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Coin toss - Akelare or Arzak? Help please . . .

d
dobrowst Jun 23, 2009 07:18 AM

Seriously, I can not make up my mind, I've read the merits and disadvantages of both, on this board and others, and am still at an impasse. I expect the meal to be the highlight of the trip to San Seb. I have a reservation at both places, same night . . . July 4th.

Help me decide!!!

  1. Frodnesor Jun 24, 2009 03:21 PM

    I was at both Akelare and Arzak within the past several months and within a couple days of each other. My impressions are here ->

    Arzak
    http://www.foodforthoughtmiami.com/2009/03/restaurante-arzak-san-sebastian.html

    Akelare
    http://www.foodforthoughtmiami.com/2009/03/akelare-san-sebastian.html

    In many ways I would say it is indeed a coin toss. I thought the food was enjoyable at both but in somewhat different ways, and each had different highlights (inevitable, I think, in a multi-course tasting menu).

    The food and atmosphere at Akelare may have been somewhat more austere and cerebral than that at Arzak. The views at Akelare are certainly nicer (at least if you're there during daylight) to the extent that matters (they really are quite impressive).

    It was nice that Arzak offered 2 options for almost every course, though Akelare has 2 different tasting menus as well and was very flexible and accomodating as to how you wanted to order. While the waitstaff at Akelare were very friendly, the individual attention from Juan-Mari and Elena Arzak themselves at Arzak was really pretty remarkable and genuinely heart-warming (we were first-time visitors and I was amazed by their solicitude).

    To the extent it helps inform your choice at all, my wife - who is not as much a fan of the more experimental cuisine as I am - enjoyed Arzak much more so than Akelare.

    www.foodforthoughtmiami.com

    7 Replies
    1. re: Frodnesor
      b
      bobag87 Jun 24, 2009 07:55 PM

      We did not make it to Akelare in April, but we did make it to Arzak and it was our favorite of the trip. My wife and I both preferred it to another incredible meat at Mugaritz. In fact, while the choice of a favorite was a little closer for me, Arzak was hands down my wife's favorite. I second the hospitality of Elena (Juan Mari was out), a truly remarkable interest in her customer's experience.

      1. re: Frodnesor
        d
        dobrowst Jun 25, 2009 09:49 AM

        Thank you for your insights, I read both your reviews and found them very helpful. I have to say I am intrigued by the hospitality and interaction with chef/owner aspect of Arzak as I feel this is something that is not readily experienced in restaurants of this caliber and can help make for a truly memorable experience. When it comes to food, both seem to impress reviewers, and at the end of the day it seems to be a matter of taste like everyone says.

        I am going to go with Arzak.

        1. re: dobrowst
          l
          lrandolph Jun 25, 2009 08:00 PM

          You have made the best choice in my opinion! I had the best meal & dining experience of my life at Arzak. Elena came to our table 2 or 3 times, and I asked to meet her dad at the end of the meal. He was absolutely delightful, and smiled from ear to ear as I told him how wonderful the meal and experience had been.

          1. re: lrandolph
            PhilD Jun 25, 2009 11:18 PM

            I am certain you will have a good meal. We enjoyed our time there a lot.

            However, one word of caution, do not make any negative comments about any aspect of your food if you meet Elena or her father. I have a number of reports that they don't take criticism at all well, IIRC correctly one blog said the best strategy is to "rub you belly and say superb with a big smile on your face".

            1. re: PhilD
              Frodnesor Jun 26, 2009 07:14 AM

              There are few chefs I know who don't bristle at least some at criticism, particularly from someone they don't know (there are, on the other hand, several I know who are eager to hear both good and bad from regular customers they know and "trust").

              To the extent you suggest that they're simply touring the dining room in order to receive unqualified praise, I don't think that's the case. They were more than happy - Elena in particular b/c she spoke more English - to talk about methods and techniques of particular dishes.

              I would note, though, that they were very sensitive about photography. Though they allowed me to take pix during our meal, I had to swear a blood oath that the pictures were only for me personally and that we wouldn't put them up on the web or email them around.

              1. re: Frodnesor
                PhilD Jun 26, 2009 09:44 AM

                No not touring the room, my understanding these were post meal conversations with serious, highly experienced, diners.

                1. re: PhilD
                  Frodnesor Jun 26, 2009 10:00 AM

                  I'm sure it's not the first time that a chef thought a "serious, highly experienced" diner was a self-important windbag. Just sayin'.

      2. r
        rrems Jun 23, 2009 07:51 PM

        I agree with PBSF. What exactly is making the decision so difficult? That will determine which one is the better one for you. They are both wonderful so you will not go wrong with either, but it is your personal preferences that will determine which you will like better.

        4 Replies
        1. re: rrems
          d
          dobrowst Jun 24, 2009 07:36 AM

          Fair enough . . . I am just looking for some consensus. I have reviewed many of the previous posts, the majority of which are over a year old, and guide books and travel sites are unreliable in my opinion as they are quiet often written to appeal to the general masses and do not take into account one’s culinary disposition.

          This will be the first 3 star restaurant my girlfriend has ever been to, and the culinary highlight of our trip, hence the reason for my diligence in selecting one over the other.

          1. re: dobrowst
            PBSF Jun 24, 2009 08:10 AM

            I agree that many guidebooks recommendations are unreliable but one has to read between the lines to try to find what restaurants has to offer in terms of style of food, ambience, etc. Because of individual preference, I never pay attention to a simple "exc ellent, good, bad, hate it, love it" without needing to know more about the restaurant and the source of the opinion. Same with consenus, especially most opinions of 3 stars places are base on one visit.. A general opinion of my high end restaurant experiences in Spain is that the restaurants are much more experimental than those in France and Italy. That can lead to some conceptual issues and inconsistency in their cooking. Also, this style of cooking is so new that there is no tradition or a singular baseline to compare them, hence lack of consensus. One of the frequent pattern of food sites is that two top restaurants gets duked out one which is better which muddles things even more. Many times, comparing two restaurants is like comparing apples to oranges.

            1. re: PBSF
              PhilD Jun 24, 2009 11:44 PM

              PBSF nails it. Most top restaurants have fans and detractors as it all goes down to taste, personal preference (modern or old fashioned), the persons frame of mind when they visited (their teenage son wrecking the car doesn't pre-dispose a person to a great meal), and the performance of the restaurant on the day.

              My advice is to accept the food will be good, and the service of a great standard, and select based on the venue, as these two are quite different:

              Akelare is modern, sits outside SS on a hill overlooking the sea with big windows to soak up the view (fantastic for lunch).

              Arzak is a traditional Basque house on the edge of the new town and is all woody and traditional, with no views and IIRC little daylight.

              1. re: PhilD
                Frodnesor Jun 25, 2009 05:26 AM

                Arzak is in a 100+ year old house but one of the dining rooms is quite modern (though you are right there are no views). I wonder if you can see the great views at Akelare if you are there for dinner in the evening.

        2. PBSF Jun 23, 2009 08:17 AM

          These two restaurants have been discussed in detail in just about every guidebooks and sites, including this one. I am sure you've read enough about them to give you a good idea what each has to offer. I don't think at this point, anyone else can make the decision for you.
          My advice with dining in a high end restaurants is that to just enjoy it and not worry about comparisons. Don't set your expectation at the stratosphere level; even at 3 star places, there is no guarantee of a perfect meal.

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