Akelarre vs. Arzak
Just back (yesterday) from both Akellare and Arzak (also the Gehry in Elciego). In short, while the food is comparable, Akellare has Arzak beat in the service department. A few issues with Arzak:
we sat for 15 minutes before the sommellier brought us a wine list - it then took him 15 minutes to return;
there was a service door beside our table and all of the staff were in there making a huge racket; - there should be no "bad" table in a restaurant charging 140 euros per person.
there is very little english spoken (at least that night) so it is very hard to understand what you are being served;
there are a LOT of smokers there - while we don't care that much - it does spoil the food;
Arzak was very good, inventive and really a nice experience. We did not experience anything negative at Akelarre - service is spot on and they provided an english speaking waiter. cost was 125 euros and worth every penny.
Gehry was also great - fabulous location, high end design with food and service to match. There was one course that I found disappointing (tuna was tough) but everything else was spectacular. It was quite a bit cheaper than Akellare and Arzak but it will be up there soon. We ate in the modern, not the traditional.
Also ate at Eschaurren - very, very good traditional food.
Had the most extraordinary dinner at Akelare and though I can't compare to Arzak, the whimsical approach, introduction with finger foods, delightful tastes, presentation and assortment of food, combined with the attitude, made it so perfect. The ride there was a bit challenging and the place is being renovated so isn't at its best with regard to appearance, but we were dazzled - after a history of being disappointed with highly touted tasting menus. we went into the kitchen afterwards, met the chef and enjoyed seeing everything in action
My experience from last year was that while the food at Arzak was very good, I thought the overall experience was better at Akelarre. The environment was a bit dark at Arzak, and we had a funny episode with the owner. He made it a point to speak to the guests at every table, but made sure to spend very little time with our table of Asians. Maybe it was his English. But he kept running away from us and did it a few times.
Akelarre, on the other hand, is in a beautiful location and the whole atmosphere was just so much better.
Hit Arzak right around the same time as you. Also found the food to be lovely and did have to work to figure out what I was being served. Curiously enough, a young man came up to me and spoke to me in English when I first got there, guiding me through my drink choices and showing me around. He also explained they'd describe every course. I assumed, he meant himself, but I rarely saw him again. Instead, they were all described in Spanish. I was able to figure out most of it and only made a point of requesting him when I was completely clueless.
The other odd thing was they took the bit of not pushing the check on you to an extreme. I was dining alone and literally sat there for 15-20 minutes with not so much of a glass of water in front of me before anyone even gave me the chance to ask for the check. Then I sat at least 10 minutes more before I got it.
None the less, it was an inspirational meal.