I’ve posted a few more photos from our trip on my Facebook page. First, we spent a day in Bilbao, and we visited that beautiful museum that I’ve read about since before it was even built.
Then, we drove to San Sebastian where we spent a week in an apartment on Paseo de Ramon Maria Lili. It was situated right between the two bridges that cross the River Urumea as it empties into the Bay of Biscay. It was an easy walk to the Parte Vieja, La Concha beach, and bars, cafes, shops, and markets.
The first meal I want to talk about was lunch at Asador Etxebarri in Atxondo-Bizkaia which is about an hour away from San Sebastian by car. Other than the use of grills, wood ovens, and specifically chosen wood for cooking at Etxebarri, the other thing I repeatedly read about this restaurant was that everyone gets lost on their way there. We did too. Our little detour only made us 20 minutes late, and we were still greeted warmly. The restaurant is in an historic building with a backdrop of mountains and a winding country road. The bar is on the first floor with the dining room above.
A couple of days later, we visited Arzak, listed as the eighth best restaurant in the world, for dinner. I didn’t bring my camera for this meal. I just wanted to enjoy it without documenting each bite at the same time. The photos shown here were provided by Arzak. We took a taxi, and as the car stopped in front of the restaurant, the front door opened and we were welcomed and shown inside. Our umbrellas were taken and stored for us, and we were immediately shown to our comfortable table.
The sommelier guided us through the wine list and helped us choose a couple of very nice wines from nearby regions. Then, without further ado, we were each poured a glass of the house Txakoli, which was fantastic, to go with a parade of amuse-bouches. There were long picks holding shrimp wrapped in crunchy kataifi that projected off a vertical support; an unbelievably good corn soup with morcilla; an upside-down crushed Schweppes can that served as the plate for a tiny, chorizo mousse-filled, delicate pastry called “Chorizo with Tonic;” and there were sardines with strawberry which was an uncommonly good combination. I think I’m forgetting one or two other amuse-bouches. I was too delighted to keep track of them all.
We all chose the dinner tasting menu, and there were options for all but one course. I was thrilled to be able to choose dishes with no red meat for the entire meal. The first course, shown in the top photo of this post and above, was a crispy cone made of manioc and filled with a foie gras mousse with huitlacoche. We were instructed to use our spoons to pick up the cones and keep the filling inside and then to bite into them. They were rich, delicious, lovely things, and Kurt suggested I learn to make them and serve them for dinner at home every Tuesday. I’d love to. The meal progressed with perfect timing and impeccable service. One course included a “dusted” sous vide egg with shrimp powder and a plump, little mussel. There was a tapioca salad with citrus and a course of white tuna with prickly pear and figs. I ordered the pigeon which was served with tender slices of breast meat, on which the skin had been crisped, sitting on a purple “anthocyanin” sauce topped with long pieces of chives. The pigeon legs were served on a separate, little plate with hibiscus pudding. Every single flavor complemented the others, and I’ve never been so happy with a course of fowl.
There were two desserts per person, and the males received different desserts than the females did. Each was a plate made up of components with a dish of a ice cream or sorbet on the side. After a chocolate column filled with a fruity pastry cream, toasted garlic slices, and edible flowers held in place with tiny dots of more pastry cream among other little chocolate confections on the dessert plate, my palate was cleansed by a basil sorbet. My next dessert was served on a clear, glass, rectangular plate that was set on top of a same-sized rectangle of colorful art. There were more little components across the plate including a bright, red, jellied ladybug that burst with a creme fraiche-like filling. The passionfruit and banana sorbet with that dessert course was fantastic. Last, our check came with a silver platter of chocolates molded into shapes of nuts and bolts.
Both Elena and Juan Mari Arzak came out to talk with us at different points in the meal. They were both extremely friendly and kind. As we were leaving, the chefs were saying goodbye to diners and happily taking photos with groups. The two of them were so approachable and sweet, we forgot for a moment what incredible talents they both are in the culinary world. Before we stepped out the door that was being held open for us, our umbrellas were returned as we were thanked and told buenas noches. And, that, undoubtedly, was the best meal I’ve ever had.