Sunday, April 23, 2017

Beef and Basque

Trip date: November 2015

Northern Spain Trip Day 6

We arrived in Bilbao after dark and checked into the Hotel Ercilla. Although the hotel had a great location, it felt like an anonymous business hotel, lacking the charm or ambiance some of our other hotels on this trip had. It did have a bar, and while I waited for the others to get ready for dinner I enjoyed a nicely poured gintonic.

A few of our tour mates decided to pass on dinner, so a smaller group headed to La Gabarra, a casual steak house near by. Their massive ribeyes, or chuletone as the cut is called in Spain, were perfectly cooked and delicious. The sides were no slouches either; simple white asparagus with mayo, some of the best croquetas, and a lovely tortilla Espanola. Dinner was followed by custard and honey and Pacharan, a delicious liqueur made from sloe berries. 
Day 7:

The next morning we walked to the Guggenheim Museum and wandered the galleries. Unfortunately, the 3rd floor was closed which is where the gorgeous Rothkos are that I love. It had been 11 years since I was last in this part of Spain but I still remember standing in front of those and being incredibly drawn to the saturated colors. 

We did, however, get to see the famous Jeff Koons Puppy, which happily sits in front of the museum, being planted which only happens a few times a year one of the "groomers" told me. 
It was time for lunch! We were all super excited to make the 40-minute drive to the 2-starred Michelin and #6 of the World's 50 Best Restaurants, Asador Etxebarri in the beautiful little town of Axpe.
This goes up there on my list of most memorable and favorite lunches of all time. It's a good list including standouts such as Paris' l'Astrance and Passage 53 , Vienna's Steirereck im Staadparkand of course most recently Copenhagen's Noma

We were seated in a semi-private room and welcomed with a cup of house-brewed beer. Our tasting menu consisted of 15 small to medium sized courses, various wines mainly from the region, and an order of the biggest percebes I have ever seen!

Everything was delicious and the service was over-the-top spot on! Standouts for me included buffalo milk cheese with honey, house salted anchovy on toast, prawns roasted in their shell, artichokes with wild mushrooms, and the steak. Oh lord the steak!

It sounds silly to say that Etxebarri is both known for their masterful grilling and for using the best, fresh ingredients, but it's true. You can taste the depth of flavor in Chef Arguinzoniz's dishes; superb to say the least. If you are in this region it would be a terrible shame to miss a meal here. 
photo credit DocSconz LLC
Our 4-hour lunch came to a close and we boarded our van, trusty and patient Antonio driving us on to San Sebastian during sunset.
We were staying at the Pension Casa Nicolasa right in the middle of San Sebastian. Our room had a cute little balcony and decor with just the right amount of hipster modern. I really liked this place!

I was so excited to be back in San Sebastian! I remember it being incredibly beautiful, small and easy to navigate, and having the most delicious pintxos (the Basque word for tapas). We started our first evening by trying a selection of Spanish vermouths at Gorriti Taberna, located in the square across from our hotel.

From here we walked through town and down to the stunning Concha Beach; one of my favorite sites.
After well-made gintonics at the Museo de Whiskey of all places, we started our pintxo crawl. San Sebastian in particular is well-known for their food. Although almost everything is always good everywhere, each bar has an item they specialize in and locals know that you get that and maybe one other thing and then move on to the next bar. And that's just what we were doing!

First up was La Cepa, an institution and one I remember from my last visit. Txakoli wine was poured and a few plates were had, including some lovely padron peppers.

We continued down the street to Cuchara Telmo whose dishes, while still small, are quite substantial. Telmo is best known for their seared foie gras with apples dish and it did not disappoint!
Last on our stop was Ganbara where our hosts John and Gerry knew the owners. We had delicious gildas, wild mushrooms with raw egg yolk, and the star of the show- artichoke hearts with seared foie gras. Swoon!
I really loved this last spot!
It was 11:30pm on a very delicious food-and-wine-packed Wednesday and so we headed back to the hotel to sleep. More Basque fun was coming up tomorrow!
All Basque photos here.

Other posts on this trip:
Northern Spain Food & Wine Tour
Shellfish & Grapes in Galicia
On the Move in Galicia
Shooting Sidra in Asturias

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