Asado Etxebarri [Axpe]
Asador Etxebarri is the famed BBQ restaurant in the hills between San Sebastian and Bilbao, it is meant to be tricky to find but in reality it’s only a few kilometers from the A8 freeway and my phone’s maps found it easily. However, it's a good hour from San Sebastian by car (at 100kph) so not a cheap taxi ride if you don’t have your own transport. We booked a (very) cheap hotel room in the village so avoided the issue of driving back after lunch.
It’s a beautiful rustic setting with dramatic mountain peaks surrounding the village. The restaurant is upstairs in a stone-building and the room is simply furnished. But it's an upscale restaurant not a rustic farm table with good linen etc on each table. The menu has two sections a €125 tasting menu and then a selection of products some sold by weight on the other for you to make up your own menu (including goose barnacles at €200/kg). All the set menu dishes are on the ALC side.
We go for the set meal, service is excruciatingly slow to start with 35 minutes to order and get a glass of wine. However, it soon becomes evident that what they do is synchronize all those have the set meal so each dish comes out together, so our meal was aligned with 4 or s other tables.
We start with good bread, some smoked goats butter, some home-made mozzarella, a smoked/preserved anchovy on toast (pickled last year), a crisp wafer with some apple (I think), and some BBQ’d endaname. All are good and a nice way to start the meal.
Next a succession of small dishes: tomato and tunas both with a great smoky taste; a smoky uster with seaweed; two amazing prawns with an unbelievable depth of flavor and silky soft texture; some small baby clams in a rich butter sauce; a baby squid with a smear of ink and caramelized onion; and then some smoky ceps and aborigine in butter.
Next two slightly larger dishes, a red sea bream with vegetables and then a large beef chop. We finish with some milk ice-cream and red fruits and a good greengage tart.
So how was the food? Well its very basic, very ingredient led with very simple presentation of basically the main ingredient and that is it. All the dishes (bar the dessert) have some BBQ treatment and the cooking style really brings out the purity of each ingredient in a most magnificent way. We went down to the kitchens to see how they did it and the types of “wire basket” pan they use on the charcoal grills to cook the most delicate ingredients and it is really quite impressive. BUT, and it's a big but most of the dishes were far too salty and had far too much butter. Good kitchen techniques to build the flavor, but after dish after dish of this it became too much. After the meal we both felt rally dehydrated ad needed to drink liters of water. I like salt, I like butter so I rarely find anything too salty but I struggled here.
The bill came in at €375 for two including wine water and coffee. We stuck to the bottom of an expensive list that gets into the stratospheric burgundy and Bordeaux trophy bottle territory. Good to say I have been but it fell well short of expectations - all in all slightly disappointed.
Our visit was several years ago. We came from Biarritz for lunch service. We were given the table in front of the south facing window, overlooking the valley. Magical!
We were some of the first in the dining room (which filled later) so service was personal and efficient. We had two women serving us.
We had been advised what to order by friends who had visited earlier, so composed our own tasting menu, ordering one portion-for-two service. I'd have to go back to my notes, but I remember extraordinary housemade chorizo, smoked butter, anguilles, some kind of prawn or such, woodcock, whole lubina (sea bass), the celebrated 18 year old farm cow beef (to die for!!!!), equally famous smoked milk ice cream.
I thought the meal was superb. Very simple, but perfectly sourced and brilliantly prepared. We ordered wine by the glass, probably 4 glasses each. My husband was steeled for a staggering bill. It was a mere 250€ for this feast. A meal in a lifetime for me.
Were I to return, I'd cut to the chase and order only the beef and a huge green salad, like several of the local businessmen I noticed that day.
Hmm, I agree that when eating in Spain one occasionally encounters heavy-handedness with the salt though I never really had the problem at Etxebarri. From my last meal, I thought that the truffled egg and the angulas could use a little less salt but it was never to the point of overwhelming.
Was Victor in the kitchen during your visit?
'and then some smoky ceps and aborigine in butter'
Now that's an original dish !
l liked it a lot more than you, but felt the salt was too much as well. On my trip they had the BBQ'd angulla and the technique for that dish was most interesting, did not see how they did it, assume a very small holed basket.