Tuesday, July 19, 2011

San Sebastian - Arzak

(I suddenly found this sitting in my draft folder and realise this never made it to the blog - so here you are, some 6 months late)

As self-proclaimed food lovers, it's hard not to fall in love with Basque Country. From pintxos bar hopping along meandering streets to fine cuisine at many Michelin-starred restaurants around (the region boasted the most Michelin stars per capita in the world), there's never lack of choice all year round. That plus the abundance of fresh and unique ingredients from the sea and from the land... it didn't take long for us to go crazy about this place.

After 2 amazing days at Bilbao including lunch at Chef Eneko Atxa's Azurmendi, we arrived at San Sebastian with the sole purpose of making a full "frontal attack" of Basque cuisine. And among the many fine restaurants in town, Arzak is perhaps the most famous and arguably the most interesting of all. This family-owned restaurant (currently in its 4th generation) has been rated 3 Michelin stars since 1989 and was consistently selected as the top restaurants in the world. Behind the kitchen is the father-daughter team of Juan Mari and Elena Arzak, whom we had pleasure to meet and chat during our dinner.

We purposely stayed in a mansion within walking distance to the restaurant so we saved ourselves the hassle of driving or hailing a cab after the meal. It's a comfortable 15 minute walk from our hotel to the restaurant. As we arrived and being led into the dining room, we were surprised at how modern the interior is - well we always have this presumption of an old rustic building (given the restaurant is 100 years old) but obviously we were wrong. Only a handful of tables in the main dining room - quiet and intimate.

Our tasting menu consists of some 16 dishes - some more of a bite-size portion but a few are quite substantial - we did our pintxos run the afternoon before coming to dinner, not a good idea as it turned out, given the sheer amount of food being served at Arzak. It's hard to describe accurately every single dish so I won't even bother to attempt, and for most dishes I can't even tell what exactly they were to this date - with names like "Cromlech with onion, coffee and tea" on the menu didn't help much either. But among the many courses we had, I was most impressed at a dish called  "Egg with earth tremor" - we have had the most amazing egg dishes while in Spain and this is no exception.

Not all the dishes worked to my liking though I should say - for example, the low-tide monkfish was served with sides that was shaped in the form of sea shells and stars, which I think was too playful, texture too strange and taste too bland. Fun to look at, but not too enjoyable to taste, to be honest. But all in all I love how they took advantage of the many seasonal ingredients found in the region and traditional cooking methods and turn the food into innovative culinary creations that were presented beautifully.

Dessert is another area that totally blew our mind off - chocolate in the form of a marble, basil ice cream with chocolate that shaped like a grape on top of strawberry "soup" (soup and chocolate "between the vineyards"), the dramatic mead and fractal fluid - red syrup was dropped into a plate of clear liquid to form the fractal shape before being poured onto the custard, and lastly, petit fours served in the form of a toolbox with screw caps and nails... With four courses of dessert in the tasting menu, if you happen to come here, my advice is pace yourself for that and you won't regret.

Another day, another fine meal. Wish we could stay here longer.

when? February 9 2011 (Spain Trip Day 6 )
where? Arzak, Avenida Alcalde Jose Elosegui, 273, 20015 San Sebastian - Donostia, Spain
drinks? Lagar de Cerveza Albarino 2009
menu highlights? Egg with Earth Tremor, Soup and Chocolate "between vineyards"
web: www.arzak.es

You can also check out more pics on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/g4gary/sets/72157626119658434/

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