You know you’re at home in País Vasco when the owner shuts down for the night, but invites you inside anyway for jamón y txakolí… Continue reading
Please excuse the irregular blogging schedule. I have been patiently awaiting my Spanish visa in order to return to Basque country. Alas it has arrived and I can confidently say, “I’ll be back” in my best Schwarzenegger impression.
I rarely order shrimp unless I know I’m going to get the good stuff like a perfectly battered and fried, non-greasy shrimp tempura or super fresh amaebi (raw sweet shrimp) when it’s in season. Shrimp usually takes a back seat to the other sea creatures I prefer but everyone keeps raving about the shrimp in San Sebastián. There are some pintxo bars specializing in shrimp but I always figure, why waste calories and cholesterol on something I don’t love? (I’d rather save my c&c’s for unctuous uni). One day I was pintxo hopping with a friend on Calle Fermín Calbeton, one of my favorite streets in Parte Vieja and we entered Bar Goiz-Argi. Normally I wander into places having done some homework but we entered and the name sounded familiar but I couldn’t recall what I had read about this place because when you fill your head with so much of the same Basque font and un monton de pintxo places, you sometimes forget which is what which is good, where? The owner swore by the shrimp. I hesitated. He insisted. Oído.
brocheta de gambas
Surprisingly succulent! Tender, grilled shrimp with sweet and slightly spicy (for the European palate) onion, carrot and peppers with a special vinaigrette. Super bien. Go get it.
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].
Despite the monsoon weather in San Sebastián this weekend, djDD and I still had a blast pintxo-hopping in Gros and walking it all off in the torrential downpour. Yes, we ventured all the way from the Euskotren in San Sebastián to the opposite side of town, multiple times in multiple monsoon-ish storms. Every bite counts:
Mitxelena de Gaztelu Txiki
I’ve been here only twice but already Bar Zeruko is one of my favorite pintxo bars. The chefs incorporate innovative techniques and flavors into their pintxos while maintaining some of their Basquenticity. So far I have consumed at least 10 different pintxos and not been disappointed. If this was the case in Boston, perhaps I’d take credit for consistently picking ‘the winners’, but only because I’ve lived in Boston all my life and am somewhat experienced at deciphering menu marketing jargon, aka reading between the lines or weeding through the bs. No, it’s not me. Zeruko just gets it right.
Who would think to pair cod jowl with foie? The unlikely pair fare well together because the foie is neither greasy nor uber rich. The acidity of the gelatinized sherry-like sheet balances the finish so your palate is left feeling clean, and ready for more pintxos.
As Zeruko is known for its bacalao, we proceeded to order more. Last time (as in two nights ago), la hoguera seemed to be the crowd favorite. I didn’t order it then because I figured it was all show. In this case I love to be proved wrong. The smoke smell is more potent than it tastes. The actual flavor it imparts unto the tender bacalao is quite subtle and perfectly so. We ate as directed, ‘self-grilling’ the bacalao for one minute on each side then topping it on the herbalicious bread chip. Divine. However, I did find the oozy, fizzy shot of green (perhaps a combination of sparkling wine and some herb purée) to be superfluous.
Every txipiron pintxo I’ve had in SS so far, I’ve loved. SS is squid heaven. So fresh, so supple. Here the chefs made the txipiron into a tartare patty (hence, hamburgesa) and seared it on each side just enough to crust, not too much to cook it through. Here texture is everything. Sandwiched between the airy tinta cloud and a crunchy crouton base, the ‘hamburgesa’ is not your typical burger, but it succeeds. Don’t forget to dip in wasabi relish. Tasty, playful and Asianified.
After we worked up an appetite scouring the town for kitchen utensils, Athena and I went for some pre-dinner pintxos at my favorite hot spot in Gros, Hidalgo 56. I thought last night’s dishes at Zeruko were good and I thought this place was good…but think I found my new favorite pintxo:
By far my favorite pintxo yet. iEpa! And again, I love the family-run business here. Friendly staff and wholesome food. I just can’t get enough. I’ll be coming back for more, for sure.
Afterwards, we went to Guillermo’s for some pizza. Spanish pizza? Sin possible. Pero, si!
Guillermo rolled out the flatbread and Amaia made the various toppings. They whipped up over 5 whole pizzas for a party of at least 11 or so? Impressive and delicious. Thank you both for a wonderful and delicious evening. Pizza and [vino] Ribera del Duero? I will certainly sleep well tonight!
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.
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:
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.