did the price and schlep add insult to injury? No question. I think one of the reasons people are sometimes afraid to say they didn't like a rarified meal like that is because you think, "Experts say this place is close to perfection. Maybe I just don't get it." Based on the looks on the faces of other diners, I think that may easily have been the case that night.  We were served one course that was just a bowl of flower petals.  Another was fossilized salsify with petrified caviar that was in a single word horrific. When a couple plates went back to the kitchen almost uneaten our waitress started bringing us other items not on the menu and the meal improved drastically.  What also might help to put our feelings into context- on that same trip we also ate at Extebarri, El Cellar de Can Rocas, Rafas and El Bulli. So when Mugaritz didn't live up to expectations and those other meals were so incredible, it only made us regret not going to Arzac instead that much more. 

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Late to the game, but I'll add some thoughts for future searchers.  We spent a week in San Sebastian, and ate ALL THE TAPAS.  But first, the fancy stuff (pro-tip: hit these places for lunch, and you're set for the day...maybe a couple pinxtos and a glass of wine for late dinner. And the chefs are actually there, and come out to chat during lunch, so you're not being slighted in the least):

Etxebarri: The defining dining experience of my life.  Will likely never be topped.  I knew we were in for it from the first bite of grilled bread topped with about 4 tablespoons of freshly made goat butter (from a goat we saw on our walk in).  We drove from Bilbao and stopped here for lunch.  If you are in Basque country, DO NOT MISS.

Akelare: Beautiful view, great experience, but frankly, a bit too conceptual for my tastes.  I think it suffered from being in such close temporal proximity to the very primal meal at Etxebarri, but we still had a great time.

Arzak: A great balance between the bare-bones food+fire of Etxebarri and the high-concept of Akelare...whimisical dishes prepared with a lot of soul.  Both Juan-Mari and Elena came out to greet guests.  Incredibly gracious, and we will most certainly be back. When he found out we had come from DC, Juan-Mari asked if Jose Andres had sent us...they are apparently quite close.

Now for the tapas:

Frankly, you can't go wrong hopping from joint to joint, grabbing a pinxto or 2 and a cana of beer.  Our faves were La Cepa (this acted kind of like a central hub for us), La Cucharra de San Telmo, A Fuego Negro, Astalena, El Legar Bodega, Zeruko, and million others.

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If we loved Bilbao, San Sebastian was....whatever word is bigger than love.   :) We were there during a rainy spell, however the few days of sunshine we got were amazing.

The combs of the wind, the beaches, the bridges and tiny streets in the old part of the city, it was a unbelievably memorable experience.

Some of our favorite tapas stops: A Fuego Negro, Bar Tamboril, La Cuchara de San Telmo, Ganbara, I could go on and on. I'll note that during certain peak times it was hard to get some pintxos, I'm 6'4" 280 and I was getting pushed around by little old ladies.

We were bored with estrella, txakoli, wine and cidre one night and found this hole in the wall craft beer bar called Never Stop. It was a nice taste of home after 10 days away, I sampled 4-5 Basque craft beers as well as some excellent belgian sours.

Our first three star experience, Arzak was brilliant. We got a chance to meet Juan Mari and Elena, she actually took our order and checked in on our likes and dislikes.

I'll go into our meal with detail later.

On new years eve we went to Eme Be Garrote, a new restaurant of Martin Berasategui located in the district of Ibaeta in an old cider mill. Great way to kick in the new year.

For the record, I love me some salt cod any anything cooked in pil pil oil.

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On our recent trip, which included a leg through San Sebastian and Bilbao, we ate at Etxebarri and 3 Michelin 3-stars (Arzak was on vacation).  Also at a handful of pintxo bars (though far too many were closed because November is vacation month for the vacation town of San Sebastian) and made a stop by the 2 markets.

My favorites, by a very far margin, are Etxebarri and Restaurant Martin Berasategui.

Etxebarri is dreamy - the ingredients were pristine and the grilling/smoking brought out the essence of each ingredient.  Every course was a concentrated lesson on the deliciousness of X ingredient, it was just awesome.  If you have the chance to go here, I highly highly recommend it.  If you're in San Sebastian, rent a car for the day and drive to Bilbao to see the Guggenheim (it will only take 2-3 hours even you look carefully at everything) and then have lunch here. The dining room is very cozy and the service was very warm.

Restaurant Martin Berasategui was equally dreamy - the dining room setting is generically pleasant, like a well appointed country club dining room.  That just helps to focus on the delicious food.  Each dish we had was delicious and unique.  The flavors in each dish worked really well together, so that each bite was different but worked in harmony.  A lot of modern gastronomy techniques were used but they were not the focus and they were not distracting, they just worked within the dish to make it look and taste really really good.  The service here was also really warm and attentive.

Azurmendi in Bilbao had a lot going for it.  Firstly, you're getting a lot for your money.  The pre-meal nibbles course involved a member of the kitchen staff taking you through their greenhouse facility and feeding you perhaps 10 different bites in context of where they are grown.  Then more nibbles are served in "picnic" style and you get a look at the pristine kitchen before being led to the dining room.  After that, there are maybe 12 formal courses for various tastes, each are quite elaborate and interesting, and a lot of fun to eat.  All this is happening in a very sleek modern dining room with presumably very beautiful views during daytime.  Where the meal fell a little short for me was that I found many of the courses interesting rather than utterly delicious.  It almost seems unfair to judge a restaurant on that criteria considering the hard work and thinking that went into each dish, but there were a few courses where I took a bit or two and just lost interest, and handed it over to +1 to finish. It may just be a matter of personal taste.  I will say that the experience did feel worth the money (as much as $200 per person before wine meals can ever be said to be worth the money) and was unique and very good in every way.

We had a dinner at Gandaria Taberna and it was pretty good.  Very generous portions.  Well prepared and delicious grilled meats.  Efficient and pleasant service.

We did a bit of pintxo bar hopping, though not as much as we hoped because many bars were closed on Sunday/Monday/November.  We definitely liked La Cuchara de San Telmo the best of all - really delicious and well prepared.  All the pintxos were tasty though and the inexpensive and generous pours of txakoli that I had at every bar certainly didn't hurt.

The fish shops were not open at all on Monday, when we visited the market.  We also found that at least on Monday, a lot of shops will be closed during the day but open when we revisited around 8 PM.  The displays were beautiful and I'm so glad that we stopped by and bought some delicious delicious Iberico ham.

And then there was...

Akelarre was terrible and a ripoff.  +1 said that he didn't think his menu fell to the level of terrible, but also thought that some dishes were meh and even the less meh (gimmes such as steak tartare and foie gras and calamari risotto) dishes were not memorable or interesting.  I ordered the seafood focused menu and can honestly say that it was the worst fine dining experience I had this year (I did have a great eating year, but still!).  The food was cooked properly and the textures were correct, but the savories tasted overpowering of salt and not much else and the sweets were equally one dimensional -the orange chocolate dessert was far too sweet and dominated by the taste of the bitter orange rind, the broken milk bottle dessert tasted like meh yogurt on meh fruits and I could concoct something far tastier in 2 minutes using Trader Joe's Greek style yogurt. The concepts around each dish did nothing to serve the actual taste of the dish, they were just shallow gimmicks.

The service was also extremely sloppy, silverware practically tossed onto the table with no care for placement, they took our paid-for bottled water before the start of the dessert course and then just let our water glass site nearly empty.

This was tied with Azurmendi for being the second most expensive meal on our 2-week trip and I had no idea where the money went.  The ingredients didn't seem super-fresh or pristine (not that you could taste them well under all that salt), no generous use of costly ingredients, and the preps didn't see anywhere as elaborate or time intensive as what I saw as Azurmendi or Restaurant Martin Berasategui.  What I ate at pintxo bars were more appealing and far tastier.  I've seen other people online praise the awful dishes that we had and I cannot fathom how - this meal was so far from the vast majority of our fine dining experiences that I don't think it's me.  But how can this naked emperor continue to garner so much praise for itself?

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Anthony Bourdain just did another San Sebastian episode the other night and returned to Etxebarri (plus Arzak, Elkano, and others).  He broke out the "I would die/have my last meal here" bit again.  Not that he's wrong.  We may have had a better meal at Mugaritz, but our lunch at Etxebarri remains my all-time favorite and inspires the fondest memories.  Especially the hand-made goat butter on toast mentioned upthread, grilled Palamos prawns, and baby octopus.  Our Garmin GPS steered us the wrong way into a random stranger's driveway where nearly a dozen of his barking dogs surrounded our rental car.  Although he spoke no English, once he saw the Google map print-out showing that we were headed to Etxebarri, he personally escorted us with his car so that we were able to reach the restaurant in time for our reservation.  Also, I was careless and kept our headlights on during the meal, so the battery was dead by the time we left.  Fortunately, there was a woman eating at the restaurant who spoke English and called her dad, who then showed up several minutes later to give our car a jump start.  Folks in the Basque Country were universally friendly on our honeymoon, but we were so pleasantly surprised by these selfless gestures.

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Etxebarri is a strong contender for (and probably is) our best meal ever.  It's one of those few moments of food clarity that makes all the efforts and expense of slogging through mostly unmemorable fine dining establishments in strange places worthwhile.  Thank you so much for recommending it to us!

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24 minutes ago, naxos said:

Still trying to snag a reservation at Arzak for lunch or dinner July 7,8

or lunch on July 11.

Reply from restaurant is to check back. Any help is appreciated.

Arzak has been known to hold back a table for day-of, if you're feeling lucky.

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Finally made it to Arzak through a serendipitous meeting of a couple dining at the next table at Ibai.

Ibai's dining room is small- only4-5 tables occupied and we began a  conversation when one couple offered to have us finish their wine. They had scored a seat at Arzak for the next day and had only called 2 weeks prior and we had been calling and emailing for months to no avail. The folks at the next table overheard our conversation and offered to call Arzak( chef is a friend) to ask if the table for 2 could be expanded to 4. Done!

The 'connected' folks turned out to be Pierre Lurton - ceo of Chateau d yqem and Cheval Blanc and his fiancé - Alexandra Forbes - food writer from Brasil.

Traveling is great- will report on our wonderful meal when we return.

 

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3 hours ago, naxos said:

The 'connected' folks turned out to be Pierre Lurton - ceo of Chateau d yqem and Chevalier Blanc and his fiancé - Alexadra Forbes - food writer from Brasil.

Do you have *any* idea how famous this guy is? His family is one of near-royalty in the wine world.

Here's their family history, if you're curious.

"5 Minutes with Yquem & Cheval Blanc's Pierre Lurton" by Panos Kakaviatos on wine-searcher.com

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