|What I ate at San Sebastian!|
Another fixture on the radar of food cognoscenti is 3 Michelin-starred Azurmendi (Legina Auz, s/n, 48195 Larrabetzu, Bizkaia) by Eneko Atxa. Located just an hour from San Sebastian, the Azurmendi complex – which also includes an edible garden, a green house, a vineyard, a winery and bistro, Prêt à Porter – is cutting-edge and built with sustainability in mind. Not only is the premise constructed with environmentally friendly materials, it also recycles wastes and uses renewable energy. If you’ve not been told, a meal here is truly a marathon (we left San Sebastian at 12noon and got back past 8pm). It starts with a succession of snacks like the edible lemon tree “bark” chips at the green house, and proceeds to the indoor tropical garden where you enjoy more snacks like anchovy mille feuille from a picnic basket. It concludes with a trip to the stainless steel-clad kitchen where you graze on one-sip items like hibiscus infusion. Lunch or dinner proper takes place in a classy, 50-seat dining room where you are offered a choice of 2 tasting menus: “Erroak”, a menu of Atxa’s classics since inception or “Adarrak”, a more extensive menu showcasing Atxa’s culinary gymnastics with Basque flavours. Watch out for all-time Atxa signatures like the “egg”, where a portion of an egg yolk is removed and injected with truffled consommé, and steamed squid “noodles” with an intensely flavoured squid reduction infused with roasted onions. Go easy on the richer dishes – like tomato-infused spider crab broth with dollops of sea urchin emulsion – so as to make space for the city’s most ambitious tasting menu.
|Akelarre’s foie gras salad|
Now, most people go to The Guggenheim in Bilbao for the art museum but even if you don’t have an appetite for art, a trip to Nerua(Abandoibarra Etorbidea, 2, 48009, Bilbao, Vizcaya) at The Guggenheim is worth the schlep if only to discover the unique, purist-style cuisine by chef-owner Josean Alija. In an airy but minimally embellished dining room with linen blanketed tables, Gehry’s plaited Hat Trick chairs and a floor to ceiling window offering limited views, Alija arouses the palate with a succession of dainty plates, each dressed in a light broth with elegantly complex flavours – some earthy, some with a bitter tinge and yet others savoury like a meat broth – masterfully distilled from a mélange of vegetables and beans. A cube of rare bonito arrives in a pool of green pepper oil suffused with a refreshment of tomato jus while Alija’s signature dish of baby tomatoes are injected with aromatic herbs and teamed with a consommé of capers providing a gentle hint of acidity. Alija could even make a complete vegetarian dish of potxa (Basque bush bean) stand out with an ethereal bath of chickpeas, onions and herbs. The progression of flavours in the tasting menu is exceptionally well-paced just like in a kaiseki meal. But instead of dashi, Alija’s abstract plant-based essences come to the fore, sometimes comforting you and at other times disarming you. Now, that is exemplary art of the culinary kind worthy of a detour.
When budgeting your eating itinerary, please take into consideration the cost of transportation. Cab fare from San Sebastian to Bilbao will cost you more than 200 Euros both ways (ours cost about 270 Euros because our driver got a little lost).
© Evelyn Chen 2013
Please note that the reviews published on this blog are sometimes hosted. I am under no obligation to review every restaurant I’ve visited. If I do, the reviews are 100% my own.