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1 meal in San Sebastian -- Akelarre or Arzak?

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I will be in San Se for a couple of nights in September and have a table booked (lunch) at Akelarre & Arzak -- and can't decide on which.

Due to the short stay, I can only fit in one of the two; the remaining few slots are for tapas crawls and a more casual, traditional restaurant (debating between Agorregi jatetxea and Bodegon Alejandro.....any recommendations or comparative reviews are highly appreciated!)

I've poured through numerous reviews on various boards and blogs, including similar questions on Chowhound, but restaurant's quality/standard can fluctuate over time, so I'm particularly interested in the comments of recent visitors (2011/2012.)

What I'm looking for the most is for the taste to blow me away. I'm all up for innovation and creativity (and that's what one would expect in San Se!) but if the technique and presentation is more outstanding and memorable than the taste itself, that's not for me. Ambience and service usually matters, but for this occasion I will be a lone diner so less important. Also, as much as I'm excited about the view that Akelarre has to offer, I will get plenty of that at my next stop Malta so also not as important.

I was gravitating towards Akelarre for more fun, open, tasty and somewhat casual food experience (and better wine for value?), but I saw few comments about their food tasting bland, which is a bit concerning. Coming from Japan, I find some of the western restaurants too salty or too strongly flavoured (like sauce overload), so I do wonder if this is more to do with one's palette...then again, bland is bland.

So, if you could only have one meal at a high-end restaurant in San Se; Akelarre & Arzak---which would you recommend more?

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  1. My wife and I ate at Akelarre today for lunch and had dinner at Arzak two nights ago. Based on our experience, there's no comparison -- you should go to Akelarre. We were warmly greeted at Akellare, the view is to die for and the food was unbelieveably creative and delicious. The service was friendly and top notch. We had the exact oposite experience at Arzak. We were greeted brusquely. The atmosphere is fine, but a lot noisier and more chaotic. The food was a huge disappointment. Low on the creativity scale and, most disapointing, very bland. There were few memorable dishes. Some had flavors that simply did not work. Others had blobs of sauce on the plate that were flavorless. As for Akelarre, we were blown away by the finesse and the flavors. They don't even seem to be in the same league right now. Just one person's opinion of course, but I wanted to share.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Jbf13

      Jbf13, thank you very much for the share, much appreciated.
      I was leaning more towards Arzak but I think it will be Akelarre now....was looking forward to checking out their wine list anyway. I wish I could try both restaurants though!!

    2. please forgive the bump but I also had this exact question and wondered if anyone had recent opinions between the two places. Many thanks for any input!

      4 Replies
      1. re: pizzajunkie

        l had a similar experience as did JBF 13, Liked Akelarre far more.
        Granted had eaten at Arzak a while ago and was not blown away, but at Akelarre the bacalao was the finest cod ever eaten and a dish of razor clams and tendon was on my best 10 list of 2012.
        This meal was in late September 2012.

        1. re: Delucacheesemonger

          Thank you so much! I just made my lunch reservation at Akelarre and I can't wait. :)

          1. re: pizzajunkie

            pizzajunkie, I visited Akelarre back in August, and I couldn't be happier for having gone there.
            No visit to Arzak so I cannot compare the two, but I thoroughly enjoyed the dining experience there. If you do go, I cannot recommend more to order a la carte (they will tailor the portion size for you), and to peruse their seasonal menu. Although I absolutely loved their signature lobster salad, the sesonal offering of "chipirones en su tinta" completely blew my mind away. A dish so common and prepared by every and any chef in the country but couldn't have tasted more eloquently.

            I wasn't keen on the G&T dessert, but that's just a personal opinion.

        2. re: pizzajunkie

          Having just returned from San Sebastian, and having dined at both Akelare & Arzak on this trip, I will give the ever-so-razor-thin edge to Akelare. Chef Subijana is simply at the top of his game. I found the cooking at Akelare to be daring, inventive, and just mighty fine tasting. Don't miss the roast suckling pig. Enjoy!