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May 10, 2012 11:58 PM

Sunday lunch in San Sebastian: What is more unique? Akelarre or a pintxos crawl?

My family and I are spending 2 nights in Biarritz with the intention of hopping over to Guggenheim in Bilbao followed by lunch in San Sebastian on May 27th. I was convinced to try the pintxos scene until I emailed Akelarre on a whim yesterday to see if they had space for 6. Amazingly, they got back in the affirmative so now I have a very delicious dilemma. With only 1 afternoon and an evening flight to catch back at the Biarritz airport, I can unfortunately only choose 1 option. Which would be more memorable? The budget's not an issue, and as a context, we live in Paris and have access to haute cuisine temples in that city.

Thank you so much in advance for your advice!

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  1. Akelare is one of the best restaurants in the world. The pintxos in San Sebastian are great, but nothing to compare to the food at Akelare, not to mention the total experience, the view, the service. Fortunate as you are to live in Paris, I don't think you have anything quite like this, certainly not for the price. Don't miss it.

    1 Reply
    1. re: rrems

      I would echo that, it's pretty much an impossible choice as the preference would be such a personal one but we have an absolutely incredible lunch at Akelare, best meal we've had ahead of Fat Duck Gagnaire et al.

      The only thing is our lunch lasted 4.5 hours so that may be a factor if you have to get back to the airport.

    2. I'd tapas crawl around San Sebastian instead of being stuck in a restaurant for a couple of hours.

      1. I was just at San Sebastian a few weeks ago. Having done both, I have to say.. Go for Akelare! My husband was very impressed with the taste, presentation, wine/sommelier, the view and all that goes with it. It was a perfect Sunday brunch for us.

        Tapas is fun. But even when we have noted down all the tapas bar with the recommended foods, we are still underwhelmed with the food at the tapas crawl (vs. Akelare).

        If you decide to go for the tapas crawl, I can share you my tapas list below:

        Parte Vieja
        - Ganbara? – Sauteed mushroom, christorra sausage puff pastry, croissants w/ jambon
        - A Fuego Negro (modern) – ceasar salad, pig’s neck
        - La Chuchara de San Telmo (classic) – Foie with apple
        - Txepetxa (antxoas) – w/ cream spinach
        - Borda Berri – risotto w/ idiazabal, braised veal cheeks in wine, taco bacalao
        - Zeruko (molecular) – la hoguera, galleta de micuit
        - *La Cepa - rice blood sausage, gavilla
        - Astalehena – grilled duck, crepes, cylinders of beef cheeks
        - La Mejillonera – patatas bravas & beers
        - Atari Gastroteka – wine, ciders & sweet pintxos

        - *Haritza (near hotel) – spanish omelette
        - Casa Gorriti – mini “scrambled egg with jamon”

        - *Garbola – shark pintxos, brazilia caipirinhas
        - Ramuntxo Berri / El Patio Ramuntxo – razor clams & foie w/ apples
        - *Hidalgo 56 – blood sausage “volcano”
        - Mil Catas – king prawn
        - *Senra Casa – croquettes, mushroom w/ foei
        - *Bergara – grilled ratatouille, txalupa
        - *Iraeta – foei on chickpea cream

        *The places with Asterisk(*) are the places with better food.

        Compared to Parte Vieja which is more well-known, we actually like the food at Gros better. But one warning though, we get so confused where to go next on Parte Vieja as the road all looked the same. Prepare a map of the tapas bar, which we did for Gros and enjoyed it more!

        I'll do my review for the tapas bars at SS as soon as I can.

        1 Reply
        1. re: indofood

          Indofood, I would appreciate a summary/review of your Pintxos crawl(s) if you have a minute. Or at least ones that were not real standouts. We go to SS in Feb. Thanks!

        2. Thank you all for chiming in. I couldn't resist Akelare after all and am very excited about our meal there. Is there an a la carte or just a menu at lunch? And are there any specialties that I should not miss?

          1 Reply
          1. re: xigua

            Have the tasting menu. When we were there last May one of the first courses was a "cosmetics tray" (Don't ask, just enjoy if that's what comes.). Seemed a little trick, but it was incredible--and the rest of the menu only got better (and less trick).

            Let the somellier suggest wine. I leaned red, he suggested white (followed by a glass of red to go with the meat dish) and he was spot on.


          2. 3 weeks after our lunch, I've finally hunkered down to write the review on Akelare.
            First off, thank you everybody who convinced us to eat there v. bar hopping. The view was undoubtedly gorgeous, the food beautifully presented and quite interesting (though not all to my taste) and the service and atmosphere was relaxing. Excellent way to spend Sunday afternoon.
            There were 2 tasting menus, one heavier in terms of flavors and number of meat courses, the other almost 100% seafood save for the 1 meat course. I personally enjoyed the seafood heavy menu "A" (can't remember the full name).
            In terms of memorable dishes, the first few dishes trumped the latter more protein heavy dishes, with very clear-cut clean flavors. I thought the crab cake with a blini made of crab roe was excellent, the umami flavors fully expressed in the blini. The dancing prawns in flames were extremely sweet and fresh, and I did enjoy the gooey, crunchy, chewier textures in the razor clam and veal shank dish. The fish and meat dishes all had gimmicky hooks, such as hake pretending to be monkfish and fake "salt and pepper" on the foie gras, but flavorwise were comparable to any well-regarded restaurants, well executed but non-too memorable.
            I liked the xaxu with coconut ice-cream best amongst our desserts, especially the light-as-air coconut ice cream that looked a meringue but was cold and concentrated with coconut flavor. The cheese plate was interesting but too high-concept for me. I prefer big slices of cheese to dainty little bites. The apple tart tasted normal if not for the layers of fruit leather printed with the Akelare print.
            In all, a very enjoyable meal, reasonably priced for its quality and quantity (in fact we were so stuffed we skipped dinner that night), and an expansive wine list with good deals. Not necessarily the most mind-blowing food, but the whole package was solid as you guys have advised.
            More details and pictures on my blog: