Best Eats of 2012: Asador Etxebarri

Because when the opportunity comes to return to a magical place like the terrace of Asador Etxebarri, I jump… P1100487 Continue reading

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Best eats of 2011: Etxebarri

2011 was a very special year for me in food, drink and travel. I spent the year working at Restaurante Martín Berasategui in northern Spain so naturally, I have many fond memories of the feasting I did in and around Spain. Grab a snack and enjoy the next few mouth-watering posts as my belly remembers 2011:

goat’s butter, toast, charcoal from the grill

Asador Etxebarri | Atxondo, Spain

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Madrid

As much as I love the ever-verdant País Vasco, it was a nice weekend getaway to spend 24 hours in the concerte jungle of Spain, formally known as Madrid. I had a few friends to send-off to China and Mexico, but not before enjoying a beautiful afternoon on the court:

Spain vs. China

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Sammic Headquarters

Today we hopped in the car and took a drive up and down the winding hills and valleys to the Sammic headquarters in Azkoitia, a small town and coincidentally the same one where St. Ignatius of Loyola’s mother was born, for all you BC folks reading. The facilities were impressive to say the least, from the foundry to the server room–spotless!

Surprisingly, Sammic produces a lot of their equipment from raw materials to finished goods. We toured the foundry and watched workers pour hot, melted aluminum into molds:

Cuidado

After the aluminum was allowed to cool and set, the piece would be handcrafted to perfection. Notice the attention to detail:

Dough hooks

Besides episodes of “How It’s Made“, I’ve only seen production channels like these in China, except a lot more hazardous, inefficient and plenty more waste, perhaps attributed to poor management or difficulties associated with large-scale manufacturing. The workers at Sammic appeared to execute with speed and precision. They produce in lower volume batches, allowing for more fine-tuning as well as time for the research and development team to run sample tests. iQue bueno!

For such a young company (celebrating their 50th year anniversary this year), Sammic has come a long way in a short time. Check out these modern [large scale] potato peelers:

Para las Patatas

We will soon have the opportunity to use and test some of Sammic’s equipment in Chef Martín Berasatégui’s kitchen. How exciting! Having worked in tiny kitchens no bigger than the arm-span of space around me, I am new to operating large gadgets and machinery. Ah, the wonders of technology. This shall make for interesting button-pressing and lever-pulling. But in all seriousness, this is the inner-business-woman speaking, it will be an eye-opening experience to see how a 3-star michelin restaurant operates backstage, using various technologies such as Sammic equipment to improve its operations.

Chef Martín has been using Sammic equipment for many years. In fact, Martín’s relation with the company dates back to before he was even born. His uncle used to work for Sammic. Can you pick him out?

Tío

After our Sammic visit we headed to the hills for lunch at Anota Sidrería, a nearby cider house. The view was stunning:

The Hills Are Alive

I foresee many a sidrería visit in my near future where hopefully, I will be able to document quality pictures of the sidra barrels and the glass-filling technique. For now, here is a shot of Guillermo pouring us sidra:

Guillermo

One more day of ‘vacation’…then I’m in the kitchen. Practicing my best, obedient “Si, Chef!”

The Land of Pintxos

Paraíso

Boy does it feel great to be back in San Sebastián, the Land of Pintxos. I may not ever grow accustomed to the siesta lifestyle here where shops open late, close midday then close [for good] early evening  [leaving a small window of time to actually eat or shop], however the pintxos make up for everything. I’d originally planned to go to Bar La Cepa and Txepetxa for some of my favorite bites (namely the jamón and the anchoas, respectively), but both were closed. Instead I opted for La Cepa’s neighbor, Bar Martinez, a pintxo bar I’d been referred to last time but never quite made it there. Well this time, I made it for lunch.

Anchoa Frita

This was the first bite of real food I’d eaten in 24 hours or so. Gawd, how dearly I have missed seafood. I spent the past month or so eating mostly a carnivorous diet in Paris. I got thirsty so of course I ordered the local cerveza to accompany my now-turned brunch:

Hongos Revueltos y Keler Cerveza

Because they’re so woody and delicious, I’m quickly getting over my annoyance with the term ‘hongos’ to simply mean ‘fungi.’ Yay for eggs in the morning! Well, mid-afternoon for me, but per my definition, it still constitutes ‘brunch’ because there were eggs and alcohol involved in my first ‘meal’ of the day.

Tonight I will be pintxo bar-hopping with a fellow American, Marti, who has kindly offered to show me around her stomping grounds. Now I just have to switch to Spanish mode and stop saying “Oui”, “Merci” and “Olala” to the Basqueans…Basquenese…Vascos.

Life is like a box of Animal Crackers…

Where do I begin…. so I’m waiting at Gare Montparnasse to get my train tickets to Spain. The snow storm in Paris caused quite the stir so when I received an e-mail at 2am stating my flight at 9am was canceled, I ended up spending the whole night skyping Air France and Iberia Airlines to try to reschedule my flights…no success, hence I end up at Gare Montparnasse to train it to Spain, without even being able to cancel my flights. Dumb. So scruffy, drunk American man was in line ahead of me with French mistress with faux fur coat. How do I know it’s faux? Faux sure because it’s torn at the shoulder and I can see right through the coat. Awkward. I wasn’t about to ask her how it happened given her company.  They were an odd couple. Stinky, but they made entertaining line mates.

So the best news all day came when the ticket man issued my tickets to Spain. The jolly, flamboyant SNCF teller was so excited to have found me tickets with seat assignments. I was too but I’m sure he couldn’t tell at that point since I had a dreadful evening on skype.

I got my tickets and waited two hours, reading at the Gare. I ate an awful pain au chocolat from Paul. I should expect nothing better from a pastry from the Gare. Some pigeons bothered me for flaky puff pastry remnants. I shooed them away with my shoe. Then I remembered my shoes were soaked from trudging around for half an hour that morning, in the snowstorm, looking for an open Tabac so I could recharge my mobile. It was unsuccessful. I was reminded that my cell phone had no credit so I could not make any outgoing calls. Zut. Life goes on. I decided it’d be wise to change my socks so I don’t get frostbite on my feet because the last thing I want to do is lose a toe or a whole set of them. Despite being THAT girl at the train station, I unabashedly expose my feet and change my socks in public in Paris.

So when I finally board the train, I’m mistakenly one car over from where I want to be. I go to my proper car, all the while pushing through the pushy crowds of Parisians who inefficiently board trains without letting those [like me] with larger and more pieces of luggage pass by them. Move it or lose it, right? I find my seat but it is occupied by a well-to-do French woman in her 50s. She kindly asks if she can switch seats with me because her husband is sitting across from her. I agree. Either way I’m stuck in a 4-person seating situation, like an awkward double date. I turn to my left where her seat is and there is a big white cat on a leash. I’m allergic to cats but I figure it’s too late to speak up. I’ve already committed. The cat was probably the best part of the trip.

I take my seat and it’s the four of us: mother, daughter, whitecat and me. The mother and daughter are disheveled-looking, like non-Parisians, kind of hippy and kind of artsy. They donned holiday sweater kinda garb so I cut them some slack even though I’m reluctant because they’re French and have a cat on a leash in a spare seat.

I try to sleep off the fact that whitecat is getting fur everywhere and I will probably explode into an uncontrollable sneezing fit any moment. Somehow I manage not to sneeze. I close my eyes but I’m ½ sleeping. Sometimes I’d open my eyes to see what the bustling is about. One time I open my eyes and whitecat is gone. In her place is a stinky, homeless-looking man, and I say hobo because he’s got the gloves and hat and stank to prove it. He had asked mother and daughter to move the cat so he can sit. Clearly he doesn’t have a ticket with that seat assignment. For some reason I cannot understand, mother and daughter did not refuse him in French so hobo is now my double date date. I cringe even more [if it’s even possible] in my seat, trying now to touch him or whitecat or his gloves and hat he puts on the communal ‘table’ we share. I assess him some more and based on his complete lack of hygiene and multitude of clothes layering I conclude he is indeed a hobo, or perhaps an aspiring one. Mother and daughter cringe in their seats too, with regreat, I’m sure. I blame their poor karma.

Eventually, hobo gets up, leaving behind hat and gloves. In French, Mother and daughter talk about him and how stinky he is. Just when we think hobo is out of the picture, he walks back over with his friend or son or younger hobo, now known as ‘Yobo.’ Yobo is not alone. He carries with him a cage with low and behold, a ferret! Whitecat stirs. Daughter coos at whitecat and kisses her to calm her. At this point I think I’m the only one [hopefully internally, not externally] expressing “wtf.” Yobo and ferret, my new dates, make themselves at home for the next few hours. All the while I occasionally eat some of my baguette, and try to sleep off the exhaustion, paranoia and disbelief of the double dates.

All of the sudden the train fills with stink. Everyone turns to ferret and Yobo. The husband of the lady who switched seats with me asks Yobo in French if ferret made a poo in his cage. Yobo responds in French, “I think we are driving by a gas plant.” We look around and other train passengers in the next car are wrinkling their noses as well. Yobo’s point is valid. It stinks nonetheless.

Hours later, SNCF man finally shows up and comes to the rescue. He checks our tickets, talks to Yobo and obviously Yobo has no business being in that seat so he gets ousted. Hurrah! One less Yobo, one less ferret. Whitecat returns to her thrown. It puts some space between kitty dander et moi. Better for my allergies, I tell myself. Unfortunately stinky old hobo’s gloves and hat are still on our communal table. Ick.

The rest of the ride is okay because the new people who hop on the train and take the empty seat are ‘normal’, meaning they are non-stinky and non-ferret-bearing. I try to sleep again but Daughter starts to sketch loudly next to me. She’s ‘nonchalantly’ sketching me. “What a bad ninja,” I think. We finally make it to Irun and I switch from the TGV to the Renfe. It’s the last train to San Sebastián. I’m thankful to have made the train and to sit in a 2 seat arrangement this time, which minimizes the chances of sitting next to ferrets, whitecats and hobos. Like a Terminator, I scrutinize all those boarding the train to see who could possibly be my new neighbor. I wish for a non-stinky female because wishing for a tall, dark and handsome stallion is just asking for too much. Some people pass by, i.e. short Spanish cowboy-wannabe in his 50s, goth girl with inhaler, 1 American, a few ancient Basque fellas, a family of 6…  but none are my neighbor. I get the late arriver, one of the last to board the train. She’s carrying a pink cage. Gulp. With a Chihuahua. I smile because that’s just my luck. I’m thankful because she isn’t stinky, Chihuahua isn’t stinky and because I miss guacamole. But I detest Taco Bell. Chihuahua looks like large frightened rat. In my head I tell LFR “Don’t worry, at least you’re not sitting next to a ferret and a Yobo!” Twenty minutes later I finally arrive in San Sebastián. It feels good to be “home.”

*For those scrutinizing my English and storytelling abilities…I thought this would be more entertaining to read if told in ‘present’ tense. I’m also human and make [grammatical] mistakes, especially with little sleep and a whole lot of animal exposure in one day.