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May 24, 2011 10:51 AM

Arzak, Akelarre, or Etxebarri?


We are traveling w/ a 6 year old and can visit only one the above restaurant. We have reservation for lunch at Azak. Would you recommend any of the other 2 over Arzak? Thanks!

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  1. I highly recommend Etxebarri over Arzak. We went to both in late April and Etxebarri was far and away the better of the two. I hate to say it, but we thought Arzak was overrated. My husband and I were so looking forward to it and feel like we missed something....there were definitely some cool dishes, but nothing that was really "to die for". Etxebarri was amazing. We had the tasting menu and it was a full meal of absolutely incredible food but it was light and healthy and I didn't leave stuffed. I can honestly say it was one of the best meals of my life, the best shrimp, beef, dessert I've ever had. The only downside is that Etxebarri is out of the way and could be difficult to get to if you don't have a car.

    We didn't go to Akelarre, so I can't comment on that one. When we return to San Sebastian, we will go there and also Etxebarri again, but not to Arzak unfortunately....

    1. I have not been to Etxebarri, but have been to both Arzak and Akelare. Of the two, though I loved both and if you could go to both I would strongly recommend that, if you can do only one it would have to be Akelare. This was a spectacular meal, very innovative and not one dish was amiss. Also, if you are going for lunch, the view will be spectacular.

      22 Replies
      1. re: rrems

        I would love to go to both but unfortunately, my 6 year old can only sit through one 3 hour lunch. She's very good but will not be able to handle 2 long lunches/dinner.

        1. re: brigdo

          As I came on to ask a similar question can I just hijack this a little to ask posters who have reserved Arzak, Etxebarri, Akelare etc how easy reservations were to come by? For weekend are we talking 4-5 months in advance or can you pick them up a few weeks ahead?
          Many thanks.

          1. re: ManInTransit

            ManinTransit, just my humble 2 cents but it's always good when dealing with 'star' restaurants in foreign countries to ask far in advance but also keep your fingers crossed for last-minute openings.

            We're going to Etxebarri this July and I first contacted them back in November 2010. They told me they would start accepting reservations in January 2011.

            When I contacted Arzak in November, they were willing to take reservations right away for Summer 2011 but informed me that they would be closed for a week in late June.

            1. re: ManInTransit

              We had no problem getting a reservation at Akelarre a couple of weeks out for a 1pm weekday lunch. In fact, the restaurant was half-empty for most of the duration of the 3+ hours it took to get through the tasting menu. This was in early September last year. Highly recommended regardless - as another poster stated, everything we ate was top-notch.

              We didn't go to either of Arzak or Etxebarri though so I can't speak to those.

              1. re: jerkstore

                Thanks guys. We will be heading there over a weekend so it might be slightly tougher but SS is one of those holidays where you build the flights around the reservations I guess!

            2. re: brigdo

              We did all three of those places about 2 weeks ago and hands-down I recommend Akelare. Especially with a 6 year old. Arzak would not be very fun for a 6 year old IMO.
              Akelare has an the incredible view (you need to go at lunch). And the food innovations are so fun and whimsical that it will be fun for your child to watch. Appetizers disguised as handsoap and bath salts. Foie gras with so much "salt and pepper" you gasp at first. And seafood served with an edible fishermans net.
              It was a highlight of our trip. And easily the most fun place of the 3 to take a 6 year old.
              Make sure that your table gets both tasting menus and shares. Great dishes on both tastings.

              1. re: Heeney

                Agreed on all counts. Forgot to mention the view, definitely go at lunch if possible. Our first appetizers were disguised as a box of chocolates, they must have changed the menu since we were there.

                The suckling pig dish on one of the tasting menus still reigns as possibly the best thing I've ever eaten, ever.

                1. re: jerkstore

                  Yes. I read about the chocolate box but they switched it. When we sat down they brought out a tray of what looked like bathroom accessories.
                  I thought "gimme a break, they are having us clean up to prepare for the food?"
                  But then they described the dishes, hand soap that was actually tomato and basil gel, which you squeeze onto a perfect recreation of a sponge made out of onion.
                  A "moisturizer" of Basque cheese, a bath salt in an edible wrapper. Tasted like grilled prawns. And a "mouthwash" that was actually a house cocktail.
                  Indescribably fun!

                2. re: Heeney

                  What a wonderful description of the food! I'm sold!

                  1. re: Aleta

                    Another quick question if I may.
                    I am about to book Mugaritz and Akelare for a weekend in July and am slightly torn between lunch and dinner. Coming from the UK we are conditioned to eat more at night and I am slighty fazed at the prospect of a 14 course lunch.

                    Equally from perusing the boards it seems as though the done thing is to eat at these places for a late lunch around 2pm.

                    Can I ask for any advice/experiences?

                    1. re: ManInTransit

                      ManIn Transit,

                      I haven't been to San Se yet although I have eaten long meals in Barcelona and Seville. IMHO, I prefer a long lunch, which gives me time to waddle around afterwards, digest my food and burn some calories.

                      Dinner starts so late (at the very, very earliest 8:30 pm). By the time a 14-course dinner is over, it could easily be midnight. How do you feel about going to bed on such a full stomach?

                      1. re: Aleta

                        I can definitely see the advantage of the lunchtime eating, I just often find that with wine too it knocks me out for the rest of the day whereas dinner opens up the day to do other things. We were going to do one of each (with the lunch at Akelare for the view) but struggling to get a dinner reservation at Mugaritz.
                        Thanks all for the advice and apologies Brigdo for hijacking your thread.

                      2. re: ManInTransit

                        Definitely go for lunch at Akelarre, if only for the won't be the same at night.

                        1. re: jerkstore

                          Thanks for all the suggestions, we got lunch reservation at Akelare and dinner at Arzak! Looking forward to it.

                          1. re: brigdo

                            I recommend lunch for Mugaritz. Arzak is probably the only one I'd do for dinner.
                            I am not used to long lunches either. But you get the hang of it and it works better. Because then you don't catch yourself overdoing pintxos during the day.
                            If the wine knocks you out, relax on the beach. You're in San Sebastian after all!

                        2. re: ManInTransit

                          Lunch at the big restaurants then slowly graze through tapas bars in the evening to eat a little or as much as you want. The perfect way to experience SS.

                          1. re: PhilD

                            Thanks to everyone for their advice. We've secured bookings for Mugaritz on the Friday and then Akelarre on the Sunday over the last weekend in July so I will report back on our experience. I'm tempted to squeeze in a sneaky trip to Etxebarri as well as we have a car.

                            1. re: ManInTransit

                              With car, do squeeze in Etxebarri for a more rustic experience. It's the opposite of Akelarre/Mugaritz but very interesting. He even makes his own charcoal and is so unique in his craft.

                              1. re: trvlcrzy

                                Just to say thank you to everyone who gave us some help for our trip.

                                We ate at Akelare and Mugaritz and enjoyed both.
                                Mugaritz was probably the most enjoyable restaurant experience I've had - the sommelier, staff and whole evening were just wonderful. Some of the food was sensational but others had a very sticky texture which when replicated over a series of 3/4 dishes was a little overpowering. Adoni Aduriz was off celebrating the end of El Bulli but the staff who were there were fantastic.

                                Akelare was the best food I've ever eaten. More so than any other 3* I've eaten at. We had one of the A menus and one of the B and they worked together very well. The famous apple paper dessert, the 'ham' pasta, the crab, the suckling pig and for me above all the turbot were just wonderful. Pedro Subijana was there and welcomed us and we just about did it all in Spanish as well. The service took a little longer to warm up than at Mugaritz and felt a little frosty at first but we later realised that was just because the staff's English, while excellent, was not as bilungual as at Mugaritz.

                                We also stopped at Eugenie Les Bains across the border on our way from Bordeaux and highly recommend that for anyone travelling to SS from that direction.

                                And the Pinxtos? Well we tried all the usual recommended places and most were very tasty but one stood out, Bar Astelena - can't recommend it highly enough and felt it really stood out among the rest.

                                El Bulli
                                Spain , ES

                                1. re: ManInTransit

                                  just heard about another San Sebastian restaurant: Kkokotxa.

                                  Anyone know anything about it?

                                  1. re: rpsloan


                                    I think you have an extra 'k' in there. It's 1 Michelin star with a good lunch deal. I thought about trying it but ran out of time. Too much food, too little time.


                  2. re: rrems

                    I would go to Mugaritz or Luis Irizar.

                  3. I have only been to Etxebarri of the three, but it was one of the best and most memorable meals I've ever had. At just over 100 euros for my meal including drinks, it's also significantly cheaper than I imagine the other two to be.

                    The cuisine and style are also extremely different from the molecular gastronomy giants of San Sebastian. Etxebarri is rustic to say the least; the food is all about glorifying one or two outstanding ingredients, and the service is pretty relaxed.

                    If you do want a more ceremonious dining experience with more intricate cuisine, I can recommend Mugaritz in San Sebastian.

                    1. Been to both Akelarre and Extebarri with our 9 year old. Akelarre has georgeous views and more of the molecular "fun" foods. Our kid loved the "fruit roll-up" covering the chocolate truffles in the bowl.
                      Etxebarri though is a beautiful trip to explore the Basque countryside. We took the old road (and yes, though a bit worrisome and wondering if you're lost) was neat to see the cows, sheep on the fields. It is also location in a small town square next to an elementary school. Food is more rustic but such an eye opener on what could be grilled.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: trvlcrzy


                        Your 9 yo is very lucky! At least, that's what I tell my 12yo all the time. :o)

                        Nine is a great age; they are so much more mature than before. Able to sit and appreciate. I'm curious to know what your child liked and disliked. For instance, how did he/she react to the rawness of the meat? (on another post, a Chowhound was describing adult friends who wanted their meat incinerated) What did you order for your child at these 2 restaurants? A la carte or a tasting menu?

                        My 12yo son accepts the rawness although he wouldn't at home. And I've ordered him his own tasting menu ever since we went to the Cordon Bleu in Ottawa and he ate half of my dinner on top of his own.

                        1. re: Aleta

                          Hi Aleta!
                          Yes, my 9 year old (now 10) feels very lucky and has been a foodie....loves to try all sorts of foods. She actually ate at Celler de Can Roca with us at age 7. Very well behaved and they cooked a special pasta and croquettas for her...but the dessert and chocolate tray came from the tasting menu. She enjoyed the "lactic dessert" and chef Joan Roca also gave us a tour of his kitchen and cellar! In France, at Michelin starred Maison Jaune in St. Remy, they cooked a lamb dish for her (cooked medium) although she was eating bits and pieces from our tasting menu.
                          She then moved on to eating off the regular menu at age 9..she loved the beef in bone at Etxebarri (medium rare!) but didn't eat the heads of the Palamos I did! Hurray more for me! They also made her a "kiddie cocktail" to drink made with some soda and fruit juice.
                          Other items she liked:
                          -the "gilda" tapa made with piquillo peppers, an olive, and anchovy (at various tapas joints in San Se)
                          -foie gras with apples at Cuchara de San Telmo
                          -the "camouflage bonbon box" amuse bouches at Akelarre..made with shrimp, ham, squid.
                          -callos ala gallego (she LOVES tripe).
                          -any dessert

                          I'm sure your kids will take to eating different foods as they grow older. We have our kid try it first, then decide. Plus, it doesn't hurt that she sees us eating it too and not making a fuss of whether we like it or not.

                          1. re: trvlcrzy


                            I am very impressed!

                            El Celler de Can Roca at 9! My son was 11. And medium rare beef in bone at Etxebarri! (we should link this post to the other one with the wimpy adults, ha ha)

                            My kids are actually older. The youngest is 12 yo and he keeps me company wherever we eat. I started him off at 9 in Paris at Le Pre Catelan. He's a good eater but he has to be careful about nuts. I get the prawn heads too, altho' increasingly they looked pre-sucked by the time they arrive on my plate. :-P

                            Thanks for the tips on San Se. The foie gras w/ apples and the camouflage bonbon box sound perfect.

                            BTW, we're going to Madrid too, where one of us will undoubtedly get stabbed in the hand with the opponent's fork over rabo de toro and mollejas.

                            1. re: Aleta

                              How lucky for you guys! No Spain for me this year...attending a wedding in Tuscany though this fall (any tips on that?). Rabo=Yum! Also love the classic Lhardy tea room in Madrid where you can serve yourself their trademark consomme with sherry. Very old school, turn of the century.
                              Als, still looking for that "churros con chocolate" here in the US to no success....sigh..

                              1. re: trvlcrzy

                                trvlcrzy, Five Points in Manhattan has churros with chocolate on their brunch menu. I had them a few weeks ago just as it was starting to get cold and they were fantastic! The chocolate was just right and the churros were fried right as I ordered them :-)

                      2. Have to say, though a few years ago, food at Arzak was superior to Akelarre, though the drive to, and view from, Akelarre were more interesting.