Report: Can Fabes, Martín Berasategui, Akelarre, Etxebarri, Kalaka (long)
Below are some reviews from a recent trip to Spain and France. Thanks to all CH folks who previously posted recommendations (we also hit Bodegón Alejandro, La Cepa, A Fuego Negro, Cal Pep, Els Tallers in Siruana, Le Berry in Pau, the Ordizia market, Espelette, Bistro 1860, and a handful of Rioja wineries).
Can Fabes: We had the summer menu, which emphasizes lighter, more traditional ingredients. Highlights included Iberian pork, the courgettes, surf and turf, the cheeses, and a caramel with cream dessert that is still lingering. Mild critiques would be the repeated use of shrimp, having to feed the parking meter (we just beat the enforcement officer), and a separate charge for bread and butter. However, the overall experience was very positive. The photos from the Can Fabes website (different menu) at the below url illustrate the technique in the dishes:
Martín Berasategui, Lasarte-Oria: Archetype three-star dining. For us, the experience here was as near perfect as a dining experience should be. Martín was there and was clearly a working chef. For the menu, he dates his dishes in the year that they were conceived. My favorite dishes were the mille-feullie of smoked eel, squid ink ravioli and soup, warm vegetable hearts salad, and chocolate with Acacia’s honey and Irish Coffee (from 1995, 2001, 2002, and 2010, respectively). As is standard practice for the region, he only uses cream and butter for dessert, but the results were anything but standard! With summer weather, outside seats seems to be preferred. Also, the sommelier gave us great recommendations on Rioja wineries. Some photos of the dishes on the below blog (otherwise unrelated):
Akelarre: You can see Earth’s curvature from this restaurant; the mid-room table is perhaps the best ocean-view seat of any restaurant. With respect to the food, dishes at this restaurant seem to be created for a camera. The most unexpected part of the meal was the digression into Asian flavors (e.g., fusili created from red miso) and clever conceptualizations and execution (e.g., truffle ‘mole’ sketched out into leaves and string ‘pasta’ composed of egg white and egg yolk). Unfortunately, our overall experience at Akelarre was tilted negative by a lackadaisical attitude of some of the staff. I understand that we all have on and off days, but for the cost, the service here was below the service of Can Fabes and Martín Berasategui. Perhaps a lunch reservation at a later hour would be better. The photos of courses at the below url are nearly the same as our meal (otherwise unrelated):
Etxebarri: Our least favorite meal of the trip. It certainly had the correct look (quaint) and smell (charcoal) on the outside. However, the staff did not seem to respect the diners, which was surprising with a cost at about half of a three-star Michelin. Also, some of the seafood dishes had an astringent taste that made me long for the fresh fish in Japan. I am unclear if our tasting menu differed from others that have raved about this restaurant, but some of the courses were like a scene out of an Andrew Zimmerman episode gone wrong: wince, bite, chew, wince again, swallow. For balance, the percebes (goose barnacles) and red meat course (on-the-bone steak served with a side salad) were well prepared. Do great restaurants have bad days? Some similar reviews at the below url:
Kalaka: In the interest of ending positively, we enjoyed Eneko Atxa’s restaurant near the Guggenheim Bilbao. Kalaka is a ‘slow food restaurant with traditional food in a modern environment.’ Not destination dining, but the dishes seem to be well conceived and with good flavor. Do not be put off by the sports video projection in the front or the slightly awkward space. If you have dinner here or elsewhere, a walk by the museum is a nice way to finish the evening.
Thanks for sharing Medieval. I was just looking for a place near the Guggenheim to eat lunch. Curious about what kind of food KALAKA served so I googled a bit. I found some pictures from a fellow who has been kind enough to photograph and upload but, LOL, I couldn't tell at all what food it was! Fortunately, he also took a picture of the bill. Looks like he had croquetas and some other casual food. Is this the same place you're talking about? I don't know what size the portions were but 14 Euros for croquetas and 14 Euros for albondigas? I had a beautiful 8-10 oz. chuleta de buey for that price at Taktika Berri in Barcelona. Is this place expensive or is Bilbao expensive?
Bilbao is less expensive than other major cities.
With respect to Kalaka, they have a tasting menu (which we did not try) for under 17 euro.
Our dishes were similar to the dishes shown on their Facebook page, albeit simplified:
I am not trying to oversell, but following several four to five hour meals, we enjoyed the fresh ingredients in a friendly atmosphere (with simple but 'developed' flavor profiles). Our experience was similar to the second review on the below page, which also mentions new management (translated to English):
The comments section of the below NYT section on 'Where to Eat' in Bilbao has some additional recommendations:
Great! thanks Medieval. The Facebook page was very helpful. I was able to see the dishes and find their website. Your second link explains the mystery behind the pictures of Kalaka's food that I googled. They have changed hands and my pictures must've been taken before. The new and improved Kalaka looks very interesting.
Thanks also for the link to the NYT article. I will give it a good read.