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Apr 28, 2009 03:55 PM

Restaurant Arzak - San Sebastian

I have to say we found Arzak a real disappointment. We did all three, three-star restaurants in San Sebastian earlier this month. Akelarre and Martin B. were delightful, each in its own way. From beginning to end, we could not believe Arzak ever qualified for even one star.

On entering, we were invited to seat ourselves in a small lounge/bar at the entrance. Over the next 15-20 minutes, several other parties joined us. Each was asked if they wanted drinks. If so, they were served. Then we had the pleasure of sitting there, watching one gentleman play with his computer screen at the bar, apparently setting up something (seating?) for the night. Various people came in and out, talking and looking at the computer screen. All ignored us.

Finally we were seated. Like many American posts I've read, we were denied non-smoking because it was "full." However, no one near us smoked and so it was not a problem.

Although every plate looked like a work of art, as one would expect at a starred restaurant, the taste just wasn't there. Dish after dish was a major disappointment. Meanwhile, staff would bring the wrong dish to the wrong person, seem confused, and have occasional debates/discussions over dishes that were coming out of the kitchen; these would be off to the side, but in full view of the diners.

The chef, Juan Mari, was out of town, but his daughter, Elena, was the one bright spot, continually bouncing back and forth from the kitchen to the dining room. She was very helpful in recommending choices and even substituted for one dish that I found completely unappetizing. Alas, it was to no avail.

We enjoyed delicious meals of pintxos (hors d'ouevres, essentially) at a number of the excellent bars in San Sebastian for a fraction of the price we paid at Arzak. All were superior to the meal we had here.

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  1. Sorry to hear about your disappointing experience. We went to Arzak and Akelare last year, and though I would give Akelare an edge for the creativity, the flavors at Arzak measured up. Service, however, was a bit slow and disjointed, not enough to make it unpleasant, but not as smooth as at Akelare, which was just perfect.

    1. I just went to Arzak and would like to share my opinion. First, I'm sorry that it was such a disappointment for you. Though not on the scale you experienced, my party also experienced some service issues:

      - the surly sommelier (though looking fine in his tight leather apron) did not bring our reds for the meat courses; we had to notify a server
      - after the first few courses were described in English, that server who was apparently the only one proficient enough disappeared
      - a server knocked over the erupting shot glass that came with one of the desserts thrice before successfully removing it from the plate

      These are certainly nit-picky things, but for a three-star, I would expect better. Not that I was surpised as I had read about some service issues on this board. My feeling is that they don't really care. The restaurant has had 3 stars for over 20 years, been ranked in the top 50 of the world since that list has been out, etc. They are not hurting for clientele, and If they truly cared about providing the best service to an international clientele who may not speak Spanish, they would employ more English speaking staff like they have at Can Roca and Mugaritz, which were two of the finest examples of service I have ever encountered.

      I must disagree about the food. I sampled at least 20 different dishes and every one was delicious. I don't get excited about fish, but the two fish courses I tasted were the best I have had.

      Overall, I'm glad I went. It was fun to compare Arzak, Mugaritz, and Can Roca, which offered very different settings. I don't think I would return to Arzak though.

      1. I too have just come back from a VERY DISAPPOINTING meal at Arzak. This was our second visit - the first one about 5 years ago, where we had one of the best meals of our lives.

        This time however, there was not one dish I could honestly say I even liked. For one, the tasting menu was not described very well - in English or Spanish, and the complexity levels were very low IMO. Certain dishes, like a beef dish, was inedible.

        I will write up my full Basque tour in a separate posting soon, however the meal was overpriced, ordinary and in fact the worst 3star meal I have ever experienced. Both Juan Mari and Elena were there on the day, great to see, however they should be embarrassed by the slipping standards and lack of creativity.

        Can't complain about the service however, that was perfect.

        Its a bit embarrassing to read other posts complaining that staff are unable to speak English or that English menus are not available. Why should they? This attitude gives English-speaking diners a bad reputation IMO.

        1 Reply
        1. re: jrrugby

          I'll tell you why they should: not everyone understands Spanish. If it is truly a world class restaurant, and they truly want all people to fully enjoy the experience, i.e. know what they're eating, then they could employ a few English speaking staff. Like i said, they certainly don't need my return business and they're not going to get it. The lack of English speaking staff is not the reason; it just wasn't that impressive. I am not the typical bad attitude having English-speaking diner that you berate. I don't walk into a restaurant in another country and demand that they speak American. I printed pages and pages of Spanish food terms and tried to communicate in Spanish. I wish my Spanish was better and that I could understand what everything was on the plate. Since someone at Arzak decided that this is not that important to them, I did not know what everything was, and that is disappointing.

          I agree that it is overpriced but I think it compares favorably to French 3-stars for example. I'm sorry you didn't enjoy the food.

        2. We dined at Arzak in late March and I am actually shocked by these posts. We found it to be incredible. The food, service and atmosphere was fantastic. The lack of English spoken by the staff was more than made up for (if it even needs to be) by enthusiasm. Hopefully, the other diners were there on an off nite. As for me and my wife, it ranks up there at the top of our dining experiences and we would return in a heartbeat. For what it is worth, we also had a great time at Mugaritz, but thought that the meal at Arzak was several notches above the experience at Mugaritz.