Monthly Archives: May 2012

#ssrestweek: La Fábrica + Patxi Aizpuru

  • Menéame0

Time for another San Sebastián Restaurant Week face-off.

Among my eating travails this week are two Old Part stalwarts, La Fábrica and Patxi Aizpuru.  La Fábrica is ranked number two on Trip Advisor (!) for San Sebastián.

Patxi Aizpuru: Selection of Seasonal Vegetables

This dish was a complete surprise. It’s not as easy as one would think to find all the typical vegetables of the season in one place, much less on one plate. And that’s what Patxi does at his Old Part restaurant.  You get asparagus, artichokes, spring onion and whatever other veggies are in season (he informed us we had just missed the favas).

veg_patxiaizpuru

La Fábrica: Porcini and wild mushroom ravioli.

There aren’t too many ways to lose when you’re mixing two delicious mushrooms and stuffing them in pasta dough, to be coated with a thick, rich sauce.

ravioli_lafabrica

And the winner is: Patxi Aizpuru.  The dish at La Fábrica was absolutely delicious, but in a way that was much more predictable than Patxi’s plate. Plus, he gets extra points for his passion, coming out and explaining to us exactly which mountain his veggies were grown on, and all about the “majo chaval” that grows them. What American can resist that talk?

Round two over! Stay tuned.


#ssrestweek: La Cepa + La Muralla

  • Menéame0

Well, we are in the thick of San Sebastián’s first-ever restaurant week, and I have the fortune of being able to visit each restaurant to see what is occurring seasonally across a fairly broad spectrum of restaurants. Sixteen restaurants are participating, and they range from the almost-famous Narru to lesser-known restaurants deep in the interior of Gipuzkoa.

The goal is to display seasonality, provide value, and give customers a chance to visit new restaurants and old favorites at a bargain price of just 25 euros, which includes 3-5 courses, wine, and often coffee.

Today I am talking about two restaurants, both classics of the old part: La Muralla and La Cepa, and putting their best two plates in a faceoff.

La Cepa: Hake ‘a la koskera’, or in a sauce of peas, asparagus and clams.

This is a super dish; soft, tender hake served in a rich sauce that looks like spring.

hakealakoskeras_lacepa

La Muralla: Lamb au jus with a light potato puree.

Tender lamb with a glaze that just begs to photographed, served over lighter than air potatoes and with a salad.

lamb

And the winner is: La Muralla.  I liked the concept of the plate at La Cepa, but with the glory that is the peas right now in Basque Country I would have liked to see them a bit fresher. Asparagus, too. Meanwhile, the meat, oh the meat at La Muralla….so so tender, but not in a carrillera way. Perfectly balanced dish. Beautiful plating.

Round one over! Stay tuned.

The Basque ABC’s : F is for….

  • Menéame0

basqueabcs

F is for…Frijituak! Literally ‘fried things’, this concept is both absurdly obvious and totally foreign. It’s a plate of varied fried things typical to the cuisine, such as croquetas, stuffed mussels (tigres), and balls of meat.

frijituak

It’s served as a first course (for one person!) in the most hallowed of the daily eating institutions, the restaurant that has menú del día. This type of spot is both holding strong and dying out. More and more there are fewer, but they are still an indispensable part of the worker’s life. A place to go and get simple food, like your ama makes, and for relatively inexpensive. There is a drink all you want, eat all you want air to it. Other typical first courses include soup, salads, fish puddings, etc. and the second course is often meat and potatoes, fish, or meatballs.

Winners of IV BasqueStage

  • Menéame0

martinthumbOut of San Sebastián, there is a program that is gaining in renown and popularity worldwide called BasqueStage. BasqueStage is a program that gives cooks the opportunity to learn from some of the best chefs in the world, up close and personal. It’s EXACTLY the kind of thing that back in my cooking by night, dreaming of Basque Country by day heyday I would have died to be a part of.

Recently, Chef Martín Berasategui has announced the winners of the 2012 4th Sammic Scholarship with BasqueStage.  The winners are Brenden Darby and Luuk Hoffman, and they will join the kitchen of Restaurante Martín Berasategui, ranked in the San Pellegrino World’s Top 100, beginning in July 2012. They were chosen out of over 150 applicants in this, the fourth round of the continually growing BasqueStage program.

Brenden Darby is a graduate of Johnson & Wales University, where he graduated Dean’s List and Honors Society. He is also completing is WSET (Wine and Spirits Education Trust) Advanced Certificate. He recently spent six months traveling and volunteering in Southeast Asia, and also has varied restaurant experience under his belt.

Luuk Hoffman is a young Dutch cook, a graduate of the Hotel School in the Hague and a current student at Sterklas in Amsterdam for an advanced culinary degree. He has worked with an impressive roster of chefs.

So what do they win? Get ready….flights to Basque Country, 500 euros a month stipend, an apartment, immediate exposure via blogs and social media, and the chance to learn under one of Spain’s most renowned and famous chefs.  Not bad, huh?

Do your friends a favor and tell them about this opportunity…the next round will open in a few months and it promises to be bigger and better!

Basques in The World’s 50 Best

  • Menéame0

arzak_peine

Yesterday the announcement for the World’s 50 Best Restaurants was made, and Basque Country chefs continue to have a very outsized presence on this list.

Coming in at NUMBER THREE is a personal favorite of mine, located ten minutes outside of San Sebastián,  Mugaritz. Chef Andoni Luis Aduriz and his team is truly deserving of that spot.  Arzak also holds strong, at number 8, with Elena Arzak winning an additional accolade of Best Female Chef.

For me, what is truly special about the Basque presence in the top 50 is not only the outsized presence Basque chefs hold (for a region that isn’t much bigger than an American state) but also how loyal they are to their culinary traditions.  Eating at one of these restaurants is NOT a cosmopolitan, global experience. It’s quite the opposite-the meals tend to be strongly tied to their location and traditions (like the Wind Comb dessert, from Arzak, above). It’s a strength.

Etxebarri, in leaps and bounds that can be attributed to word of mouth as well as alignment with current gastronomic trends such as using amazing product and  leaving well enough alone, comes in this year at number 31.  Martín Berasategui, on the other hand, drops to 67.

Gora Euskadi! On egin!