Thursday, 18 April 2013

San Sebastian pintxos bars - 2013 update along with other notes

Below is a list of all the best San Sebastian pintxos bars visited and pintxos eaten so far in my short but hungry life. This is for anyone to enjoy if they find themselves in San Sebastian and are looking for a list of tried-and-tested tasty top tips! Try saying that with a mouthful of toasted txangurro....

This list, now fondly known as 'El Listo', was first created in 2008 and originally based on a list given to me by Elena, chef/patron of the 3 Michelin starred restaurant Arzak. We visited all of her suggestions, tried the recommended pintxos and made a few discoveries of our own. After returning to San Sebastian over Easter this year I thought it would be churlish not to update the much loved El Listo and so below you have El Listo in it's fully updated, colour-photographed glory. Enjoy...

Zona parte vieja (old town)

Ganbara (2013)
San Jeronimo 19 
Tel: 943-422575
The txangurro tart (crab tart) is reputedly the main star, although we preferred the one at Bernardo Etxea. I loved the simply cooked cod’s roe, served cold and garnished with onions and parsley. We also had a lovely racione (a larger portion than a pintxo) of clams with baby artichokes that were stewed into soft submission and flavoured with clam juice.

La Viña (2013)
31 de Agosto 3 
Tel: 943-427495
You have to come to La Viña and have one thing, at the very least, if you eat no other pintxos at all during your visit to San Sebastian. And that is the canutillo de queso. It is a cone made from brik pastry, filled with cream cheese and one anchovy fillet. It is cheesy, creamy, fishy, oily and crisp. It is also unexpectedly delectable. Like a savoury man’s ice cream delight. If you are adventurous then try the patitas de cordero – lamb’s feet. These are quite special but not to everyone’s taste. The torta de queso is wonderful – sweet cream-cheesy custardy curds just held together to form a cake.

La Cuchara de San Telmo (2013)
31 de Agosto 28 trasera (junto a la entrada lateral de San Telmo)
Tel: 943-420840
This was one of our favourite bars on our first visit. We had mollejas (veal sweetbreads), foie gras, pulpo, txiperron (baby squid), oreja (pig’s ear)…in fact everything we ordered from the short menu was delicious.
On returning in 2013 the carrillera (ox cheek), foie gras a la plancha and risotto with goat’s cheese were still wonderful, but the service was less impressive.

Txepetxa (2013) – known for excellent anchovies
Pescaderia 5
Tel: 943-422227
The anchovies come with a wide selection of unusual partners.  You can find anchovies topped with sea urchin (erizo del mar), spider crab, salmon, trout roe or even blueberry jam. In season fresh anchovies caught off the coast are hand filleted and then marinated in vinegar for 24 hours before being served. These are prized for being larger and tastier than their imported counterparts. In 2013 we tried ‘antxoas mundiala’ or ‘anchovies of the world’, not on the menu and a concoction of anchovy fillet with crab mayo and sea urchin eggs (huevas des erizo del mar). Another classic is a Gilda (pronounced Hilda) – named after the movie Gilda starring Rita Hayworth. This pintxos combines an anchovy fillet with a stoned green olive and a guindillo pepper on a toothpick.

La Fuego Negro (2013) – known for pintxos modernos (modern tapas)
31 de Agosto 31
Tel: 550-135373
Another top contender for the best pintxos in ’08. 2008 highlights included pancetta Iberico con ajo, txangurro (crab), avocado ice cream, aniseed ice cream – amazing together.  Makobe con txips ( mini hamburger with chips), txupitos (like veloute amuse) salmurejo (salmon custard) con brote (onion sprouts), flore (flowers), anchovies, pickled garlic cloves, roasted cherry tomatoes.
On our 2013 return we had a glass of mussels in tomato sauce with béchamel foam and pork scratchings, along with a dish of lamb’s tongue (lengua)andf red wine pickled spring onions.

Bar Martinez (2008) - recommended: pintxos frios (cold tapas)
31 de Agosto 13
Tel: 943-424965
Bacalao and salmon on toast. Stuffed peppers, anchovy, egg and jamon, boquerones with red pepper and onion sweet sour relish, anchovy, tuna, gherkin and pickled green chilli.

Goiz Argi (2013)
Fermin Calbeton 4
Tel: 943 425204
Brochetta de gambas – prawn, bacon and spicy sweet sour salsa – incredible, one of the best pintxos. Morcilla, , txangurro a la calenta – hot little dish of crab, polpo.  Only disappointment was the chiperrones.

Bernardo Etxea (2013)
Puerto 7
Tel: 943 422055
One of our favourite destinations for a long seafood lunch. Especially for hot boiled percebes (120 euros per kilo! or €30 a racione), or dinosaur feet/goose barnacles. Other delights included native oysters, langoustines, almejas (clams) – all available either raw or cooked and both options were delicious…but relatively expensive compared to standard pintxos. Otherwise there was -
Tartaleta txangurro – blind baked shortcrust tarts with a rich, almost burnt, buttery taste, filled with a warm mixture of white and brown crabmeat, nothing else. This was elegantly simple yet luxurious at the same time. One of the highlights.
Jamon de Jabugo – thin slices of classic Iberico ham
Kokotxas en salsa – Hake throats in a white gelatinous sauce flecked with parsley.
Pulpo a la Gallega – Slices of soft octopus with paprika
Cigalas a la plancha – Enormous langostines, split open lengthways and quickly cooked under the grill with a smear of butter.
Chipirones a la plancha – These should have been tiny little squids but were larger than expected in late March/early April, perhaps due to the season.

La Cepa (2013)
31 de Agosto 7
Tel: 943 426394
Reputedly Ferran Adria’s favourite bar.
Jamon de Jabugo – wonderful Iberico ham and hongos a la plantxa – wild ceps grilled and served with an egg yolk.

Borda Berri (2013)
Fermin Calbeton 12
Tel: 943 425638
Translated as ‘New Hut’. This bar was a new discovery in 2013. Apparently owned by one half of the pair who opened La Cuchara de San Telmo following an acrimonious split. The food was fantastic – everything we tried was impressive. Highlights included:
Risotto de idiazabal – the ‘risotto’ was in fact orzo pasta, glazed with the local idiazabal cheese. It was wonderfully creamy and rich.
Kebab de costilla de cerdo – pork ribs, slow cooked to tender meaty shreds
Carrillera de tenera al vino tinto – ox cheek, again forkably soft and savoury sauced.

Atari Gastroteka (2013)
Calle Mayor, 18 Nagusia (Calle 31 de Agosto)
Tel: 943 440792
Foie artesano – Warm foie gras, banana cream and slices of caramalised apple.
A slate with flakes of cooked bonito (tuna), anchovy fillets and spicy pickled guindillo peppers.

Bar Tamboril (2013)
Arrandegui 2
Tel: 943 423507
Txampis Tamboril - fat button mushrooms stewed in their own juices, with garlic and olive oil and served with a piece of baguette to mop up the sauce. Also recommended are the gambas a la gabardina.

In new town – Zona Gros

Alona Berri (2008)
C. Bermingham 24
Tel: 943 290818
Interesting ‘modern’ tapas – unusual combinations, and friendly service.  Not the cheapest but worth it.
Erizo de mar (sea urchin – served hot and in the shell)
Chipiron en equilibrio de mar
Entecote atun – tuna with sesame ‘salt’ and honey
Txirristra – mackerel

Bar Bergara (2008)
C/ General Arteche 8
943 275026
Bacalao a la Vizcaina is a speciality, lots of pastry and tarts, not bad, but we preferred Alona…

In Centro

Hikamika (2008) – Pinchos in general
C/ Etxaide
Tel: 943 431335
This was recommended on Elena’s list, but we have yet to try it….

Restaurants I went to and loved

Rekondo (2013)
Fantastic traditional Basque cuisine and a culinary classic for locals. Also boasts one of the oldest and most extensive wine cellars in Spain.

Arzak (2008 and 2013)
Three Michelin starred gastronomic powerhouse.

Azurmendi (2013)
Three Michelin stars and a kitchen garden thrown in.

Mugaritz (2008)
Two Michelin stars and wildly innovative - much loved by chefs.

To try next time (from 2013)

Astelehena - The pan seared foie gras is supposed to be amazing.
Akelarre - Three Michelin stars 
Martín Berasategui - Three stars too
Zuberoa - One star
Miramón Arbelaitz - One star
Kokotxa - One star
Mirador de Ulía - One star
Alameda de Hondarribia - One star
Aldanondo - Traditional Basque cuisine
Juanito Kojua - Traditional Basque also
The Basque cider houses located in the villages of Hernani and Astigarraga

Spanish/Basque food words

Lumagorri – a classic Basque dish
Canelon - cannelloni
Carrillera - cheek
Cochinita - suckling pig
Hongos - ceps
Ternera - veal
Kallos - pig stomach
Kabra - goat
Carri-kabra. – goat’s cheese and beef cheek
Idiazabal - local sheep’s milk cheese
Arandanos - berries
Bocarta - local fish
Oneggin – cheers (like Salute!)
Guindillas – thin curly green peppers, usually pickled and slightly spicy
Vieira - scallop
Molleja – veal sweetbreads
Morro de ternera – veal lips
Puerro - leek

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Arzak revisited 29.3.13

We came, we ate, we raved about Arzak. Four years on and we returned.

This time the dishes were very different. The trademark egg course remained, but the style of the cuisine seemed to have moved on. A touch of Danish/Noma influence perhaps? Overall I'm not sure if it's a case of gastronomic nostalgia always winning out, but we felt our first visit had greater momentous impact.

We sat at the Chef's Table this time, under rainbow shards of coloured glass and facing the brightly lit main pass. Elena and her father Juan Mari Arzak both came to say 'hello' but were otherwise rarely seen, leaving explanations of each course in the hands of a waitress whose heavily accented English was often difficult to understand.

The language barrier weighed heavily on my appreciation of dinner, as it was often impossible to understand exactly what we were eating nor to appreciate the flavours and technical skills woven into each dish. While some dishes stood alone in being delicious, others were lost on us.

On my first visit to Arzak the dishes seemed complicated at first, with foams and pastes and other forms of kitchen wizardry very much in evidence. But in fact simplicity won out as the tastes and compositions were classic, easy to understand and often locally inspired. We could relate to what was on our plates. This key aspect of our dining experience was sadly missing this time.

Dinner was still enjoyable, certainly, but disappointingly not the tongue tingling sensation I remembered from my first experience. Perhaps three time's a charm?

Beans, bacon and chestnut. I tasted black beans and the thin crisp of iberico fat floating on top. Chestnuts added a subtle sweetness.
Anchovy and strawberry. Served on a slick of fruity balsamic flavoured something. Fragrant, salty sweet and delicious.
Red codfish. On a spiral of crisp pastry, with onion seeds I think? Some kind of emulsified sauce. Salty fish really. With crispy bits.
Kabrarroka pudding with kataifi. Local fish mousse wrapped in fine kataifi hairs and deep fried. 
Chorizo with tonic. A purée of chorizo wrapped in a thin slice of mango and bathed in tonic water. Rather recycled presentation, but a lovely little mouthful.
Cromlech, manioc and huitlacoche. Y'What? Okay a cromlech is apparently Welsh for a megalithic or large stone structure. Manioc is better known as cassava, which formed the casing of our mini megalith and was apparently 'hydrated with huitlacoche', a corn fungus used in Mexican cuisine that has a smoky, earthy flavour. Having never tasted this before I couldn't identify it. I did taste the strands of sweet caramalised onions inside the cassava casing and the smooth foie gras paste, but none of the green tea mentioned on the menu. 
Hemp, mustard and lobster. With crisp hemp bread and mustard vinaigrette. Lovely lobes of butter poached lobster, paired with sorrel leaves hiding an English mustard emulsion, crunchy hemp seeds baked into a sweet salty crisp and lobster stock clothes pegs. We weren't sure about the relevance of the latter! The dish also came with a refreshing little salad of micro leaves with tapioca pearls, hemp seeds and pink slices of grapefruit.
Oysters with a sea crust. The alternative to lobster. These were browned on one side giving them a half cooked texture and served with paprika fronds. The whole effect was rather too salty.
Ovo-lacto. Egg with a semi crispy shell and baobab, served with lactic leaves and curds. Again y'what? So as far as we could decipher, the egg was low temperature poached and coated in breadcrumbs. The greyish crisps were dehydrated milk, served with a bubble of liquid gorgonzola, a slice of idiazabal cheese marinated in port and an 'oca de lada' leaf. There was no trasnlation for the latter, sourced from Koppert Cress, who import the leaf from Thailand under their own brand name. According to Arzak with was to prevent anyone from identifying it. Stranger and stranger.
Monkfish green witch. Or monkfish served in a green balloon.
Following removal of the rice cracker balloon. The monkfish was beautifully cooked - soft and juicy, meaty without any rubbery bounce. Served with cloves of confit garlic and a parsley seaweed sauce.

Alternatively, there was white sole served white seaweed and a green sea vegetable sauce. The firm and flavourful sole fillets became the highlight of dinner for those who had it.
The Kobe's beer. Another hard to understand wordplay description. What looked like a large lollipop or a cutlet of some sort turned out to be a patty of minced Kobe beef, sourced locally from the first generation of Wagyu cattle bred from a herd imported from Japan. It was cooked medium rare and served with a liquorice bark 'bone', beetroot onions, pomegranate seeds, parmesan crisp and a mildly bitter beer sauce. I found the minced meat to be tender and tasty, but nothing extraordinary. It surprised me to find that the main dish was effectively a burger filling.
Served alongside the Kobe beef, a dish of sweet leek cake and deep fried leaves. Again, nice but not really much of note. 
Playing marbles with chocolate. Chocolate marbles with amaranth and oregano sauce. The chocolate balls contained liquid in their centres. I have always liked puffed amaranth, which looks like tiny baby pieces of popcorn, but the chocolate tasted a bit strange, I suppose this was the oregano influence.
The alternative to chocolate marbles - Roots, fruits and seeds. A thin layer of white chocolate flavoured with parsley filled with black chocolate emulsified with kuzu (a starch used by the Japanese as a thickener) and lime flavour, served with Frangelico and Aperol balls.
Golden footprint and ladybird. Caramalised fruits served under black sesame bread (the footprint), pepper and liquorice ladybird filled with vanilla yoghurt pannacotta and olive oil cristal. Caramel crumbs. Served alongside was an Indian gooseberry ice cream.
The alternative to the ladybird dish - Black apple. Sautéed apple finished with an aspect of truffle and apricot. Served alongside a basil sorbet with sweet seeds.
Cinnamon curls
Chocolate ironmongery petit fours.