Category Archives: Food

The Secrets of Jamón

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hamtasting_bw

Spanish ham. I know we’re departing from the Basque theme of this blog, but anyone who has tasted will agree with me….Spanish ham (jamón ibérico) is worth the detour.

Recently I was invited to a ham cutting workshop/tasting held by the prestigious jamón producers, Cinco Jotas. Held at Mirador de Ulia, it was an intimate gathering that focused on the ways to carve up jamón (tip: for a straight cut the whole ham down, just push the meat around the bone down with a knife as if it were a nail cuticle) and the proper way to produce it.

Maybe you’re not so familiar with the world of Spanish ham.  Most of it is delicious, but there are some key factors in differentiating an excellent ham from a run-of-the-mill cured pig. They are factors such as race. Is your pig Duroc? Or is it 100% ibérico? This is going to affect the growth rate of the pig and the flavor.  And then key is the nourishment your pigs are receiving. Acorns is the key word here. Climate, technique, and time are also keys. There’s no rushing this kind of perfection.

Cinco Jotas is a 100 % ibérico ham, whose happy happy pigs walk an average of 10 miles a day in search of acorns before they are turned into happy happy hanging legs, curing in the dry air of Jabugo. And you can taste it.

5jotas copia

San Sebastián Gastronomika: What 2012 Brings

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One of the world’s most recognized culinary conferences is just around the corner: San Sebastián Gastronomika. We’ll have coverage here on EITB, but until then, there are a few things you should know!

*This year, France is the focus of the conference. This means there will be French chefs imparting their classic (and not-so-classic) wisdom to the masses.

* This year, Gastronomika is celebrated in the good weather half of fall: October 7-10.

* At the last minute, some great sections have been added: “The method of London Nº 1”, a theater piece by Carlos Moreno, Juan Echanove, Loquillo and ChristianEscribà; “Cocinando con” and more.

*A tasting of cachaças by Rodrigo Oliveira (restaurante Mocotó, Sao Paulo, Brasil)

*A tasting of foie gras Rougié and Txakoli from Getaria

*an event that promises to be interesting: a pairing of two cheeses, Idiazabal y Ossau Iraty, tasting included.

*the ending of the conference will be celebrated by a cake-for-all surprise, an homage created by Christian Escribà  and Patricia Schmidt.

Would you miss this? We won’t!

Why Not Raw?

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Last week, I stopped into one of Donosti’s most cosmopolitan eateries, La Madame.  And what awaited me but something that I had been craving for months: raw tuna. As I was devouring Kevin Patricio’s creation of espresso aioli, diced raw tuna, nori and radishes, I felt a wave of confusion.

In this country, with its love of tuna, why is it not served raw more often?  You find it conserved, mostly, and sometimes in soups. Rare is the opportunity to eat a hunk of grilled tuna, the more common way of consuming it in the States.

The eating population here has a complex with raw fish, due to the prevalence of anisakis, but I’m not sure that it affects tuna, which at this point has to be fished pretty far away. Either way, this is a dish for the books.

La Madame San Sebastián ·San Bartolomé 35, San Sebastián · +34 943 444 269

Dan Lepard in The Loaf

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I’m not very political minded.

But I have to admit I’ve always been more or less in favor of independence for the Basque Country. Why? Because I’m pretty sure I could get the job of ambassador! I mean, I speak a bit of Euskera, I’m spending the summer in Ataun, the Basquest of Basque villages, and I have to be the number one foreign fan of this place (okay, I can think of about four others who are possibly equally deserving). I say this all joking, and really just to introduce an Englishman who, if I were ambassador of Euskadi, would fill in for me on summer vacation: Dan Lepard.

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He’s the baking mastermind at The Loaf, Donosti’s favorite new place to wait in line.

And besides making marvelous bread at San Sebastián’s first pop-up bakery, he also is writing about Basque baked goods in The Guardian this month.  Check out some of his recipes below if you want to try your hand at some:

Keler Pintxo Week

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This weekend marked the beginning of another initiative that hungry residents and visitors to San Sebastián might find interesting: Keler Pintxo Week.

From last Saturday to June 17, several bars across town will be offering four pintxos and two beers for ten euros. It’s like a perma-pote.  Glancing over the press dossier, the offerings stand out especially at Pincel, Bokado, and Kota.31.

Participating restaurants and bars include: Astelena, Atari, Bergara, Bernardo Etxea, Bodega Donostiarra, Bokado – San Telmo, Café de la Concha, Casa Alcalde, Dardara, Iombi, Iturrioz, Kata 4, Kota 31, Mesón Martín, Pagadi, Pincel, Rojo & Negro, Sport, Txalupa y Txuleta.

City wide pintxo fun for everyone! Chime in if you’ve had the chance to try it.


#ssrestweek: Gran Sol

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The first San Sebastián Restaurant Week has officially come to an end.

I’ve seen some of the numbers, and there were tons of people dining out for 25 euros at some of the city’s most respected restaurants.

But in my opinion, one of the best part parts of SSRW was getting out to the neighboring towns’ restaurants that I’d never try otherwise.

Here are some photos of our meal at Gran Sol, the restaurant. This restaurant and pintxo bar, featured in the New York Times,  is under Bixente Muñoz.  Both are worth a try should you end up in the small, beautiful town of Hondarribi.

rollito_gransol

Rollito de verdura | Vegetable Roll

foiecheese_gransol

Nuestro milhojas de foie , manzana y queso caramelizado con salsa de mosto reducido a la mostaza antigua | Foie, apple and cheese mille-fuille with stoneground mustard grape reduction

tomato_gransol

Gazpacho de tomate, con tomate a la plancha con mousse de cabracho al aroma de limon , com pescado marinado | Grilled tomato with lemon-infused scorpionfish mousse and tomato gazpacho

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Taco de bacao confitado a baja temperatura con piperrada, patatas panaderas y salsa morron and  Entrecot con patatas fritas y pimientos | Confit cod with piperade, potatoes a la boulangere, and red pepper sauce and Beef filet with fried potatoes and peppers

And finally, where Gran Sol really shone, the desserts. You could tell these were housemade, which is actually pretty rare here in culinary paradise.

tartachocolate_gransol

Tarta crujiente a los tres chocolates | Chocolate Tarte

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Tarta de queso | Cheesecake.

The grand finale, one of the best I’ve had anywhere in País Vasco.

#ssrestweek: the ‘revuelto’

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San Sebastián Restaurant Week lasts two more days…two more days of 25 euro prix fixe menus at an impressive roster of restaurants around town.  The menus range from traditional to innovative, always with a touch of seasonality.

revuelto_narru

One recurring dish at several of the restaurants was the revuelto. To American eyes it is basically a creamy scrambled egg, but it is a legitimate first course dish here in Basque Country.   There are several variations, and this time of year it’s common to see them with xixas, a local prized wild mushroom.  The above photo is from Narru‘s menu, a revuelto with xixas and white asparagus.

revuelto_marinaberri

This, meanwhile, is the revuelto of mushrooms from Marina Berri in neighboring Zumaia.  As you can see, the presentation is different but the idea the same.

The revuelto also made an appearance on the menu at Dolarea, in Beasain. It was incredibly creamy, with fish and crispy potato sticks.  Incredible.

revuelto_dolarea

Who knew that the humble egg would be one of the stars of San Sebastián Restaurant Week?

#ssrestweek: La Fábrica + Patxi Aizpuru

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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

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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….

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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.