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Basque: Akelarre, Mugaritz, Etxebarri and Arzak

  • r

We can only do 3 out of the 4 in mid-March. We are leaning on Akelarre for a lunch, Mugaritz for a dinner and Etxebarri for either lunch or dinner. The plans are pending confirmation of our reservations requests.

I perused the online information and I think that prix fixe is the norm in these retaurants. Is that true? If not, is there anything specific that we shouldn't miss out on?

Thank you.

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  1. A solid selection. Yes the tasting menu's (is that what you meant by fixed price?) are great and worth asking for a matched wine selection. We were at Mugaritz last year for lunch and the wine airings were very good and reasonable. I think Extebarri only does lunch most days, maybe dinner at weekends. Recent posts indicate Mugaritz is on top form so maybe be left for last.

    1. You have a great list. Just the 3 I would have chosen.

      I would do Akelarre for lunch (for the views), then Etxebarri for lunch (easier to find your way down to tiny Axpe and back in the daylight hours) and for your final blow out dinner, end with Mugaritz, saving the best until last.

      At Akelarre and Mugaritz we have ordered the degustation, tasting menu. At Akelarre we ordered one of each of two different menus and thus sampled from both. At Etxeberri I would have the chef prepare a tasting menu for you rather than do the 50 euro menú del día. I believe the '08 tasting menu at Akelarre runs 130 this year and at Mugaritz the larger Naturan menu is priced the same; the shorter Sustraiak costs 89, according to my '08 Gourmetour.

      1. I have been to Arzak and Akelare, but not the others. We also had the two different tasting menus at Akelare, and it was just wonderful. Arzak is not as cutting-edge, molecular as Akelare, but the food was still excellent and very creative. We hesitated to order the tasting because it did not include some dishes on the a la carte menu that looked more interesting to us, so the maitre'd allowed us to make substitutions and add extra courses without additional charge, which I thought was extremely accommodating. We were very impresssed with both restaurants. The one dish that stands out in my mind over all others was the pickled tuna at Akelare. Amazing. Please be sure to report back after your trip.

        1. Hi I'm planning to be in the San Sebastian area in late Sept. Does anyone know when Akelarre is planning to have their annual fall closure? Is this common for the other Michelin star restaurants in the area?

          6 Replies
          1. re: Apprentice

            Akelare has its annual fall closure the first half of October.


            1. re: Apprentice

              Arzak closes in late June to July so you should be safe. I wasn't very impressed with Arzak, least of all with Juan Maria who kept avoiding our table because he didn't want to speak English to a bunch of Asians.
              All of us were much happier with our meal at Akelarre, and the view was just awesome.

              1. re: Peech

                Thanks. That's sad to hear. I ended up speaking to someone at Akelarre and it doesn't look like they will be open when I'm there, which is really disappointing. I'm definitely going to Mugaritz and probably Martin Berasategui.

                1. re: Apprentice

                  Am sad to read about the above post's experience at Arzak. I eaten at Juan Mari and Elena's restaurant numerous times and have never received less than the most warm and cordial treatment. In fact, I think it is most down to earth and friendly Michelin 3 star in Spain. The food has had it's ups and down in the last few years, especially when Elena first took over the kitchen. My last couple of meals there have been excellent though not as good as one I had last November at Akelarre. I have not been impressed with my two meals at Martin Berasategui nor am I am big fan of Mugaritz which I have not been recently. Am interested in your experiences with them as I am consider giving Mugaritz another try later this year.
                  Arzak is also closed from the end of October/early November for a month.

                  1. re: PBSF

                    It appears that Akelarre never seems to disappoint! I'm getting more and more saddened that I will likely be there during their closure.

            2. Fagollaga is a great restaurant as well. A little difficult to find, but worth it. Try the Panceta Iberica, con Leche de Almendra Tierna - it is divine! www.fagollaga.com
              Definitely go to the Etxebarri for lunch, Sunday afternoon is best.

              1. RCC,

                Have you returned from your trip? I would love to hear about your dining experiences.

                1 Reply
                1. re: rrems

                  Coming soon, rrems.
                  I'll need to compile and put together my notes.

                2. We dined at both Arzak and Etxebarri (also, Zuberoa) while in the Basque country last week, and while the meals at Arzak and Zuberoa were each good in their own ways, Extebarri was the real star. We let the chef create a menu for us, and none of the 11 courses disappointed. The meat, fish, produce - what pure, clean, wonderful flavors! It doesn't hurt that the location in Axpe is strikingly beautiful.

                  13 Replies
                  1. re: slcorlis

                    If I had to pick one restaurant on my wish list to visit before I check out, it would be Extebarri.

                    1. re: oysterspearls

                      A difficult decision, depends on the mood. Etxebarri is the foodie's restaurant of the moment in Spain, like a pilgrimage.

                      1. re: PBSF

                        Soon to be a much more popular destination. The sous chef told us that Anthony Bourdain was in with his crew filming a couple days before we went for lunch, and the restaurant is turning up more and more often in print (it made the World's 50 Best list for the first time this year, for instance).

                        1. re: slcorlis

                          Thank goodness I made my reservations a couple of months ago and this is for October!

                          Slcorlis did you drive? Was it difficult to find?

                          1. re: Apprentice

                            Despite all the hoopla, getting a table in the off season will not be too difficult. I ate there last November and there were a couple of empty tables. Need to drive, otherwise a taxi from San Sebastian or Bilbao would be very expensive. The drive is a bit confusing. The direction on Chez Pim's blog is terrific; so is the restaurant's own website. It is definitely worth the effort.

                              1. re: Apprentice

                                I second the recommendation for following the directions on the restaurant's own website. We pulled directions from Google maps that were mostly useless (the road numbers had changed, and there often weren't signs anyway), and the GPS had absolutely no idea where we were or where we were trying to go. I've since looked at the directions on the website, and they're very clear. This isn't to say that it's not still a bit confusing, but I think they're your best bet.

                                1. re: slcorlis

                                  I'm trying to make the same restaurant decision for a trip starting in San Sebastian and ending in Galicia. I like great food but don't love molecular gastronomy and it sounds like that's what Akelarre is all about? I couldn't get a dinner res at Arzak (Semana Grande) and am trying to decide where to go instead. Suggestions?

                                  1. re: dragonfruit

                                    Having not dined at Akelarre I can't share any personal experiences with it, but since you're driving from San Sebastian to Galicia, I'd definitely consider stopping at Etxebarri - it's on the way! No molecular gastronomy to be found there, just amazingly fresh ingredients at their absolute peak, almost all treated on the grill in some way. We continued on to Bilbao after a lunch at Extebarri, and arrived there with enough daylight left to walk around the outside of the Guggenheim.

                                    1. re: dragonfruit

                                      I would definitely hit the pinxto places in the old section of San Sebastian. For high end, I would also choose Etxebarri. For more formal dining just outside of San Sebastia is Zuberoa in Oiartzun. Skip the tasting menu and the more modern dishes and order the more traditional dishes from the a la carte menu; or tell the staff your preferences and let them recommend. Chef Arbelaitz is a terrific saucier and at roasting. I would order simply prepared squid, lobster, pigeon and suckling pig. The restaurant is in a charming farmhouse.

                                      1. re: PBSF

                                        Oh, that suckling pig! It's amazing, isn't it? The portion is huge though, and incredibly rich; you'd do well to order a half portion or split it with someone else. I also loved the risotto with squab and foie - again, rich and decadent, but amazingly delicious.

                                        I have to mention my problem with our meal at Zuberoa, though. The bread they served was completely awful - dry and tasteless and almost certainly par-baked from commercially available frozen rolls. I know bread is certainly not the most important component of a meal, but a restaurant of that caliber (it has two Michelin stars, I believe) should certainly be paying close attention to every bit of food that gets anywhere near the diners. It colored my opinion of our entire meal, and I left mumbling about the bread instead of remembering how much I enjoyed everything else I ate.
                                        The setting is charming though; make sure to sit outside on the porch/patio if you go.

                                        The recommendation to hit up the pinxto bars in the old section of San Sebastian is a good one. We particularly enjoyed one place (sorry, blanking on the name) on the south side of the street just west of the church on Calle de Treinta y 1 de Agosto. It's known for its jamon iberico, and there are many, many pig legs hanging over the bar.

                                        1. re: slcorlis

                                          Thanks for the suggestions. Etxebarri looks amazing, but I think is closed all of August (I'm double checking that). And I'm very excited about the pinxto bars. Thanks everyone.

                                          1. re: dragonfruit

                                            I ended up at Zuberoa and had a really nice meal. Place was pretty, service was great. Food was good (but not amazing) but maybe I didn't order the right stuff. A really fun experience was eating at a ciderhouse outside of San Sebastian. We went to Petritegi and enjoyed the traditional meal (cod omelet, steak, etc) with unlimited cider. Also, en route to San Sebastian from Madrid, stopped in small town of Lerma and ate at Casa Brigante, where I had very delicious, extremely tender lamb, roast milk-fed.

                                            The best meal I had was in Galicia, at a small michelin starred restaurant called A Rexidora. It's well off the beaten path, near Ourense, but is outstanding, and I highly recommend it for those traveling to Galicia. We had the menu rustica, and the pulpo was by far the best we tried.

                    2. Recently got back from the Basque country and tried Mugaritz while in San Sebastian. The restaurant itself was extremely comfortable with a homestyle feel to it. Our reservations were at 8:30 on a Tuesday night. Initially we were the only diners and only two other tables were occupied when we left. We opted for the Sustraik menu (8 courses) along with a bottle of white wine, and a glass of red for each of us (two). Our total bill came to $360 for two. I knew it was a complete indulgence for my budget and I was already feeling the "buyer's remorse" going in. I left our meal feeling I'd that it was worth every penny I'd spent. The courses were small, but I was stuffed at the end. Some of my thoughts on the meal:
                      -Three appetizers that were not listed on the menu came first. Clay crusted potato w/ aioli, Small Whole Fried Shrimp eaten whole, and a Calamari w/ consome. I especially liked the potato for its uniqueness, but each was delicious.
                      1) Ravioli Filling of Crab w/ Almond Citrus Consome-I didn't catch the "ravioli filling" so I was surprised when just the crab w/ almond were served in a citrus consome. I was expecting an actual ravioli. The filling was extremely light which played perfectly with the citrus consome. A delicate dish.
                      2) Idiazabal Cheese Gnocci w/ Pork Bouillon-Pillowly light cheesy clouds with a different herb set on each five of the gnocci. The bouillon while appearing so clear and simple had a rich, full flavor that surprised. One of the stars for me.
                      3) Langostine w/ Amaranth Pasta-Another extremely delicate dish.
                      4) Tuna w/ Bluefish broth- Nothing too spetacular about the tuna, but the broth again was just so extremely rich and delicious.

                      One of the real interesting aspects of the meal for me were the different broths, etc. that were paired on courses 1, 2, and 4. Each were so clear and unimposing, but packed full of such distinct flavor that I was caught off guard each time I tasted one. Just delicious and perfect with the light, succulent texture of each meat of the course.

                      5-Roasted Iberian Pork-My favorite course. Crispy pork skin on top with the most delicious piece of pork I've ever had. No visible fat, but rich, succulent meat that was absolutely delicious. While were finishing our final course the table behind us recieved their pork course. We had to laugh as we heard their groans of pleasure as they sampled the dish. Absolutely delicious.
                      6-Cheese Platter w/ Fruit-Great bridge course to the deserts. Cheeses were arranged from mild to strong and were accompanied with a select fruit. Each cheese was outstanding and the pairing spot on. I really enjoyed this course as well.
                      7-Carmelized French Toast-A creamy, custard like interior with a creme brulee like crust on the top. It was served with a fig ice cream which was refreshing along side the richness of the french toast. Also adored this dished.
                      8-Frozen White Chocolate Sphere-Pretty much a white chocolate ice cream exactly as its described. Extremely interesting presentation. It was also served with a cacao extract that provided a chocolate taste while being completely clear. I was completed stuffed at this pointed, but managed to clear my plate.

                      This was my first Michelin star restaurant experience and I was completely blown away. I've never imagined food presented and tasting like it did at Mugaritz. I'm so curious now to sample other restaurants to see how they stack up. Is Mugaritz something special in the class of 2 Star Michelin? As PhilD predicted a 3rd star in a post of his, how does it compare to other 3 star Michelin's. Mugaritz may have created a monster! I suppose it always comes down to personal preference, but I'd whole heartedly recommend Mugaritz anyone thinking about going.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: daimyo

                        I will be at Mugaritz this week, I'll report back and let you know where it compares to my recent (i.e. over the last two weeks) experiences at Le Cinq, Pierre Gagnaire and L'Anrsbourg.

                        I don't want to look at my credit card after this trip...lol.

                      2. Since I had recent meals at both Arzak and Akelare, this thread seemed as likely a place as any to post them. First, Arzak. A more detailed description of our meal is here ->

                        The tasting menu offered two options for all but one of the courses, so we got to try 13 dishes plus apertivos and petit fours. There was a good dose of modern technique (spherification, fat powders, etc.) but for the most part it was integrated into the dishes rather than standing out as gimmickry for the sake of it. Here's the quick rundown ->

                        apertivos - "puding de kabrarroka con fideos fritos" (scorpionfish mouuse w/ a crispy coating); lotus root chips w/ a mousse of "arraitxiki", some local fish; spherified wild mushroom topped with cruncy corn dust; crispy rice crackers with a mushroom filling; and a soup of black alubia beans topped with a frothy liquified white cheese, this in particular being the real standout.
                        manzana con aceite de foie - really nice, slices of apply topped with an "oil of foie" and then spinkled with sugar that gets bruleed.
                        bogavante con aceite de olive "extra blanco" - perfectly tender lobster tail with a powdered olive oil which gets re-emulsified tableside with a pour of a broth.
                        cigalas - langoustine tails, also wondefully fresh and tender, with a yellow sauce with a whiff of mushroom.
                        "del huevo a la gallina" - another twist on the classic "Arzak egg", this one wrapped first in a translucent sheet of yellow egg yolk standing up like a cylindrical tent, over which is poured a chicken broth which melts the sheet and turns it into a sauce; the egg also generously flecked with flesh black truffle shavings.
                        rape bonceado - monkfish "bronzed" with a sauce that gives the fish's exterior a reddish twang, plated with a medium-brown jus over which another sauce is spooned tableside which produces beautiful iridescent bronze pools. Edible abstract-origami paper, also a brilliant bronze, accompanied.
                        lenguado con aceite de jengibre y pan de coco - sole filets with a ginger-y sauce plated with little discs of melon and a scatter of tiny sprouts.
                        pato azulon con perdigones dulces - seared duck (not partiuclarly blue to my eyes) with shiny pink and silver spheres; the pink seemed flavored with sherry vinegar, the silver somewhat indistinct.
                        foie con tejote - seared foie gras, with a great combination of a corn sauce, little crispy chocolate bits, and little round pools of jelled raspberry sauce.
                        sopa y chocolate "entre vinedos" - chocolate spheres arranged in a triangle shape, with a red wine soup and a scoop of delicious, bright green basil ice cream.
                        esmeraldas de chocolate con laminas de rosquillas - another treat for the eyes, little hockey pucks with a dark green iridescent coating, chocolate within, and powdered sweet crumbs in a ring around them. Thought the chocolate flavor was a little too muted.
                        bizcocho esponjoso de yogur - a fluffy sponge cake (probably using the Adria microwave method) with pools of coconut pudding, thin shards of dried pineapple, and little branches of chocolate, arranged to look like a coral reef. Beautiful and tasty.
                        dulce lunatico - little nuggets that looked like caramel turtle candies, but just a fragile caramel shell and gushing tart citrus liquid inside.

                        The Arzaks, Juan Mari and daughter Elena, were tremendously gracious and charming, coming by all the tables multiple times to check on the diners, answer questions on the dishes and so on. The whole experience had a really pleasantly unstuffy vibe.