One Great Meal in Basque Country
My wife and I are going to the Basque Country for four days. Although we are on a budget, we'd like to have at least one meal at a premier restaurant such as Arzak, Mugaritz, Akellare, Etxebarri, etc. We've been reading up and there seem to be a number of great world-class restaurants but since we don't want to break the bank, we thought our decision could be impacted by the price of the meal. Are all these restaurants priced relatively the same? Would ordering ala carte be a more inexpensive (but still worthwhile) option? Are the lunch price-fix menus less expensive than the dinner menus?
Ideally we'd like to keep the tab under $250 USD.
Another consideration to keep in mind is that I do not eat pork and my wife is pregnant so she is somewhat limited in terms of what she can eat.
I really appreciate your advice or suggestions. Thanks!
I cannot encourage you enough. It stands out among the rest. I went here for lunch with my husband and it was by far the BEST place we ate in all of San Sebastian. This place is worth every penny. First, the staff was amazing. Spoke English, called me ahead of time to confirm the reservation, and after our meal even offered to call a taxi to take us downtown. Every dish was described in detail. They brought out a dessert at one point that looked like a newspaper! I couldn't imagine how many hours it took the chef to make it look like that! It was chocolate, some kind of spice if I remember correctly, and it tasted amazing. They also had this dish which I think was a seafood entree that was covered with a tiny fish net! The fish net had microscopic shrimp, little fish, crab, etc. just for the presentation. Really cool. The reason we went there for lunch is because of the view. The restaurant is on a hill and overlooks the water, so it's pretty dramatic in the afternoon. This would be the perfect spot to take a romantic date, not so much for kids.
Also, just to let you know, their wine prices are VERY reasonable, which is something I think is common throughout San Sebastian (and maybe the rest of Spain?). The restaurant has wines from the local region as well as from other places in Spain. An excellent bottle will run you bout 20-30 euros. The most exclusive reserve is about 50.
I would thoroughly agree with citykid426, Akelare blew me away and was well worth the money. IIRC the total bill came to about €420, though just over €100 of that was wine (the tasting flight of 8 glasses they did was €45 each, and we had some nice cava as an aperitif beforehand). So you could do it cheaper, however the wine (and other things - sherry, ice cider, etc.) the sommelier chose were exceptional and really enhanced the meal.
For one blowout meal, I think it's worth it. It far exceeded what I've had from other Michelin starred restaurants (whether 1, 2 or 3*) both in San Se and the UK. I wouldn't let a slight disappointment from the French Laundry over whether it's worth it put you off all extravegant meals, as the foodie culture in San Se is very different from the US, and my understand is that the French Laundry is quite a bit more expensive than any of these San Se places!
Thank you all for your fantastic feedback. The real question now is whether to spend the extra money or to instead visit a couple of one star places. We went to French Laundry a couple of years ago and although the food was fantastic, I'm not sure it was worth it. Honestly, we are more excited to visit the Cider Houses and eat pintxos as we bar hop so we may save the splurge for the next time around. Thanks again!
The earlier posts are good summaries of the cost and other details of the top restaurants on your list. It will be just about impossible to eat at any of them at your budget of $250. Etxebarri is the least expensive, probably around 100E for the tasting menu without any extras such as wine, coffee, etc. The long tasting menu at Mugaritz is about 120E. Arzak, Akelare and M Berasategui about 150-160E. Since you've read up on each of the restaurants, you should have a good idea of what each has to offer in terms of style of cooking, ambience and service. I think it is a mistake to choose on the sole factor of the least expensive because the food and ambience at Etxebarri and Mugaritz are so different from the other three. If one is looking for modern Basque cooking with the trappings of a grand Michelin star restaurant, it would be a mistake to choose Etxebarri. Despite the higher cost, better choices would be Arzak, Akelare or MB. Or Mugaritz if one is looking for the most avant-garde molecular cooking.
The tasting menus at Arzak, Akelare, Martín Berasategui., Mugaritz, Zuberoa and Etxebarri will be well, very well over your $250 for two budget when you include wine, tax, tip.
The least expensive tasting menu is the shorter Mugaritz menu priced at 105 euros..
I've ordered the tasting menu at all of the above because it's no more expensive than dining a la carte and is the best way to experience the range of the chefs' skills.
The tasting menus cost the same for lunch and dinner. And chefs will accommodate dietary restrictions if they know them in advance.
But these menus range from 105 (Mugaritz, shorter menu) to 155 at M.B.
As rrems has said, you don't need to limit yourself to the 2-3 Michelin starred restaurants to have a fantastic meal and truly memorable experience in the Basque Country.
Consider a San Sebastián Michelin one star
or expand your horizons a bit,
to Hondarribia, to the Bilbao suburbs, to Pamplona, all within the Basque Country gastronomic golden triangle, and you can dine in style, memorably, for considerably less.
At one star Kokotxa in San Sebastián, the tasting menu goes for 65 and a Tues.-Fri. lunch menú del día costs only 25 with wine included.
At brand new 1 star Mirador de Ulía in S.S., with panoramic views, the tasting menu costs 55.
Or Xarma, whose chefs won a Michelin star at their former restaurant at the Monasterio de Rocamador, and many say are destined for one in their new San Sebastián quarters.
Their menus go for 45/65.
The 3 aforementioned chefs are the "new up and coming stars-the second generation" and members of a newly formed group, Sukatalde, Young Chefs of Guipúzcoa.
Outside of San Sebastián,
At 1 star Alameda in Hondarribia you have menus for 35/50/90 euros.
At 1 star Boroa, a lovely Basque farmhouse, east of Bilbao, there are 2 menus, 30/58.
At Andra Maria, another charming Basque farmhouse outside Bilbao, they go for 38/59.
At Azurmendi in Larrabetzu, east of Bilbao, this newly anointed two star has a menu for 80.
In the Pamplona area you have three, one star Michelin starred restaurants, and they're superb-
Rodero-the two tasting menus now cost 55 and 75
Europa-has three menus priced at 45/47/62
El Molino de Urdániz, a reconverted mill in the countryside on the Roncesvalles road costs 70.
There are also restaurants that have earned one Repsol sun (Repsol is a very reliable guide-some prefer it to Michelin) and which offer a great value-
San Sebastián's Urepel
or the truly lovely and charming Baserri Maitea, another charming Basque farmhouse-sophisticated restaurant, just north of Gernika,
In both you can dine memorably for 120 euros.
So you can have a wonderful dining experience within your budget if you don't limit yourselves to the "big six".
Might as well face it, the least you will spend at any of these is over 100 euros per person (a la carte is not really cheaper than a tasting menu, if you order the same amount of food a la carte it will probably cost even more) for food alone. Lunch is the same as dinner. Add wine, water, coffee and you are up to 300 euros for two people easily. When we went to Arzak and Akelare a few years ago, I think the total was close to 400 euros (including cocktails and wine). So if you want to try the top restaurants you will have to pretty much double your budget. Is it worth it? Hard to say. We were prepared for the prices and these were memorable meals, but I find that I often feel more excited about 1-star restaurants that didn't cost an arm and a leg. For instance, we took a day trip to Pamplona and had lunch at Rodero, which has 1 michelin star. The six-course tasting was under 50 euros, and the food was fabulous, atmosphere and service excellent. I still remember everything we ate there. You don't need to spend a fortune to eat well. As to dietary restrictions, most places will make substitutions as necessary, but it doesn't hurt to ask about it when you reserve.