Even in culinary meccas such as NYC, Paris, and San Sebastian here, you can come across bad food. I’m referring to the left-out-to-dry-then-reheated-to-oblivion tortilla, the infamous burnt coffee found throughout Europe, the two-day old what they call baguette but what I call a poor attempt at bread baking/bread reheating and the frozen fried calamari (in a town known for its fresh tentáculos!) I’ve had the misfortune of experiencing every now and then when I am uncareful. True story. I thought it might be useful to map out the reliable establishments I’ve come across in the past five months here. I’ve even recommended what to order and where to get it, [so stray at your own discretion].
The truco (trick) to eating well is eating smart. Here are some clues:
- Scope out an establishment before you eat there. No customers? Run away. Fast. Bustling with old men who all look and dress the same and chat loudly in the same husky voice? Enter.
- Check out what the neighbors are eating. Nosiness is commonplace in SS and in fact is how you make friends at pintxo bars. Don’t be afraid to chat up strangers about food. Chances are they too followed their noses [and grumbling bellies] to SS.
- Chat up the workers and ask what they recommend. 90% of the time it’s la hostia (the best) and 98% of the time your conversation partner is the owner. Be courteous. Greet with a ‘kaixo‘ (kie-show) and leave with an ‘agur‘ (a-hoor).
- Order hot items cooked a la minute (to order). With the exception of braised meats (which maintain tastiness when reheated properly), I steer clear of the items I know are pre-cooked and awful reheated or ‘finished’ on the line such as risotto. In fact I avoid rice items here. Safe bets are grilled seafood items ( ______ a la plancha), omelettes, foie a la plancha, and seared meats.
- Get a clue. If the restaurant is known for jamón and the menu is 90% jamón, you should probably order jamón, not mariscos or whatever outlier they offer for the sake of appeasing the non-jamón eaters.
Don’t let your appetite encumber your decision making skills when it comes time to eat [out]. With spoonful of vigilance and a glass of txakolí to get that motormouth goin’, you’ll be eating well in no time. iBuen provecho!