Best Eats of 2012: Mesón Bidea Berri

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 txakolíP1100506 Continue reading

Surprisingly Succulent Shrimp

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.

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Eating well in San Sebastian

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].

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Dinosaur Claws

Ever since I first laid eyes on them in La Bretxa market, I’ve wanted to try percebes, also known as barnacles or ‘dinosaur claws’ in my last description. I’d only seen them once at La Bretxa and then again in Hondarribia when a peculiar lady was selling them on the street. Darn, why didn’t I seize the opportunity when it stared me in the face? I could have struck a great deal on that percebes gold. Alas, I finally encountered percebes again the other night at where else but an unassuming pintxos bar in Parte Vieja.


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DD Comes to Town

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

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Having spent the past few days exploring San Sebastián, Athena and I decided to take our first bus ride and venture out to Hondarribia, a small fishing village near the aeropuerto. A twenty minute bus ride (if you take the I-2 direct from Plaza Gipuzkoa in San Sebastián to Hondarribia) will land you in the charming little town on the coast of Spain and France (Hendaye is just a ferry away!). I’ve never been to Germany before but the architecture in Hondarribia, characterized by the small white houses with stark, contrasting trim, seemed very German. After googling ‘german house’, it seems my observations are not so absurd, eh?


Our mission? As always, pintxos. First stop: Enbata, the 2006 champion of the Gipuzkoa pintxo contest.


Conveniently located right off a major street, Calle San Pedro, Enbata was an easy find. The friendly staff made it even easier to order. I had the “tapa del día” to start:

Txipiron parilla con crema de arroz

Baby squid for brunch? Sí! The tentacles were nicely charred for that back-of-your mouth bitter delight. Athena had something more practical and brunch-like:

Txistorra con huevos y patatas

Basque sausage with eggs and potatoes–can’t go wrong with those. We both agreed that although tasty, these pintxos were still sub-par compared with what we’ve been having in San Sebastián. Friends and critics have been raving about Hondarribia’s food culture. Does it shut down on tuesdays? Apparently so.

Hongos Crujientes

I followed my squid with ‘crispy mushrooms,’ assuming I would get a dish of delicious, Basque hongos which have yet to disappoint. Womp womp…I should have known better. There is an obsession with deep frying in the Basque country, including tempura-battering and spring-roll wrapping. Is it an attempt to be more Asian? Or more American? Poor choice on my part. Overly oily on theirs.

We wandered down the street to Gran Sol, a pintxo bar recommended by the NY Times, Michelin Guide 2011 and a friend. Good things come in three, yes?

Gran Sol

This ‘birdy’ pintxo sitting on the counter should have been the first clue of imminent disappointment but no, we ordered regardless.


I had the 2006 award-winning bacalao ahumado:

La Hondarribia (Pimiento piquillo, foie, mermelada melocotón y bacalao, todo sobre una tosta)

I enjoyed the combination of red bell pepper and foie. The sweetness paired nicely with the foie without overpowering it, without making it a ‘sweet’ dish. I believe the cod was smoked, which I tasted not even the tiniest hint of, and the marmelade was an unnecessary afterthought. Athena had a bite and claimed it was better than her cold foie pintxo:


At that point I realized tuesdays in January are certainly not optimal pintxo-hopping days in Hondarribia and my time would be better spent practicing my photography and searching for the castle, Parador, and having an afternoon café there.

We took a few escalators to see where they might lead us:


We found ourselves at the top of a hill, gazing at the panorama of terracotta-shingled houses:

La Vista

The view across the water extended to Hendaye. Next time we will make it to France, perhaps for le weekend. Eventually we found the Parador atop another hill:


We popped in for some less-than-mediocre café but in all honesty our intentions were to use their clean restrooms, check out the stunning view and explore the castle:


If you’re in Hondarribia, definitely take a hike up to Parador and mosey around, especially if everything is closed for siesta or you happen to come during low-season like in January. There are great views of the sea and you can go meandering the old, wobbly-stoned streets lined with bars, restaurants, antique shops, and the like.