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Food adventure in Barcelona and San Sebastian - Itinerary review

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I know there are several similar postings already (thanks to Heeney and sdiddy for the inspirations) but I would like to get some feedback on the following Itinerary:

Fly into Barcelona in early morning
5/14/2011 Lunch Cinc Sentit
5/14/2011 Dinner Igueldo
5/15/2011 Lunch "Euskal Etxea or El Xampanyet"
5/15/2011 Dinner Paco Meralgo
5/16/2011 lunch Alkimia
5/16/2011 dinner Pinotxo\El Quim
Fly into Bilbao in early morning
5/17/2011 lunch Asador Etxebarri
5/18/2011 lunch Mugaritz (or Akelare)
5/19/2011 lunch Akelare (or Mugaritz)
5/20/2011 lunch Arzak
5/21/2011 roam about San Sebastian and bus to Madrid in the afternoon
Unfilled spots are saved for Pinxtos/tapas crawl

Do I need to move any of the time slots in the San Sebastian area from lunch to dinner to get the full experience? Welcome any feedback!

P.S. I wasn't able to get a booking at El Celler. Most of the restaurants above also haven't replied yet. Keeping fingers crossed.

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  1. "5/15/2011 Lunch Euskal Etxea or El Xampanyet
    5/15/2011 Dinner Paco Meralgo"

    Euskal Etxea is much better than El Xampanyet; the latter's ambiance makes it a dinner drink place more than anything.
    And Euskal Etxea and Paco Meralgo have some similarities in the tapas they serve, even though their ambiance is very different. Is it just I? I would not do both on the same day.
    And I only go to Paco Meralgo for lunch. The 'hood is deserted and boring to a Kafkaesque degree at night.
    Ambiance-wise, - and it is important, well, to me, :-) - it is better to lunch at Paco Meralgo, and then tapas-hop in the Born-Barceloneta, to places like Euskal Etxea and Vaso de Oro.

    "5/16/2011 dinner Pinotxo\El Quim"

    The market is not open for dinner.

    And in general, I would spend more days in San Sebastian for visiting and eating, esp eating.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Parigi

      We will have cars from 18-21. Should be able to have good visit coverages. Any suggestion on where to go or more importantly, to eat, in SS on 5/21 morning and early afternoon? We are planning to take 4:30 bus to Madrid. Thanks!

      1. re: Parigi

        I must respectfully disagree. El Xampanyet is a much cooler place - with better tapas. Now, it's not a place for a sit-down lunch. It's the type of place to do a "vermut" or the pre-lunch snacks, if you will. I think a place like Euskal Etxea is just mediocre. Unfortunately Cal Pep is closed on Sundays so you can't go there for a meal.

        I agree with Vaso de Oro - can be a little intimidating for a non-spanish speaker, but it's great.

      2. Hey! That 2nd half looks awful familiar! :)
        I haven't done the trip yet so I can't comment. Looks like we will just miss each other.
        Which days on the Basque leg are in Bilbao, and which are in San Sebastian?
        Parigi, would you really say that 5 days in San Se are not enough? Suddenly my 4 days seems tight, though I would think anymore time spent there would cause you to run out of sights to see and waddle around in a food-coma. :)

        3 Replies
        1. re: Heeney

          "5 days in San Se are not enough?"

          San Sé grows on one. Life is so good there. And there is a ton of daytrip possibilities, all the way to the beautiful seaside villages and towns on the French side (Ciboure, St Jean de Luz, Bayonne). 5 days is great. Longer is no hardship.

          "Suddenly my 4 days seems tight, though I would think anymore time spent there would cause you to run out of sights to see and waddle around in a food-coma. :) "

          And what's wrong with that? :-)

          1. re: Heeney

            Heeney <= It's always easier to do copying and pasting! Thanks for your posting! Tried to bookTickets but it looks like it is full for the next couple months!

            We will stay 1 night in Bilbao on 5/17 and 3 nights in SS. Got a rental car for 3 days as well so we can visit the restaurants as well as easier access to Basque coast.
            When are you going to be in Barcelona/BilBao/SS?

            1. re: y999999

              We'll be here on these dates:
              5/7-11 Barcelona
              5/11-12 Bilbao
              5/12-16 SS.

              You can always try a walk in at Tickets because I heard they keep a few tables open. We lucked out by getting res when they first went online.
              I guess Chowhound will be getting two trip reports in late May. :)
              Have fun!

          2. For Barcelona, the food at Euskal Etxea is better than El Xampanyet; as Parigi posted El Xampanyet is more fun at night when it is like one big drinking party. The beauty of tapas/pintxos eating is that you can drop by both since they are 2 minutes from each other.
            I don't see a problem doing Paco Meralgo the same evening. The food is quite different. Euskal Etxea is a very basic pintxos place: serving mostly bit size food on skewers or on pieces of bread. Though the food is excellent, it is a scale down version what you will be experiencing in San Sebastian. The ambience is rustic with a large standup bar and a few bar tables/stools. There is also a sit down restaurant in the back. Paco Meralgo's food is more toward small plates: lots of seafoood, vegetables, croquetas, eggs, one of the best pa'amb tomaquet, sweets etc, all make to order. The ambience is brighter with either counter or bar seating, very little standup and just as lively. It is true that most of the Eixample is not as lively like Born but is not entirely deserted or Kafkaequest. Pg de Gracia at night with the modernista buildings all lit up is something special. On a balmy evening, this wide boulevard (and to a lesser degree, the Rambla de Catalunya) is still full of locals as well as visitors on their evening passeggiata. Go to PacoMerago by the Pg de Gracia then turn left on Corsega. Flip flopping between lunch and dinner is a good idea.
            You need to also flip flop your choices for 5/16 as the eating places in the Boqueria shut down by 4pm at the latest therefore, no dinner. Although the Boqueria is open on Mondays, it is not the best day to visits as some shops are closed that day. El Quim and Bar Pinotxo are open on Mondays.
            Amazing what effect a third Michelin star and the publicity of the latest Pellegrino list on getting reservation at Can Roca. Until couple years ago, I never had problem getting a reservation for the same week during April and October.

            4 Replies
            1. re: PBSF

              Thanks for the tip. Still waiting for reservations to confirm but will look to move Boqueria to Sat instead.

              1. re: PBSF

                PBSF,

                You commented that El Quim and Bar Pinotxo are open on Mondays. I thought they were CLOSED on Mondays. Can you pls clarify? Thx.

                1. re: Aleta

                  Yes Sir, as you instructed, I just checked the La Boqueria site. For Monday, Bar Pinotxo is opened but El Quim is not. My mistake. I am glad that the poster has decided to go on Saturday. My Spanish is very poor.

                  1. re: PBSF

                    I am actually a Senyora but thank you all the same for your clarification.

              2. Y9...

                I'm sure you will be pairing up sightseeing and dining.

                Re: Euskal Etxea, if you are not in Barri Gotic or El Born, keep in mind that there are other Basque pintxo places elsewhere. Maitea Taberna and Taktika Berri are 2 examples of pintxo bars in L'Eixample.

                Re: Igueldo. This is supposed to be a Basque-Catalan restaurant (?). I don't know anything about it but I DID notice it on a different forum. Over there, it was highly rated and all the reviews were done by first-time reviewers. I usually discount that as 'touting'. Apart from that, since you are going to San Sebastian later in the trip, perhaps you could enjoy more local cuisine that reflects the pride of Catalunya.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Aleta

                  My wife are more into food than arts and once the restaurant bookings are confirmed, it would be easier to plan the rest of the trip. Didn't know about Gaudi's until I started reading the travel guide... We should be in Barri Gotic area for Picasso Museum.

                  It would be redundant to go to Igueldo in we are heading to Basque area. I will keep that in mind! Thanks for the tip.

                  1. re: y999999

                    "We should be in Barri Gotic area for Picasso Museum"
                    Euskal Etxea is practically next door. Cal Pep is a 2-minutes walk.

                2. I just realized that I didn't save enough time for Basque coast, let along making to SS for lunch. In any case, Asador Etxebarri confirmed 5/18 for lunch, which means I need to push out Mugaritz, Akelare and Arzak by a day.

                  How long does a full tasting menu take assuming no alcohol? We now plan to take the 4:40 train to Madrid on 5/21. If seated at 1pm, do you think we still enjoy a full lunch at Akelare and leave at 3:40? Have you seen tourists bringing their luggage to lunch at these restaurants?

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: y999999

                    When you arrive at the restaurant, tell the staff that you have that train to take. Ask them what time you should leave the resto, and ask them to kick you out on time. :-)
                    In Europe, luxury = leisure = taking one's time. Usually a restaurant does not want to hurry you because that would be rude and would not make for a nice restaurant experience in general. If you ask them to hurry you, they will comply but won't be happy, because it's asking them to abuse you.
                    (And surely there are later trains to Madrid. Why is that mid-afternoon train time set in stone?)

                    It's ok to take your luggage to the resto, which they will store away.

                    1. re: y999999

                      I could write a short book on all the times I've asked restaurants to store luggage or my shopping cart. :-P Sometimes I think they actually give us better service. Maybe they appreciate the effort that I'm making to visit them!

                      1. re: Aleta

                        Looks like all restaurants are good to go. We will definitely post our thoughts after we get back! Thanks for all the feedback.

                        Any suggestion for Madrid? Any must go? Or maybe something to ease down the big meals in SS?

                        1. re: y999999

                          I haven't been to Madrid yet (going this summer BEFORE San Sebastian) so this is only my 1 cents worth...

                          After tremendous meals in Barcelona and San Sebastian, I would look for stuff from regions that I haven't visited. You will have had a lot of seafood already. And pintxos.

                          Maybe some regional specialities from Extremadura, Calle Libertad 31? My food guru Estufarian has suggested to me El Cisne Azul for mushroom-oriented dishes. I also have Matritum, Taberna Arzábal and Taberna Laredo on my short list.

                          I love offal so we'll be trying out one of the traditional restaurants (with the bullfighting pictures and other memorabilia) serving rabo de toro, mollejas and callos. Maybe Casa Ricardo or Casa Salvador.

                          1. re: Aleta

                            I second Casa Salvador. We loved that place when we went.

                            1. re: Aleta

                              Aleta,
                              For lamb offal lovers the Freiduría de Gallinejas at Calle Embajadores is a must.
                              http://www.gallinejasembajadores.com/

                              1. re: JuanDoe

                                Thanks for the tip. I love everything.... Not sure how my wife will take lamp or offal.

                                Staying around Puerta del Sol. Should be able to check out CASA SALVADOR and Hylogui

                              2. re: Aleta

                                Aleta,
                                In Viridiana you'll find --out of menu-- excellent offal dishes (casquería). Ask chef Abraham García for them.
                                http://www.restauranteviridiana.com/e...

                                In Hylogui, at Calle Ventura de la Vega 3, you can enjoy rabo de toro (oxtail), cabrito frito (fried goat kid), sesos a la romana (battered brain), mollejas (sweetbreads), criadillas de choto empanadas (breaded goat kid testicles), callos...
                                http://restaurantehylogui.com/a-la-ca...

                                1. re: JuanDoe

                                  JuanDoe, many thanks! I had Freiduría de Gallinejas on my list for a post-Reina Sofia meal, but Hylogui looks even more interesting! And so close to our hotel. As for Viridiana, I had wondered about it too, after stumbling through this article on Rabo de Toro in El Confidencial. Time to do some more planning for Madrid. Thanks again.

                                  http://www.elconfidencial.com/cuadern...

                                  My 12 yo son will be very pleased too. He must be one of the few North American kids who actually knows -- and likes -- these old-fashioned items.

                        2. If you get a chance to visit Hondarribia (about a 20 min drive from San Sebastian) DO go to "Arroka Berri restaurante) www.arrokaberri.com.
                          We arrived at about 8:30 and were accommodated but by 9 the place was full. The service, ambiance and food was absolutely outstanding. I ordered a dessert that they were out of and because i didn't choose another one they sent over a plate of cookies and glasses of their special sparkling wine. They truly want your visit to be memorable and ours was in every way!

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: marigoldr

                            Hi Marigold,
                            Arroka Berri sounds really nice, had a look at their website, too. Any idea about the price range as they don't list any prices on their website...
                            Thanks,
                            Luna

                            1. re: Luna2308

                              Luna,
                              Have you looked at this great website, Todo Pintxos? It highlights different popular pintxos from the various bars AND it gives a price for the item. It also has suggested Pintxos Routes and maps. Hope this helps.
                              http://www.todopintxos.com/pintxos/pi...

                          2. Last minute check on the Itinerary - Is Cinc Sentits for lunch and Moo for dinner too much on the same day?

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: y999999

                              I haven't been to either but I have been to El Celler de Can Roca. From what I understand of these Cinc Sentits and the Roca brothers' restaurants, there might be some similarities in style. Would you get sensory overload?