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Ok yes I am a bit of a foodie and we only have 5 days in san sebastian, but I cant possibly go to all of these! I didnt know which would be available so i basically emailed all of them and was able to get a res at all of them. The ones I definitely want to do are etxebarri, akelarre, and probably mugaritz. I am not quite sure about berasategui, zuberoa, and arzak. Please help shed some light on what you guys think. I have read all the other posts, but just need fresh opinions. We are going at the end of June, and I have lunch booked for most of these.

also does anyone know prices of the tasting menus for these and can you possibly eat dinner after a tasting menu at these places???

Thank you!!!!

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  1. The ones's I've been.

    Arzak - Excellent.

    Akelarre - Even more excellent than Arzak, IMO.

    Martin Berasategui - Spectacular, Ethereal, especially if he's still serving his 'greatest hits' which he was when we were there this past March.


    1. We visited Arzak, Mugaritz, and Extebarri last summer. Had the tasting menu for lunch at all of them. For dinner, strolled around and had pintxos. Eventually we were hungry for dinner, so it wasn't like we were full the entire day afterwards.

      I found Extebarri to be the most special of the three, especially just taking in the scenery after our long lunch. The mountains surrounding Axpe are breathtaking. The smoked butter, smoked caviar, goose barnacles, and smoked oysters were out of this world. My husband said, "it smells like going camping" and was reminded of his boyhood vacations. We put ourselves in the hands of the kitchen, who, tried to kill us with kindness (who served us a large steak as the last course). I thought I might faint from happiness during the smoked caviar course. What they are doing is so unique, can you even find a similar restaurant elsewhere?

      Arzak was also very good but not as daring as Mugaritz. Service was pleasant but a little harried due to a very large party that included rowdy children. Long pauses between the two dessert courses and also the petit fours. Getting to meet the father/daughter duo is nice, however. I was a little turned off by all the smoking towards the end, as the 4-top next to us chain-smoked cigars after their meals were done (we are not used to dining in smoky environments after living in CA and NYC). I should add we were in the smoking section of Arzak as they told us the non-smoking section was fully booked (a common response it appears), though I'd requested a reservation 2 months ahead. (I wonder if their non-smoking section must be a single table.)

      But overall the food spoke to me a little bit more (foie on figs, poached egg on tomato soil, expertly cooked pigeon, perfect amuse, and the chocolate in strawberry broth dessert). The kitchen at Arzak seemed a bit more consistent while the concepts weren't as overtly clever as Mugaritz'. Slightly more satisfying but less memorable.

      Mugaritz was also good but quite different. The food is good, and playful, but there were some courses that did nothing for me (marigold soup was too bitter, kind of meh on the salsify, crab dish wasn't exciting). However, the overall experience put it over the top (atmosphere, service, facilities). A tour of the kitchen (I think they do this for every diner). Relaxing with coffee in the sunny terrace after lunch. Short walk through their herb/fruit/flower gardens. An extra dessert they sent out as a mystery, as they wanted us to guess what the ingredients were. I wondered out loud how long they would let us linger, as we were there for nearly 5 hours. Incredible service, as a whole.

      We had the Naturan menu and the carpaccio and sole were spectacular (the sole reminded me of our last meal at Le Bernardin in NYC, the dish wouldn't have been out of place there). I also was pleased all four desserts we had - the "red fruits" salad, clashing contrasts, hazelnuts/vanilla/fern, and the mystery dessert ("raisin of the earth"). Surprisingly, didn't think the veal was notable aside from the preparation. I found it a little on the bland side. But everything else made up for it.

      But if I had to choose, I would DEFINITELY return to Extebarri, I might return to Arzak if I can get a non-smoking table, and I'm not sure I'd return to Mugaritz.

      Here's my San Sebastian pintxos report:

      1 Reply
      1. re: kathryn

        thanks K you rock! very helpful!

      2. Like most great restaurants, you will get diverse opinions and already have on this board. Other than their Michelin stars or in the case of Etxebarri, the fame of the grill, what are the reasons that you chose these restaurants in the first place. All these restaurants have been discussed in depth on this site as well as numerous blogs. Search this board for earlier posts as most are recent enough. You will find that they are different one one sense or the other: may it be the style of cooking, the ambience, the service, the decor, the view . Pick the one that match the closest to your taste in food and what you looking for. For all these restaurants, it is not a matter of is it "good" but is it what you are looking for and will it deliver. Cost of tasting menus: about 120 to 160E. Two meals on a single day would be too much for just about anybody. Even successive days can bring on appetite fatigue. Of course, you might have a metabolism of a marathon runner and can take in 5000 calorie meals twice a day. And star restaurants are not the only great thing about eating in the Spanish Basque. It is a mistake to let these places be your total experience.

        5 Replies
        1. re: PBSF

          I agree with PBSF, your list is a good one, but it may be a matter of pacing them. Between two restaurants, you may want to just do a pintxos crawl in the old town. In that case your list is amply enough for 5 days.
          Here is a recent thread on pintox in San Sé:
          Btw, your all caps title is like non-stop yelling.

          1. re: Parigi

            If you guys could pick just 3 of those restaurants, which would they be?

            1. re: sdiddy

              1. I meant pintxos not pintox, sorriest
              2. If you mean "pick just 3 of those restaurants" restaurants, I would as usual follow PBSF's advice.
              3. But since you were replying to my reply, if you mean "pick just 3" of the pintxos bars that I had mentioned in the thread whose link I gave, I'd pick Astelena, San Telmo, Ganbara, Tamboril, all in the old town. Oops that's 4. But in pintxos bars, 4 count as 3.

              1. re: sdiddy

                IMHO, the traditional cuisine of Chef José Juan Castillo in Casa Nicolasa worth to pay attention as well. Unforgettable alubias, kokotxas, txangurro…

            2. re: PBSF

              OK, I'll bite and put in my two cents worth.
              I would pick Arzak: legendary old house; a great combination of rustic and modern. There is a certain homey feel, especially regarding to the service but the cooking is modern as can be. And I can still order Juan Mari signature dishes such as Merluzza con Salsa Verde. I have a prejudice because I have eaten many meals here and have developed a certain rapport with the staff. Most of the food is subperb but there will be dishes not up to par. On occasion, one will run into service that is a bit profunctory.
              Etxebarri, there is not much to say about this place as I am sure you read so much about it. What set it apart besides the grilling is the ingredients are the best. That to me is the basis all great cooking. All the other restaurants in your list cannot compare to this place in this regard.
              I had one of the best meals at Akelarre couple years ago. The previous lunch was not so lucky but I think the cooking right now is excellent. Except for the view, it has a very 'international' feel to the ambience and service.
              I am not a fan of either MB or Mugaritz. For MB, I don't think he is using the very best ingredients and the cooking has a generic feel to it. As for Mugaritz, there is no better service or ambience, but I can't warm up to the food. I think it is just too austere for my taste. This is base on one dinner at MB and two at Mugaritz.
              Zuberoa is in a beautiful rustic farmhouse. For me, it is a great restaurant if one is into tradtional cooking method and beautifully made sauces. The foie gras, roast pigeons, lamb are the some of the best anywhere. Too bad that most of the modern dishes on the menu are not as good. I love this restaurant because so few top chefs in Spains are still doing rustic beautifully prepared food.

            3. Akelarre and Zuberoa, absolutely! Skip the rest.

              2 Replies
              1. re: showpony

                super helpful thank you guys....We are a definite on akelarre, etxebarri, and mugaritz i think....all for lunch....it sounds like that mix might get to show us some different types of these gourmet spanish experiences...the question now is do we throw in mb or arzak or just play it by ear....either way thank you i am sure we will love the food!

                1. re: sdiddy

                  That would be my choice also - because they are all different.

                  Etxeberri is 'one-of-a-kind' - grilling to the ultimate (although personally I'd avoid the grilled/smoked caviar - except probably the only place in the world you'll get it!).

                  Mugaritz probably has the most diversity in comments - the most 'intellectual' - you may hate it, but you can't ignore it.

                  Akelare - certainly has its up and downs - but the ups are worth it. I've also had great wine there, but not sure if the current list is as good as it once was. And that view......!

              2. We just got back 2 weeks ago and did Akelarre and Etxebarri. Our bill for Akelarre totalled 399 euros including a bottle of excellent Rioja that was decanted tableside with a candle by our sommelier (cost of wine= 45 Eu!!!). Our meal consisted of the 2 tasting menus, an extra main course and dessert for our daughter. Can't beat the price for the quality of food and service IMHO. Nothing compares here in the US. Our less than good wine at French Laundry cost $180..and it wasn't even decanted...
                Etxebarri was even cheaper: got 6 main courses and 2 dessert courses, coffees, wine, a cocktail, mineral water ..all for 207 euros inclusive of taxes.

                1. So I decided to post a follow up review since you were all so helpful. We ended up doing (in this order) Mugaritz, Arzak, Extebarri, and Akellare...in 4 days. It was truly the most decadent and incredible culinary adventure of our lives and despite the enormous amount of money it cost, we wouldnt trade the experience for anything. The best part was the history of these chefs and this region and the ties to the beginning of the "molecular" movement. So in order of food from best to worst, I would say Arzak, Akellare, Extebarri, and Mugaritz. But in order of EXPERIENCE from best to worst, Mugaritz, Arzak, Akellare, and Extebarri. Its pretty crazy because the food at Arzak was absolutely the best hands down..not even a close comparison for bold and bright flavors and incredibly perfect flavor pairings. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the food at Mugaritz was really not good...some dishes just plan gross. We did go with the more adventurous menu, but it wasnt really adventurous moreso than...experimental....as in...not sure if these dishes taste good or not. a couple dishes were good but most not. And yet the crazy thing is the experience was so wonderful at Mugaritz I would go back in a hearbeat. The location is STUNNING, the service UNREAL, and they really make you feel a part of the process. You start on the beautiful patio with a drink and appetizer and work your way for a kitchen tour and custom menu and then eat and then finish with coffee outside again. Just amazing. I am sure a second try would result in better food. Arzak is a tiny little place with no windows and yet you dont care bacsue the food is unreal and the father daughter chef team come out and are very sweet. Akellare has the best views bar none, 180 degrees ocean and beautiful interior, but the food was very bland. Its as if the chef doesnt like salt or bold flavors. but credit for beautiful presentations and a fun lunch. Lastly Extebarri is in a beautiful part of spain, in the hills where life is simpler, in a village with only a handful of residents. The food is the most purist example of cooking..its like sushi for meats. simply grilled and seasoned. It was good but not really an "intersting" experience in that there was no real innovation or unique preparations going on there..just simple foods. IMHO not worth the expensive cab ride and trip to get there, but some may love it. We really were more interested in the molecular and innovation on this trip and certainly found it with the other 3. But if I could only choose one to visit....sigh....coin flip between mugaritz or arzak. one is an experience...the other sublime food. put those 2 together and you have the worlds greatest restaurant.

                  11 Replies
                  1. re: sdiddy

                    Really interesting write-up. I wonder if your opinion may have changed if you had eaten at these places in a different order?

                    I know that is impossible to say but Mugaritz's more experimental cuisine may have been better positioned at the end rather than start. Maybe Arzak to start as the food is so accessible, Extebarri next for simplicity, Akellare then to up the pace and finish at Mugaritz.

                    1. re: sdiddy

                      Yikes! I can't believe you took a taxi to Extebarri! From where and what did it cost you? We took a taxi from central Seville to La Alqueria at the El Bulli Hotel. That cost almost the same as the tasting menu!

                      1. re: Aleta

                        sorry we took a bus from san sebastian to bilbao to see the museum....and then a taxi frmo bilbao to extebarri (and back again). then the bus back to SS after. yes even that was pricey haha. i cant remember the cost because for these 4 days i found it best to just NOT look at the bills for anythign in the same way I normally would hahaha. we committed to the trip and this food excursion, so we went ahead and indulged 100% in it.

                        1. re: sdiddy

                          Yikes is right! My boyfriend and I drove from SS to Extebarri for lunch (45 minutes), then to Bilbao afterward (another 30!) , and my BF worked for Ferrari for 6 years - he drives 100+ most of the time - that MUST have been one expensive ride!
                          It was funny, after the best meal we had in Basque country while there, it was ver amusing to see fully half the dining room guests from Extebarri wandering the halls at the museum while we were there - a reccomended itinerary for a day in the area, apparently seconded by many. This was early Oct, 2010

                          Also, I know this is NOT a travel site, but we stayed at a delightful hotel in SS; Astoria 7; Bfast included, a walk to the center, but a great price and cool modern 'movie classic' theme. The room was small, but the bed was excellent, the bathroom spacious. We waited too long to book our nights here, and this was a wonderful suprise. recommend it!

                          As for the meal, We have now agreed that it was one of our 5 best in 2010. My BF is from Paris, and has eaten in many 3/4 star Michelin's, and now I joined him at several the last years. The menu had changed, clearly by fall of last year. No smoked tomato or caviar, but the steak remained as the finish. The clear best in show were the steak, and the third course of a smoked squid (or cuttlefish- we were not sure). The most perfect single course either of us ate all year.Clear flavors, perfect sauce made of the ink as a smear on the plate. So memorable.
                          We had a few issues with less than perfect service, tho clearly all meant to please. The accomodations on the wine service were gracious and lovely - we had a white to start, moved to a bottle of red, (forgive me, BF is the wine guy he ordered and I don't recal what), but when the steak came - he called for a richer glass of something foeach for that, and it was perfect!
                          The funniest part, I have not heard anyone mention about arriving at Extebarri, is you walk in to a local bar downstairs when you get there. No mention of the 'temple' upstairs. All locals, eating potato omlet and drinking beer - no one looks up, except with maybe some roll of the eyes (oh, those guys aren't from here, going 'upstairs"). and we we arrived, no one was behind the bar - apparently helping a handicapped local into the Loo (don't ask, my BF was in there when they knocked!:), so we just headed for the stairs then all was good. Downstairs looked fun, but maybe off-putting for some who expect Michelin style greetings and ushering. Adventure here is yours, and just head for the stairs.
                          Truly, we had a lovely 3+ hour lunch, and count it among our most memorable of 2010.

                          1. re: gingershelley

                            ironically we stayed at astoria7 also and loved it

                          2. re: sdiddy

                            sdiddy - I am planning a similar trip and I know it's going to be really pricey, but we are considering taking a taxi from Bilbao to Extebarri (and back again) as well. I know you mentioned you don't remember the cost - I am hoping maybe you remember the logistics of the taxi. Did you have to pay for a round-trip ride in both directions? Also, did you just have the restaurant call a taxi for you after the meal to take you back? Thanks so much!

                            1. re: amiebd

                              we paid for a one way taxi that we found right outside the guggenheim museum. not positive but i think maybe it cost us...40-50 euros. at the restaurant they will call you a taxi so dont worry about that. despite the high cost its a part of spain most tourists wouldnt normally see and its really stunning to experience it.

                              1. re: sdiddy

                                Thanks so much for the quick reply. I am glad to hear that the restaurant will call a taxi for the trip back, that was my biggest concern. I definitely don't want to miss the experience.

                                I appreciate the review that you posted on your trip. We are planning to have lunch at Extebarri, Akellare and Arzak and are really looking forward to it!

                                1. re: amiebd

                                  Amiebd, I noticed you asking the same question from your other post and I appreciate that you would like to have actual facts from someone with previous experience. Sdiddy might have just been very lucky to get a nice taxi driver for the way up to Etxebarri. Before I went to the El Bulli Hotel in Seville, I had read several posts about how taxis would expect to be paid round-trip for a single journey. And sure enough, I was asked to pay as well.

                                  When you think about it, you're asking the driver to spend over 1 hr driving back and forth BUT you're paying him only for half of that time. He's NOT going to find a customer to drive back from Etxebarri after he drops you. So be prepared for a driver who will ask you for double and be happy if you're lucky that day.

                                  Restaurants will always call taxis for their customers. You don't have to worry about that.

                                  1. re: Aleta

                                    Aleta - I appreciate your advice and suggestions. I understand that there is a risk that a taxi driver may wind up charging us for the round trip, and I will be prepared for that risk and hope to get lucky that day. Thanks again for your advice (both here and on my other post)!

                        2. re: sdiddy

                          Siddy, I applaud your attitude! Will definitely repeat this experience not long from now. fingers crossed and all

                          1. Great post! Now you'll have to drive to Catalonia area and experience the 3 star michelins there. How would you compare the service at these restaurants to restaurants of the same rating here in the US? I always end up sorely disappointed with the amount of money we pay for the local restaurants here..with the service they offer.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: trvlcrzy

                              "I always end up sorely disappointed with the amount of money we pay for the local restaurants here..with the service they offer."

                              Not knowing where you are based, may I ask what you mean by "here"? Spain or elsewhere?

                              1. re: Parigi

                                I sense this is a comment on US restaurants, and the service/food vs. value offered... I do find often if you are in a resto that is 'lauded' for taste ( I am in Seattle, we have many of those..), but the service can lack. It seems that often, the food and the kitchen has it together, but the front of the house is somewhat hit or miss. I just see a lack of disipline in most resto's (house's) that are earnest to deliver flavors/ concept, and havn't talken the time to train staff properly in the conversation of kitchen to delivery... Generally, I see an earnestnest to please that is lovely, but a miss on information and precision and, then, there is nuance and communication too.

                                You can't ask a new upcoming bistro-style amercan restaurant to have the rigor of a french one tho, as there is just not the tradition of trained staff - well paid - or at least respected! - as there is in France, Switz, or parts of Spain.
                                So eat well in the US, and lower your staff expectations. Here - many are in the proffession to do something else while in school, or an artistic pursuit that simply doesn't pay enough. Acting, a band, or painting.. So enjoy and look at your server, knowing they may have something else to bring to the conversation besides just the food; maybe you wnat to see their play, or their art instilation? If you see them as a person ( again, in the US, you might get something besides a 'server', and make a friend who loves food and creativity.....

                            2. I was only able to eat at Zuberoa, but it was absolutely incredible. For what it's worth, talked to a couple of locals (thankfully in Spanish as my Euskara is, well, nonexistent) about restaurants in the area, and more than one preferred Zuberoa to the more famous Mugaritz, Arzak, M. B. etc. Can't comment on that because I haven't been to them and it seems likely that part of the reason is that, as PBSF rightly mentioned, the food is much more traditional Basque and less nouvelle cuisine than the other haute places in the area. (Although they have their touches in that direction: spider crab, orange, pumpkin veloute layered with a foamy orange buerre blanc on top was excellent.)

                              A warning would be that the overall palate of the chef at Zuberoa seems to like food relatively sweet, although for me that isn't a problem.