Don’t forget to cross your T’s and cross your X’s. I’m talking Txakolí.
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
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.
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?
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:
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:
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.
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.