Arzak: San Sebastian Spain

Copied Post from Spain: On the Road Again

Arzak Restaurant
One of Spain’s most famous restaurants. Juan Mari and his daughter Elena prepare some of the most modern, even postmodern, food that’s as innovative as it is delicious. Mark and Claudia learned to prepare Cocochas al Pil-Pil and Hake with Clams and Parsley with Chef Juan Mari Arzak.
Practical Information: Avenida Alcalde Elosegui, 273, San Sebastían, +34.943278465,

Copied Post from New York Times:

Published: September 25, 2005
I thought about London, where the turnover in restaurants is faster than in other European cities, and the Fat Duck, the international gastronomic darling of the moment, is just a short drive or train ride away. But the pound is a punishing currency, and who really longs to taste the fruits of the English soil or talks of English wine? I considered Paris, which wants only for innovation, not for transcendence, but it seemed too familiar. I toyed with the idea of Turin, which is now gussying itself for the Winter Olympics and serves as gateway to the Piedmont countryside, with its truffles and Barolo, its agnolotti and vitello tonnato. But the variety among restaurants in that patch of northern Italy is limited.And so, as I pondered where in Europe I would go right now if my sole agenda were to eat, I fixed on the area around San Sebastián, along the Basque coast of northern Spain.I’ve never been there, but that’s not the reason it draws my eye and appetite. San Sebastián makes a dual promise that many European destinations don’t. It’s old and new. Traditional and trailblazing. A place to which a food lover might retreat for its rustic, timeless culinary virtues and a place to which a food lover might flock in order to be conversant in the here and now.

San Sebastián is humble, a trove of unfussy bars with pintxos, which is what tapas are called there. These pintxos use seafood from nearby waters and other local ingredients. By all reports, a diner needn’t plot carefully to find the baby squid of his or her desires, the ham of his or her dreams.

But San Sebastián is also oh so haute. The area constitutes a veritable galaxy of Michelin stars, supposedly more of them per capita than anywhere else. Among the stand-outs is Martín Berasategui, outside town at Loidi Kalea, 4, Lasarte, (34-943) 366-471, which has been around more than a decade.

Arzak, Avenida Alcalde Jose Elosegui, 273, (34-943) 278-465, has been around even longer, and it established its creator, Juan Mari Arzak, as a sire of modern Spanish cuisine, with its technical derring-do, its exuberant playfulness. At a recent conference, he showcased an exploding dessert, using dry ice to turn a strawberry milkshake into a rising froth of bubbles.

Mr. Arzak was a mentor to Ferran Adrià, who works in and around Barcelona, which is arguably the epicenter of the culinary avant garde. But there’s plenty of progressive gastronomy around San Sebastián, including at Mugaritz, a relatively new addition.

Mugaritz, Aldura Aldea, 20, Errenteria, (34-943) 522-455, is the laboratory of a widely touted wunderkind named Andoni Luis Aduriz, and laboratory is apparently the right word, in the sense that Mr. Aduriz typifies the way a new generation of chefs uses the tools and precision of science in the service of cooking. Mr. Aduriz actually studied at a liver-transplant clinic to better understand and manipulate the organ. He prepares foie gras in an elaborate, multistep process.

As is the fashion with culinary acrobats these days, he constructs long tasting menus of Lilliputian portions, concentrating on discrete pinpoints of flavor and unexpected ingredients. He apparently serves raw thistle leaves. He reputedly does a hay consommé.

I’d like to try it, but I’d also like to know that my next meal might be a simpler succession of pintxos, including a clump of sautéed mushrooms and a cluster of chorizo, both reflective of a particular place’s timeless bounty. In San Sebastián, I could do just that.

FRANK BRUNI is the restaurant critic for The Times.


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